Man, I love these guys. I first discovered them via The Airborne Toxic Event, when I went absolutely batshit nuts over the first three Silverlake bands I heard – TATE, Castledoor, and The Deadly Syndrome (that now legendary final Spaceland residency show in January 2008). From there I started researching all the bands that played around Silverlake and Echo Park, and it was a revelation. Not unlike the one I had in the early 00’s when I discovered – 10 years after everyone else in America – the whole New Zealand Flying Nun thing. And not unlike the NZ stuff, there’s this lyrical sophistication and slightly off-kilter quality running through many of these bands that greatly appeals to me. The Henry Clay People has this intelligence and quirkiness in vast overflowing abundance. Mix that with classic and punk rock sounds, a bit of country-flavoring and indie rock sensibility, and you’ve got something pretty damned irresistible.
The Henry Clay People formed in 2006, though they had an earlier incarnation as the more punkish Vallejo By Knife. They released “Discover The Mystery and Eat It” (2003) and “Birdman and (the) Squid” (2005, on Double Helix Records), though Wikipedia has “Birdman” being a HCP release, so the jury is still out on that one. “Birdman and (the) Squid” was recorded by Dave Newton of The Mighty Lemon Drops, and included, in addition to Andy and Joey Siara, Eric Scott on drums and Noah Green on bass, who would become The Henry Clay People. From 2006-2008, they played what Web In Front called “a two-year, 140-show residency of L.A.”, building a large following of fans and something of a notoriety for completely unhinged, communal performances.
A month-long residency in February 2008 at The Echo coincided with their “Working Part Time” EP. A full-length album had been in the works, but when the residency came along, it was decided there wasn’t enough time to finish it, so as fortune would have it, they teamed up with JAXart Records to put out a vinyl single and digital 5-track EP. [JAXart specializes in really nice, limited edition, wicked collectible vinyl singles that include a digital download; a sweet deal, and I strongly suspect the HCP one won’t last for much longer as they pick up more and more fans outside of L.A. – so yes, grab yours now.]
Their full-length album, “For Cheap or for Free”, was released on Autumn Tone (a label founded by Justin of Aquarium Drunkard) in November of last year. The recording features luminaries from local L.A. bands – Le Switch, The Sweet Hurt, I Make This Sound and Idaho Falls – and others helped with the recording (Joe Napolitano of Le Switch, Dave Newton of The Little Ones and The Movies, Raymond Richards of Broken West and The Weather Underground (now Red Cortez), and Wendy Wang of The Sweet Hurt and Correatown). The music is quirky and triumphant at the same time, with delightful pedal steel and honky-tonk piano.
The Henry Clay People’s New Year’s Eve Spaceland show proved to be a pivotal moment for the band. They gave a special nod to their friends The Airborne Toxic Event by covering “Sometime Around Midnight” just before… yup, you guessed it. After which Noah Green proposed to his girlfriend, on stage. As it happened, they had just been asked to join TATE for their first headlining tour in the U.S. Noah and Eric, not able to commit to so much time away from home, had to drop out, but were replaced by Mike Hopkins and Jonathan Price, who are also in the band i make this sound. I marvel now at how quickly they pulled together this new lineup, because they sounded just fantastic in Boston and NYC.
Things are really taking off for The Henry Clay People, and deservedly so. Back in May, they joined Ben Harper & Relentless7 for an 11-date cross-country tour, and appeared at the Sasquatch Music Festival. They will be performing at Lollapalooza on August 7, the Austin City Limits Festival on October 2, and are on tour with The Airborne Toxic Event and Red Cortez starting on September 17 in Pomona, CA, ending in San Francisco on November 2. The band is currently “reek ord ding”, which happily must mean a new CD to buy at the shows! Can’t wait to see them again… a joyous time indeed.
Blacklist The Kid With The Red Moustache
Wonderfully quirky, uplifting, bouncy and joyous, with some crazy guitar moments like at the end of “Social Sc*entology”, and lyrics that are sweet, silly, and sophisticated and make me laugh out loud. In terms of sensibility and their play on words, they bring to mind Eno’s early solo work. High praise indeed. Their stuff has a way of seeming tight and musically complex, yet loose, sloppy, playful, rambunctious and fun at the same time. Especially evident on a song like “The Gentle Charm of the Soviette”. Delightful guitar interplay on “Children of the Chin” and absolutely great lyrics:
“The party host a proper parasite, we’ll move out to the cheaper city lights tonight. To the center of an industry, where those in-dus-tri-ous people are all smiling at me. Or we can melt into the summer sun, and we can kill or love or whatever, whatever comes….”
Their music just makes me smile with some sense of nostalgia for if not simpler, than at least more straightforward times.
“I bought a dog in Minnesota, I bought a dog, because the price was right…” – “Fiche Bag”
Live [Mondays (at the Echo) Vol. 7 – February 4th 2008]
You just know that any live recording that begins with the lead singer announcing “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, my little brother just went to go pee, so soon as he gets back from urinating, we’ll start this… we’ll kick this jam off” is clearly not going to be a pretentious affair. A brilliant chronicle of a great live band absolutely in their element, this was recorded at their first residency show at The Echo, and includes three tracks from their just released EP as well as the b-side of the 7″ vinyl single, “Echolocation”. Also, “Fine Print” and “Bulls Through” (also from For Cheap Or For Free), “Children of Chin” from Blacklist, “There Were Trees”, and two Operation Ivy covers, “The Crowd” and “Knowledge”. Amazing energy, terrific sound, a rollicking good time and friendly atmosphere, playing for their hometown fans.
For Cheap Or For Free
Just as crazy and brilliant as their earlier work, and bursting with energy. This album has perhaps more of a straightforward classic rock and punk sound, albeit still with the HCP’s trademark off-kilter personality. Closes with a few quieter, more introspective songs. I like the way the album flows. Really nice.
We had dreams, they were better off dreams, so you kept them away from me. But the time will come, yes the time will come, and we’ll need them. This ain’t a scene, it’s just a generation caught in between… This ain’t a scene, it’s just a place to be. We won’t settle down until we’ve seen everything that we’ve paid to see.” – “This Ain’t A Scene”
“We were doing nothing but paying our rent, taking all the holes in our lives and filling them with cement…” – “Bulls Through”
“I Was Half Asleep”, one of my favorites, is an introspective sad and sweet reflection on relationship issues, that midway slips into some lovely pedal steel and soft honky-tonk piano. “Two by Two” is wistful hometown nostalgia with harmonica.
[Apologies if I got any of the words wrong. Please guys, with the new album… lyrics! Even if it’s just online, or scribbed on a piece of tissue, photocopied, and stuffed into the CD case. Thanks!]
End of an Empire (Fuel TV)
Discover The Mystery and Eat It (2003) as ‘Vallejo By Knife’
Birdman and the Squid (2005)
The Henry Clay People: LIVE [Mondays (at the Echo) Vol. 7 – February 4, 2008] (Spaceland Recordings, February 2008)
Working Part Time – Glasshouse, Pomona, CA 3-26-09
(w/Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event on guitar)