Interview: Honest Mechanik on ‘Translate’, translations, and band relations
Debut self-titled album set for release this July
New project from Boston music veterans Susan Cattaneo and The Grownup Noise’s Paul Hansen release third single, out now
MEDFORD, MASS. [June 4, 2021] -- Sometimes we get so caught up in things that are lost in translation, we don’t allow ourselves to stop for a moment and appreciate the things that simply can’t be translated. For Boston indie-pop duo Honest Mechanik, that’s at the heart of their magnetic new single, “Translate,” set for release on all streaming platforms on Friday June 4.
The opening track to this summer’s forthcoming debut album, “Translate” is a delicate and melodic love letter to the children of songwriters Susan Cattaneo and Paul Hansen. It’s all about the things that can be passed down, and the things that can’t. To get the full scoop, publi*sist chatted with Cattaneo and Hansen about their new single, their creative chemistry together, and the types of things that are easy translatable -- and those that aren’t.
publi*sist: Starting off with the toughest question of all -- what is “Translate” all about?
Susan Cattaneo: Both Paul and I are lucky that one of our main jobs in this life is to be the parents of our respective kids. His two are still little and my two are college age. ‘Translate’ came into being when we were discussing that as parents, there are some things we can’t solve for our kids, some experiences they need to have on their own. Generationally, parents and kids speak a different language and belong to different worlds from so many different angles: cultural, musical, social. ‘Translate’ is about that and also about the fact that as parents, you’re always asking yourself, and I’m quoting our song here: “Did we do too much? Did we not do enough?
Paul Hansen: I feel like it started as Susan and I writing, in a sense, a future letter to our children or something. It was the idea that we will give them whatever wisdom we have, but that we understand that some advice doesn’t translate, as it is a new world, and we can’t pretend to know everything anymore. There are some experiences that we probably can’t relate to. I think it’s a song coming to terms with this. And then further, I think it can be interpreted as many things in general are difficult to translate, with language and the subjective limits of human understanding.
How did “Translate” come together? There are definitely some layers here that seem like they were really fun to piece together!
Cattaneo: We wrote the song and initially it was just Paul on guitar with our two voices. When we decided to add the amazing drummer Marco Giovino into our sound, this was one song where the drums really gave the song a different flavor and feel that we loved! Then, Paul added this awesome quirky synth bass part, and suddenly, it felt like we’d honed in on an important element to the overall sound of Honest Mechanik. When we were working on the mix of the track, it became more about what can we remove musically to highlight the bass and drums and give the song a little more space and texture.
Hansen: Yes. This is one of those tracks where Marco put down some unexpected kick ass drum parts which then inspired a synth bass part, and so on. It really unfolded in a cool, unpredictable way and by the end we were like… whoa… (*Keanu Reeves voice*).
How do you guys think “Translate” reflects Honest Mechanik's overall musical vision?
Hansen: I think it’s helping to illuminate our sound as a bit pinned between the old and the new. We know now that synth bass and some ambient high synths can work with our earthy acoustic guitar and Vox harmony sound.
Cattaneo: The track has electronic synths, a pronounced drum sound over what’s essentially a folk duo structure and I think this beautifully reflects our classic/modern vision for the band. Paul and I come from different worlds musically, and it’s this combination of diverse influences that makes our sound unique. We like blending these two worlds into something cool.
The debut Honest Mechanik album is set to arrive this summer, and “Translate” leads it off. How does the song properly serve as the album's opening track -- as well a sort of intro to the project?
Cattaneo: When we decided to put it first on the album, it felt kind of like a beautiful surprise. The song kind of sneaks in the back door. You get the drums, our vocals then that wonderfully weird synth. I love it! You don’t know what you’re in for and then each layer is added.
Hansen: I really love that little drumbeat kicking off the album. For an instant you really don’t know where the song is going. And maybe Susan and I feel the same about Honest Mechanic, and we like that.
Both participants really shine on this track, from the lyrics to the vocal harmonies to the musical elements -- what is your favorite contribution the other person brought to the table here?
Cattaneo: Have I mentioned that quirky bass part?!? Ha! Paul is such a wonderful musician that it’s hard for me to choose one thing specifically. You have to understand that we had never really worked together in the studio before this recording! We had to learn what each other is like sonically, how we wanted to work the blend of our vocals, etc. while we were making this album. We were figuring it out as we went along, so there were many new things to discover!
Hansen: I am constantly in awe of Susan’s ear for harmonies. I’ll be trying to handle a very simple one to start with and I can tell she’s already traveled to Mars and back processing the options of vocal harmony and sound. Which then helps lift me up vocally, as she finds what works best for us together and for the vibe of the song.
Cattaneo: I love the lyrics and melodies we come up with when we’re co-writing. I already knew about Paul’s great guitar playing… For me, the wonderful keyboard parts that Paul came up with were the icing on the cake!
How wound you say this collaboration has grown since Day 1?
Hansen: I feel like each time we write we are becoming more comfortable with each other. And we are sharing more personal experiences. We are also really enjoying our differences. And we are realizing what a truly unique team we are, as I think we are able to cover for each other’s weaknesses, in a way.
Cattaneo: When you first start working with someone, there’s always a little bit of shyness that comes into play. It’s important that both the songwriters feel like they’ve been “heard” creatively. From the beginning, I have felt at ease with Paul and that has made songwriting a fun and relaxed experience. As we’ve written more and spent more time together, I think both of us have felt more comfortable sharing stories from our lives and that has made our creative process even more fluid.
Ok, in the spirit of the song, what are some things in life that translate well, from one person to another?
Cattaneo: Hmmm, I think good food always translates well between people. We can all get behind something like homemade bread, right?
Hansen: I am always amazed when a novel written in a different language can be translated and seem to be as beautiful as the original. And it’s cool to think that the person translating then also becomes part of the art.
And what is something that doesn’t translate well?
Hansen: What doesn’t translate well? The sustain pedal of a piano. I don’t know what it is, but when I hear it, it’s like pouring water over a wonderfully spiced meal. It’s such a buzz kill for me. And I don’t get it, because people love it, and they sit on the sustain pedal for dramatic effect. For me, it removes drama and intensity. I can honestly say I have never held down a sustain pedal on any recording I’ve done. [laughs] It does not translate. Not for me at least.
Cattaneo: Well, having spent the past year and a half hanging out at home and watching TV with my kids, I discovered that some things that don’t translate well at all are some movies and shows from the ‘80s!! The amount of sexist, gender-biased and racist material that used to be considered acceptable in the storylines is terrible and uncomfortable to watch. My kids can’t believe that we used to like this stuff. Honestly, I can’t believe it either!
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Honest Mechanik is:
Susan Cattaneo - Vox and Writing
Paul Hansen - Guitar, Synths, Vox, and Writing
With Marco Giovino on Drums and Percussion
Honest Mechanik 2021 press photo:
Photo Credit: Dino Cattaneo
‘Translate’ single artwork:
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