Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the spellings of the names Tim Kratz and Charles Ladany.
Since releasing their first EP on a cassette tape in 1996, Honeychurch has been a staple in the Doylestown music scene. The mind behind the music was Shilough Hopwood, who died in late September.
Honeychurch was originally a solo project for Shilough, who released that first EP while being laid off from his bookstore job.
“Shilough didn’t have any traditional training when it comes to music,” said former partner and bandmate Larissa Hopwood. “However, his intuition, musical knowledge and talent ended up producing these lush, heartbreaking songs that pulled from classic country, indie, slow-core, the ‘60s, and so much more.”
“A lot of effort was put into the production to make sure that the recordings were high quality and unique,” said Larissa. “I remember him obsessively listening to bounces of songs after a day in the studio on every possible sound system he could.”
“We’d listen in the studio, in the car, at home, on headphones.”
The songs produced by the band had a “bright, jangly, twee, with a heavy influence of the lo-fi British pop of the time,” said Larissa, who joined the band as a bassist and singer in 1999.
She wrote a lot of the harmonies and contributed a few songs to the band and explained that inspiration can come from strange places.
“I wrote most of them about my cat. Shilough always hated when I said that,” said Larissa.
At its start, the band featured Tim Kratz on guitar, Charles Ladany on keys and Bill Egleston on drums. In its later years, Larissa stopped performing, Alex Yaker took over the keys, Greg Millard the drums, and Ivan Funk on the guitar.
Jay Ansill, a local fiddle player and harpist, wrote the string arrangements did most of the string recordings. Pat Robinson recorded and engineered all of the earlier albums, while Brett Kull did the most recent songs.
An old friend of Shilough’s, Krisy Elisii, said she went to a “number of local Honeychurch shows and listened to their music often. Shilough was a creative genius.”
She described their music and live performances “ethereal, thoughtful, and set a tone in the room that was otherworldly.”
Elisii and her daughter had lived with Shilough and Larissa for a time, and says she was “fortunate to be in the room to hear the new music as he was working on it.”
Shilough and Larissa were staples in the Doylestown community in addition to the band. Shilough was the book buyer for Doylestown Bookshop for 20 years, while Larissa managed Siren Records for 12.
“There was definitely community support when we played,” said Larissa.
“We were preforming music that you wouldn’t typically hear at a local bar. It was nerve-wracking to be playing songs where your heart was laid bare like that. Maybe that’s part of the reason that we had such a strong response to what we were doing,” said Larissa.
Honeychurch gained global recognition through The Guardian in the U.K., as well as other publications in Spain, Italy, and Japan. They were played on radio stations across the world.
“For a band that mostly played locally, I think it’s a huge accomplishment to get recognition across the globe”, said Larissa.
“I do think that the quality of what he provided was at a level, where even if people were just drawn to the music, to support a community member, they stayed fans because it was good, interesting music,” recalled Larissa. “Shilough was such a font of knowledge. He read like most people eat and breathe. It was such an important part of who he was.”
In addition to being friends, Elisii also worked alongside Shilough at the Doylestown Bookshop. She believes in addition to his music’s popularity, Shilough was beloved in the community as himself, separate from the music.
“Shilough was known in the community and within the book industry as one of the most knowledgeable book-buyers in the business. He was also incredibly kind, compassionate, and a one-of-a-kind friend,” said Elisii.
As is the case with many artists, Shilough had his struggles with depression, addiction and other mental health issues.
“Creativity, artistry, depression and addiction are often so very connected,” says Larissa. “Shilough is beloved by so many. It’s heartwarming to see the outpouring of support from the community in the wake of this heavy loss. I know that it is, and will continue to mean a lot to our son, Rowan,” reflected Larissa.
Elisii said that she’s known Shilough for around 20 years. “I first met him when I came to work at the Doylestown Bookshop, and we became fast friends.”
He reminds her of “autumn, long walks, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, bonfires and, of course, books.”
Shilough died Sept. 21, but his legacy still lives on throughout the community and hearts of the people who loved him.
Larissa has continued to preform, as she has since recorded three children’s albums as Lolly Hopwood and started a band with former Honeychurch member Melissa Rinker called “Baron Tiger.”
“At our last show, we played several Honeychurch songs,” Larissa said. “It was right before Shilough passed away. I’m hoping to add a couple Honeychurch songs into our future setlists.”
Larissa said revisiting these songs felt special to her.
“And now there is more reason to bring these songs to light,” she said.