Editor’s Note: Isabel Furman ‘19 and Nicole Lipman ‘19 make up Honeymess, a self-proclaimed “folk-jazz-indie-singer-songwriter-rock-n-roll” musical duo formed in the fall of 2016. LA native Lipman was once writing the word ‘homeyness’ for an essay and instead wrote ‘honeymess,’ and it’s been the duo’s name ever since. After making music videos for the songs, “Water Under the Bridge” and “Shelf Life” by Honeymess, I got the chance to interview them and learn more about the group’s origins, influences, and what it’s like to be a femme musician at Vassar. Both videos are included here with the transcribed interview.
GM: How did Honeymess come about?
IF: Friendship. Well actually, Honeymess came before friendship. We became friends because of this.
NL: We both were looking for people who did music stuff. I think both of us wanted to be doing music projects without dudes. And we had a lunch one day and Isabel was like, ‘do you want to play music together?’ And yeah, we started playing music together and it’s been really fun.
IF: Yeah we were brought together by a mutual friend who we were both super close with, and because Nicole had tried to start this other organization–
NL: Oh god
IF: This other arts collective thing. So we started to connect through that and it spring-boarded into this.
GM: What did this collective entail?
NL: It has since been dismantled. We had this idea for an org, I guess mostly me, but I brought some friends on board, for an org that would create regular performance spaces. I’ve been involved with student music since I was a freshman, but my freshman year there were no opportunities to play so we wanted to create an org that would have regular performance opportunity for musicians, but other kinds of performers too like poets, actors, and we wanted to collaborate in a regular meeting and showcase space, but it was kind of amorphous and then I didn’t have time to make it less amorphous so it died a quiet pre-org death
IF: But I think you’re doing a really good job of creating those opportunities in StuMu [Vassar Student Musicians Union] this year.
NL: We’re trying
IF: She’s the queen of StuMu, we’re putting it on the record.
NL: I’m a co-leader of StuMu.
GM: And what do you do in that role?
NL: I am one of three exec people, and my specific job is communications, but on the whole, I’ve have a hand in every student music showcase that happens. We’ve had three this semester.
GM: And what brought you both to music before Vassar?
IF: For me it was my family. I have a very musical family. The first instrument that came into our house was the guitar and it was meant for my younger brother and he had no interest in it, he’s now a drummer and guitar is the only instrument he doesn’t play. And one day, [the guitar] was left out, just because no one was playing it, and I picked it up and my dad taught me a couple chords. I had been taking piano lessons and so from piano I taught myself guitar and from guitar I taught myself bass. So it’s just kind of a part of my family’s vocabulary and always has been. I can’t imagine my family functioning without it.
NL: I was one of those kids put in piano lessons at age five to see if it would stick. And it did. I had a really great teacher who I loved, who basically told me you don’t have to play classical music, you bring in songs you want to learn and we’ll learn those. I was really into Regina Spektor at the time so I started learning her songs and then taking piano more seriously. I also come from a musical family. But not in the sense of Isabel’s family; my dad is not a musician but he’s super into music. Growing up I was exposed to a ton of cool bands and was listening to Elvis Costello at like age six, and I think hearing all of that interesting music encouraged me to start playing music myself. I picked up guitar in 5th or 6th grade which led to bass and then a stint with the ukulele and various other instruments.
IF: We’ve all had stints with ukuleles…
GM: And you both can sing, when did you both figure that out?
IF: Oh I don’t know. I remember the first song I ever sang on stage was “Beat It” by Michael Jackson and that’s because I was part of School of Rock which is an amazing music program for kids. Nicole weren’t you also part of School of Rock?
NL: I don’t know if it was School of Rock, but it was something like that. I did that pretty late into doing music though. I think I started singing because I wanted to play songs on piano that were also singing songs so I learned to sing along. I don’t remember realizing I could sing or one day realizing that it was something I felt good doing. I just think it’s always been connected to all my other musical stuff.
IF: Yeah, same.
GM: Changing gears here, what does your music and your group bring to your experience as femmes on Vassar’s campus?
IF: I think Nicole and I talk about this a lot, how nice it is to have a close friend as a collaborator. I don’t ever feel like she’s judging me. I remember the first song I brought into the group was a really bad song. And she was so kind about it and played it anyway. I feel like part of our closeness is because we understand each other’s experiences as like women in music. We both share an awareness of how we don’t really fit into the music scene.
NL: I second all of that. I feel like it’s really cool to have a friend who’s also a musician to play with who is also femme. It’s an awesome to get up in front of a room of people, like really bad ass, to be two girls up there playing not-traditional pop songs. I feel like we’re doing interesting stuff and it feels really empowering to do it with someone else like me.
IF: We don’t really do pop. We’re also not singer songwriters in this group, we’re kind of forging our own way. Femme musicians usually get pigeon-holed into categories like ‘oh you’re a pop artist,’ ‘you’re a singer songwriter,’ and it doesn’t give us the chance to explore. I think what we’ve been able to do putting both of our musical vocabularies together is break out of that which is cool to do with another femme musician. You don’t feel like you’re femme-musician styling is being tokenized in any kind of way.
NL: it’s nice to have a buddy when you’re playing a show and it’s all dudes running sound and all dudes playing the other instruments. It’s nice to feel less alone.
GM: So you wouldn’t say you’re singer songwriters?
IF: I think maybe on our own, but this group is not.
NL: I think technically we would be singer-songwriters because we’re playing the traditional instruments and we’re singing songs we wrote, but the phrase singer-songwriter implies a certain style or mood of music that’s maybe somber, or like introspective–
IF: Really feminine, it has a really feminine connotation–
NL: And I think that those connotations don’t really reflect the music that we play in this group.
IF: But we would be very easily classified as that because we’re both singers and songwriters, and because we are outwardly femme, but part of it is that we want to be seen as more than our femme identity.
GM: What are your songs about?
NL: I like to start with words. I really like words and I’ll often start with a word or a phrase and I’ll let that turn into an idea. I write a lot of angry songs because I feel like I write really well when I have something to say and when I’m angry I have something to say. I don’t know if I write about anything in specific, though.
IF: I’m very image based when I write. I have a picture in my head and I try to work through it. I
don’t know that I have a different way of writing when I write for my own stuff. Is there a difference for you?
NL: Not really. the stuff I try to bring to this duo is similar to what I would write for myself but it’s got a different mood. Or is something that I would like to have more instruments on, but I think I approach writing the same way in both situations. But also when we write together, one of us brings in a song and the other asks ‘what if we sang this way, did a harmony here,’ and that’s a very different writing experience than writing alone in my room.
GM: Is there a message you’re trying to convey with your music?
IF: Not really. We didn’t start the group to form a band with the goal of performing all the time. So I don’t think we really considered the role of the audience as much, correct me if I’m wrong, but we went into it instead both hoping to see what we could get out by putting two similar but also very differ musical minds together. And I think Honeymess still serves that purpose for us.
NL: Yeah I agree. BP