Brooklyn's The Honorary Title began as a moniker for Jarrod Gorbel's solo folk musings but in the last few years it has evolved into a full-fledged quartet about to release its second album and major label debut, Scream and Light Up the Sky- a beautifully ragged collection of subtle indie pop with hints of Americana, Britpop, and punk.
Back in 2003, The Honorary Title was Gorbel and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Kamstra, who plugged away on the New York City club circuit before signing to indie label Doghouse Records. In 2004, Gorbel and Kamstra released their debut Anything Else But the Truth, which combined the unbridled passion of Gorbel's vocals with pop hooks and keenly observed, poetic lyrics. Produced by Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, Guster), it earned accolades from Rolling Stone ("a soaring, heart-rending debut,") Spin (which praised Gorbel's "winning humor and killer pipes,") GQ and many others. Nominated in August 2004 for the prestigious Shortlist Music Prize (alongside Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, TV on The Radio and many more), the album's popularity kept the duo (plus a rotating series of drummers) on the road for three years. During that time they made an appearance at the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival in September 2004 and toured with such diverse bands as Lucero, Switchfoot, The Format, Minus the Bear and AC Newman. During this time, Kamstra's long-time friend Jonathan Wiley joined to play guitar and keyboard, and they later recruited ex-Format drummer Adam Boyd.
With a solid line-up and years of playing together under their belts, it's no surprise that Scream and Light Up the Sky has a bigger sound than its predecessor. "Anything Else But The Truth focused more on me as a singer-songwriter," Gorbel says. "You can hear it in the sparse production and acoustic guitar." The addition of Boyd and Wiley has made a significant impact this time around. "Adam's drumming style introduced a more powerful rock sound, and Jon's electric guitar added another level of atmosphere and texture." This is heavily displayed in the album's first single, "Stuck at Sea." "They are also both singers in their own right," he continues, "and their higher ranges allowed for an array of harmonies that really tied in that indie-pop influence and brought the songs to life."
Gorbel began writing songs for Scream and Light Up the Sky while on the road. The entire band completed them while cooped up in their Brooklyn rehearsal space last year. Lyrically Gorbel says the new album is personal and intimate, as was the last, with songs that describe his perspective on how relationships linger, break down, and begin anew. "I try to separate from myself, as well, and tell other people's stories through the lyrics," he says, citing "Stay Away" which is "about the romantic dynamic between two individuals when one person has more emotionally invested than the other," and "'Even If' about two siblings who lose their father to mental illness" as examples. He also pulled from his own childhood. "'Radiate' is loosely based on my own family relocating from an urban area to the suburbs and the sacrifice that comes with raising children."
To help bottle the lightning The Honorary Title create on stage, the band turned to producer Rob Schnapf, who is known for his work with Beck and the late Elliot Smith. "Rob's guidance on the arrangements really helped shape the record into something more focused and concise," says Gorbel.
"Our intention with Scream and Light Up the Sky was to communicate pessimism and the darkest of emotions," he says, "but at the same time not take ourselves too seriously. It's heartfelt, but expressed with a sarcastic tone."
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