California's The Henry Clay People have come a considerable way in just a few years.
Currently out on tour with Silversun Pickups and Against Me! while supporting their ballsy new album, Somewhere on the Golden Coast, the quintet chose to go the route of compromise with not only the band's moniker, but also in the sense that they feel the time-tested path that often separates the various ends of rock 'n' roll has now become the road less rocked.
The band's three full-length albums, combined with a live release and an EP, create a catalog that has garnered the group coveted slots on the stages of SXSW, ACL, and Lollapalooza, to name a few high-profile gigs.
Henry Clay People lead singer and songwriter Joey Siara recently took a few minutes away from his touring activities to discuss what it's like to almost hang out with Radiohead and how frustrating it can be to have your brother always reading over your shoulder.
So, tell me, what's with the band name?
About six years ago, it was time to come up with a new name and none of us had any really good ideas, so we just made up a list of a bunch of names that really weren't that good. We almost decided on The Elks, but our old bass player had just had a nightmare where he was in a band called The Elks, but The Henry Clay People was also on that list and since Henry Clay was the Great Compromiser, we decided to go with that in the spirit of compromise. It's not the greatest band name, but our feeling is, "what's in a name, really?"
Your last record, 2008's For Cheap or For Free, was released by Autumn Tone, which is a label started by the blog, American Drunkard. How was that experience unique?
It was pretty cool, actually. Justin (Gage, the creator of American Drunkard.com and Autumn Tone Records) had just signed a band that were friends with. Plus, I'm a huge fan of what he does on the blog. He's really more of a musical historian than blogger, and the stuff he posts is right up my alley. When I met him in Austin during SXSW, we just really hit it off. They were really good to us and he was as supportive of a guy as you could possibly have to run a label.
OK, you're with TBD Records now, and you are labelmates with Radiohead. That's pretty surreal, isn't it?
Oh yeah. Someday, I want to rub elbows with Thom Yorke, but that's highly unlikely at this point. Of course, every band in the world geeks out over Radiohead and would probably chop off an appendage to be able to hang out with them.
Your brother, Andy, is also in the band. There aren't going to be any sibling issues that tear the band apart is there?
He's my best friend, but we do get on each other's nerves. It's actually good, because I respect him musically. He's also my main editor when it comes to my songwriting. He's the one who makes sure I don't fall into too many clichés. I've definitely got some older brother pride, but he's a pain in my ass, too.
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I recently read a quote of yours where you stated that you feel like "rock 'n' roll is just rock 'n' roll." Do you think that rock has become convoluted or pretentious?
Yeah, that's probably not the most intelligent quote of mine. (Laughs.) I definitely think there's an art-school rock and a meat-head rock 'n' roll. I just think there also needs to be more old-fashioned rock 'n' roll with a more classic, historical feel to it. I feel like I just quoted a Bob Seger song.
You kind of did, but that's OK.
Well, I don't want to make dumb, unintelligent rock 'n' roll. But I don't think the idea is to push the envelope, simply to just make something radically new, either. I feel like rock 'n' roll has gotten away from the simplicity that made some of my favorite bands from the '90s so great. Bands like Built to Spill and Guided by Voices are students of rock 'n' roll, and, now, there just seems to be more posturing from bands. A lot of times, I'll hear something that I'm supposed to be listening to, and I just don't get it. At this age, I just don't care to in many cases, either.
Many of your lyrics, especially on this latest album, seem to be the reflection of your current existence. Do you typically use your immediate environment as your guiding inspiration when you write?
Absolutely. When I first started writing songs, I would write about anything, then I began to fully realize that my favorite thing about music is the sincerity involved. That's become the main thing we strive for now--being honest with ourselves. The stuff we write all of our songs about now are about the here and now. I'm not trying to address topics that I don't understand or really know much about.