Honeymoon Suite Returns!
By David DeRocco
The longest gap between scoring #1 hits on the Hot 100 for an artist is 24 years, 355 days by Cher. Her single "Believe" hit #1 on March 13, 1999, which was her first time on top since "Dark Lady" on March 23, 1974. Cher also holds the record gap between first and most recent #1 on the Hot 100 over the longest period of time: 33 years, 232 days.
Why is that relevant? It’s not really. Just some interesting musical tidbits to put in perspective how hard it can be for talented artists to return to the charts. Take HONEYMOON SUITE for example. Amidst all the chaos and unexpected events happening in 2020, there came news that Honeymoon Suite was back on the charts – with new music!! – for the first time in 19 years. A welcome teaser track from their forthcoming full-length release, the single “Find What You’re Looking For” hit the Top 30 Canadian rock charts in quick time, becoming their first song to do so in nearly two decades. It followed the release in late 2019 of “Tell Me What You Want,” the band’s first single release since 1992!
That’s great news for fans of a Niagara-based band that first arrived on Canada’s rock scene in 1984 with their eponymous debut. That album, HONEYMOON SUITE, featured four charting hits including “Burning In Love,” “Wave Babies,” “Stay In The Light,” and the song that started it all, “New Girl Now.” For nearly 40 years since, the band – currently including Johnnie Dee (Lead Singer), Derry Grehan (Lead Guitarist) , Gary Lalonde (Bass), Dave Betts (Drums) and Peter Nunn (Keyboards) – has continued its road-warrior mentality, touring relentlessly and satisfying its fan base with albums like Racing After Midnight, The Big Prize, and Monsters Under the Bed.
Their last album, Clifton Hill, was released in 2008, which makes this new music all the more surprising. There’s no arguing with success, however, and charting in 2020 has the band reinvigorated -- despite the fact Covid-19 has kept them from putting the finishing touches on the full album. In the meantime, singer Johnnie Dee took time to chat with GoBeWeekly about the new music, staying sane in the music business and his thoughts on the passing of friend and colleague, Gerry McGhee of Brighton Rock.
GoBe: It’s good to see a heritage artist like Honeymoon Suite back on the charts and getting radio airplay, because radio is not kind to established artists making new music. What does the success of “Find What You’re Looking For” and response to “Tell Me What You Want” mean to you, nearly 40 years into this journey.
JOHNNIE: It means a lot. I’m totally ecstatic. But the thing is that we remained current prior to these last two singles. We’ve always put out records just to keep it current for our fan base. I don’t want to get on stage fully dependent on the success we’ve had in the past. Now for this new song to be charting, it’s unheard of. We’re put in that classic rock category and radio stations don’t play the new stuff. But now it’s changed. The whole world’s changed. The exciting part is, we’re charting.
GoBe: The first time I heard “Find What You’re Looking For” I was scanning the dial and just happened upon the song. I didn’t know you had new music. I heard the guitars and went ‘what’s this song I don’t know.’ Then your vocal came in and I went, that’s Honeymoon Suite. The new tracks fit seamlessly into your catalogue yet sound fresh and current. To what do you owe that bit of magic – a conscious effort in the studio, working with that line up or producer Mike Krompass?
JOHNNIE: The line-up has been the same. It’s more original than it’s ever been. We’re talking two decades. The sound is Honeymoon Suite. The production is Mike Krompass. He’s a Canadian and a fan of the band. He knows – no pun intended – what you’re looking for, and he found it. We just continued on from there. It wasn’t intentional. When something sounds great you keep going with it and we did. Unfortunately, we’re not finished this record yet. Mike lives in the U.K. and we can’t get out of Canada without quarantine for 14 days. I’m waiting for this all to blow over so I can finish the vocals on this record.
GoBe: Based on the first two tracks fans will certainly be looking forward to it. It sounds great. You made a point about Honeymoon Suite always trying to stay relevant and fresh. Musicians never stop making music – it’s part of their DNA. But if you believe radio and fickle fans they can stop making music that’s relevant, which of course is totally subjective. Real fans stay with you forever, casual fans come and go. As an artist who’s been on this crazy roller coaster of a career for four decades, how have you put the highs and lows into perspective. In other words, how do you stay sane and motivated doing this Johnnie.
JOHNNIE: Thanks for asking. How do I stay sane? Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I don’t say sane. I deal with it. This is what I do. This is what I signed up for in the very beginning. At this point in my life, being home and not playing, it’s been like, when is this going to blow over. This whole thing of being home, I’ve always been out playing and touring. I’ve started to meet my neighbours. Staying sane? This is what I signed up for. I just need to stay planted and keep my head on!
