Ian McDonald & Ted Zurowski
Talk Honey West

Take noted New York theater stalwart and well-known Shakespearean actor Ted Zurkowski, pair him with Ian McDonald, a founding member of both King Crimson and Foreigner, and you get the solid rock mixing of this duo shepherding the band Honey West.

With their debut album Bad Old World, Zurkowski and McDonald have created a 12-song gem of rye lyrics, live sounding rollicking (and indeed, lots of these tracks were recorded live), and right-in-the-pocket production.

Using the talents of players like drummer Steve Holley (who has logged time with Paul McCartney & Wings and Ian Hunter’s Rant Band), McDonald’s son Maxwell on bass, and even a special guest appearance by Graham Maby, Honey West is fresh sounding rock and roll, made from guys who certainly know what they are doing. Best of all, I got to chat with McDonald and Zurkowski about their brilliant new project.

~

Ian, as you have intimated in a video interview I saw of you talking about the Honey West writing process, the songs here seem to be most prompted by Ted’s lyrics. Was it mainly Ted coming over with some lyrics and you guys working out tunes?

McDonald: Most if these songs came from a lyric Ted had or would be working on, yes. They would be a starting point, with us just sitting next to one another, plugging our electric guitars into amps. The sound would come from there, then the core of two guitar, bass drums, vocals completed the picture. For me, the very best part of it is when those beginning pieces bring me to imagine a full song.

Zurowski: We are basically not really pedal guys. We plug in, get a nice clean natural sound on our old Fender amps and away we go. Occasionally I might have had a melody idea, a few chords, but really it was as Ian said, I’d come over to his house, at the time he lived right across the street from me, and we’d sit down and hash it out.

Ian, as the producer here, did you set out with an idea of specific design of the sound for this album?

McDonald: a sound, no not really. We just basically treated each song on its own, on its own value. I’d work an arraignment that supported the overall piece, make sure the vocals were clear. And to our way of thinking, as you just said, this is an album, that’s a very important point I think needs making. Sequencing the songs here was another important part of this. In fact, we look at Bad Old World as having a delineated A side and B side.

Ted, from the get go here, we are obviously not in the usual, often times banal rock and roll lyrical territory. Can you speak to your lyric writing?

Zurowski: I try not to think about it, really. I write what I feel is a good lyric, put it away for a couple of days, come back to it and often have no recollection of having written it. I kind of believe in that old adage, when you’re writing do not edit and when you come back to edit do not write. As we said, I’d come over to Ian and we’d work it out; among his many talents he has an amazing ability to write these gorgeous middle 8th chords, like perfect Beatles chords really. He adds his great leads to it and we have these songs.

Ian, I’d be remiss not to ask, especially for Vintage Rock readers, just where you have been for the past few years and why this project for you now? We did manage to talk a few years back for V.R. but would you like to fill us all in where you have been keeping yourself?

McDonald: Well, the last major musical endeavor I was involved in was my solo album Driver’s Eyes back in 1999. I’ve done quite a lot of things since, between that time and now with Honey West. I was in the 21st Century Schizoid Band, did session work, but I didn’t really find any vehicle to throw myself into until I met Ted and heard Honey West as it first was. Somehow I joined, started writing; pretty much once I commit myself I am in. But climbing the mountain of Driver’s Eyes, which was a huge thing for me, I hadn’t really been ready to climb another mountain like that, until now. I seem to need these little breaks between my projects.

Ted, do you ever look across the studio or the stage and think ‘Hey, that’s Ian McDonald!’ Not to embarrass you Ian, but this man does have quite the pedigree.

Zurowski: No, I just know him as Ian. How we met was that my wife Lynnea said to me five years ago that she met this English guy in the neighborhood, who was actually coming to a lot of our Shakespeare performances (Ted’s wife is the artistic director for the Frog and Peach Theatre Company in NYC). Ian never actually came out and said, ‘Hey I was a founding member of King Crimson and Foreigner,’ but he did mention in passing that he had been in some bands. So one day I am coming back from a Honey West gig in the city -- we were a trio then. It was a cold night, I’m lugging my guitar on my back and there’s Ian and my wife introduces us. Of course, I knew who he was, but to tell you the truth, beyond Crimson and the Foreigner, I wanted to ask him how they stacked that sax solo sound on “Bang A Gong.” My wife doesn’t know what I am talking about, of course, but to me that solo was as distinctive to me as a George Harrison guitar solo.

~

Cut to a Honey West gig a bit later. It’s the trio again, and we’re in this small club in the New York City and Ian McDonald shows up. He meets me back in the loading area and says, “There’s a lot of energy coming off that stage.” from there, the following blossomed.

Can you guys speak to swimming the dead waters of the record business these days. How did you got the Honey West album out and about?

Zurowski: Well, we’re doing what a lot of people do, nobody gets a deal anymore. We took our time, recorded and released this all on our own. Max and Ian created Readout Records, and we have a fully staffed business, people actually sitting around a real table, not a virtual one from their laptops. We have a booker, video people, P.R.; great folks creating traction for the record.

McDonald: That support is key, we couldn’t do without it, but we are very fortunate in that we own this project, we make the decisions and ultimately yes, we may look for a distributor to release it here and worldwide, but like Dave Clark, we own the music.

Like Prince worked so hard to do, Cheap Trick, mostly all bands that have any desire to keep control of what they do.

Zurowski: As they say in Spinal Tap: I envy us.

oIan, I hate to bring up a sore point, and the only time I think I mentioned the word ‘old’ here was in the album’s name, but we lost lots of musicians in 2016 and already now in 2017, and quite a few you were close to. Does that give you any sense of immediacy to what you are doing here this time around, needing to get out and make music, play with a sense of time ticking?

McDonald: Not really. Though I did watch the Grammys this year, not something I usually do, but I did notice in that death roll thing that a few of the people mentioned, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Jon Wetton were certainly my contemporaries, people I played with. But, no, I don’t think about it otherwise. I don’t draw on my past here with Honey West, just my experience. We just wanted this record to sound fresh, live, and have a newness to it.

Lastly, any plans for touring?

McDonald: Nothing is set yet. We might get on some festivals over the summer, maybe tour as an opening act for someone. But as of yet there are no set plans yet.

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