The Honeydogs and First Avenue go together like the after-party and White Castle. So when it was time for the veteran pop-roots band to celebrate its new digital retrospective compilation, Chasing The Sun: Best Of The Honeydogs, it was only natural for the May 8 show to become part of the club's ongoing 40th-anniversary bash. Singer/songwriter and head dog Adam Levy—who moonlights as a music teacher at the Institute of Production & Recording, as well as providing the guiding light to disparate acts such as Hookers & Blow, Liminal Phase, Bunny Clogs, and And The Professors—talked with The A.V. Club about the big black bus depot, including how he feels about not having a star on the side of it.
The A.V. Club: First Avenue is celebrating its 40th birthday. What are your fondest impressions off the top of your head?
Adam Levy: The first time the band played there was probably 1994. And the thing is, even when you’re nobody you’re treated like somebody. I played with Liminal Phase on Wednesday, and with all due respect to the college kids who put the gig on, there were 20 bands and 10 of them had this major choreographed girl-dancing shit going on, so both dressing rooms at any given moment had girls putting eyeliner on and screaming every time a door was opened. And [First Avenue stage manager] Conrad [Sverkerson] was as tolerant as could be. Annoyed that the whole thing was such a clusterfuck but so gracious, and he still made sure to figure out a way to make people comfortable, even though he was bugged by the whole nightmare.
AVC: Do The Honeydogs have a star on the side of First Avenue?
AL: No, we don’t. You can’t get bugged by stuff like that, because it just makes you look petty. I think we’ve made music for enough time, it’s just not even worth getting irritated about. What is your legacy, I think, is sort of the question. What have you done and what’s the importance of making music? Is it that you’ve got some star that competes with the politics of—I mean, there’s probably dozens of people calling them irritated they don’t have a star. I’ve heard it before: “I’ve been in all of these projects and why am I not up on there?” I don’t know. I can’t get hung up on it.
AVC: As a music lover, what are some of your highlights from going to the club?
AL: I can give you two experiences that are sort of bookends for me. The first is watching Taj Mahal in 1985 and he was warmed up by Fishbone, which is one of the most unlikely tours in my memory. Fishbone just brought it, they nailed it. Here was this young, testosterone-fueled third-generation ska band, incredible, and there are maybe 100 people in First Avenue. It just reminded me that it does not matter how many people are in a venue when you’re playing, you give everything every time you play. Then I saw St. Vincent last spring. And it was one of those times where you’re in a bar, and you’re watching a band, and the sightlines are so great at First Avenue. She had all these wicked sounds and everything was dialed in so well, it just made me want to make a record after hearing that, and do something I’ve never done before.
AVC: You have a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, creatively, with teaching and all of your side projects. Are The Honeydogs sort of the mothership that the rest splay out from?
AL: After playing music for so long, you sort of reach a certain number of people doing it, and I feel like The Honeydogs have changed musically quite a bit over a 15-year period. At a certain point, people have you sort of fixed in their mind as being of a certain style. So the band, I guess, has offered me the opportunity to hook up with other musicians. This last thing, And The Professors—we did our debut show at the Kitty Kat Club a week ago—was a whole new patch of music that I wrote. And in some ways the songs could have ended up on a Honeydogs record, but I think that if you’re just making music in the same way, same setting, and same players, it’s not interesting to people. Even if you’re pushing the envelope creatively, just not many people are going to pay attention to you because you’re sort of frozen in their memories. I think you have to figure out new ways to reach people and communicate and create different partnerships with musicians. It’s like dating. It’s fun to be monogamous and, as you say, have a home base, but it’s also really fun to meet new people and make music in a way that you wouldn’t have made it the same way you made it with folks you’ve been making it with for 10 years. Or more.