Open City Drummer Chris Wilson Disccusses Their Superb New Album, Hands in the Honey Jar

Photo:  J. Leiby

Chris Wilson and Andy Nelson are effectively one-half of Philly punk collective/supergroup Open City, but this isn't exactly their first time playing together in a band...

The musicians can be heard on T.V. Casualty's 2011 self-titled benefit 7-inch. Matador Records enlisted Wilson (drums) and Nelson (bass), along with Atom Goren (guitar) Brian Sokel (guitar), and Ted Leo (vocals) for six blistering Misfits covers.

For Open City, Chris Wilson (Titus Andronicus, Hammered Hulls, Ted Leo & The Pharmacists) and Andy Nelson (Ceremony, Paint It Black, Dark Blue) join forces with fellow punk lifers Dr. Dan Yemin (Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, Bitter Branches) and Rachel Rubino (Bridge & Tunnel, Regarding I, Worriers).

Open City recently signed with LA-based Get Better Records to unleash Hands in the Honey Jar, the full-length follow-up to their self-titled 2017 debut. Thanks to Get Better co-founder Alex Lichtenauer for helping set up an interview with Wilson. The Q&A has been lightly edited for general clarity.

Chris, what additional projects might the casual music-loving fan know each of your work from currently and/or previously?

Rachel was in Bridge & Tunnel and Each Others Mothers, and The Worriers. She also joined On the Might of Princes for their two reunion shows at the end of September and on top of it all, is a professional Cyclocross racer! Dan famously played guitar in both Lifetime and Kid Dynamite, played bass in Armalite, currently plays that instrument in Bitter Branches, and sings in Paint It Black with Andy, who is, also, in the band Ceremony.

I've been in Hammered Hulls, Hound, Acquaintances, Titus Andronicus, and Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, and was a touring member of Ted's brother’s bands, The Lapse and The Holy Childhood.

Last century, I did a bunch of things that for one reason or another, wound up undocumented, but did a couple EPs with Chris [Broach] from Braid under the names The Firebird Suite and The Firebird Project and had a band for many years back in Arkansas called Shake Ray Turbine that put out a couple split 7-inches and a full-length.

In addition to or aside from yourself and your bandmates, who else worked on and/or contributed to the making of Hands in the Honey Jar?

Sonically, the only person that isn't in the band that contributed is our engineer/producer/amazing musician in his own right, Arthur Rizk (Cold World, Eternal Champion). Hope we get to work with him again one of these days! 

What did the typical writing, recording, production, creation, etc. processes behind Hands in the Honey Jar generally entail?

We started writing these songs before the last record [City of Ash] was out. We did a demo with Arthur of about two-thirds of the songs pre-Lockdown, which was super-helpful in the long run… but with our schedules being what they are, this one took longer than we anticipated. In the end, I'm glad we didn't rush it.

What can you tell us about the black-and-white photograph (and photographer who took it) utilized for the Hands in the Honey Jar album cover image?

The front and back cover images were taken by Jem Cohen, who has done many things in many different forms of media, but is probably most well-known for the documentary he did about Fugazi called Instrument.

He sent us a portfolio of [black-and-white] photos and those were the two we thought fit best with the sounds.

How did you guys meet Alex Lichtenauer and come to select their imprint, Get Better Records?

We all know Alex just from being a part of the Philly scene. I had the pleasure of sharing a ton of stages (and a couple floors) with them when Control Top did six or seven shows with [Ted Leo & the Pharmacists] (TL/Rx) and 40-something with Titus Andronicus in '19.

They asked Open City to play the fourth installment of Get Better Fest in 2017—an amazing lineup featuring Pinkwash, Solarized, Radiator Hospital, Pandemix, Soul Glo, and a full-band set by HIRS with Alex on drums! Always hoped that would lead to us putting out a record on the label.

How would you personally say Open City's overall sound, style, musical approach, etc. has evolved and changed, as displayed across Hands in the Honey Jar, since your 2017 self-titled debut?

