With a recent wrap up of his US tour and upcoming Australian tour pushing its head eagerly around the corner, Henry Wagons, the main man behind country-rock band Wagons, takes time out of his rapidly moving lifestyle to sift through the ins and outs of what it takes to be part of the rich, alternative country band, that is Wagons.
You’ve just wrapped up your US tour. Were there any real highlights of this experience?
It’s probably out of a bacon and maple flavoured donut in Portland, or a bacon and egg waffle in Austin Texas, gotta be one of those two. Music is kind of the number one thing but one of the things that really helps me through is being able to eat weird local stuff everywhere I go. So, whether it’s me being bamboozled at the lack of vegetables in any meal in The States or really enjoying a fried steak… some pretzel M&Ms. We visited a town called Astoria on the way to Seattle and that’s where The Goonies, Short Circuit and Kindergarten Cop were all filmed in the ‘80s. We stopped off there and had an amazing meal… I had some sort of salmon sandwich next to a river that I recognized from The Goonies so that was probably a highlight too.
So mostly revolving around food?
Mostly! But there were some musical highlights too, there were so many gigs that it kind of all blurred into one. We played 16 gigs in 18 days all across the country, so it was pretty much non stop music and being in checking queues. We had a bunch of great gigs at South By South West and we really enjoyed our time in Canada too at Canadian Music Week. The whole trip was basically revolving around playing in front of the good people that are putting out our record in the US and Canada later in the year. A lot of them hadn’t seen our band before so we’re sort of going there and showing them what they are in for over the coming year or two when we’ll be touring the album over there. It all went really well, they all seemed to really like the band, so I’m very pleased that they’re into it.
You begin your Australian tour soon. How are you as a band preparing?
Pretty much the same way we did for the US, by rehearsing and eating. We are in the process of getting up the new show as we speak and kind of adding in a new song or two. Tasmania’s coming up in one and a half weeks and they are going to be our guinea pigs because we’re trying the new show out there for the very first time and we’re all really excited. The American tour and the tour I just did were kind of revolving around the Bluesfest in Byron Bay, we were mostly still playing old material, but in the tour that starts at the end of the month we’ll be mostly playing new stuff.
Are you more nervous about the show in Melbourne because it’s your hometown?
I’m always really excited to play at home, playing a venue that I’ve grown up going to… it’s one of the best venues in the city, The Forum Theatre, so I’m very excited to be playing a headline show there. We’ve played a couple of times but as a support, so it’ll be amazing to play a headline show.
It’s the sort of venue where they put your name up in the old plastic, dusty cinema letters out the front, it makes me very excited to have my name up in lights so I’m really looking forward to it. I get a couple of things… the Melbourne show is at the end of the tour, it’s the very last of 20 shows so I’m excited for that, because at that stage I’ll know all the songs really well and mastered the set more or less. I’m excited to play the new material and it’ll be fresh and edgy and at the forefront of my mind, it’ll be a new experience at the start of the tour and that’ll be exciting to watch I hope and by the end we’ll have found our stride, so by the time we get home it’ll be really fun.
For me as long as I have some sort of raised platform and faces in my direction I get excited. Whether there’s 20 people or 5000 people it doesn’t really matter to me I’ll give it my all as long as I have somebody’s attention span at my disposal. I get just as excited playing at “shitsville” Toronto as I do playing the Forum Theatre in Melbourne, it doesn’t bother me.
Your on stage performances have been described as extremely energetic, are you like that all the time or is this something you usually have to gear yourself up for?
I mean, I do a few jumps on the spot behind stage seconds before I go, in a pretty Balboa fashion, but it more or less comes pretty naturally. Once the lights are on and the smoke machine hisses I’m there. It’s quite second nature to me, I get excited pretty easy!
With your upcoming tour around Australia, is there anywhere in the country you haven’t toured before?
We’re more or less visiting everywhere we’ve been. In our past for sure, there have been some low lights, but there are some real diamonds in the rough that we are so excited to visit. I’m really looking forward to getting down south of Perth and Toowoomba again; I’ve had some great times there. Lismore and all that Northern NSW part of town is really beautiful and I’m looking forward to all of that. You never know where your next good show or time is going to be specifically. I’m even guilty of having a good time in the abject desolation of Canberra… haha! So that just goes to show you how random it can be.
Are all the people on your front cover part of the band and going on tour with you?
Well actually most of the people on the front cover aren’t in the band they are just members of the ‘Wagons Cult’. On our previous record we had kind of a cult-like vibe on the front of the cover and this next album, the one I just released is supposed to be a sequel to that in that the cult has gotten a little bit bigger. It’s moved from the setting of ploughing the fields into a sort of screwed up mansion, and the cults got a picture a bit more fucked up on the brink of collapse. Most of those extras are for effect purposes, rather than being in the actual band. However, our band is quite big, there are six of us in the group. Our touring members are quite flexible in that it can go down to a four, or even sometimes three-piece at any given point, but it’s still always fun. If there are less members, we just make more noise.
Are the songs predominately written by you? Or is it more of a collaborative process?
The songs are written by me and I sort of flesh out the general arrangement with the band. They definitely are crucial to the overall sound, but I’m the major songwriter. I like to think that it’s more of a benevolent dictatorship, everyone has a say and my boys are the first people I seek outside opinion from. So they don’t really have a hand in the songwriting but they definitely get their dirty mitts all over it.
How long did it take you to write the music for the album?
