Honest Mechanik is a bright new addition to the Boston music scene. Susan Cattaneo and Paul Hansen have turned casual songwriting sessions into a refreshingly eclectic collection of songs full of deep humanity, desire for connectivity, and remembrances of past loves and relationships. Susan is a most vibrant veteran musician and taught songwriting at Berklee College of Music for 20 years; Paul Hansen is the lead singer and force behind the indie-pop band, The Grownup Noise. Joining forces and writing the songs on their debut album was relaxing and fun. What better way to create something new? Honest Mechanik is a celebration of a new friendship that resulted in a dynamic collaboration of catchy songs that will make you reflect on life and simultaneously rejoice all that is good in the world.
To learn more about Honest Mechanick, check out their website.
Enjoy this video of “Love Alone.”
Tell us how you and Paul first met and how you bonded over music.
Paul and I met for the first time when we were in the same lineup for a Hank Williams Tribute concert at Johnny D’s. We hung out in the green room and talked about life and songwriting. I think we were both familiar and liked each other’s music, and I’m always up for cowriting with new people, so I think I suggested we write something together. Paul hadn’t cowritten with anyone before, but he was willing to try it with me! We met at my house, and he brought the chorus for the song, Maybe. Once we started working on the song, it naturally started to feel like a duet, a conversation between two people who are not on the same page emotionally. We finished it that day, and since it was so much fun, we just kept meeting and songwriting together every few weeks or months.
Which acts would you say were inspirations for creating this music?
Well this is a great question, because Paul and I discovered early on that we come from totally different musical backgrounds with different musical influences! This might be one of the reasons why our sound is so different from other groups. I wouldn’t say that any specific artists were our inspiration, but I’m firmly planted in the americana world and he’s much more in the indie rock world so combining forces and influences has created our unique sound, plus it’s been super interesting and fun!
Was Honest Mechanik intended as a one-off songwriting session or did you both have a duo in mind from the beginning?
We had NO idea this would turn into “a thing!” We just started with that one song and then, we’d write every month or so in a super casual way. Suddenly, we had ten songs. That was when we looked at each other and thought, “Are we a band?” Paul was playing at the Somerville Porchfest and asked me to sing some of our songs there. That was our debut! Then, I had an opening set for a friend at Passim, and we did our first real set then. We didn’t even have a band name, and Paul came up with it in the green room right before we went on stage. The way that this project evolved was wonderful, because we didn’t have any of the normal pressures that “a band” has because we didn’t even realize we were a band. We were just songwriting together because it was fun, and this beautiful and natural collaboration grew out of it.
What do you both think are the strongest musical sensibilities that you bring to Honest Mechanik?
Paul is a fantastic guitarist and chordsmith. I think my strengths are in vocals and harmony. And we both love melody and writing lyrics. The interesting thing about our style is that Paul’s lyrics tend to be more free-form and mine are more grounded. As a result, it’s a great combination, because our songs have a message but also capture a vibe.
The theme of the record that jumped out at me as I listened was that the songs come from places of experience. Many of the songs express regret and at the same time showing new possibilities. I hope that people who are experiencing heartache for whatever reason hear these songs and receive solace from them. Have you received any fan feedback about any of these heartbreakingly beautiful songs?
Oh, thank you for that! It means a lot, and it’s funny that you mentioned this. I have received private messages from people on Facebook telling me about specific songs that resonated with them. One song – “Outsider” – seems to have really touched a nerve with people since it addresses something we have all felt at some point in our lives; that feeling of not belonging.
The song “Movie” strikes me as a classic song born during the pandemic. Here’s a person who is “dating his couch” because of the lockdown… Or perhaps it could also pertain to two lovers who are simply in limbo and both parties are waiting for the other to come to the “rescue” and miraculously salvage the relationship. Is this close to how you envisioned the song when you came up with the premise
We actually wrote that song right before the pandemic, but looking back on it now, it feels like we were foretelling the future to come!! I think “Movie” speaks to the emotional consequences of depression, the idea of wanting to hide in the world of make-believe as a coping mechanism.
“The Weight” is a profound song–about the strength of conviction that it takes to not follow a traditional path. Do you see it as a gentle nudge for young adults to have the courage to find their own way as they mature?
YES! Completely. I’m so glad you got that from listening to it. Both Paul and I are parents, He has two young children, and mine are college-age, and that song was written with our kids in mind, thinking about how they’re going to go out in the world and hopefully become the people they want to be. I also think we were writing to ourselves when we were kids, and remembering how hard it was to carve a path in spite of people’s expectations for you.
“Outsider” is identifiable for so many of us. WE worry about not fitting in throughout our lives. I love the line about “cracking the code” in order to get into a clique. It harkens back to elementary school but yet…here we are…full fledged adults and sometimes it feels “like recess except you’re old.” From experience, do you feel that it’s really worth the effort to be an “insider?”
What a great question! I would say probably no – but does it stop us from yearning to belong? Probably not. All the hoops that we jump through to try and “be seen” and validated in the world. That’s certainly not a great way to live. I wish we could all not care so much, but there must be something inherently human that keeps us longing to fit in.
Do you have any plans for new Honest Mechanik music?
Well, the cool thing is that we had a show at The Extended Play Fallout Shelter, and to get ready for that show, we had to write new music! So, we’ve got four brand new songs that will make it onto our next album sooner rather than later, I hope! In the meantime, we’re hoping to play shows – Saturday, September 25th at the Mystic River Celebration in Medford (outside show!) plus our in-town CD release party on October 28th at The Burren. The 29th is my birthday so I’m hoping to make it a celebration! Fingers crossed that we’ll still be able to make music inside!!
Photo by Dino Cattaneo