I met with Joey Siara, the front man for the Henry Clay People, on Friday night before their show at the Aggie Theatre. We had a chance to talk about their new album, Somewhere on the Golden Coast, their influences, and how they make their music.
Jester: How has opening up for Drive By Truckers been? Is their crowd into what you guys are doing?
Joey: I think so. For some of them, we’re a little punky and brattier than their taste. But I think that overall, I’ve been impressed by the crowd’s openmindedness, letting a young band flop around on stage for 45 minutes and not booing us off the stage. We’ve been on a couple of tours with different bands and this is the first time where I feel like there’s the most crossover.
Who else have you opened for?
Ben Harper. We opened for the Airborne Toxic Event…those are the two main tours we’ve been on.
I’ve named a particular sub-genre “snotty boys with guitars” – bands like Lit, Green Day, Dramarama. They all have a kind of smart ass attitude, clever lyrics, and simpler music, but…
A little wink and a nod.
Exactly! That seems to be part of what you guys do.
Yeah, Pavement is one of my favorite bands and Pavement’s a bunch of smart asses. I guess that all the music I listen to is usually pretty simple music. But there’s got to be something else that you kind of sneak it in there underneath the simple music.
You guys have some nice dual guitar arrangements.
I think it helps, being in a band with your brother. Because my brain is not much different from his brain. So, when we come up with guitar parts, it’s pretty easy to just follow each other’s lead.
I’ve sat in with my brother’s band and it’s a lot of fun. There are things we do that are really similar and things we do that are completely different, like you’d expect.
Yeah, he’s got some different instincts, but I’ve always…he’s younger than me and so, I feel that growing up, we was kind of more on the shy side. But lately, he’s gotten a lot more confident and a lot more daring. I trust his instincts and let him go and I’m usually not disappointed. And if I am, I’ll tell him right away.
And he’ll take that feedback as positively as possible.
Or he’ll just slap me in the face and get over it (laughs).
You've released a couple of songs on the new album on earlier recordings.
Oh yeah, Working Part Time and This Ain’t a Scene.
Yes, why did you revisit those songs?
Our label wanted those songs because they felt like our last record didn’t get enough of a push. They felt like it was more of a local record. People in L.A. heard it and liked it, but it still never got that national push. I think they felt like those songs deserved another chance. Working Part Time is probably the song that’s been the best for us.
It’s a great song. On this album, it fits tightly into the first few songs. So, how intentional were the segues in those first three songs.
That’s really important to me. I’m a huge fan of a kind of rapid fire, keeping it like a live set, where we try to play it back to back to back. Then take a quick breather and then back to back to back. It’s part of the punk rock thing. Nobody Taught Us To Quit right to Working Part Time…
That pause, though, is the exact wait you’d have to count.
That’s what we did when we were mastering it. So, we ended it and the mastering guy said, “How close do you want it?” So…”duh duh DUH…2, 3 4” That’s what I wanted
And then, the last line of Working Part Time sets up the rhyme for Keep Your Eyes Closed.
Sick/brick (laughs)? That was just a little smirky thing.
That segue was one of the first things I mentioned in my review as a thoughtful thing that I hoped wasn’t an accident.
It’s thought out. We contemplated that song (Keep Your Eyes Closed) being the first song on the record: (sings) “You fell in love and you fell like a brick.” Then I ended up recording Nobody Taught Us to Quit, which became the first song. That was very last minute.
Also, Saturday Night and Your Famous Friends are two of the last songs on there. There’s this burst of feedback at the end of Saturday Night and that cuts into Your Famous Friends. We did that in one take because we had a pretty good vibe in the room and we felt good. So we just yelled at each other “Play Famous Friends… Keep going, keep going!” We played Famous Friends way faster and way looser than we usually play it. But spirit of it was definitely there. That’s my favorite part of the CD.
Who would you identify as influences?
Overall, my favorite band of all time is the Replacements. I think that the spirit of the Replacements … they’re a punk band, but…Paul Westerberg happened to be this punk kid who could actually write some songs and he had heart. Not every Replacements song is a great song, but the good ones are fantastic. So, them and Guided By Voices. They’re another band that releases just about everything. Some of it’s great and some of it’s not, but the ethic of putting it out there and going for it…I like that a lot.
And Ian Hunter is one of my heroes. We’ve covered Roll Away the Stone. Last night, we didn’t do it. So we’ll probably do it tonight.
Famous Friends has a little bit of that Ian Hunter vibe.
Yeah, like All the Way to Memphis kind of starts and stops. We’re kind of a bunch of geeks when it comes to classic rock. Ultimately, I think we just pull bits and pieces from our favorite classic rock bands and Mott is definitely up there. I think they’re one of the most underrated bands. I think a lot of people look at them and hear All The Young Dudes, and think “oh”.
I think they got eclipsed by the whole Bowie connection.
I think so too, and that happened late in their career. Mott and The Hoople and actually All the Young Dudes. Even the older stuff: Brain Capers is one of my favorite records and that’s a pre-Bowie one. You can’t knock the songwriting and Ian Hunter as a frontman, and his voice.
It’s very distinctive.
Right. It’s not a good voice, but it’s a memorable voice and his delivery and his charisma…I like a lot of singers that can’t sing. It might be self serving, but (laugh).
I’m glad that you have a deeper sense of history. Bands nowadays don’t always get it.
Copies of copies…they degrade. So a lot of mainstream bands, by the time it’s on the radio, it’s kind of watered down. All the bands that I’ve really liked seem to care about the music that they’re inspired by. And they delve into it and become music geeks. I was a history major in college, so I feel like I want to be a music historian.
I have a friend who’s a TV writer and I always get into these debates with her about how to be the best TV writer, how to be a better creative person. I think the best thing to do is just listen to the greats. If you want to write hour long TV dramas, sit down and watch The Sopranos. If you want to write screenplays, familiarize yourself with The Godfather. Go to the greats. Your own voice will eventually come out. I don’t sound like Bowie. But if his music informs me somehow and it comes out filtered through our band: our limits, our talents, and our strengths and weaknesses…that’s what a rock and roll band should be.
What about lyrical authenticity? Are you guys the kinds of people in whose voices you write in?
So many of our lyrics begin with “we”. Instead of it being about “I love this…”, most of it is usually “we”. I try to write from the perspective of our band as a bunch of dudes in our late 20s/early 30s. There’s sad stuff that’s happened as a result of us going on tour. Relationships…it’s hard, the whole rock and roll thing. I like to think that all the things we write about comes from something real. About half the songs have this kind of sad thing and the other half are celebratory. It’s a weird balance, but it’s all real.
In the last year or two, my brother and I have kept a journal of all the crazy stuff that’s happened to us. For the next record, we’ve got a nice little book of memories.,
Stuff to draw on.
So, how much longer is this tour?
This is the last night. We’ve done about two weeks with them and it’s been awesome. Then we go out on tour from mid July through August with the Silver Sun Pickups and Against Me. Which is cool, because it’s also like a totally different demographic, different crowd. And my goal is to play for a Drive By Truckers crowd, a Silver Sun crowd, for a punk crowd. They don’t all have to love us, but at least we wouldn’t get booed off stage. That’s the goal, to get 10% of each audience to be like “all right, they’re cool”.