The songwriting process is quite fast for me, I’m not very prolific, I’m not someone who sits around the campfire, or shows up to someone’s house and asks them to listen to four new songs that I’ve written this morning, I don’t just spit out songs. I seem to let the embryo of the song linger in my mind for months, until it comes to actually completing them by necessity when it’s time for another album release. I have them sort of bubble away in the cauldron of my mind for months but they actually come to realization and completion pretty quick. I’d say the actual writing process I had together over about a month and then we spent a couple of months in and out of the studio finishing the album. So all in all, the turnover was pretty fast.
Do you have a favourite track on the album?
I think that album is pretty turbulent in the sense that there are quite a few moods that are covered in the record, which kind of reflect where the album has come from. There’s a whole mix of influences and a whole mix of those calm and then hectic kind of moods on there.
My favourite song changes depending on what kind of sound I’m after or mood I’m in, if I’m a bit frazzled after having just spoken to someone about my mobile bill, I may need a calm and tranquil song like My Daydream, but if I’m gearing myself up for a night out I might prefer to put on something like Down Low. They are all my babies, I can’t really tell the difference. I feel as if I have ten healthy, beautiful children prancing around in front of me and I can’t choose which one I like the best.
Did you play a role in the production of the album?
I did! See the production was a collaboration between the band, Cornel Wilczek and myself. We all put our two cents in. Most of the mixing and production was done with basically Cornel and I. Sitting on this plush ‘70s vintage couch exchanging weird ideas over three weeks, just fiddling with sounds and making pristine sounds screwed up and screwed up sounds pristine. Cornel was an absolute genius at distorting and distressing sounds.
I recorded a lot of it at his studio through the most Hi-fi equipment: the best microphones, and preamps into a really high-tech rig. We spent hours making it sound distorted and old. In the lead up to this album I listened to a lot of old Nashville stuff like George Jones and there are a few songs that bare those influences pretty strongly. The idea of using old analog filters, distortions and cube saturations was really exciting to me.
Are there any bands that you feel are a massive influence to your music?
Well I think that some of the biggest figures are the bedazzled, Las Vegas, glitzy, singer-songwriter, entertainers. They are not the most fashionable influences but give me some Elvis Presley and some Roy Orbison, or heading to the more credible side Neil Young and Mel Haggard. Then there’s the credible meeting the bedazzled, like Porter Wagoner, who is an amazing influence too. Basically, a lot of those old ‘70s daggy dudes, who generally only make an appearance in your parent’s record collection. I have somehow managed to absorb them as well and I love them!
You’ve obviously had a lot of national and international success with your band… did you ever think you would get so popular?
No, I’m always surprised and very grateful, I’m like that when I get any attention whatsoever, so the fact that audiences seem to be building and there are people offshore that seem keen to throw me around The States, yeah I’m really thankful for that. When I first started this group I did not start making dark, outlawed country-rock music in order to become popular, I just wanted to scratch an itch in my songwriting and here I am many years later, doing it full-time! I never thought this would be possible, I didn’t even aspire to it, I’ve just sort of fallen into it and I’m very glad I have, it’s a great life!
What inspired the name Wagons?
It goes back to when I first started this group, I actually got into music from the recording and production side of things, rather than being a virtuoso player or singer. The first thing I ever made was actually a cassette tape and it was a bunch of songs inspired by the fact that my now drummer got me a late Johnny Cash record, American Recordings. This, combined with the fact that I was reading Cormac Mccarthy’s Border Trilogy at the time, which are kind of psychedelic, arty Western novels, made me want to make a screwed up country sort of theme.
I ended up writing recording the songs and passing around this cassette to my friends, but I didn’t know what to call it. For Christmas someone had given me a collection of Western short stories and all I knew is I wanted a short name (because the stamp I was using for the front of this cassette tape had large letters) that reflects the sort of dark, Western, fucked-up-ness of that tape. I was scanning through the index of all the cowboy stories, you know ‘Six Shooter’, ‘Horses On The Horizon’, ‘Leather Cats’, and the name I decided to choose relatively at random was ‘Wagons’. So that was that and ever since I made the imprint of that first ink stamp it sort of just stuck.
Henry Wagons plays at the free Mess+Noise Lunchbox gig at 1pm on Friday 20th May at the Workers Club in Melbourne
FasterLouder presents Wagons’ ‘Rumble, Shake And Tumble’ tour:
Workers Club, 51 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Friday 27th May – Royal Oak, Launceston
Saturday 28th May – Republic Bar, Hobart
Friday 3nd June – Wheatsheaf Hotel, Adelaide
Sunday 5th June – Wheatsheaf Hotel, Adelaide
Wednesday 15th June – X-Wray, Fremantle (Henry Wagons solo)
Thursday 16th June – Prince of Wales, Bunbury
Friday 17th June – Settlers Tavern, Margaret River
Saturday 18th June – The Bird, Perth
Sunday 19th June – Mojo’s, Fremantle
Thursday 23rd June – Transit Bar, Canberra
Friday 24th June – Clarendon Guesthouse, Katoomba
Saturday 25th June – Annandale Hotel, Sydney
Thursday 30th June – Gollan Hotel, Lismore
Friday 1st July – The Cow, Toowoomba
Saturday 2nd July – Hi-Fi Bar, Brisbane
Friday 8th July – Karova Lounge, Ballarat
Saturday 9th July – National Hotel, Geelong
Saturday 16th July – Forum Theatre, Melbourne
(Originally Found on FasterLouder: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/features/28599/Wagons?page=2)
- Cowgirl In The Sand