Thirty years ago this month, Canadian rockers Honeymoon Suite unleashed their powerful sophomore album, ‘The Big Prize’. It was the follow-up to the monster success of the band’s self-titled debut and subsequent two-year tour fueled on by the infectious hit, “New Girl Now”.
Produced by Bruce Fairburn (who had produced hit albums for Loverboy and would later work on signature albums by Bon Jovi and Aerosmith), ‘The Big Prize’ quickly became one of the 80s most recognizable albums with its combination rock guitar and synth keyboard sound. Songs like “Bad Attitude,” “Feel It Again” and the power ballad “What Does It Take” became staples of radio as well as the MTV video age.
More than three decades later, Honeymoon Suite is still delivering the goods. Introducing their eclectic sound to a new generation while continuing to bring their feel good music and high-energy shows to long time fans.
Honeymoon Suite is: Johnnie Dee (vocals), Derry Grehan (guitars), Gary Lalonde (bass), Dave Betts (drums) and Peter Nunn (keyboards).
AXS/Examiner recently spoke with guitarist Derry Grehan about the ‘The Big Prize’, new music and more in this exclusive interview.
AXS/Examiner: Following the success of the band’s debut album, was there a sense of added pressure or urgency when you went in to record ‘The Big Prize’?
Derry Grehan: Absolutely. The first album was so successful right out of the box. It took us from zero to sixty and things started happening very fast. Suddenly, we were out of the clubs and were playing arenas and opening for bands in the States. Then when we come off of that it became the whole “sophomore record” situation. The first record was good, but the second had to be so much better. We knew going in we had to come up with the goods. There was a lot of pressure but we were all very excited.
AE: The band recorded with producer Bruce Fairburn, who would also go on to record big records for Bon Jovi and Aerosmith among others. What was it like working with him?
DG: It was fantastic. It was like the stars aligned and everything just fell into place. By that point Fairburn had already done the Loverboy records and had a lot of hits. I already knew his history. He was a musician first and foremost and I could really relate to that. He came in and just made us write better songs. The bonus of that was that Bob Rock was his engineer and Bob had yet to work with bands like Mötley Crüe and Metallica. So he was on the verge as well. We got them both as a team. Everyone was just on top of their game and the record came out sounding amazing.
AE: What was the writing process like for ‘The Big Prize’?
DG: We were on the road for about two years with the first record. It’s hard to find time to write when you’re on tour, so I was writing in hotels and on the bus. But I’m always writing songs. I’m practicing and playing all the time and out of that riffs will happen. From riffs, I’ll get verses and choruses and then melodies will come. It goes from there.
AE: Let’s discuss a few tracks from ‘The Big Prize’ starting with “Bad Attitude”. Can you tell me a little of how that song began?
DG: That song just came out of jamming. I love F#. It’s a powerful rock key to write in. Once I had that initial progression I knew I had the start of a good song. I remember the music was so “mean” sounding. When I write lyrics I let the music tell me what the song is about. To me, that music said “Bad Attitude”!
AE: “What Does It Take”.
DG: I actually started working on that song before our first record came out. I had that progression and thought it was a great idea. I remember being in a club in Ontario and I would get on Ray Coburn’s keyboards and work on it. Then when it came time for ‘The Big Prize’ I pulled that one out and finished it. Ray put some amazing keyboards into it and it became a beautiful song.
AE: “Feel it Again”.
DG: It’s one of the best songs Ray ever wrote. He brought it in as a keyboard idea and had already mapped it out in sections. In pre-production we would often jam things so on a whim, I started playing this clean, Stratocaster lead in the beginning of the intro. That’s how we would write in those days. People would bring in ideas and everyone would throw their bits into it. Ray was really good with a lot of my songs. He would write great counter melodies and keyboard parts against the progressions I was introducing. That’s the magic of the Honeymoon Suite sound.
AE: Has the band been working on new music?
DG: Yes. We’ve just finished four new songs and are working on another. We’re going to release an EP this year with seven songs: five new, original studio tracks as well as two bonus ones. There’s going to be new music for the fans this year and we’re really excited about it.
AE: Did you always know that music was going to be your calling?
DG: I think so, but it was a tough sell at first. When your dad’s a doctor it’s kind of hard to try to tell him that you want to go into music for living [laughs]. But I had a passion. All through high school it was all I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure if it would become a reality but I still pursued it – got in bands and even went to college for music. I got lucky because I met Johnnie Dee and that’s when things really changed. I knew we had something that was going to be successful.
AE: Can you tell me how the song “New Girl Now” launched the band’s career?
DG: That was a song I had written in college as a rough demo. When I moved to Toronto, I started looking for a gig and Johnnie was also looking for one, so our booking agent wound up putting us together. We really wanted to be an original band and started leaking songs into our set. Johnnie asked me if I had any songs and I told him about “New Girl Now”. That’s when we put the song into the set along with the covers we were already doing. Around that same time, there was a radio station in Toronto that had a “home grown” contest. So one day, we demoed the song and sent it in and they started playing it. The song ended up winning the contest and getting regular airplay. That’s when the record label started to take notice and before you knew it, we got signed.
AE: Of all the highlights of your career with Honeymoon Suite is there one moment that stands out to you’re as most memorable?
DG: I think the first time you hear your record on the radio. For us, we had just finished our first album and were out on the road somewhere in Eastern Canada in this big station wagon and heard “New Girl Now” on the FM station for the very first time. All of a sudden, we became a legitimate recording act. Then to get our first Gold record was also exciting. Those are monumental points in a musician’s life. But we’re really lucky to be together after all of this time. We’re all still friends who go out and perform and have fun. No one knows how long it will go on but right now, I’m just enjoying being able to continue what we’re doing and making new music!