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Charleston, SC | Established. Jan 01, 2013

Charleston, SC
Established on Jan, 2013
Band Americana Blues Rock




"Smokin' New Sound"

When local retro-pop act the Explorers Club called it quits back in 2013, it was announced that bandleader Jason Brewer, along with Kyle Polk, would form a new project together while Dave Ellis, Justin James, and Michael Rodgers would be forming a Delta-blues band with drummer Jake Oleksak.

While the latter group of musicians' abilities were well-documented in the exacting arrangements of their old band, there seemed to be something casual about their island-inflected take on traditional blues. Dubbed HoneySmoke, their first recording was a playful, largely acoustic set of tunes that shuffled and swaggered with a back-porch vibe that felt miles away from the studio polish of the Explorers Club, even as the band peppered their intentionally down-home style with finely wrought solos and sly musical ornamentation.

"We made that record right when we started the band," explains Ellis. "It was that kind of island-blues sort of thing, doing the blues with island instrumentation, like lap steel and ukulele. That's where we started as a band, but we hadn't really nailed down what we were going for or trying to do."

While there are traces of the same carefree, laid-back nature of their debut, the group's new full-length, Songs for the Sun & the Rain, makes it clear the band has settled into a far more formidable creative force than originally envisioned. The amiable, lived-in quality of the band's sound is still apparent, but in place of tentative stabs at a musical identity and whimsical covers is an 11-song set of originals that wanders from rollicking Southern blues jams a la the Allman Brothers to wide-eyed Americana in the tradition of the Band and the indie-tinged folk-rock of groups like Band of Horses and Gomez.

"Just through us becoming a little more electric in the songs we were writing, it just kind of morphed into the thing it is now," Ellis says.

He credits some of the evolution to the collaborative songwriting process he and James have developed. Although Ellis had written some before, he and James weren't part of the composing process for the Explorers Club.

"It's kind of a new thing for both of us," he notes. "As we played more as a band, Justin just started in a fury writing all kinds of stuff, and that encouraged me to write more."

James says something similar. "I had always come up with ideas, but I wasn't very good at completing them," he admits. "So when we started coming up with original material, it was a little bit of me realizing Dave was going to sing all of the songs he writes, so if I wanted to sing anything I'd have to come up with my own material."

James got one original on the group's first EP, and that small success sparked something in him. "Everything opened up," he says. "Ideas would just come to me, and I would be really excited about hearing them with this group, because I really liked playing with this group.

Reveling in their creative energy, the band was primed to enter the studio with NeedToBreathe bassist Seth Bolt when he offered up the use of his well-equipped home studio to the group.

"If it wasn't for him I don't think this record would have happened," says Ellis. "He essentially gave us the keys to the studio and said, 'Here you go, guys. Have fun.'"

The band went into the studio determined to track as much of the music live, but they also brought in a bevy of friends to augment their sound, chief among them Ransom White and Whitt Algar, who add prominent flourishes of piano and organ into the mix, and Jump, Little Children bassist Jonathan Gray standing in for Rodgers. James and Ellis also made use of their studio talents, each piling on instruments to create full, fleshed out arrangements with deceptive poise.

Despite that similarity with their former band, which has since reformed without them, it's clear that much of their current excitement comes from a fresh place.

"The Explorers Club was Jason Brewer's vision. He was the primary songwriter," James points out. "He would bring stuff to the band. It was almost like — without it sounding bad — he would sort of use us as tools for his creative vision. We would have contribution to how some of the songs went live and things like that, but for the most part there wasn't an open space to contribute songs. It was about bringing our abilities as musicians to it, but there was nothing about bringing our abilities as songwriters or arrangers."

Ellis echoes this sentiment. "Explorers Club definitely has a thing that it's going for, and this is more like, 'We don't really know what's gonna happen, but let's try this,'" he says. "That's kind of the biggest thing with this record — we had no idea how it was going come together. We just wanted to create a good vibe and try to capture that." - Charleston City Paper

"Singin' the Island Blues"

Fans weren’t too pleased when The Explorers Club—much-loved for its Beach Boys-tinged pop sound—disbanded in early 2013. But when three of its former members, Dave Ellis, Justin James, and Michael Rogers, formed HoneySmoke soon after and began to explore the blues? Well, a lot of those folks changed their tunes.

“HoneySmoke’s music is a little more raw and organic, a bit unpolished,” says Ellis, who shares lead vocal duties with James. “We are very open with what direction our sound might take, and we began the journey by stripping everything away and getting back to the basics of the music that we like.” Adding drummer Jake Oleksak to the band in August of 2013, HoneySmoke released its eponymous first album a year later. The seven-song collection is a rambunctious yet reverent tribute to the Delta blues masters, with a taste of Hawaiian and tropical music.

