Interview: A Summery Delight, Soul Honey Records Debuts The Family Barbecue

One of my favorite musicians of all time, Nile Rodgers, has a quote that couldn’t be more applicable to our worldly situation.

What do great artists do when they see the world around you in turmoil? Some of the best artists make you feel good. They look to the future.

And this is in perfect alignment with today’s debut of an EP, Soul Honey Family Barbecue. Curated in collaboration with 20 different Chicago artists, Chicago-based artist and recording wizard, Andrew Christopoulos, takes a turn into a new direction; that direction being dynamic and liberating for listeners to enjoy.

Christopoulos takes us through his musical background, the importance of this project, and some other treats, after the barbecue, of course. Let’s dim the lights, and hear what he has to say.

Why NOW for Soul Honey Records? Why not four years ago?

Soul Honey Records has been percolating for years now and I view it as the creative extension of myself. The three songs on this particular EP, The Soul Honey Family Barbecue, were written in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively, and were recorded at my first home studio in 2017. Not long after I produced this project, I began working full time as staff engineer at a recording studio on the north side of Chicago. I found a lot of joy in working on other peoples’ music as well as producing new songs for Soul Honey Records and the SHFBBQ project took a backseat, unfortunately. I would revisit the EP occasionally, but the more I did, the more I realized how much work it still needed in terms of reigning in the very spontaneous recordings and locking in final mixes. I had always intended for this EP to be our debut release. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, it didn’t seem as though I would have enough time or focus to finish the project before we began releasing other songs that were ready to go. In that regard, I viewed the first month of isolation as a silver lining because I finally had the time and lack of “schedule” to dig in and finalize these tracks.

Which songs on the EP would you consider the “staples” or “foundational tracks” to the whole concept, and why?

I view these songs as three pieces of a whole and I look at this EP as the foundation of Soul Honey Records. During the first seconds of the first track, “Rotting Wood,” I imagine curtains being drawn allowing the world in which my songs exist to unfold. To me, this EP represents the folklore and tradition that sets the tone for whatever else may come.

Photography by Nick Langlois

Has the creative process for the new project been liberating? What surprised you the most?

This creative process has been very liberating. I love working on a project with a fluid and rotating cast of characters as opposed to the typical four to five member bands I had always been a part of. I feel grateful that I get to spend so much time doing what I love most in this world and to be able to do it with many of my closest friends just makes it feel even more special.

I suppose what surprises me the most is the way my songs are interpreted by different musicians. I typically write very simple, bare-bones songs on a guitar, ukulele, or piano and I’m always blown away by the way my collaborators run with ideas and flip the mood on its head. A perfect example of this is the mandolin solo in “Ghosts in the Attic.” Van Isaacson played that part the first time we ever hung out and it completely and irreversibly changed the way I viewed and ultimately produced that song.

Is there a foundation of music in your family or are you the first musician?

My father is a wonderful singer-songwriter and has always been writing, recording, and performing music with his brother since they were young boys. My brother plays guitar and sings, as do many of my cousins. Whenever we all get together, songs are sung and guitars are passed around. I’ve actually begun producing some new (and old) songs for my dad and uncle, which has been a very exciting process.

What particular band, movement, or song hooked you into music?

The first music I fell in love with were my dad and uncles’ songs that they would sing to me when I was a little boy. Besides that I remember obsessively listening to my parents’ copies of The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Revolver, and Rubber Soul and a Beach Boys’ greatest hits CD called Sounds of Summer when I was in kindergarten. In fourth grade, my friend George Kousiounelos introduced me to bands like Pink Floyd, The Who, and Black Sabbath. After that, I delved deeper into the world of rock and roll.

What was the first instrument you learned to play? What was the first instrument you purchased? What’s your favorite now?

I started taking piano lessons when I was eight and a few years later taught myself drums on an old drum kit that was gifted to me from my cousin, Joey. The first instrument I purchased with my own money was a handmade, African djembe that I bought from Andy’s Music shop. Lately, I’ve been writing a lot of songs on my cigar-box ukulele and on a tenor guitar.

If you sing in the shower, what’s the go-to song?

Usually whatever is stuck in my head. Whether it’s one of my songs, a song I’m working on for another artist or just the last song I heard while grocery shopping.

You played Lollapalooza as a teenager. That’s outstanding. Can you share what that experience was like?

It was really, really cool. I was 17 and had been going to Lollapalooza for a few years at this point, so to play there was a dream come true. A lot of my friends were there and my brother flew out for it. We had a ton of fun.

Are festivals the big time for bands to break out, or is it all about timing and getting radio play for “that song”?

To be completely honest I have no idea. I had a cousin perform at Lollapalooza years prior with his comedy troupe and he sent me the only contact he had. I sent that person a demo I had been working on and he booked me to play a set on Friday and one on Sunday on the kids stage. It was very serendipitous and definitely not career changing in any regard (laughs). I mainly look at it as a special moment in my life that I was lucky enough to get to experience and perform.

The world is full of questions about quarantine and social distancing. Venues are taking a HUGE hit. What have your days been like since mid-March?

Life certainly has been strange. The studio I manage and work at was closed for a few months and even now that we’re open things are slower than they would be under normal circumstances. I’ve been trying to stay positive and use this time to work on the next series of Soul Honey Records’ releases. My girlfriend and I just moved in together and adopted the sweetest puppy, Olive. Part of me finds the down time and break from the constant pressures of being productive appealing and part of me worries deeply for the ramifications of this whole situation. So many wonderful venues are in danger of closing. So many people’s lives are being irreversibly changed, and there is so much unknown swirling around everything we do.

Photography by Nick Langlois

What have you been listening to besides the material you continue to collaborate on  with your other artists?

The record I’ve listened to most the past few years is the 1968 eponymous debut from Brazilian group Os Mutantes. I absolutely love it and can’t say enough good things about it. They blend psychedelia and Brazilian traditional music in the most beautiful way and the record feels very alive and colorful to me. Besides that, I’m always checking out new local music and any recommendations I get from friends.

What would be your best piece of advice to new musicians who love this craft?

Find joy in the process. Fall in love with creating and then create for yourself. Make the music you want to hear. If you create from an honest space, your audience will form an authentic bond with your music, and at the end of the day, that’s what making music is about to me.

Whether you are looking for new music, cooking in the kitchen or in your backyard, jump into The Soul Honey Family Barbecue for some fresh flavors and soul.

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Michael Kocourek

Michael Kocourek is a Berwyn native, now living on the north side. He is a marketing professional, but beyond the corporate world, his passion involves sharing live concert experiences with the masses. If he isn’t curating a playlist or sharing a new song, he’s likely eating at a Chicago restaurant or cooking.

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