The “Canadian Decibel Geeks” (Wallygator and the Meister) arrived at The Rockpile Bar & Nightclub at about 2:30pm on Friday, February 1st for our planned interview with Canadian hard rock stars Honeymoon Suite. The first two Honeymoon Suite albums, Honeymoon Suite in 1984 and The Big Prize in 1986 are two favourites of the Canadian Decibel Geeks and tracks like New Girl Now are still played on Canadian classic rock stations across the country today. Used to arriving here after dark, a different scene in the daylight for sure, we were ushered inside the doors of the club and given a warm welcome and greeting from promoters Art & Leigh Wilson Iafantasie (MISFIT PROMOTIONS). After some small talk with our promoter friends about other upcoming shows and some of the antics that Art himself has undergone to try and attract the bands to venture north of the border (ART WANTS VIXEN) while watching the equipment being set up on stage for tonight’s exciting show, Johnnie Dee, lead vocalist came over and introduced himself. Guitarist Derry Grehan came over to our little huddle a few moments later and we adjourned to the “club room” to conduct our short interview.
Decibel Geek: So I suppose we should start back at the beginning to introduce our readers to exactly who Honeymoon Suite is, who or what was it that got you into music in the first place?
Johnnie: Friggin loaded question (laughs), where do you start with that? I have no idea, seems like do it was just something that I decided as a kid that I wanted to do.
Decibel Geek: Was it a particular band that caught your attention?
Johnnie: Well the bands my brother used to listen to, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Supertramp, Yes, all that progressive stuff.
Derry: Well I started on piano lessons as a kid, when I was about 5 doing all that Conservatory stuff. Then when I was 11 I wanted to play guitar because it was cooler. So I started lessons and discovered Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper and it was over after that, I just wanted to play in a rock band after that.
Johnnie: Two different worlds. What I liked and what he liked are two different things.
Derry: Maybe that’s why it works, and we grew up in two different cities. I was in St. Catharines, he was in Niagara Falls so we didn’t know each other until later on.
Decibel Geek: How did you guys meet?
Johnnie: Actually we met through a business contact, through management. I already had Honeymoon Suite going but when he and I got together and I started listening to his songs. I had a batch of songs and his were better, his worked out and we started recording them (laughter).
Derry: He already had the band going and they needed a guitar player so I just…
Johnnie: No, I didn’t really need a guitar player but when I heard his stuff I was like YEAH, I can sing this stuff. Better than he could, he could play and write but needed some vocals on it.
Derry: Good timing.
Decibel Geek: So from there you put the “New Girl Now” song into the Q107 Homegrown competition?
Johnnie: We had recorded a bunch of songs and we had sent out our demos everywhere and Q107 did pick it up and had started playing it. Warner Brothers Canada was interested in the band even before it got onto radio.
Derry: We were like a cover band for the first year and a half just playing six nighters and sneaking in a couple originals. Then we demoed New Girl Now and sent it into Q107 Homegrown thinking why not?
Johnnie: That was one of the places we sent it, but to go back even further than that. I was playing even before I met Derry, getting the band’s name out and that was at a time when you did 6 nights so talk about sneaking in originals, I would give these bar owners a set list of songs we didn’t even do. There was many a times where I’d get fired because they’d say “Hey why aren’t you doing those songs?” but if we could get through the first night, say it was like a Thursday then by Friday we’d have a crowd and by Saturday it’d be jammed. Remember too in those days there was a lot of places to play, the Nickelodeon on Yonge Street and all the way down so the word got out. So I guess what I’m saying is we got out and developed our name.
Decibel Geek: So you pushed it yourselves.
Johnnie: Yeah and that’s what other bands should do too, you know?
Decibel Geek: I’m not sure a lot of the bands today put that kind of work into it.
Johnnie: Well they do at home, writing and recording and such but there is nothing like getting out there and playing to develop as a band.
Derry: Yeah it’s different now
Johnnie: It’s all changed but it’s all fine, we’re at a happy spot. It’d be nice to get a single on the radio, don’t get me wrong
Decibel Geek: Didn’t you recently release a single not that long ago?
Johnnie: Yeah, we wrote with Aldo Nova as a matter of fact. We were on the road, did a show with him and then went over to his house, well his houses and wrote that track.
Decibel Geek: So are there more coming?, maybe a new album in the works?