Resonator guitar and scorching harmonica punctuate “The Ballad of HoneySmoke,” the first of five original tracks. (The best of the covers is a groovy take on Tom Waits’ “Jockey Full of Bourbon”). “Sunny California” and “On Holiday” show The Explorers Club influence, while “Sullivan’s Blues,” with its delicately plucked ukulele riffs, is genius in its simplicity. - Charleston Magazine

"Spotlights: HoneySmoke"

On a recent spring afternoon, the local band, Honeysmoke, set up in a small grove of grand oak trees, and as they settled in and began playing – complete with Spanish moss swinging overhead – it was clear that no more fitting sound had ever risen from that small piece of Carolina. With their soulful, relatable lyrics and down-home sound, there’s no denying these guys evoke the spirit of the Lowcountry.

The band consists of four members: David Ellis, Justin James, Jake Oleksak, and Michael Rogers. Ellis, James, and Rogers, born and raised in the South, played and toured with the band, The Explorer’s Club, for a few years before deciding to break out and create their own group. Seeking a more “stripped down” approach and a different sound, they partnered with Oleksak to create HoneySmoke in 2013. Since then, the band has been a hit at venues all over the Lowcountry.

With an admittedly hard-to-pin-down sound, the group describes itself as “an acoustic delta/swamp/island/pluff mud/blues inspired band, with a little country-western flair.” With so many musical influences, the guys find fans no matter what sort of crowd is listening.

Typically, the first thing that people notice about Honeysmoke is their unique instruments: Rogers plays an upright double bass; Ellis plays a vintage-esque silver resonator guitar; and James typically plays a resonator or slide guitar. Oleksak has been known to experiment with percussion instruments; and on this particular day, he beats on the drum box with sticks from a nearby oak tree. Though the band began with a minimalist approach, they now bring ten or more instruments to every gig – from drum sets and acoustic guitars to ukuleles and accordions.

As musicians and songwriters, the members of HoneySmoke find inspiration everywhere. Lyrical themes range from straightforward and simple (enjoying the sight of the person you love making dinner, or the sting of betrayal from a previous relationship) to deeper and heavier (contemplating a move across the country and questioning how uprooting one’s life could change things, or existential and philosophical questions). Fans of Robert Johnson, Ellmore James, Muddy Waters, Otis Redding and Howlin’ Wolf, the band members see a great deal of 1930s blues influence in their music, and try to reawaken the sounds and concepts of that bygone musical era. Even the name has its own bluesy roots: Ellis researched consistent themes and terminology found in blues music, which led to the creation of the moniker.

When they aren’t making music, the guys are working hard at their day jobs. James owns James Family Chiropractic in Summerville; Ellis and Oleksak work in construction doing historic restoration; and Rogers divides his time between The Music Farm in Charleston and Caroline Guitar Pedals in Columbia.

The band is their artistic outlet – a way to channel their collective talents into great sound, with the hopes of making people stomp their feet, dance and have a good time. With scores of upcoming gigs and a debut CD in the works, we’re certain to hear more down-home hits from these guys for years to come. - Azalea Magazine

"Former Members of The Explorers Club join forces as HoneySmoke"

Honeysmoke doesn't claim to have created its own genre, but we think the local band's blend of bluesy guitars and breezy island instrumentation is pretty unique. The foursome uses lap steel, ukulele, harmonica, resonator guitar, upright bass, and the occasional accordion to achieve a sound that's ripe with both Mississippian as well as Hawaiian flavor. And it's all quite fitting for Charleston, a place that can certainly appreciate sunshine-meets-swamp music.

Though the band officially formed last summer, frontman Dave Ellis, slide guitarist Justin James, and bassist Michael Rogers played music together for years as former members in the Beach Boys-esque band The Explorers Club. Their new project — the trio is joined by drummer Oleksak — is heavily inspired by the Delta blues.

For Ellis, the musical change of direction started while he was browsing around a music store. He saw something shiny and knew he had to have it.

"I bought one of these resonator guitars," Ellis says. "I was always kind of interested in them, and I was getting into the Robert Johnson thing, and there was one at Ye Olde Music Shop for cheap. So I bought it, and it inspired the whole idea [of Honeysmoke]."

When it came to scratching the itch, he wasn't alone. "Justin was really into the blues and plays a really great slide steel guitar, so we just jammed some blues standards. Justin came and had upright bass, and Mike started figuring it out and learned it. And then Jake joined us in August, so I started doing some recordings of some songs I had previously done in this style, and that's where the album kind of came from."