We've been super-open about our main influences (Swiz/Revolution Summer-era DC/early '90s Gravity Records/take your pick of Sara Kirsch bands,) but we don't really have a formula per se and didn't make a conscious decision to evolve after the first record.

We just hope to keep things interesting and take the sounds those legends made into the 21st Century.

Photo: J. Leiby

What's your relationship like with Pierce Jordan (Soul Glo, Body Party, Money Nicca) who penned the wonderfully-written press release for both "Blitz Kids Stay Sick" and Hands in the Honey Jar?

We've played tons of shows with Soul Glo over the years and hope to play more in the future! We all have so much respect for them as a band. Very thankful for his kind words.

Are there any other up-and-coming punk and hardcore-adjacent bands or acts from across the Greater Philadelphia/Tri-state Area you would recommend our readership go check out?

Sorry to say I've been a little out-of-the-loop since lockdown… but, I'm a big fan of the aforementioned Soul Glo, Dark Thoughts, Kilamanzego, Carnivorous Bells, and the mighty HIRS Collective. One of my Philly faves, GHÖSH, broke up this summer, but their EPs live on Bandcamp and are well worth your time.

My good friend, Sean McGuiness, gave me a sneak peak of the new Pissed Jeans album, which will be out early next year, and I hope '24 will be the year that Pinkwash finally follows up their brilliant album, Collective Sigh.

What's planned next for Open City?

Due to our schedules, we're never gonna be able to do a million shows, but hoping to do a little run in the Northeast and get the band out to the Midwest and West Coast for the first time while this record is still relatively fresh. And to start writing LP #3 as soon as we're able.

Can you tell us anything about what's next for any of your many non-Open City projects (ie: Acquaintances, The Firebird Suite/Project, Hammered Hulls, Hound, Open City, Shake Ray Turbine, Ted Leo / Pharmacists, Titus Andronicus)?

[Ted Leo /] The Pharmacists just did a little weekend centered around the 30th anniversary of one of our fave venues, the Black Cat, in DC. Hammered Hulls, also, played that show and  have slowly begun the process of writing some new tunes and hope to do some shows early next year. No immediate plans for Hound, but we still have many beautiful copies of our most recent album, Born Under 76, available on our Bandcamp page and would appreciate your support!

As far as my bands from the past: I've always been more focused on the future and moving forward. That said, the Shake Ray Turbine full-length has only ever been available on compact disc and I would love to see a little vinyl pressing of that one of these days.

What exactly is the INDIEDRUMMERCOLLECTIVE? How are you involved within the collective and how have you personally participated on Instagram, YouTube, and otherwise?

It's surprisingly hard to give a good description of what [the INDIEDRUMMERCOLLECTIVE] (I.D.C.) is, but I'll give it a go. We are a group of drummers, who once a month pick a theme; each member picks a song pertaining to that theme, records a video of themselves playing along to that song, and, then, posts it on Instagram. This month will be our 41st theme.

Some examples of past themes are yacht rock, protest songs, TV theme songs, songs without drums (twice,) love songs (which we do every February,) and every December, we do a Secret Santa, where [participants] put their names in a hat and you have to do a song by the drummer whose name was drawn for you. That one seems to be everyone’s favorite.

The number of people taking part has dwindled since touring has ramped up, but there's a pretty consistent group of 20 or so who post every month. Along with the videos, we raise money and awareness for a charity every month.

October is Adopt A Shelter Animal Month and since so many of us have pets that came from rescues, we're doing something a little different and posting a shelter every single day of the month. The theme is Halloween and we're posting 10/30, so check the I.D.C. page for our videos!


Hands in the Honey Jar is available across all streaming outlets via Get Better Records. Ultra clear/pink and orange/black splatter vinyl variants are now both available for pre-order.

Open City on social media: Instagram | TwitterBandcamp


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