Johnnie: Well we’re pretty busy boys right now.
Decibel Geek: With a lot of shows? Or just busy with other things?
Johnnie: There’s enough shows for everybody to get out there and play but also get on with things at home. Which was like kinda crazy in the early days, no life just touring and freaking buses. Now you can do it differently and cover the whole country in a couple of months.
< b>Derry: It’d be great to do a new album but we gotta have the songs first.
Decibel Geek: I really liked the Clifton Hill record, it really sounds like your old sound.
Derry: Yeah we were really focused on that and the way that we wrote, that was exciting and I would love to do that again.
Decibel Geek: And I noticed Tom Treumuth was back in the producer’s chair, did that help with the sound getting back the original sound?
Johnnie: Oh certainly it did, certainly yeah he came back into the picture. I ran into him at one of these agent, business sort of meetings and there was Tom. I went over and gave him a hug and yeah. So I called up Derry and told him, so he came back in and we made a new record. It was great.
Decibel Geek: You guys worked with some great producers, Bruce Fairbairn and Bob Rock on the Big Prize album and then Ted Templemen on Racing After Midnight. So how did the Van Halen “guy” get to work with Honeymoon Suite?
Derry: Well because we were on Warner Brothers records in the States and when we went to the third record, Fairbairn wasn’t available so Ted was and we were really tight with the record company down there so when the opportunity came up they said that Ted was available and we were like, YEAH we wanted to work down there so one thing led to another and that’s how that happened.
Decibel Geek: I heard you are a pretty big Eddie Van Halen fan and I read in an interview that you were worried about him.
Derry: Yeah, well because they just kind of dropped off the face of the earth. I mean he just seemed to go off the deep end a little and then you heard about his health problems with his tongue and stuff. I was like, I hope the guy is OK because I am a fan you know, I want them to keep going. It seems like they were in limbo for quite a while but then they got Roth back and they are definitely cooking again. So yeah, I just want the best for him.
Decibel Geek: So what did you think of their new album?
Derry: The Van Halen record? Wow it grows on you doesn’t it ? I find myself putting it on and just it’s great!
Decibel Geek: Now recently one of the guests on the podcast was Toby Wright
Derry: YEAH, he was our engineer
Decibel Geek: So Toby actually mentioned you guys on the podcast and he was talking about the Canadian record companies and their reluctance to have a real aggressive guitar tone. So much so that they would have to do separate mixes. Were you guys even aware of that?
Johnnie: I remember a lot of mixes basically making it radio friendly.
Derry: Yeah I remember those battles especially with that record and I remember having to remix things for lighter radio stations. It was all about getting airplay but yeah he was right about that.
Decibel Geek: So I noticed you have announced a bunch of shows coming up is that the plan for this year to keep touring?
Johnnie: Yeah I think its going to be a pretty busy freaking year for us. When you have the summer all booked up and it’s only February, you know?
Decibel Geek: Anything planned for Europe this year?
Johnnie: Well we’d like to get it together but you have to be able to do more than just a couple of shows. We’d love to go, that Firefest thing we did a couple years ago just blew us away it was absolutely nuts. On that note though we should go back I mean I can’t remember who the head liner was for that show but we were on just before the head liner and I remember saying “why are we on so close to the end?” you know? Then we got on stage it was like wow, OK these guys know who we are. We didn’t know what to expect because it had been so long but they were up singing along with their Honeymoon Suite signs it was amazing.
Derry: It’s really inspiring how fans continue to amaze you. When you think there is nothing there and you go back and it’s wow the fans don’t forget
Decibel Geek: So you guys still love it?
Johnnie: We love it enough to keep doing it, playing it.
Decibel Geek: Anything left you’d like to share with the decibel Geeks?
Johnnie: Well just that we’re still going, we have great fans, loyal fans that keep us going. It’s the original band, there’s Peter Nunn on keys.
Derry: Yeah I mean it’s 4 of the 5 original guys and in today’s environment that’s unheard of. We have a great charisma or chemistry and I love that. We really are having fun up there.
Johnnie: It’s a great vibe coming off the stage and I think people pick upon that right away.
