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Meet HONESTY, the Leeds collective writing their own lore

The Partisan Records signings discuss how experimental new mixtape ‘BOX’ is a self-referential prelude to their already-finished debut album.

By Will Richards

HONESTY (Picture: Barney Maguire)

Most artists don’t start self-mythologising and telling expansive stories about their past until a few decades in. For Leeds collective HONESTY, it has been baked in from the start.

The project – signed to Partisan Records – formed out of the ashes of a series of guitar bands from Yorkshire, and with a determination from its members to do things differently. Rejecting the traditional framework of bands, with each member tied to one instrument, instead the three core members – George Mitchell, Matt Peel, Josh Lewis – collaborated in a freer and more unrestricted way.

For new mixtape BOX, HONESTY are joined by now-permanent vocalist Imi Holmes and a series of guest stars including Dry Cleaning’s Florence Shaw and rappers Rarelyalways and Kosi Tides. With this crew of collaborators, the collective traverse glitchy electronic music, soaring pop, ambient bliss and beyond with no boundaries.

In our conversation, HONESTY explain how BOX serves as a prequel to their already-written debut album, how it tells the story of their past as a “prelude” to what comes next, and the freedom of their latest project.

You’ve spoken before about wanting this project to be different than other bands in your pasts – what was the mission statement for HONESTY?

Matt: It was just about not falling into that same sort that bands fall into, where everyone’s just responsible for their own instruments. We wanted it to be free of ego and more truly creative. With having lots of different vocalists, you can dive into different worlds depending on where the songs go and who’s singing them.

Josh: ‘Tune In Tune Out’ was the first track where we properly started to get to the bones of what this project was. It captured something that really made sense. When we first started, George said he was done with being a singer, but we managed to get it out of you!

George: That was the first thing I said when I walked into the studio, but it quickly changed.

HONESTY started with Imi as a guest vocalist, and now you’re a full-time member – tell us a bit about that decision.

Imi: We worked together on a few tracks, and then the live show, and we kept on coming back and gravitating towards each other. I found it a really enjoyable way to try things I haven’t done before by feeding off what these guys have done. It was really creatively engaging project and it wasn’t a hard sell [to join] when we had that conversation.

Tell us a bit about the visual element of the band too – it all feels very interconnected with the music.

George: Like most music or art, when it’s a body of work that fits together nicely, it’s always more enjoyable. Whether it’s old 4AD work or Factory Records stuff, it’s best when it’s all intertwined.

Josh: It’s important to have a consistent, unique and interesting visual language to the whole thing. We’ve been working with *UNCANNY and it’s been great to work with them and refine it into something that’s ours.

George: Also if I had to do it myself it’d never get done!

HONESTY (Picture: Press)

Your new project BOX is described as a ‘continuous mix’ – is that categorisation important, and what does the new music represent?

Matt: It’s a mixtape, hip-hop style, where you can have little skits and not necessarily fully-formed ideas. That way of working really suited us, and our ideas often start off as sound experiments, and a lot of them don’t end up as fully-formed songs, but that doesn’t mean the experiment was bad. It’s nice to be able to show some sort of a behind-the-scenes look.

George: It’s a prelude to the album. There are songs on this that were meant to be on the album. It’s the film before that never got released.

Josh: There’s a story to BOX too; it goes through our history. Before [HONESTY] existed, we were doing different projects, and a vocalist from one of our old bands is on the project. The shape of the ideas on it charts us moving towards what we’ve gradually become. It’s been a really interesting process to go through old ideas and find interesting ways to repurpose them.

What interests you about writing your own lore like this?

George: I love this concept. It helps people understand us. It’s a primer. It’s the coat beneath before the final layer.

Matt: We wanted to explain us a bit better before releasing a full album. We got into the historic side of our lives. Me and Josh were in a band before this, and the singer from the band got cancer and ended up fighting for his life. There was a track that me and Josh did after that which kind of started us doing HONESTY really. On the mixtape, he appears on that track [‘Breathe’] and has won his battle with cancer. We’ve still got our friend.