With our Spotlight column, every Wednesday, Slanted Press aims to deliver an in-depth insight into the sounds of the future.
In an industry fixated on the finished product, Honey Gentry is an underdog, but like all great underdogs, you’d bet on her to cause an upset, with a storm of ethereal, DIY enchantment providing poetic justice to those desiring artistic integrity. Her first body of work, 2018’s self-released Moonlight EP, pinned her on the map as Britain’s answer to Lana Del Rey, and with a style soaked in reverb, Gentry is capable of producing music of beguiling intrigue.
Growing up in London, Honey Gentry’s intrigue for music arose at the age of seven. Naturally shy, her desire to write music was kept hidden. 'I always would say that I’m going to a criminologist, or something in a lab,’ she confesses. ‘Every time I had a new obsession, I would always have in the back of my head that I am going to be a singer’. Her father’s music taste was influential in terms of sound, energy and the desire to create a new world. ‘Kate Bush, Led Zeppelin and Neil Young were vital. Growing up, bands like Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails really made me obsessed with music.’
Having studied film at university, Gentry’s focus on screenwriting led her to the realisation that she wanted to ‘aggressively pursue music’. ‘Film is one of the only genuinely immersive experiences out there. I wasn’t able to capture what I considered to be the dreamlike state of being, that you should be able to do when you make a film. Music is very close to that I found, with its sensory nature.’
Her first endeavour into life as a singer-songwriter saw her release two EP’s under her own name, an experience she found intense and almost invasive. The intrusiveness of having her name displayed on her music didn’t allow Gentry the level of detachment she so desperately desired. ‘I wanted to create something completely afresh, create a world that is not necessarily attached to my real life,’ she declares, which then led to the decision to adopt the alter ago Honey Gentry.
The catalyst of Honey Gentry’s debut EP, Moonlight, came about from meeting Ruben Elbrond-Palmer, the creative mind behind the EP’s expansive guitar, who met Gentry via his girlfriend, who incidentally put on a gig that Gentry played at. The two started to collaborate due to Gentry’s desire for something different from her ‘three basic chord skills’ on guitar. With Elbrond-Palmer’s help, the Moonlight EP included layers of luxurious guitar work, whilst lyrically touching on dreams, love, jealousy and devotion.
Dreams and mysteries excite the imagination of the London singer-songwriter. ‘The non-tangible aspects of life, like reincarnation, are exciting. Looking at love from different angles intrigues me.’ Explaining the inspiration behind the adoption of her alter ego, Gentry uses the example of screenwriters in films, creating the work whilst allowing a director to gain credit and therefore preserving a sense of anonymity in the public eye. She declares that compared to screenwriters, being a singer-songwriter allows no sense of anonymity. 'In the modern age, if someone googled my name, you could probably find my Facebook. That’s not part of the experience of listening to an artist and finding out about an artist.’ This belief hints at an almost sceptical look between modern societal relations, the internet and social media. In a past Tweet, Gentry exclaims ‘social media gives us the chance to document and share our ignorance before we even realise we are ignorant,’ an essentially critical take on society, but an honest and understandable view to say the least.
The authenticity of Gentry has been inspired by those ‘who rise above everyone else and create something of their own, like Leonard Cohen.’ The fascination with the late Canadian singer-songwriter is apparent, with Gentry releasing a heart-wrenching rendition Hallelujah which rivals the emotion of the famous cover by Jeff Buckley. ‘Leonard Cohen has that ability to show various levels of depth and meaning,’ Gentry says. ‘You can take some of his music at surface level, but it’s also so touching that you can be disabled by it.’
‘The non-tangible aspects of life, like reincarnation, are exciting. Looking at love from different angles intrigues me.'
Cohen, alongside artists including Stevie Nicks and Mazzy Star, has guided the likes of Florence Welch and Lana Del Rey, and the influence now lies within Honey Gentry’s work. There is a beautiful lethargy in Gentry’s craft, with her ability to invoke an emptiness that resonates amongst many. For example, sedated complexion encapsulates the melancholic sadness and yearning that accompanies the solitary gazing at stars whilst longing a loved one, whilst Moonlight EP opener Heaven, California is a resounding sleeper hit.
Gentry yearns for a lifestyle of simplicity, without modernity’s extreme lust for knowledge that starts to invade personal livelihoods. ‘There’s something quite romantic about the old days where artists could create an image and start life again, disappearing and re-emerging. [Honey Gentry] allows me to create this mystery, an aesthetic almost. If you think of Marilyn Manson for example, there’s a reason no one calls him Brian!’
