Editor’s Note: This interview first appeared in Path Finders, an email newsletter from the Daily Yonder. Each week, Path Finders features a Q&A with a rural thinker, creator, or doer. Like what you see here? You can join the mailing list at the bottom of this article and receive more conversations like this in your inbox each week.

The Local Honeys, Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs, are a Kentucky duo whose self-titled album releases today, July 15th. After almost a decade of playing together – including on tours with musicians like Tyler Childers and Colter Wall – and laying a distinctive hand upon traditional songs, Stokley and Hobbs’ latest project infuses the conventions of a region with the sounds and stories of their upbringings. Pre-released singles from the album give Horse Girls everywhere (and everybody else) reason to rejoice.

Enjoy our conversation about making a living playing music, the ever-evolving nature of folk music, and the relevance of coal mining songs, below.

Together, Linda Jean Stokley (left) and Montana Hobbs (right) form the duo The Local Honeys. (Photo: Lila Callie.)

Olivia Weeks, The Daily Yonder: I know from your website that your careers in the “Kentucky musicscape” have been long, but your self-titled album is just about to be released. In your years of making music, where has creation as The Local Honeys fallen on the side-hustle-to-full-time-career spectrum? How do you think that relates to your location in Eastern Kentucky?

The Local Honeys: By happenstance, we met in 2011 at Morehead State University at the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music. It was a music school within the music program (consisting of Classical and Jazz) focusing on Traditional Music such as Old-Time, Bluegrass, Country, Blues, Celtic, and Western Swing. In 2015, we became the first women to graduate from this program and receive Bachelors of Arts degrees in Traditional Music. Upon graduating in 2015, we spent some time living in Ireland and frequenting pub sessions to play tunes and sing and enjoy proper pints. This is where we solidified the notion of working together as artists and constructed the framework in which we wanted to pursue The Local Honeys at a professional level. After returning home from a music-fueled summer we began sharing the home music of the Bluegrass and Appalachian regions with just about anyone who’d listen. Kentucky is filled with a plethora of artists and artisans. It’s part of many Kentuckians’ daily lives. It’s integral to many folks and their way of living. It’s a means to de-stress, make a living, or to simply exist. Art for the sake of making art.

We’ve been blessed to live in a region that is hungry for music and art. We’ve made a good living playing music and have been able to support ourselves. It wasn’t until the pandemic that the idea of a career in music was truly frightening and something risky. Coming out of the pandemic, it feels like we’re back to doing what we’re supposed to do. Each small tour or gig gives us a bit more confidence in our decision to be working artists.

DY: It seems like, when creating the kind of Appalachian Folk you two play, it would be really easy to keep rearranging and performing traditional songs. What was the impetus for writing and recording more original stuff? Has songwriting always been a creative outlet for you both?

LH: Traditional, Old-Time, Hillbilly music is an ever-evolving art form. It’s an art form in which you learn and honor the music of old in addition to writing your own music to add to the historical timeline. Folk music is living and breathing. It’s all about breathing life into old songs but with the addition of your own narratives, it keeps the dust from the corners.

Songwriting is something that Linda Jean did as a child and resurrected during the college years. Montana began writing in college after a mentor suggested that we write. It hasn’t been a consistent creative outlet but it is one of our favorite elements to pursue and study and delve into!

DY: How does the release of this album feel different from other stuff you’ve put out in the past?

LH: Our upcoming and latest release, The Local Honeys, is an album centering around our songwriting. Little Girls Actin’ Like Men was our first attempt at creating something with one another and was a mix of traditional Kentucky songs and tunes as well as a few original pieces. Our second release, The Gospel, is a tongue-in-cheek album highlighting various styles of Gospel music from the American South. Our third release is a digital A-side/B-side, Dying to Make A Living and Octavia Triangle. We recorded these singles in 2019 in response to the Black Jewel Mining Blockade in Harlan Co., KY. They’re a pair of coal-driven songs we learned from our friends in Southwest Virginia and East Kentucky. We’re looking forward to our latest release which highlights our own place in our part of the world and outlines the stories, people and creatures that shaped us.

Hobbs (left) and Stokley (right) recording in the studio. (Photos: Mike Vanata.)

DY: How much do you think about genre? Do you ever find yourselves in conversations about actually good country music, or feel the need to distance yourselves from what’s on the radio?

LH: Genre is a tough one. We think about genre when performing traditional songs in untraditional ways. We don’t want to disrupt or disrespect a song or tune by adding modern elements, the challenge is to broaden and elevate the song and soundscape without disgracing the song in any manner. We don’t listen to the radio when traveling much these days but when we do listen, it’s locally, to WSKV out of Stanton, KY and WMMT “possum radio” out of Whitesburg, KY. Or stand up comedy.

DY: Lastly, what have y’all been listening to lately?

LH: Right now, our list includes Gary Stewart, Buell Kazee, Johnny Conqueroo, Dave Evans, Wet Leg, Slut Pill, Tom T. Hall (always), and Appalachiatari – a really amazing project bridging traditional KY music with metal in which Montana’s banjo mentor, John Haywood, morphs into John Slaywood.

This interview first appeared in Path Finders, a weekly email newsletter from the Daily Yonder. Each Monday, Path Finders features a Q&A with a rural thinker, creator, or doer. Join the mailing list today, to have these illuminating conversations delivered straight to your inbox.

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