Thank you for being a friend

The members of Be Calm Honcho imbue their music with audience engagement, ecological love and emotional empathy

Just have a seat, and let’s rap like old pals.

Just have a seat, and let’s rap like old pals.


Catch Be Calm Honcho on Saturday, May 3, at 9 p.m., at Sophia's Thai Kitchen, located at 129 E Street, Suite E in Davis. Tickets are $6, and Brother Grand also plays;

Shannon Harney isn’t one of those singers who stares at her toes and mumbles sad truths into an overeffected microphone. Rather, as the Be Calm Honcho frontwoman, Harney brings theatrics, confidence and, most of all, engagement. For her, live music is all about the audience-band connection.

“That’s a real, energetic conduit,” she said. “It’s not a passive thing to come out to a show. You invest your time, and I want to use it with you.”

It appears to be working. Her onstage antics—jogging in place, playfully groping her boyfriend bassist, making intense eye contact with seemingly everyone in the room—have garnered a loyal following in the band’s home base of San Francisco, as well as at Harney’s alma mater of UC Davis. She recognizes her regulars and interacts with them even more.

“That’s what I want to cultivate: a group of people who just want to be in a room together and let expression flow freely,” she said.

But folks probably wouldn’t keep returning if they weren’t struck by Be Calm Honcho’s sound. Songs move from upbeat indie rock to West Coast pop, all with superwordy, deliberate lyrics. Harney’s diction is thoughtful and important—in her everyday speech and into the mic—and sometimes she breaks down into image-heavy spoken-word poetry. It’s no surprise to anyone who knew Harney at UC Davis—she frequently emceed open-mic nights and, as a commencement speaker, performed spoken word at graduation.

Though she’s been involved with music since high school, Harney’s life took a major turn last year as she was conducting clinical research at UC San Francisco, after graduating from UC Davis as a pre-med student. She had a two-year contract and planned to attend graduate school. Then she was laid off and forced to re-evaluate.

“It was an awesome experience—dealing with a lot of anxiety about the future, the idea of inadequacy, and where I was going to find my balance and security again,” she said.

So she made her musical projects the top priority and formed Be Calm Honcho last January. The band’s debut album, Honcho Dreams, is set for release on June 24 on the Davis-based Crossbill Records. It’s also available now on vinyl via the experimental Santa Cruz distribution project Feedbands.

The collection showcases Harney’s velvety vocals, penchant for nouns and adoration for California. Seriously, there’s a track called “I <3 California.” The beach, the sun, the ocean—California’s ecological landscape is a major source of inspiration.

Of course, Harney is also inspired by songwriting, like that of the Mountain Goats, Joanna Newsom and Regina Spektor. She used to describe her solo style as “forest folk.” But the rest of Be Calm Honcho approach music from different backgrounds. Bassist Alex Weston played trombone in the UC Davis California Aggie Marching Band-uh!, but also digs technical, complicated math rock. Drummer Mikey Carrera was trained in precision as a drum-line kid. And guitarist Jacob Landry brings a bluesy, country-rock edge from Lafayette, Louisiana.

Still, there’s common ground. They’re mostly 20-somethings living in the San Francisco Bay Area, wondering how to find fulfillment, lead a balanced life and fight societal norms in the most productive way. It’s esoteric and maybe idealistic, but it’s relatable. And that’s what Harney wants to convey.

“A lot of the things I’m talking about are ultimately empathetic themes,” Harney said. “Like, ’I fucking know, dude. Love is really hard. Anxiety is superchallenging. Friendships can just rock you.’ There’s nothing like someone saying, ’I get it. I get you.’”