The Honey Badgers are a Delaware based contemporary folk duo bringing their distinctive harmonies and sincere Americana sound to stages across the east coast. Weaving their voices together over driving guitar, lonesome violin, and punchy harmonica, The Honey Badgers spin stories and songs about finding yourself, finding each other, and finding your way in the world.
Their first full length album, “Meet Me” was released in March 2019. “Meet Me” is a colorful story that has been unfolding since Michael and Erin met. The songs are new, but the feelings within them are familiar – from the blooming of new love to the comfort of seasoned love, losing yourself and discovering yourself, from feeling alone in a fast moving world to finding connection in a room full of strangers. “Meet Me” was mostly conceived in an old self-converted Sprinter camper van on a 2017 road trip around the USA. In the spring of 2019, The Honey Badgers quit their non-music jobs and hit the road again, traveling up and down the East Coast singing songs, telling stories and building community on the road.
So you’re called The Honey Badgers – what made you decide on that name?
Erin Magnin: Funny story, that. Remember that viral video, “The Crazy Nasty-A** Honey Badger” from about a decade ago? About the time that video came out, Michael and I were practicing for our first ever gig together. We were scheduled to perform in the “Delmarva Folk Hero” competition. When we arrived at the gig we went to sign in and they asked us for our band name. Well, we were so busy rehearsing and accidentally falling in love with each other that we sort of forgot to come up with a name. At that point we were more invested in making each other laugh than being a fancy professional band with a decent name, so we said, “Yeah, we’re The Honey Badgers.”
Michael Natrin: Then we won the competition, so the name stuck. We’re not always what people expect when they hear the name, but it makes us laugh and it’s just who we are now. Honey Badger don’t give a folk.
What originally drew you in to playing music? Did you grow up with music or was it something you found later?
MN: I grew up homeschooled in Philadelphia, and was fortunate enough that the public schools allowed me to take music lessons. I learned to read music and play trumpet at Lowell Elementary School in Olney, and continued to play trumpet throughout high school in Delaware. During middle school, I picked up the acoustic guitar and my father taught me some basic chords. I grew up listening to a lot of The Beatles, James Taylor, and Jim Croce. I started writing music in high school with my friends, but got more serious about it while in college.
EM: I grew up with music like most people grew up with music – I listened to what my parents liked. My mom and I would belt out Barbra Streisand or hum along with Janis Ian. My dad liked to listen to classical music on NPR when he and I were on long drives, and that’s how I ended up asking to study violin. I liked playing the violin, but I always really loved to sing. In high school I was in every choir I could be in, but I didn’t start writing my own music until I was in college. Michael gets credit for that. I had always studied and performed the music that others wrote, and it was like I almost needed permission to write my own music. Michael nudged me to start writing, and I’m so grateful for that.
You have lovely, dynamic songs in your catalog. What’s your songwriting process? What inspires you?
MN: Thanks so much. Generally, I will start with a lyric that pops into my head, or a situation or an emotion that I come across in life, and keep expanding on those and forming a verse and a chorus. By then, I can sort of hear the melody that I want and develop chords to fit around that melody.
EM: Similarly to Michael, I tend to start with a line that has been bouncing around in my head for a while, and then I’ll sit down and try to turn that into a whole song. I tend to rely on “in the moment” inspiration, but I’d like to get better at just sitting down and writing as a practice.
MN: When Erin and I write together, it’s a much more back and forth process with lots of revisions, compared with me just sitting down solo and writing an entire song and calling it finished. I tend to like songs that we write together more in the end, because I can see both of our voices and stories reflected in the lyrics and melody.
EM: It’s really nice to have a mix of songs written by the two of us individually – it provides some great contrast. I tend to write lyrics as stories, telling things as they happened, and Michael seems to write more of a representation of an emotion or moment. Literal vs figurative, I suppose. Lately, we’ve both been writing a lot about traveling. Moving through the world sparks some great songwriting. Besides that, we write about things that happen in our life and the lives of people around us.
MN: I’m always inspired by nature and by the kindness of people that we come across in our travels.
Has playing music as your primary profession changed how you feel about the music industry and music in general?
MN: Yes, definitely. I think before we started performing and touring full time, I didn’t ever realize how hard it is to live life on the road. I have so much more respect now for bigger names that have been touring for decades. The change from corporate life to self-employed musician life has also made me focus more on music industry news and in paying attention more to how legislation and lobbyists often favor major labels and forget about the indie artists.
EM: It’s definitely a little easier to see this profession as whimsical and delightful when you’re on the outside looking in. Now, a year into being a full time performer, I realize how much hard work goes into living this dream. But that makes me even happier that we chose this. It’s incredibly rewarding to put all our effort into something we love. One more thing that I’ve realized about the music industry is that it’s all about community. Most musicians, from the huge superstars to the independent artists, are seeking connection with a group of people – and we’re all looking to be seen and understood.
Like many wonderful duos, you two are a couple – how does working and making music together affect your relationship and vice versa?
EM: Honestly, there are times when it’s immensely stressful. We’re only one year into being full time musicians, so we’re still trying to get the hang of self-motivation, creating routine, wearing lots of different hats, etc., so nurturing the romantic part of the relationship can sometimes slip through the cracks if we let it. We’re learning balance. But on the flip side, it is SO FUN to make music with someone you love. We can be sitting in the car on the way to a gig, both cranky because there’s traffic and it’s raining and we forgot to eat lunch, but the minute we start to sing together all of the minutiae slips away. It’s easy to love someone when you’re singing great harmonies together.
MN: Like any relationship or small business, it comes with its challenges. One practical thing that has helped us to be business partners and life partners has been to try our best to have a cutoff time each day where we stop working on music business tasks and start to spend more personal time together. It gets tough on longer or double gig days when we sometimes aren’t finished with load out and driving until 1 or 2 AM. On weekend days when we don’t have gigs, we always try to reconnect and focus on the relationship.
If you could have a jam session with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
EM: Conor Oberst before he was a responsible adult human. We’d pound a bunch of cheap beers and yell-sing sad songs together.
MN: Oooh. If I had to pick one person, it would probably be Chris Thile, but I would just stare at him the entire time and probably not play a single note. He is an incredible and inspirational performer and musician.
Anything else you’d like folks to know?
MN: We’re extremely grateful for how welcoming and inclusive the Philadelphia Music Co-op and everyone at the Philadelphia Folksong Society have been. It is great to have such a friendly and talented community of musicians to learn from and grow with.
EM: What he said! Also -since the stay at home orders started and all of our upcoming gigs were postponed, we’ve been livestreaming weekly concerts on Facebook and Instagram (@honeybadgerfolk). If you’re craving live music, we’ll be streaming concerts at 5pm every Friday from May 8th to 29th. You could also check out our website honeybadgerfolk.com to learn more about our story.