“We played a prison,” Hannah Furgiuele. “That was our first gig.”
Such was the humble beginning for Honey Be Nice, an folk trio that includes Furgiuele and fellow musicians Nikki Reid and Billy Sheeran. Their February 2016 show in the chapel of the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women solidified the group, which has been playing together for about three years and has now recorded its first album.
Honey Be Nice will celebrate the release of All The Simple Ways with a 7 p.m. show at The Mothlight in West Asheville.
It’s been a gratifying ride for three musicians who bring very different backgrounds to the group.
Furgiuele grew up in Boone. Long fascinated with stringed instruments, she picked up the violin at age nine. She went on to serve as director of the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival for six years at Mars Hill University. That experience connected her with the famed mountain music traditions of Madison County, which included master fiddlers.
Reid, of Hendersonville, started out performing in musical theater. Flat Rock Playhouse was almost a second home, and she fell in love with the viola and guitar.
Sheeran is a self-taught piano and keyboard player who played with the Asheville band Speed Square for a few years. He’s an inventive jingle writer who once wrote a soundtrack for a video game.
So how did these three decide to start playing music together? Reid and Furgiuele served together on the Madison County Arts Council and each discovered the other’s musical interests and somewhere along the way, Furgiuele heard Sheeran playing piano at a wedding and invited him to join in.
Reid describes the Honey Be Nice sound as “Gillian Welch meets Harry Nilson meets Norah Jones.” It’s indie folk, or better yet, “orchestral folk.” She notes the grounding element that Sheeran’s piano brings to the viola and violin.
“We were just playing old-time string folk stuff,” Reid adds. “With the piano coming in, and the depth and breadth that he plays, it just changed everything.”
With strong vocal harmonies, the three knew they had something. From there, each member of the group brings ideas to the table, and they work through them. It might be a song from Reid, an instrumental that has a soundtrack feel from Sheeran or the reworking of an old-time fiddle tune from Furgiuele. It’s all about “learning from each other,” Reid says. In all, the record includes 14 tracks.
Making the album was a family affair. It was recorded live and mixed by Peter Furgiuele, Hanah’s brother, who has a music studio in Atlanta. Album artwork was created by Sheeran’s brother, Rob O’Sheeran. And Reid’s parents were key to helping fund the production.
With their show and celebration on Thursday at The Mothlight, the Honey Be Nice players are ready to enjoy their work.
“Asheville can be such a rat race for music and musicians, and it’s easy to get anxious about it,” Furgiuele says. “We just want to celebrate three years of working out songs.”
Reid adds, “It’s good just to be in it for the music.”