Honeysmoke released its self-titled debut this month, a simple seven-song disc. The record contains covers of Tom Waits ("Jockey Full of Bourbon") and Robert Johnson ("Come on in My Kitchen"), plus the band's own tunes, like "Sullivan's Blues," a song Ellis co-wrote with James. "The Ballad of Honeysmoke" is the leadoff track and a basic blues jam. "My wife was cooking dinner, and I thought it might be fun to just have a straightforward 12-bar blues kind of song, so I just pulled it out at rehearsal and it worked," Ellis says. "It's just about the person you love cooking you dinner in the kitchen. It's about just feelin' in love, you know, and coming home from a hard day's work and the person you love is there with you."

The album's fourth track, "Sunny California," is a song Ellis penned about a past relationship while he and The Explorer's Club were in Los Angeles. The influence of his former band is obvious in this particularly laid-back tune, which is probably best heard under the haze of a setting sun. "On Holiday" is in the same vein, and like Ellis' blues excursion, it was inspired by an instrument.

"That one I wrote last summer while on vacation with Justin and his family in St. John," Ellis recalls. "I was there for 10 days, and I bought a ukulele before the trip and just learned it while I was there. I wrote that song on the second day.

For Ellis, learning a new instrument inspires creativity. "An unfamiliar instrument can sometimes inspire you creatively, because you don't really know all the rules yet, and you haven't really gotten locked into a typical way of playing it. It's been that way for both Justin and myself on ukulele," Ellis explains. "And a lot of the material we are currently writing has started on the ukulele. Sometimes it takes getting away from the everyday grind of life for me to be inspired."

As for the band's name, Ellis feels it's a remarkably apt way to describe Honeysmoke's sweet but bluesy sound.

"I was just researching blues terminology and stuff," Ellis tells us, "and there was this one [reference] called the Honeydripper, a guy who was just a smooth-talking guy with the ladies or something. So I liked that, but Robert Plant actually had a group in the '80s called The Honeydrippers. So we couldn't use that. And then [the research] also talked about smokestacks, so I decided to put the two together."

He adds, "Honey and smoke has a kind of cool little image of something sweet and something smoky —something that drips, something that rises — like two opposite ends of the spectrum put together. And it's kind of weird how it worked out with our group because we do the sultry, smoky blues, but we also like the sweet, mellow sound of the islands." - Charleston City Paper

"HoneySmoke debuts their own sound"

Some people just can’t stay away from making music, and Dave Ellis is one of them. Formerly of The Explorers Club, Ellis says his new band HoneySmoke is “inspired by the sounds of the Delta Blues and instrumentation of the islands.” In their song “Come on in My Kitchen” the band creates emotion-stirring blues and ends with an energetic country twang while “On Holiday” has a more acoustic, tropical feel.

HoneySmoke expects to release new recordings by June. You can check out their live sounds May 22 at the Royal American, May 30 at Palmetto Brewery’s Loading Dock Series, or at the Bohemian Bull on June 27 - Charleston City Paper


Songs for the Sun and the Rain (2015)
1. "Agoraphobia"
2. "Bill Withers"
3. "Air Stream"
4. "Gypsy Girl"
5. "Better Than Before"
6. "Melody for C.M."
7. "Burn it Down"
8. "Lost Our Way"
9. "Worldly Pleasures"
10. "Spring Rain"
11. "Hippie Jam"

 (self titled)  (2014)
1. "The Ballad of HoneySmoke"
2. "Jockey Full of Bourbon"
3. "Sullivan's Blues"
4. "Sunny California"
5. "Come on in My Kitchen"
6. "On Holiday"
7. "Dirty Woman Blues"



HoneySmoke is a Gypsy-Blues-Americana group hailing from Charleston, SC.  Having secured nominations for "Best New Band" and "Best Blues Band" in the Charleston City Paper Music Awards for the last two years, they continue to spread their positive musical vibe throughout the Lowcountry.  HoneySmoke has become a staple "go-to" band for events and festivals around the Charleston area, having played the farewell festivities of Charleston's Mayor Joe Riley, and also the inauguration of Charleston's new Mayor John Tecklenburg.  Their 2014 self-titled EP centered on blending the Blues with the sounds of the Islands and the feel of the Tropics - in what the Charleston City Paper regards as "quite fitting for Charleston, a place that can certainly appreciate sunshine-meets-swamp music."  Azalea Magazine declares, "With their soulful, relatable lyrics and down-home sound, there’s no denying these guys evoke the spirit of the Lowcountry."

The band recently released their first full-length studio album called Songs for the Sun and the Rain.  The 11 song album showcases the evolution of the bands sound from beachy-island blues to more of an electrified folk, americana, rock sound.  The songs range "from rollicking Southern blues jams a la the Allman Brothers to wide-eyed Americana in the tradition of the Band and the indie-tinged folk-rock of groups like Band of Horses and Gomez [with songs that contain] full, fleshed out arrangements with deceptive poise." - Charleston City Paper.

Band Members