Once upon a time – a couple months ago actually – I met a man. I met a big, tall, Aussie man who gave me a towel.
His name was Henry Wagons. He was the opening act at a Those Darlins show I attended and caught me completely by surprise, not just because he gave me a towel but also because he was an amazing artist.
Throughout his set he talked about his band back home, Wagons, that he had to leave behind due to the cost of traveling.
I was intrigued and wanted to hear more of this band, so after his set I grabbed myself a copy of The RIse And Fall Of Goodtown. Henry was happy to sell me a CD and also chatted with me throughout the night. Turns out he is a big deal in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia.
Henry was a cool cool man and I should add that CD I purchased from him was amazing.
Recently, I was able to catch up with Henry and talk about him and complete randomness:
HW – Its true. I think I’m on the D-list back at home. My band does quite well in Australia and I’m a presenter on a TV show so I have enough of a profile to expect to get invited to celebrity filled premieres, but never actually get invited.
Tell me a little bit about yourself…
I’m a Gemini. I like to go to the movies. I’m organized but not a neat freak. I love holidays sipping pina-coladas on a hammock but rarely make it out onto the sand.
Good enough, so how did you get your start as a musician?
I started playing music quite late. I only got into playing the guitar after I finished high school. I became friends with stoner Pink Floyd fans at college, and they couldn’t really talk, so I learned some licks.
In the early days I played in a couple of noise/jam bands, then kinda wanted to try my hand at more traditional song-writing, so found my way through my Mum’s record collection and became fascinated with the likes of Johnny Cash, Tom Jones, Rod Stewart and other manly singers.
Can you give me a brief history on how your band, Wagons, was united?
I went to school with most of them. I was the only one who did my homework.
I started Wagons as a kinda throw away recording project, making a little tape of country songs in which I played all the instruments. I cut and pasted the covers together. Really lo-fi 4 track recordings. I wanted to play them live at a local open mike night at a metal/hardcore pub. I asked my mates to help me out. We got offered our first gig out of open mic night and there seems to have been enough momentum and good times since then to keep it all going. Who knew?
We all take it quite a bit more seriously now and are thankful that people still want to hear us play. I think it really helps to have humble beginnings and relatively low expectations to keep things in perspective.
How would you describe Wagons to someone who has never heard of them before?
Imagine if Elvis, Johnny Cash, Nick Cave, Dick Clarke, John Wayne and John Forgery all had a child together, and that child was a fat, over-excited nerd. How cool would that be! What was the question?
No idea. Who are your major influences?
See the proud parents above.
When we spoke outside of the Beachland Tavern weeks back, you mentioned a few things that had me thinking. First off, you were talking about a Visa is needed in the states to perform?
Its true. A lot of bands slip into the country under the radar, but we did this last trip on the books. The performance visa cost us $2.5K. That’s a lotta burgers.
Luckily we are in a position to afford that kinda outlay, but I feel sorry for smaller bands wanting to play in the States for the first time, before you have too much happening at home.
You also mentioned that your homeland helps pay for performing out of country? How exactly does that work?
There is so much red tape you could bind and gag Elvis’ entire fan club.
You basically fill out forms and prove you are a real band, doing good work and, thankfully, government arts funding is there for you.
I understand you left your entire band back home because it was too expensive to fly everyone out. Did you save up for this? Will you be able to do it again, maybe with more of the band?
I definitely want to be able to bring the band over. Wagons music is made to a pretty grand scale, so it would make sense to have a beat behind it.
It is expensive to come over to the US. You can imagine the flights themselves for five band members is thousands and thousands of dollars, let alone transport, food and accommodation.
I’ve come over as an ambassador for the band, to get a feel for whether our stuff might work. I feel good about it. I think, provided I don’t cover my floors in plasma screen dancefloors we will be able to bring the rest of the boys next time.
How important is this solo tour for you?
As much as I love having the boys around, I do love playing solo. I can settle into a long and boring story on stage with a guitarist telling me to shut up.