The Honey Gentry persona was inspired by American singer-songwriter Bobbie Gentry, who disappeared into thin air in the bustling 1970’s Hollywood era, to then live a quiet life in the Mississippi Delta. Gentry states that Bobbie’s example ‘was the kind of thing I was looking for, to be able to vanish at any point’, before then bleakly saying ‘If I wanted to kill Honey Gentry one day, I could just do that. That really appeals to me.’
'There’s something quite romantic about the old days where artists could create an image and start life again.'
The romanticism surrounding the old Hollywood era, and the seductive idea of disappearing at the flick of a switch is seen in one of her earlier works. The acoustic Moonbaby Magic shimmers with sultriness. Despite the calming strum of acoustic guitar, there is a not-so-innocent playfulness and subtle confidence within Gentry’s vocals that tie her and Del Rey to the golden era of Hollywood.
There is no doubting the reassurance Gentry gets from the intrigue and secrecy of making music under another name. There is in innate awareness of what exactly Gentry wants to create, and she is very clear that anything not fitting those parameters will be pushed aside for another day. Her most recent single, Aphrodite, is a startling example of this. An ode to nature, beauty and love, the single exudes maturity, beginning with an enchanting melody before a shuffling, R&B-esque beat takes the limelight for the rest of the track. However, Gentry admits that the track came about from a purely experimental period towards the end of 2018, in which she solely wanted to programme a track on software rather than on acoustic guitar. A departure from the debut EP, Gentry is adamant that Aphrodite is not sonically what she wants, declaring that ‘the issue is that the sound is very generic, very much what everyone else is doing.’
With Aphrodite an apparent anomaly, the future sound of Honey Gentry is ‘getting a lot darker than ever before’. A thematic development on the first EP, work on the follow-up ‘feels darker, more saturated and heavy than the Moonlight work.’ Gentry is passionately enthusiastic with what is to come, explaining a newfound purpose and direction to the new work, with emotional chaos a prevailing theme throughout. The reserved quality of Moonlight is being replaced with a confidence to push the music to new extremes, sonically and emotionally, and with Ruben Elbrond-Palmer still involved in the creative process, the immanent release of a second EP is an enticing prospect.
The DIY-nature to Honey Gentry has meant that the logistics of her live show are currently still being worked out, but she appears excited at the prospect of future shows. Having suggested that the stripped-back style of her music allows the live show to sound almost identical to the recordings, Gentry is realistic with her ambitions for the live set-up. “Whilst I’d love to have a full band and have an interesting live show, that’s probably a couple of years down the line.”
Now currently living in North London, Honey Gentry confesses that her current stability contrasts the ‘tumultuous times’ of her teenage years, allowing her the opportunity to really reflect on the past, and subsequently direct certain experiences into the creative process of songwriting. The sense of mystery of the artist partly comes from the ability to only partially allow certain experiences to direct her lyrics. ‘I’ve never actually explicitly written about things I’ve been through, they’re more hints to things. On the one hand you do want to write about things you’ve been through, but on the other hand I don’t want to be too on the nose about certain events.’
She remains very honest with the fact that she is not bothered about being relatable per se, opting for her music to dissipate to an extent that it is understandable for many who may have felt a similar feeling. ‘I tend to be someone that goes a lot deeper before I can talk about it. There’s definitely a Persephone complex with me, with going to the underworld and then emerging every spring. I find it helpful looking at astrology and mythology to explain my own experiences. Songwriting for me is an extension of legend telling, where you are telling a story but dressing it up enough so people can see what they’ve experienced with it. I try and be vague enough so that people who know what I’m talking about know what I’m saying, but also so other people can try and take away what they want to.’
This analysis from Gentry ties very neatly to something one of her self-confessed idols, Marina Diamandis, said a few weeks ago when she stated, ‘the music you need always finds you in the end.’ For Honey Gentry’s music, this couldn’t be truer. In the midst of despair and solitude, Gentry’s music comforts those who need it the most, providing a glimmer of hope that future brightness is possible. There is an undisputed essence of antique cinematography embedded within the philosophy of the artist. Every aspect of Honey Gentry, whether that’s her style, mentality, emotion, design, or personality, is permeated with an old-fashioned authenticity that is impossible to replicate.