On a small stage, a UNT alumna fiddled with the voice tuner and practiced long notes. As her set began, the artist ran through her new EP titled “Made to Grow” and included two songs she had never performed before. Lights wrapped around the mic stand and holograms passed over the stage and the wall. On top of the entrance door the letters flash in red and all caps, read HONIN.
Singer-songwriter Carleigh Reese goes by HONIN. HONIN, a Dallas native, performed at Shoals Sound and Service, a bar she frequents, on Nov. 7. She had just released her EP earlier that day, which she spent the last two years putting together. She had low expectations going into the night, as her last venue had cancelled on her at the last minute. She also recently moved to Dallas and didn’t expect a huge turnout.
“This is what the two years have been building up to, so proud to say this is my proudest moment,” HONIN said.
HONIN’s band consists of UNT alumni, all people she met during her time in college. They all were jazz performance majors like her, though they focused on different instruments.
HONIN was a jazz studies major and focused on vocal performance during her time at UNT. Her background in jazz helped with her songwriting. She started writing songs around five years ago and credits a songwriting class she took from Rosana Eckert, a principal lecturer of jazz studies at UNT, for helping her along.
“[I learned] structure, it’s a really big thing cause it’s so hard to think to get up and make something,” HONIN said. “I think it helped me realize you can do something small every day, consistently, and you’re gonna get a result somewhat. After being there for four years, you look back and [think] like, ‘Oh shit, yeah this works.’”
Eckert said she remembers HONIN and described her as a good student. She had HONIN in her songwriting class and performance class. She also taught her private lessons. Eckert said she noticed a growth in her singing over time.
“When she got here, she had more of the sound of maybe someone who had done choir or someone who maybe was a little more shy,” Eckert said. “As she studied here and started to really think about the kind of music she wanted to sing and started writing [and arranging] her own songs and learning about her instrument even more in depth, she really started to develop her personal style and personal sound.”
Eckert said she is not surprised HONIN is singing. She could tell that she would go on to make music after graduating. She noticed throughout her songwriting class that HONIN took inspiration from different areas and did not fall under one genre.
“When you start from different angles, you write differently, and [I] think sometimes she wrote on piano and other times she would just write off the top of her head,” Eckert said. “Other times she would write from a poem verse instead. I do think that she had a lot of different musical influences. I heard a lot of different sounds.”
HONIN herself struggles to explain her music. She takes inspiration from multiple artists, and most do not fit in a genre. She said she enjoys Ariana Grande but also cites Anna Wise, Laura Mvula and Kimbra as inspiration.
HONIN also enjoys the performance aspect of her music.
“It’s being able to connect with people, that’s my favorite part,” HONIN said. “I like to not just be up there and just trying to make sure I sound good, but to look somebody in the eye and pull them in.”
One of HONIN’s music videos for the song, “Clutter,” is directed by Dallas creative Jake Wagner. Wagner does videography, photography and design full time, and HONIN said he and her band members are people that inspire her in her personal life.
Wagner met HONIN a few months ago when working on the music video. He also made her album cover for “Made to Grow.” He enjoys working with HONIN because he can tell she is serious about music and talented.
“She truly is an artist,” Wagner said. “Every note, instrument and sound you hear in her songs is carefully crafted to create a piece that fits with her artistic vision. She knows her s— and nothing is random or out of place.”
HONIN said she wants to continue to create music that has meaning and can resonate with others.
“The only reason I write songs is because of emotions and feelings and thoughts that I have, and I want to put them out into the world,” HONIN said. “I want people to feel something. I want people to take something from my music.”
Featured Image: Carleigh Reese, also known as Honin, performs at her EP launch party at Shoals Deep Ellum on Nov. 7, 2019. Image by Meredith Holser