By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Veterans of the Boston music scene for some time now, songwriters Susan Cattaneo and Paul Hansen (The Grownup Noise) started their own project, Honest Mechanik and marked their arrival this year with their debut self-titled album, released over the summer.
Packed with highlights like “Love Alone,” “Movie,” “Outside” and the generational love letter “Translate,” ‘Honest Mechanik’ was recorded with Dan Cardinal at Dimension Sound Studios (Darlingside, Lula Wiles, Air Traffic Controller) and shows what happens when Cattaneo’s Americana/folk and Hansen’s indie/electronic-pop backgrounds come together; a unity of musical diversity.
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with the indie-pop duo about what they’ve been up to lately and more.
Music Bugle – What was your goal for your single “Translate”?
Susan Cattaneo – In addition to being musicians, Paul and I both have families of our own and are parents to our respective kids. His two are still little and mine are just now leaving the nest. “Translate” is about all those little nagging doubts that come with being a parent. You’re always wondering if you did too much or not enough and at the same time, you realize that you have to let go and let them discover their own life.
Paul Hansen – I think first and foremost, we wanted to create a feeling for the song. A rolling, groovy kinda thing that would pull the listener in and even though the song is about coming to terms with things in life that don’t translate, I love that it’s also a bit dreamy-sounding.
Music Bugle – How did you get to decide the name “Honest Mechanik”?
Susan Cattaneo – Paul came up with that one at our first gig! We were opening for a friend of mine at Club Passim. I think we’d only written about five songs at that point and while we were rehearsing in the green room before the show, Paul said he thought he had a band name for us. I’ll let him tell the story, but I love the fact that the name came from a local mechanic – since we both call Medford home.
Paul Hansen – Long story short, I thought of the name after a local mechanic in Medford I knew was forced to move out of his garage. Then, collectively, our neighborhood grew saddened, as we realized we lost an honest mechanic.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Boston to someone who has never been there before?
Susan Cattaneo – Hmm, that’s an interesting question, as Boston is many things. On one hand, the city has such a rich history that it almost has a European feel to it. That also means it’s steeped in tradition and can feel closed off in some ways. On the other hand, it’s a city full of all these wonderful schools and universities, so there’s this constant influx of new people and new energy. I moved here from New York City and I remember being struck by all the sky space and the fact that there’s a beautiful winding river to the sea that cuts through the center of it all.
Paul Hansen – Maybe as a small, intense place where very old ideas and buildings are mashed with very new ideas and buildings. Also – and I’m stealing this from a friend – but Boston is a bit of a “my first Fisher-Price city.” As compared to a place like NYC or something. No offense to Boston, I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else in my life now and I’ve come to love it.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
Paul Hansen – That it feels unknown, as we are fusing two different aesthetics.
Susan Cattaneo – I love what Honest Mechanik sounds like, because I can’t quite label it as something I’ve heard before. Our dual lead vocals, along with Paul’s guitar and synth work, is really unique. Once you add in Marco Giovino’s drum tracks, we’re sonically indie and also pop and also kinda folk. It’s this combination of sounds that feel at once familiar and also new.
Music Bugle – What is the biggest challenge in being a musical duo?
Susan Cattaneo – Ha! As a duo, Paul and I are so new that we are still figuring stuff out. We had a gig once and I realized that we’re still working out some of the simpler details, like which side of the stage do we each want to be on and how are we introducing the songs? Because Honest Mechanik as a band really came together during the pandemic, we’re learning as we go!
Paul Hansen – Traditionally I would say egos, but Susan and I are not really diva-like, so we have this nice flow of give-and-take of the spotlight.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Paul Hansen – I’m a bit obsessed with Aldous Harding. I love her voice and melodies and as a performer, she’s unpredictable and odd, almost like if Andy Kaufman was an indie-folk songwriter from New Zealand.
Susan Cattaneo – Lucius! Paul and I have very different influences, so we share what we’ve been listening to. He turned me on to this duo and I love them! My husband also discovered an artist named The Weather Station and I’m equally obsessed with her right now.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Susan Cattaneo – Can I say “yes” to both in this question? On one hand, I think social media helps musicians, because it enables artists to reach and communicate with fans directly. Also, the visual aspects of Facebook and Instagram and TikTok make music super compelling to listen to and watch. On the other hand, I find social media to be a terrible place to “create art.” I think every musician just wants their work to be heard and recognized and validated. Social media makes it hard not to compare yourself to others and because you’re always seeing what everyone else is doing, there’s this constant – and unhealthy – feeling that you’re not doing enough.
Paul Hansen – I’m sure it’s some blend of both, but probably impossible to tell which way is more. I think it damages the individual musician’s relationship with music to themselves, always thinking about the outside world and perceptions, etc., but at the same time, allows for potential positive connection to people they don’t know.
Music Bugle – What was it like putting together your debut album?
Susan Cattaneo – Super easy, actually. Paul and I started songwriting together three years ago, so our style and process developed over time. Since we weren’t initially planning on being a band, there wasn’t any pressure to create and our sound evolved even more as we started recording. Once we had our album written, we put down tracks with Dan Cardinal at Dimension Sound Studios in Jamaica Plain and he’s lovely and super chill to work with! Then, we sent the songs to the fabulous Marco Giovino to add drums and then, Paul added synth to them. Everything fell into place in a really natural and relaxed way and I think that ease translates into the album as a whole.
Paul Hansen – An absolute pleasure. It’s like getting a do-over. Or maybe a second chance and fun to make all these random decisions together.
Music Bugle – Which of your songs were the hardest to write?
Susan Cattaneo – Probably the first one, “Maybe,” was the hardest to write, because Paul and I didn’t know each other yet and we were still figuring out how to blend our different styles and vocals.
Paul Hansen – Maybe “Under The Weight,” since I feel very close emotionally to that song, but on a functional level, nothing was difficult to write. Our collaboration is so new, It feels like we’re in the honeymoon phase of our band.
Music Bugle – What do you hope for as 2021 comes to a close?
Susan Cattaneo – I hope everyone gets vaccinated, so that we can put these past two years behind us. I hope to never forget all of the important things I learned during this odd time in the world – things like being grateful for family and friends and health. I hope that going forward, I never take for granted the beautiful gift that is making music and singing with friends.
Paul Hansen – To play shows and establish ourselves as a band that is here to stay!
*Photo Credit – Dino Cattaneo*