I catch Lech Wierzynski when he’s “at home.” The concept is vague, and we agree to apply it loosely. The California Honeydrops, the San Francisco Bay Area-based R&B-slash-New Orleans-jazz-slash-soul ensemble that Wierzynski has fronted for the past decade, “live” nowhere in particular. For more than 200 days out of the year, for each of the last past six years, the band has been out on the road touring. Counting solely by number of sleeps, the band’s “home” has four wheels and moves from town to town.
The place where bills and junk mail with Wierzynski’s name on them show up is an apartment in Oakland, California. This is a city that’s changed so rapidly in recent years that — for Wierzynski, his bandmates and their former neighbors who have been priced out — their “home” is a place that now often feels strange and unfamiliar. The hills and the trees and the bay water are the same, but the people are no longer the same.
This particular week for the Honeydrops is a rare one. The summer festival circuit is mostly over and the band has two dates booked at a local venue that’s only a short drive away from the beds that they own, followed by few weeks off. For now, they are at home. Broad and ambiguous and fleeting, “home” is the concept behind the Honeydrops’ seventh and latest record, “Call it Home Vol. 1 & 2.”
And cannabis is absolutely a part of the Honeydrops’ process. A while back, Wierzynski quit drinking alcohol while out on the road. He enjoyed the clarity of mind and body he found without alcohol so much that he quit drinking entirely. Cannabis, however, is absolutely on the bus, and a part of the creative process.
“It makes touring a lot easier. It makes touring great,” he says. “It’s great for your body, keeping your body healthy and feeling good. Sitting in a van for eight hours can really mess you up. Having a CBD salve is amazing for that.”
The Honeydrops have also performed at many cannabis events around California, including the Emerald Cup in 2016. When it comes to creative inspiration, Wierzynski says “a shift of consciousness is a huge part of what music is for, and cannabis is a way to bring about a subtle to extreme shift in consciousness.”
The Honeydrops play what you could describe as “American roots music.” Just about everything the band creates — blues, soul, funk, R&B — stems from the musical traditions of black artists in the American South. In these genres, a common theme is unrequited yearning without hope of fulfillment, a feeling the Portuguese call “saudade,” or “memory of something with a desire for it.” Processing these feelings, backed by a horn section and an electric organ, is what the Honeydrops are all about.
It is possible to “feel at home,” whether you’re on a strange road for the first time or under a roof you rent or own.
“You don’t have to choose one or the other,” says Wierzynski.
“Ultimately, the theme of the album is the fluidity of it all,” he says, before begging my pardon. Someone’s knocking at his door. A few minutes pass. “That was my landlord, who’s keeping me living in Oakland,” Wierzynski says, as we resume our chat. “I have a nice landlord.”
A secure tenancy is at best a port in a storm. Finding that metaphysical home is not made easier when your physical soundings are under constant direct assault. However, Wierzynski does his best to steer the conversation towards positive vibes. As he says, the Honeydrops are trying to tap into a “positive ways of looking at a bad situation.”
Because, the thing is, checking out isn’t always an option. There’s serious irony in fleeing in search of another, better home. The forces that are changing cities that we know and love don’t know physical boundaries. You can’t stop gentrification with a wall, a bay, nor a levee.
Despite the emphasis on the positive, displacement and the fear of displacement color daily life in the Bay Area in 2018, and the Honeydrops are feeling the strain.
“Some people tell me/that’s just the way it is. If you can’t beat them join them/ or find some other place to live,” Wierzynski sings on “Silicon World,” one of the 16 sons on “Call It Home”. “I want to tell you people/that’s just what I do,” one verse ends. “I’d rather leave my happy home/than live next door to you.”
Ultimately, Wierzynski says the degree to which the Bay Area has become unaffordable “is affecting peoples’ lives and the way they look at their art,” and has put new pressures on his own creative process.
Of course, the pressure that the Honeydrops — and a good portion of the other 8 million (and counting) souls who call the Bay Area “home” — are facing is similar to the pressure facing many longtime cannabis producers in California, now being pushed out by expensive new compliance requirements as the cannabis industry becomes a more entrenched feature of the state’s landscape.
In terms of cannabis, Wierzynski leans more towards the subtle. The only time he’ll smoke before going on stage, for example, is usually at a music festival.
“Sometimes you just know you need to relax a little bit, and festivals, for me, that’s the best place to go on stage and have a little puff,” he says. “I think everyone’s on that level.”
The Honeydrops don’t really use setlists, and rely on spontaneity and feedback from the crowd to guide a show, so a little cannabis can help, but not too much.
That’s just what works for Wierzynski, what puts him at ease, what makes him feel at home while he sings on a stage, a few thousand miles away from his mailbox.
TELL US, how do you use cannabis to enhance your creativity at work?
Originally appeared in Issue 33 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE