Are you familiar with the game honesty hour? If not, let Shannon Maroney clue you in. “[It’s] a game where you ask questions and you have to say your blunt response back.” This game might conjure up some difficult conversations, lead to emotional breakthroughs, or in Maroney’s case, inspire an EP.
Honesty Hour, out today May 1, is the title of the debut EP from Allergen, a Minneapolis-based quartet fronted by Maroney. Through the EP’s five songs, Allergen confront growing up, setting boundaries, and coming to terms with difficult truths. The EP is the result of a challenging and transitional period in Maroney’s life. But turning these experiences into songs has allowed Maroney to reflect, speak her mind, and take some risks in the process.
Maroney’s parents supported her interest in music from an early age. “My mom majored in performing arts in college, so she was always like ‘Yay music! Yay performing! Do what you want to do,’” Maroney said. Growing up, she played piano and sang in choir.
When she was 13, Maroney went to an open mic hosted by the organization She Rock She Rock. She began attending their summer camp, Girls Rock n’ Roll Retreat (GRRR), and seven years later, she still teaches at the camp, which aims to empower girls, trans, and non-binary youth through music. While she had been involved in music before, at GRRR Maroney learned to play bass and guitar and began flexing her songwriting muscles.
Now, Maroney plays bass in the indie pop quartet Bugsy, fronted by guitarist and singer Emily Schoonover. Bugsy released their first EP Teratoma in February, which shows off the group’s tight instrumentals and vocal harmonies. Maroney says that playing in Bugsy has made her more confident in writing her own parts and navigating the local music scene. “I’ve definitely become a much better musician since being in Bugsy.”
While she has been keeping busy writing bass parts and playing shows with Bugsy, Maroney still had an itch to write her own songs. After leaving home to spend her first two months at college and then leaving the school to apply to other universities, Maroney found herself wanting an artistic outlet. “I was in a really transitional time in my life and I was writing a lot of music, so I was like, ‘Why not just start performing?’”
She released Allergen’s first single, “Picket Fence” in April 2019 with just her voice and a guitar, but soon realized that she missed playing with a full band. So she called up friends Eve Speers, Nick Flanders, and Anna Shenehon, who settled into their respective instruments of guitar, bass, and drums to round out Allergen’s current lineup.
Back in March, Allergen dropped the single “Open Letter,” but Honesty Hour is the band’s first EP — and the first project that the quartet recorded all together. They recorded at Minneapolis’ Minnehaha Recording Company with Claire Altendahl, who mixed and mastered the EP. “We did it really quickly,” said Maroney. “We recorded all five songs in one day.”
Maroney wrote the songs on Honesty Hour during a particularly tumultuous period in her life. “I went to school in Eau Claire — I left for college — but then I dropped out within two months. My sister was really sick and my mom was really, really sick. A lot of personal turmoil was happening. I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it or feel like I could talk to anyone about it.”
Since then, Maroney has been able to go to therapy and has been diagnosed with PTSD. She says that writing songs during this time also helped her move on from these experiences and process difficult emotions. “These songs were very much steps that I had to take to express things that I couldn’t express otherwise — even if I really wanted to, I felt like I couldn’t.”
That’s where the EP’s title comes into play — just like the tell-all game, Shannon found comfort in exposing the truth in Honesty Hour’s songs. “These songs were like, ‘Here’s everything I have to say right now about this one thing,’” she said. “And then I felt so much better.”
Maroney wrote all of Honesty Hour’s songs retrospectively, reflecting on a different situation or relationship. In “Last Year,” the seasons change from summer to fall to winter, while Maroney feels stuck in place. “Do I know how to be a child? I was born a mother,” she sings on “Dream,” a song that puts on a cheerful face with toe-tapping guitar riffs but whose lyrics expose the painful effects of self-neglecting people-pleasing.
As cathartic as the EP’s lyrics are, Allergen also keep the energy up with furious drum fills and wailing guitars. Maroney uses her voice dynamically, sometimes keeping it soft and other times letting loose, like in the explosive ending to “Icarus.” While she wasn’t thinking about any particular musical reference points while writing Honesty Hour, Maroney says that she admires the songwriting of artists like Mitski, Mannequin Pussy, and Destroy Boys, who pair powerful instrumentals with vulnerable lyrics. “For me it’s empowering to listen to a very personal song but then have the music behind it be equally as intense, but in a different way,” she said.
To write such intense and emotionally vulnerable songs, Maroney pulled on her experience with She Rock She Rock. “The EP is very emotional,” she said. “It’s all about experiences in a very specific time in my life. I feel like if I didn’t participate in She Rock I wouldn’t be as comfortable executing and doing creative risks, both lyrically and musically.”
Maroney says that “Icarus” is her favorite song on the EP. The song references the Greek myth of Icarus, whose father crafted wings for him out of feathers and wax. But when Icarus flew too close to the sun, his wings melted and he fell to his death.
“The song is about a person that — you love this person so much and you care about this person and you want them to do well, but they just keep doing things and messing up, even though they know it’s harmful,” said Maroney. “I feel like most people know someone like that; who you just care about but you can’t be around if they keep doing things that are so dangerous and self-destructive.”
Other songs on the EP talk about growing up and gaining independence. “I am afraid to turn 21,” 20-year-old Maroney sings on “Uncomfortable.” “This EP is about me growing up and becoming my own independent person,” said Maroney. “All of these songs I wrote after I moved out of my parents’ house; my childhood home.”
“It’s mostly about growing up and understanding how relationships change with people,” she continued. “You realize that people that you care about and that you look up to sometimes let you down. You have to choose if you want to love them through it. A lot of these songs are about growing up and me trying to set boundaries with people.”
Maroney wrote three of the EP’s songs — “Icarus,” “Virgo Rising,” and “Last Year” — back when Allergen was her solo project. She says that writing “Dream” and “Uncomfortable” collaboratively with her bandmates has helped her open up to new ideas and create a more complex sound.
“It blows me away how musically connected we are,” said Maroney. “I always know that even if it’s not what I’m immediately expecting when I write the song, [what Anna, Eve, and Nick come up with] is better than what I’m expecting. I enjoy writing my own music and I enjoy writing my own lyrics, but I also enjoy working with other people creatively and doing things as a project and a full band.”
Releasing Honesty Hour during a global pandemic definitely wasn’t in Allergen’s plans, but they’re trying to adjust to the new circumstances. “We had to cancel our tour and cancel our release show which is kind of disappointing, but I’m hoping it’ll just build up anticipation for when things eventually go back to normal,” Maroney said. “Everyone is dealing with it. I know other bands have also had release shows cancelled, like Oftener and Harper’s Jar. Eve had to postpone her [solo] EP release.”
Some of Maroney’s future goals include writing and recording Allergen’s first full-length album, rescheduling their tour, and getting the band’s music on the radio.
But for now, Maroney is using this time of social distancing to slow down and reflect. “I’m in college and I’m in two bands and I also work and I also am in a long-term relationship with someone that I care about. It’s been nice to reflect on what are things that I truly care about and what things do I want to continue doing after.”
Maroney says that sitting with the songs on Honesty Hour is also helping her to reflect and recognize personal growth. “I think I wrote “Virgo Rising” almost a year ago, and that’s the oldest song on this EP,” she said. “Just thinking about who I was when I wrote it versus now, that Shannon is a very different person than this Shannon. It’s been nice to think about how I think a year ago Shannon would be proud of this Shannon.”