Lovehoney is here to make you care about rock and roll again, and they’re doing a pretty damn good job of it. Band members—vocalist Alysia Quinones, guitarist Tommy White, drummer Tom Gehlhaus and bassist Matt Saleh—may not presently live in Brooklyn—though Alysia grew up in Bushwick—but their home base where they rehearse is a local fixture. The Sweatshop, which lies off the Montrose Avenue L stop, offers space to many rising New York artists. As we’re chatting, the whirring of a machine and other banging noises periodically disrupt our conversation. Tommy smiles wryly and says, “The perks of having a rehearsal studio in a warehouse.”
The group first began when Alysia and Tommy came together via a Craigslist ad, not long after Tommy began working at the Sweatshop. They wound up writing two songs during their first meeting. While many Craigslist encounters prove to be ill-fated, this one stood the test of time. Some months later, Tommy met Tom in 2014, and Lovehoney was born.
“When we would get together, we would always play each other different blues, R&B and soul stuff. Like, he would show me something from Albert King and I would show him something from Gary Clark Jr. We just bonded over really cool R&B and soul, and we knew that we wanted to do something on that level but more in a rock vein,” said Tommy.
The trio banded together in the fall of 2015 to start Lovehoney. Matt joined the band shortly after in 2016. But why Lovehoney? The sweet and sexy name, which echoes the band’s playing style, has more dopey origins. Literally. “I texted him [the name] when I was on the couch stoned in Florida,” Tom started to say, when Tommy cut in. “And Tom was like, ‘Do you want to start a sleazy blues rock band and take over the world?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’”
One of the first things you notice about Lovehoney is their impeccable—and seemingly coordinated—sense of fashion. When I mention it to the group, they laugh and give each other knowing looks. “I’ve gotten more fashionable since I joined,” says Matt humbly. Tom riffs on that: “Yeah, we made him grow out his hair!”
But their fashion is more than just naturally good taste—it’s part of a carefully crafted brand that harkens back to the ’70s, adding a colorful palette to their sultry rhythm and combining to create an effective audio-visual, modern-day take on classic rock—but tastefully so. No crazy wigs or eye makeup or unbearably tight leather pants here. “We try to make sure that our fashion is natural, but it vibes with the type of music that we make. And I think the ’60s and ’70s was probably the coolest time for fashion,” says Tommy.
Lovehoney also hews toward some unique marketing decisions, eschewing the standard process of releasing a 12-song album every two years in favor of a three-song EP every few months. They do plan to release a traditional album at some point down the line, though Tom mentions that they’re conscious of consumers’ short attention spans. Alysia agrees.
“I feel like a lot of times with albums, you have filler songs. You don’t really get an opportunity to tell a story…We have damn near 13 songs on Spotify now. You want an album? It’s an album then,” says Alysia.
Tommy nods in assent. “And I think it’s really a great way for us as an independent artist right now to keep what we’re doing fresh and involved with everyone. ‘Cuz music has become so disposable…We’re doing rock and roll. We’re not doing pop. We’re not doing hip hop. We’re not doing country. You know, genres that are—” Alysia pipes in to finish, “Well-oiled machines.” Tommy continues, “So for a rock band, I think it’s important that we want to stay on the playing field above those other genres.”
But even with their quirky EP releases, on-point fashion, and the band’s synchronized medley of raspy vocals, rockin’ guitar riffs and lively bass and drum sequences, isn’t it hard to perform rock and roll in an era of synthesized pop? How can they distinguish themselves from not only their contemporary peers, but also the classic rock giants that inspire them? Well, for one, the band’s diverse makeup sets them apart from the oftentimes homogeneous Brooklyn boy band set and the largely white rock and roll idols of the ’80s and ’90s.
Alysia smiles as Tom says of other bands, “You’d never see a little tiny brown girl on stage destroying it.” He continues, “We’re not five dudes with five beards and five leather jackets.” Each band member brings a different cultural and musical experience to the group, which melds into their unique blend of rock and roll with hip hop, soul and R&B influences—a slightly different melody than, say, Jack White or the Rolling Stones.
Going beyond the music, the band also seeks to bridge the divides between local artists and the spaces that host them, as opposed to a rotating cycle of bands who flit from one venue to another without developing any connection to the local music scene. To that end, Lovehoney just capped off a residency at Arlene’s Grocery, the rock-music hub on the Lower East Side. As he’s describing the residency, Matt turns to the rest of the group. “I don’t feel like personally—and if this is talking shit, you guys can disagree—but I [can’t always] walk into a venue and find music I’m going to relate to in New York City…I think it’s about re-establishing that connection where people can really walk into a place and meet a new band that they didn’t know about and is going to make them feel something.”
Lovehoney’s latest EP, Dig This!, stems from Matt and Tommy’s exploration of funkadelic and low-fi rock vibes and Alysia’s lyrics, which center around “expectations and disappointment.” The EP’s cover, designed by Kate White, features Tommy’s father in a dark, suave outfit and top hat straight out of the ‘70s. The band often pays homage to their parents; Aly’s mother graced the cover of a previous EP, Devil Woman, and Matt’s mother made it onto artwork for a single. And Tommy’s father is particularly well suited for the look and feel of Dig This!. “My dad lived in New York, in the Bronx, during the ’70s. So, when you see that picture, it’s for real. It’s that life. My father had a Cadillac at that time. He had the hat, he had the ring. He had that jacket…Like Shaft or Superfly. He embodied it. He still does, to this day too.”
Lovehoney hops on stage to play two songs for me: “Open Door” from Dig This! and “I’m Gone” from an earlier EP. By the second song, they’ve really found their groove as the heart-thumping vocals and blues rock rachet up to an electrifying harmony. I think back to Alysia’s words during our conversation, “We’re super hyper and we feed off of the crowd’s energy and we feed off of each other’s energy and that’s what gains us more fans. And if they didn’t know about us, they want to know about us after that.”
You can find Lovehoney’s latest EP, Dig This!, on their website and on iTunes. But their performances are best experienced with the thrumming energy of a live audience, so make your way to their next show at Arlene’s Grocery on Thursday, September 27th at 8 pm.