Star Scene: Henry Wagons

Henry Wagons’ scene is “anyone who welcomes a hairy, gold wearing, hot air blowing idiot to a dinner table”. Having just released his first solo album ‘After What I did Last Night’ on the ABC label, Henry has flown back into Melbourne fresh from a two week trip to the USA and has hit the ground running. “I went for a couple of weeks and I was in LA, Kansas City then Nashville, New York then back to LA. It was a whole mixed bag of stuff I was doing but it was mostly promo for the new album. It seems like the solo album is opening a few more doors than I’m used to in the States”.

These doors have included playing at the Folk Alliance conference, which is the SXSW equivalent of that scene and being partnered up to do some songwriting with some LA based writers. The new album was recorded in Nashville last year over the course of about 4 weeks with Nashville producer Skylar Wilson and a band of ‘pick-up’ players – something Henry has been wanting to do for a long time. Did you find it liberating not being in your hometown or having to get up and pay bills and the usual ordinary things that make up suburban family life? “Yes! I imagine it was like learning French in a full immersion class where everyone is just talking French to you all the time 24/7. I was there for about 3 or 4 weeks and all I was doing was concentrating on the record. That kind of full immersion was exciting. The process in Nashville was really intense. I landed, spent a few days with Skylar sorting out structures, a couple of days rehearsing and then 7 days recording. It was kind of fast and intense but really, really good!” [pullquote] “I’m from Melbourne and I come from that organic, garagey, communal thing with band mates where you get together in a dingy rehearsal space every week and you organically form and practice the songs together. It was very exciting to be involved in a different process that led to a different kind of sound”.[/pullquote] Having been backwards and forwards to Nashville many times with his band Wagons and playing with local bands across those tours he feels an affinity with the spiritual home of country music.

So how did you come to choose Nashville based producer and in demand keyboard player Skylar Wilson to produce the album? “Of all the players on the album, he was one of the only people I didn’t know. I’d heard of him and one of my friends was going to record with him. You know that phenomena when someone mentions a name to you – a band or a producer or whatever it is? As soon as you’ve heard about it you see it popping up everywhere. Skylar was like that. Someone told me about Skylar and all of a sudden I looked down at ‘Harlem River Blues’ by Justin Townes Earle and I see he produced it. I was listening to the Caitlin Rose record and he did that as well. He played on a Jason Isbell record and I thought ‘Oh shit this guy’s everywhere!’”.

Listening to the new album, it sounds like these guys have been playing together for years. It ebbs and flows with ease amid unorthodox feel changes and crosses genres that keeps the listener guessing as to where the songs will take him or her next. It’s a very intuitive record that takes the listener on a journey not only through the roots of southern rock and Nashville twang where it came to life but it’s also a journey through Henry’s life.

“I’ve never been good at staying still – it takes a lot of sharp left hand turns and I kind of like it! It keeps me interested and I want to keep the themes changing and the ear engaged. My record is like a ‘choose your own adventure’ novel; more like a Michael Crichton novel – it’s action packed! It was a very personal record; there are stories from my past in there. It’s very confessional and there’s that sense these days that confessional songwriting is serious. It’s like this psychiatrist’s couch, sad and serious confessional. I tried to do that! I tried to be confessional about my life on this record and my translation of that is totally unadulterated. I wouldn’t just concentrate on the sad stuff because a lot of happy, crazy, funny stuff happens in my life as well”.

Henry has written a song about his hometown to close the album in the song ‘Melbourne’. He explained his thoughts on the similarities of Melbourne and his new home away from home. “[pullquote]I think there’s a reason Melbourne and Nashville are kindred spirits. They’re both great music towns – diverse music towns with passionate songwriters. [/pullquote]Nashville is full of noise, bars, good food and increasingly good coffee. There’s a reason why Melbournites keep going there. There’s a really interesting crop of bands that I feel are still kind of punk/garage bands but are also embracing the South. You’re getting this kind of redneck punk. Bands like Natural Child, Jeff the Brotherhood, Those Darlin’s and even more twangy like Nikki Lane and Caitlin Rose all the way through to Jason Isbell – there’s some incredibly forward thinking music. It’s a combination of Dolly Parton living there and Jack White living there and then everything in between”.

Henry has assembled a diverse bunch of local players for his Australian touring band that includes guitarist Matt Walker, in the launching of ‘After What I did Last Night’. He’s also flying in Skylar Wilson from Nashville to take on the role of musical director. “It’s going to be a really interesting cultural exchange. I just looked around and found some of my favourite players. I’ve got a member of Dorsal Fin and Architecture in Helsinki and we’ve formed a little crew. I’m really excited for Skylar to land and for me to show off this little group I’ve put together”.

Henry’s favourite song from the album is said to change from day to day but for today it is ‘Cold Burger Cold Fries’. What better way to describe his music in food form? “I’m really proud of ‘Cold Burger Cold Fries’ as a song. ‘Head or Heart’ is a really fun song to play live – it’s kind of a nice country number so it’s probably out of those two today”.

As someone who has been known to cover a diverse range of songs over the years and make them his own, from Bruce Springsteen’s ‘State Trooper’ to Dylan’s ‘Positively 4th Street’ to Roky Erickson’s ‘You Don’t Love Me Yet’ they reflect his impeccable musical taste. Listening to the new album, I couldn’t help but notice a striking similarity to Neil Diamond in his voice at times. When I asked him who he would pick if he had to choose one band to cover for the rest of his days, Henry had this to say: “The Band would be pretty cool. I think that would be a really fun. If I had to play someone’s songs for the rest of my life they would be great. In terms of what I think I’d be really good at – Neil Diamond. He’s one of my guilty pleasures. Maybe that’s the next album? A Neil Diamond covers album!”

Catch Henry Wagons at Boogie festival this weekend before his album tour in May.

Fri 25 Mar6:00 PMBruzzy’s Farm, Tallarook *BOOGIE*TICKETS
Fri 6 May8:00 PMJive, Adelaide$25.00 + BFTICKETS
Sat 7 May8:00 PMMojo’s, Fremantle$25.00 + BFTICKETS
Sun 8 May6:00 PMFour5Nine, Perth$25.00 + BFTICKETS
Thu 12 May8:30 PMWoolly Mammoth, Brisbane$25.00 + BFTICKETS
Fri 13 May7:00 PMNewtown Social Club, Sydney$25.00 + BFTICKETS
Sat 14 May7:30 PMHowler, Melbourne$25.00 + BFTICKETS



About Maryanne Window 49 Articles
Maryanne is a writer and bass player. You can find her onstage with Monique Brumby.