What was it like going from big crowds in Melbourne to opening for bands like Those Darlins to smaller crowds? Did you feel you were right back where you started?
I try to give my all no matter how many people are there. I’ve felt that way since day one. When it comes down to it, I feel it’s a honor to have anyone’s attention. I’m always going to respect that by putting on a show for em.
Besides, I’m always playing Madison Square Garden when I close my eyes.
What is so different about the American lifestyle you like / hate?
The excellent junk food is a constant source of pleasure and horror. There is nothing I like better than sinking my teeth into the local junk food specialty, be it Chicago pizza, Philly cheese steak, Portland Voodoo donut etc. You guys do guilty pleasure food soooo well it kills me. Problem is, it is also killing me.
What are some of your favorites here in the states?
My favorite roadside chains are: Cracker Barrel, Chipotle, and Starbucks.
Each of these guys brought me so much joy for different reasons.
How are the accommodations during your visit?
Accommodation has been great. I has gotten to know the Day’s Inn franchise very well across the country. When I see those weather beaten white glowing signs out the front of a 70’s yellow brick motel I feel like I’m home again.
In your opinion, do you think Americans dress funny?
Ronald McDonald dresses pretty weird.
How did you get hooked up with Those Darlins? I understand the Cleveland show was the first night you played with them. Who were you performing with prior to that show?
I met Those Darlins at SXSW last year, and we were going to do a tour with them. It was all locked in…we even did a photo shoot together and were on the covers of magazines back home in preparation for the shows (ask Matt to give you the pics!!). Then Nikki broke her arm and had to pull out of the show!! Was a great shame it didn’t work out. But, despite the adversity, Wagons and Those Darlins have been friends ever since.
Before Those Darlins I played a few shows with Justin Townes Earle and Bobby Bare Jr. Both amazing American songwriters and performers!
How long was your trip to the states? How many cities did you play?
I was in the US for about 3 and a half weeks, visiting 13 towns all, across the country. Planes, trains and automobiles. I gather it’s not a massive tour by US standards, but we got around a bit for our first time here.
How have the crowds been during your opening performances?
I was a little worried about playing the opening slot. I haven’t been the warm up guy for quite a while. I was hoping I hadn’t lost my mojo for getting the crowd to be quiet and listen to what’s going on. As it turns out, everyone has been great and quite respectful. Maybe everyone is straining to understand what the hell it is I’m saying in my weird accent. Whatever the reason….I’m not fussy.
Was there any one city that seems to favor you over another?
Justin Townes Earle’s bass player Josh gave me a bag of bacon and choc chip cookies in Bellingham, WA. That city stands out for that reason.
I understand you headed to the UK? What went on over there?
Mostly fantastic Sunday roasts with Yorkshire pudding, Jammy Dodgers, Jaffa cakes, soggy but good fish n chips, pear ciders and cold weather. Playing a couple a gigs in London too. It’s mostly a holiday, but I’m playing over here a little bit before a run of shows back in Australia over Summer. Gotta record a record over New Year’s sometime too!
Is there anything here in the states you look at and shake your head at? Meaning are there major cultural differences you have noticed?
I shook my head when I was crossing the border into Canada and they asked if I was carrying any weapons.
You have a certain upfront humor that I loved but could offend someone easily. Has anyone taken your jokes the wrong way yet?
Someone once asked me the same question as you, with the addition that he was almost going to ram me into the drum-kit behind me. ‘Almost’ was the operative word. A lot of people almost get offended.
Do you have any fun stories you wish to share?
I’m an avid Tweeter and Facebooker – I wear glasses…I’m a nerd. I have shared a lot of my stupid happenings on there. Befriend me! I swear virtually befriending me is probably better than the real thing!
Why should someone check out Henry Wagons and the music he makes?
Because they have finished their daily chores, logged off their email, called their mom, walked their dog, starting to get bored and are looking for something absolutely fucking mind-blowing to do.