Derry: I would also like to mention our Facebook page as we are on that a lot. HONEYMOON SUITE FACEBOOK PAGE
Opening up the evening was Pier 53 who graced the stage shortly after 9pm. The Rockpile was jam packed and had to be near capacity by this time as we struggled to get a good view of the evening’s first act. The five piece unit featured the guitarist adorned with an Iceland toque featuring protruding AC/DC style devil horns and the drummer sporting a “Detroit Eatery KISS shirt”, hey we’re KISS fans so we notice that kind of thing! They started out with a couple of original compositions before going into a good cover of the Aerosmith classic Sweet Emotion. The fourth song particularly caught our attention with a great riff and beat, another original tune. They included a couple more tracks and a great rendition of The Cult’s Wild Flower from their epic Electric album produced by legendary Rick Rubin. Their entertaining set was a great start to the evening.
Shag was next up, coming on at about 10pm with ZZ Top’s Ain’t Askin’ For Much. The six piece band featured both a male and female lead vocalist who made a nice harmony together. Doctor Doctor came next and the male singer now had a saxophone out in full force for the cover song. By the time they rolled into their third choice of Rod Stewart’s Maggie May the ladies of our group were loving the band and surely would have danced a bit had there been space in the dense crowd. After lo
sing track of the next song during conversation (yelling to be heard and straining to hear) with our group I perked up again with The Beatles I Saw Her Standing There which was followed with Who Do You Belong To an offering from currently popular Western Canadian group called The Sheepdogs. An Oasis classic and The Cranberries Zombie closed out their roster of excellently done cover songs.
Seeing Red took the stage and The Canadian Decibel Geeks decided to break away from our group and venture into our familiar territory of the “down in front of the stage” variety. The four person band featured the gruff vocals of the female singer which sounded awesome on these original compositions. They had a great sound, tight playing with good heavy riffs and I’m anxious to become more familiar with their music and hopefully we’ll see them opening for more great shows in the near future. They have a Facebook page (SEEING RED), head on over and check them out and tell them Decibel Geek sent you! You can also visit their official website here: SEEING RED WEBSITE
We wormed our way closer and closer inching our way to within three people back of the stage. Not where we want to be, but certainly better than the faraway bar……however, now the accessibility to adult beverages was farther away as well! Honeymoon Suite was introduced by Steve from 97.7HTZ FM from St Catharines before they exploded into The Other Side Of Midnight after which we lost track of the next song in all the excitement and the amazingly tight sound of this band live.
Impressive is just not a descriptive enough word for how these guys are live! Vocalist Johnnie Dee slung a guitar over his shoulder for Stay In The Light from the self titled debut (which we already had a preview of during the sound check, but the full live set blew us away). They followed up with Burning In Love from the same record and then the radio hit Wave Babies. While Johnnie incited the crowd whipping us into a frenzy, with Derry smiling ear to ear and obviously happy to be on stage we were treated to a track off of the latest Honeymoon Suite album Clifton Hill with She Ain’t Alright. Derry Grehan sported a quick little solo, goofing around that brought us into the band’s biggest hit, Feel It Again and it was just like cranking the volume up while playing the album at full blast it sounded so real, so perfect.
Honeymoon Suite had it all, the big solos and melodic vocals and seeing them live I couldn’t help but wonder why they were not bigger than they were. Ray Coburn was the keyboardist of the classic line up era, but in his absence Peter Nunn has been involved with HMS for a long time and he keyed out a short solo break as an intro to What Does It Take which also appeared on the One Crazy Summer original soundtrack in 1986. Still Loving You followed from the 1989 Singles compilation and then we were treated to Looking Out For #1 off of the third Honeymoon Suite release, Racing After Midnight. One of my favourite HMS songs in Bad Attitude (also recently featured by Chris & Aaron on the Decibel Geek Podcast) sounded way heavier under the live treatment and was awesome to hear. The song that started it all with getting the HMS ball rolling in New Girl Now closed out the regular set as the guys took a few short minutes to collect themselves before returning to hit us with the encore. Starting out softer was the Michael Kamen penned Lethal Weapon from the Mel Gibson film and then they finished up with Love Changes Everything.
All in all this was a great show! The opening bands all did a superb job in warming up the stage and packed house crowd for head liners Honeymoon Suite. Kudos to Misfit Promotions, Art and Leigh Wilson-Iafantasie and of course The Rockpile Bar & Nightclub and all it’s great staff.
The Meister & Wallygator