What earlier Mr. Henry record has the most in common with your new project Waiting For Henry, Ghosts & Compromise?
Man, I hope it’s not a cop out to pick two… but I think Ghosts falls somewhere between the first couple of Mr. Henry albums. It has the grit and new-band-energy of As Good as the Ground, but I feel like it also has the song strength of Jackhammer.
You took a brief-to-longer-than-expected hiatus from playing live, recording and touring until now: does the material and lyrics on the disc tell any part of that story?
Yeah I did and yeah it does. Story’s in the title song… “Let’s raise a toast, to everybody’s ghost.” For me, so much of this album is about coming to terms with the reality that a lot my life is now to be looked back on. But it’s also about not being scared of the related ghosts – in my case, musical – that won’t disappear. Doing the ‘band-thing’ once more is really like a born-again experience. Like I had this phantom muse, packed into the closet with all the backup guitars and broken amps… and somehow it came back to life. Musicians are like wolfmen… once you’re bitten it’s in you.
Elevator pitch, in one sentence: what’s your favorite thing about how the disc it turned out?
I always feel like a it’s a success if I come up with a recording that sounds like something I would buy myself… and I think I’d buy this one. Or at least bootleg it.
Why did you record down in Freehold, NJ when you live so close to so many great studio’s in New York?
Definitely the food. They have awesome take-out Chinese in Freehold. No, actually it’s kind of a cool story… for me at least. We set out trying to work with Josh Jakubowski, who recorded the first Gaslight Anthem album “Sink or Swim”. It’s the best and best sounding punk album of the past decade. The tracks are beautiful, but bombastic. Kinda like The Replacements’ “Tim.” Anyway, our schedules couldn’t connect, but through the Josh search, we connected with one of his old partners in crime, Joe Dell’Aquila at Exeter Recording in Freehold. First off, we were blown away by Joe’s sounds and mixes on his website samples. We knew, even before seeing the studio that he was the guy. Went in sight unseen and Joe rocked it. Then, to ice the cake, we thought the whole ‘ghost’ thing of recording in the same town where Springsteen grew up, couldn’t hurt the vibe. And it didn’t. Was great.
Man, Hurricane Sandy …..what a nightmare. Jersey’s known for bad hair and really bad McMansions, but not hurricanes. And it wasn’t just Sandy, in the 18 months we were recording down by the Shore we also got hit with Irene. Thankfully, the studio – and our tracks – survived. My house just lost some roof, although I have friend whose roof lost its house!
Anyway, a coupla weeks ago, I was with a group doing volunteer clean up work in Lavallette, a town that got mauled, and came up with the idea of turning “Here Comes the Rain” into a video fundraiser. Working on that now. We’re gonna donate all the proceeds from related downloads of “Here Comes the Rain” to Restore the Shore related charities. Hope to have it up on the website this summer. There’s a lot of folks who still need help and will for a long time.
You have amassed a nice guitar and amp collection over the years, what did you play on the new record?
Yeah, a nice collection of beaters from the guitar shop on the Island of the Misfit Toys. Main electrics were a ’67 Epiphone Riviera 12-string, run as a six and an old Gibson SG Junior. They’re always my go-tos, gritty but super warm. Acoustic was a rebuilt Gibson dinosaur from the 50’s that I adopted from Texas. Sounds amazing. Ampwise, the main criminals were an ’82 JCM800, ’65 Fender Vibrolux, a Goodsell and a Samamp. The Marshall saw the most action, since we were trying to put a big Buffalo Tom guitar sound into an Americana setting. I think it worked.
Any rules you try to follow when writing a song or are they all ‘works in progress’?
Main rule is, when it comes grab it. Otherwise you’ll be haunted for years. Most of the songs on the album were one-shot deals. Something sparks at 11pm and by 3am there’s a song. Then there was Here Comes the Rain, which I started 15 years ago and never grabbed it. Took a recession and Hurricane Irene to reignite the muse and find the lyric on that one.
Is a return to the road or the drive to play events like SXSW again on your radar or ‘in the rear view’?
Would love to, but you’ll have to talk to my wife about that.
What is your fondest single memory from touring with Mr. Henry?
Too many to pick one. But up there would be opening for Iggy Pop at Birmingham, AL’s City Stages, playing with Counting Crows at the Beacon in NYC, our first SXSW and of course all those nights humping gear into a motel room at 4am. Then there was the day we couldn’t get out of the motel parking lot in Jackson, MS, cuz the innkeepers were cooking nan bread on the hot asphalt.
What’s the first record you ever bought and what’s the best cut on it?
Elton John’s Greatest Hits. Best cut, definitely “Border Song.” “Holy Moses, I have been removed.” It’s the song no one knows. Have no idea how it made it to his Greatest Hits album, but thank God it did.
What’s the best concert you ever attended and what strikes you most about it now?
There’s two. As a kid I got into see The Clash at one of the famous Bond’s Casino shows in NYC. One of the dates was an all-ages matinée. Me and my friend Dan pushed our way to the front and were getting crushed against the stage. The roadies pulled us up before we got killed, and rather than throwing us out, they left us onstage and we got to sing into the mic with Joe Strummer. Even have one of Joe’s broken guitar strings from that gig. Was magic. The other was The Replacements at the old Ritz in NYC in ’85. Was one of Bob Stinson’s last shows. I never heard them before that show, but my buddy got tix. Was totally awestruck. Left knowing I had just seen the greatest rock band ever.