GoBe: What were the studio sessions like with the five of you back in action recording these new tracks? Have you developed any new appreciation for their talents of your bandmates?
JOHNNIE: That has always been the same to me. We’re always expecting the best from each other so that’s nothing new. It’s been much the same. When things started rolling and we started listening back, with this record in particular, there’s been a certain magic to it. Not to say that the other two records prior to this weren’t the same. This time in the studio is not our first rodeo.
GoBe: If you had to give a nod to one of the guys, who are you most impressed with in terms of their development and musical evolution over the years? Who’s the most improved player?
JOHNNIE: I’d like to say Derry. Derry’s come a long way, a long way into sort of my side of the camp. And now with (producer Mike) Krompass in the middle, between Derry and I, it’s a great thing writing process-wise. It really works.
GoBe: Does that first Honeymoon Suite release back in June ’84 seem like yesterday or a lifetime ago?
JOHNNIE: Well, I’ve got to tell you, sometimes I get in my car and I have to drive to the airport, it’s like three hours from where I live, and it comes on the radio and it’s amazing. Does it feel like yesterday? I’m constantly reminded if you want to know the truth. It’s great.
GoBe: Do you remember what the original dream or goal was, back before you solidified the line-up and before the debut? Were you dreaming big or was it just a way to meet chicks and have a good time?
JOHNNIE: (laughing) Meet chicks? You don’t really. You think you do, but you really don’t. When I started this band I was a guitar player in a cover band. I knew that I needed originals. I had to start my own band and take over vocals and that sort of stuff. From then to now, it’s been a wild road.
GoBe: Do you remember the first milestone you hit with Honeymoon Suite that made you think, wow, we can really accomplish something here with this band? Was it the release of the debut, charting singles, a particular gig?
JOHNNIE: No, never thought of it that way. We just kept going. But one of the coolest things was to hear your first song on the radio. That was wild. There was a lot of leg work prior to putting out “New Girl Now.” I had the band together doing covers and throwing originals in across the country for months if not years prior to that. So hearing the song on the radio was one of the coolest things.
GoBe: You mention playing live. We know touring can be a grind sometimes, but given the Covid crisis and not being able to play when and where you want must be frustrating to road warriors like you. Could you imagine a scenario where you never got to play to large live crowds again?
JOHNNIE: No. And it’s killing me. It’s frustrating for the whole world. But we’re dealing with it. We’re trying to stay positive. I see dates being booked, I seen Cancun in the middle of next year, so things are looking up. I see schools trying to open up. I see governments trying to put more money into safety. I’m looking at the positive of all this and I think a lot of people have similar thinking to mine.
GoBe: So at this point of your career, what have you appreciated most about your career and time with Honeymoon Suite. What has been the most satisfying aspect of this experience from a personal perspective?
JOHNNIE: That we can still go out and play and that people come out. Every time we play there’s a lot of people that come out, lots of people in front of us. That’s what I appreciate the most. Regardless of JUNO Awards and all that sort of stuff, we’re booked solid. Sometimes people on the radio get on and go, wow, do you see what Honeymoon Suite’s doing? I’m just trying to stay healthy. I’m only as good as my last show. I’m just trying to keep going.
GoBe: Do we have an idea of when the new album is slated for release and a possible title?
JOHNNIE: Good question. Title? There’s still other songs I have to do vocals on. I have to get back to the U.K. to finish them up. As for the title, no, there’s other songs on the record that intertwine with each other. I’m sure in the mix other titles will come up. I don’t have anything in my head right now, and I’m sure no one else does, mostly on account of the fact it’s not done yet. As for release, this whole thing has to blow over first.
GoBe: You mention health and just trying to keep going. We recently learned of the passing of Gerry McGhee. Brighton Rock was also a Q107 Homegrown graduate and had some hometown connections. What are your memories of Gerry?
JOHNNIE: That was so sad. Gerry, first of all, they came out almost at the same time as we did with their records. Greg Fraser, not too long ago, we did a bit of a get-together reunion of one of the cover bands I was working with when I first started and there was Greg. When I was a kid I was working with the producer Mick Ronson who did some work with Brighton Rock as well. It was only yesterday that I got the call that Gerry had passed and I said, what a time to pass. He was a great friend, a great artist. And I hope that he’s in a better place.