An impressive combination of comfort and ingenuity has been achieved by Honcho Poncho’s debut album, “Late Night,” which was released Nov. 25. The band makes their own style of alternative rock, producing a mix of calming, upbeat and comfortable music. One might detect folk undertones or components of straight-up rock, but ultimately Honcho Poncho cannot be defined in simple terms.
The band currently consists of six members. Sam Gelband, lead vocalist and rhythmist, founded the band in 2013. Gelband graduated from Whitman in 2016.
“I owe a great thanks you to Walla Walla for this album,” Gelband wrote in an email to The Wire. “I wrote all of the songs in and around Whitman … I spent so much of my time at Whitman performing or rehearsing, that my work on ‘Late Night’ became a productive place of rest … When I was writing the album, it was just a place I could put the ideas I didn’t understand yet.”
Honcho Poncho’s song “32 & 33” from their debut album has recently been featured in “City Arts Magazine” in Seattle, in an article titled “Attractive Singles: December 2016.” This song featured a more melancholy and heartfelt vocal component against an upbeat instrumental support.
Gelband noted that many people ask him why “32 & 33,” along with other songs on the album, mention Ohio.
“When I was in Walla Walla, Ohio was simply ‘the other place,’” Gelband said. “I was one of the few among my friends from growing up who went on to get a degree, and I was always taunted by their stories of traveling across the country, sharing and making new work. Ohio was the place in my mind that represented possibility, or simply, an alternative.”
Throughout the process of writing, Gelband and the band struggled with the concept he calls “freedom of failure,” a major challenge in producing the album.
“These songs went through nearly two years of drafts and demos before completion, and I learned to embrace the experience of failure,” Gelband said. “The best thing you can do to fix a song is to scrap it and build it again.”
Gelband’s experience with failure is not unusual among artists; however, his views on where his music comes from and where inspiration comes to play in the process of songwriting are interesting.
“I think the most difficult thing about writing or songwriting is fooling yourself into thinking that inspiration exists,” Gelband said. “My creative life has two modes: input and output. I find that when I write, I write without stopping for weeks or months, shutting most other things out, and then out of nowhere it stops and I can’t seem to write anything. When I am not writing, or ‘outputting,’ I am usually surrounding myself with the work of other musicians, filmmakers, playwrights, etc. in mass amounts. I find it helpful to separate these two things.”
The result of this songwriting is music that features compelling, paradoxically straightforward yet ambiguous lyrics sung by Gelband’s honest and unpretentious voice.
The name of the band also reflects the unpretentious, human side of the band. The name “Honcho Poncho” came from a soccer camp experience Gelband had as a young boy. In encountering difficulties at camp, Gelband would talk to his camp counselor, Uncle Poncho, in the middle of the night.
“I think in some ways, Honcho Poncho and Uncle Poncho aren’t too different,” Gelband said. “If I’m having a tough day or a long night, I can always wake up Honcho Poncho.”
Honcho Poncho will be playing at Café Racer in Seattle on New Years Eve, and again at Timbrrr! Winter Music Festival in Leavenworth, WA, on Jan. 28.