Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mini-Interview: The Henry Clay People

If you haven’t seen The Henry Clay People play out here in LA yet, it’s probably just a matter of time. They’re basically the hardest working men in indie rock show business… performing week after week at places ranging from The Silver Lake Lounge to The Cocaine at Live Jazz, The Scene in Glendale to The Eagle Rock Bowling and Drinking Club, and every place seemingly in-between.

We recently spoke with lead Joey Siara shortly after the release of the band’s new album, The Kid With The Red Moustache.

Hi, Joey. How are you doing today?

Hi there, Mr. Joe. I'm doing just fine. A bit tired I suppose. We played with The Happy Hollows in Long Beach last night and those kids stay up late. It's tough to keep up with such born rock and rollers.

Your new album just came out. Congrats! How was your release party at The Scene?

Why, thanks. It's actually our third full length but first since moving to the greater LA area. It's the first one that we're really trying to play in support of. The Scene show was tons-o-fun. A lot of very wonderful people came out.

There's a great little "scene" (though I hate to use such a loaded word) of people/bands that are blossoming thanks to eastside venues like The Scene, Mr. T's, The Cocaine (though not exactly east side), and The Eagle Rock Bowling and Drinking Club.

I cannot possibly stress enough how important these venues are to preserving the goodness of rock and roll music in Los Angeles. They operate on the periphery of the Echo Park/Silver Lake scene and therefore don't get as much attention -- but they will soon enough, I'm convinced.

These venues don't have the latest sound systems and whatnot but that's the charm of the whole thing--the music is very real sounding and down to earth and has that great DIY punk spirit to it. There's no distance between band and audience. The people/bands that hang out at these places are among the friendliest and most sincere that I have ever met.

I was at The Cocaine on Sunday night to see Downtown/Union, One Trick Pony, and The Transmissions and it was such a great collection of interesting people, very positive vibes and stuff, kinda felt like an old episode of Cheers or something.

How long have you been together? You had another band with many of the same members before, right?

In my mind, The Henry Clay People have been together roughly five years, though we were called Vallejo By Knife for part of it and have undergone a few line-up changes. I've been playing in bands with Eric (our drummer) for about twelve years now--which is crazy to me. I can't imagine playing with anyone else.

How did your music change with the new act?

Initially, we were doing more of a gritty Hot Snakes bar rock thing. We'd wear leisure suits and moustaches and what not and go nuts on stage. When we recorded our first full length we realized that the songs weren't transferring as well as hoped. So we just kept writing and recording (at least fifty songs in the last four years) and natural selection takes place and certain traits develop and certain appendages become obsolete and so on.

And your brother has been playing with you for five years?

Yep. It helps to be genetically linked to the lead guitar player.

Now, you recorded the album with Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Godspeed, You Black Emperor!) and Colin Stewart (Frog Eyes, Destroyer). How did that come together?

We used to have a manager/over-zealous friend that would go to great lengths to contact people that I would never in a million years contact (our manager has since gone MIA, Jeff come back). Anyhow, he managed (as managers do) to get our demo in the hands of Colin and Howard. They responded with enthusiasm to the demos. I was shocked. From there we had the logistical nightmare of planning a recording session.

And what was your experience recording? It was up in Montreal, right?

Initially, the plan was to record at Jackpot! in Portland which I was really excited about because some of my favorite bands recorded there... but we had a last minute scheduling conflict. Long story short-we recorded in both Portland and Montreal.

The experience was amazing and terrifying. We'd be recording and Efrem from Godspeed would just show up to hang out with Howard. In Portland, Larry Crane (who edits Tape-Op magazine and has worked with Elliott Smith and Sleater Kinney) would constantly be stopping in to check his email. Needless to say we were all intimidated and a bit indie rock starstruck.

Howard and Colin made us feel comfortable, though. They're both Canadian and so everybody shared a mutual love for Neil Young and hockey. What more could you want?

They're also analog recording purist types so we didn't use any digital stuff (except my brother's delay pedal) and we tracked it mostly live in a room together. So that was interesting. It forced us to be more of a live band rather than studio wizards.

You guys seem to play live as much as humanly possible. Why?

Why not? Rock and roll music is best heard live. So much manipulation takes place in recording so it's generally refreshing to see through all the smoke and mirrors. I think you get a way better sense of what the band is about... for better or worse.

Plus, playing live is a lot of fun for us and the only way to get better is to play more. So yeah--why not. It's easier to swallow a bad show if you know that you have a chance to redeem yourself the following week.

What's next for you?

We're doing the May residency at The Eagle Rock Bowling and Drinking Club. It should be a blast. A lot of great bands. Then, we're planning a tour this summer with our ever so radical friends Divisadero.

Last question: Who are you listening to these days?

I usually just Ipod shuffle these days although my brother broke my Ipod so I'm stuck to what I have on disc. In my car right now I have: The Thermals, Service Group, The Monolators, Swim Party, The Arcade Fire, The Animals, The Replacements (always have a Replacements album whenever you're in a car), and The Best of Sam Cooke. All are fantastic and highly recommended.

Thanks for your time, Joey.

- MP3: Children of Chin (YouSendIt Link – Expires in one week)


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