We are reposting this interview with the Henry Clay People (from Vol. 2 No. 44 back in December 2007) because they’re also playing our SXSW showcase tomorrow with Blu, Busdriver and more. They were interviewed here by Chris Ziegler between their two full-lengths.
Is it true you used to be named after something the Zodiac killer wrote?
Andy Siara (guitar/vocals): How did you know that?
Joey Siara (guitar/vocals): Yes, that’s true, but we’re not that dark of a band.
A: That was a long time ago—we were basically a party band, and we wore mustaches and leisure suits and had whole personas. But that ended three-and-a-half years ago.
What specific incident stopped you?
J: We were sick of gluing mustaches to our faces. We had to put spirit gum on and that stuff sucks—the next day you have this dirt ‘stache, and that really wasn’t worth it anymore. We’d play a show and there would be like five kids, and we’d realized we dressed all up for five kids. So we realized we might as well cut the dressing up.
What was the last time you all dressed up together?
A: We were the Ronald Reagan People.
Noah Green (bass/vocals): We played in full masks the entire set—all Reagan masks and Eric was Gorbachev—there’s a video of us online.
A: Of us covering Neil Young.
N: We wanted a Cold War theme night for Halloween.
What happened when you, Colin Stewart and Howard Bilerman were all in a room together for the first time?
A: We all shit our pants at the same time.
What kind of sound did it make?
A: A high-pitched squirting sound.
Which you recorded to tape.
J: Howard wouldn’t have it any other way.
N: We were all playing a game of Scrabble at the time, and we were all sitting in a room up at Jackpot! in Portland—and then Larry Crane [from Tape Op] came by, and they all hadn’t met before.
So you were chaperoning them.
N: We facilitated them being together. It was pretty crazy. There’s a picture floating around of us playing Scrabble, and the Scrabble letters end up saying OH WOW, and all three of them are around. We were kind of starstruck, I guess.
J: It was an awkward situation. This L.A. band from nowhere with three guys who all know what they’re doing, and they pretty much all talked for the first two hours they met.
A: On our time.
J: And we existed only in a little Scrabble game off in the corner while these guys were talking. The first few days were kind of nerve-wracking but the third day Howard took us all out to dinner and broke the ice. He bought us a nice expensive dinner. And we enjoyed each other’s company.
What records did you bring them to show the kind of ideas you had? How did you prepare?
J: We probably should have done more. I think we had the expectation that, ‘Alright, we’ve got these two guys working—obviously anything they do is gonna be a big-ass production because that’s what they’re there for.’ But they really are indie-rock purists. They’re like, ‘Let’s have you set up and play live, and what you are is what you are.’ That’s different in my mind than I thought it would be, but I think we learned a lot, and we’ve stuck to that ethic. And when we recorded—we’re recording right now, and that’s actually pretty much done—and we wanna keep that live-band-in-the-room kind of ethic. And that’s from those guys. I’ll give them that—even though they were terrifying at the beginning.
What did you think when you first heard your final playback?
A: ‘Wow, we just wasted a lot of money!’
Did you say that out loud?
J: Actually we were on a car ride with Colin Stewart, and we basically told him we had zero dollars left, and he felt really bad. He was like, ‘Aw, man, I’m sorry.’ It was this dark moment, like, ‘Yeah, these guys went a long way for this indie rock record…’
This is heartbreaking!
J: Well, we get one vacation out of the year, and so it was well-spent dicking around in Portland and Montreal, hanging with cool people in cool cities.
N: We’re still really happy how it came out—I think the experience of working with them, which really kind of helped us gell as a band—that was a great experience.
Were you really so broke you were fighting over the last $1.50 slice of pizza?
A: You really did your research. Mad props!
J: There was an incident—at a little pizza parlor in Montreal—
You were fighting over $1.50 Canadian? That’s even sadder.
A: It’d be different this year, though!
J: We didn’t have a place to stay the last day—we were staying at the studio but they had a band, and we were walking around Montreal and we bought a loaf of French bread for $1.25. And we went to the park and ate the loaf of French bread, and there was a little festival in the park, and Noah started playing hacky sack with stoner dudes. And that’s how we filled the day. And at the end of the day, we had pizza and we seriously got in a huge verbal battle over who owed who a buck-fifty Canadian.
N: I think it was my fault. I wound up owing the dollar-fifty.
J: And then we had to stop talking. Total silence. And the guy who was our manager-slash-helping pay for the record—who was a really straight-arrow nice boy scout type—he lost it, and started laughing hysterically to the point where he was crying—because he spent more money than any of us—and I think he realized what he’d done.
N: It was an amazingly cathartic moment—he was crying but laughing hysterically, and everyone realized the insanity of the situation, and we couldn’t stop laughing.
A: And we got home from that trip—and we don’t talk to him much anymore.
N: I think we broke him.
So your record destroyed a few souls.
A: It made our souls better. I think it brought us closer. We learned a lot. Jeff the manager—it destroyed his soul for sure. But it made ours better.
Have you ever heard the term ‘at what price success’?
Joey, you were a history major—how does your senior thesis relate to the Henry Clay People?
J: My senior thesis was on French and U.S. relations in the ‘60s—a cliché college thesis for a history major. I feel like our older stuff—there’s a lot of historical references sprinkled through. I’ve kind of given up on that.
J: I totally gave up on history. I think there’s a fascination with writing about something in the past that has nothing to do with you personally, but is still about people at large—but at the same time, the things I like about rock ‘n’ roll are a little more immediate. More personal than I could make something historical.
What about ‘The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald’?
J: Someone else can do it. And the Band has ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.’ But I’d probably choose the other side of the Mason-Dixon line.
What’s your favorite thing to write about?
J: The common thread of our recent stuff is about being poor—something at least for me and Andy and Noah, and I don’t know—Eric, you still there?
Eric Scott (drums): Yeah, I can relate to being poor. Most definitely.
J: Going from historical references all tongue-in-cheek and then having no money—like barely scraping by paying rent—that’s a pretty real thing, and the slap in the face of that kind of reality allows for more honesty. The first song that’s gonna be on the next record says, ‘We’re working part-time all the time.’ I worked two part-time jobs basically for the last two years, and I don’t think you can get much more real and pathetic than that.
Do you have any penny-saving tips?
J: I’m big on finding good deals on Craigslist and flipping it—like on that house show.
A: Trader Joe’s—that’s a penny-saving tip from me.
N: I think pilfering my record collection for eBay is mine.
How connected do you feel to the last record now? It seems like you’ve rocked things up a bit.
J: I’m pretty ADD about making music. Once we play a song two months or three months, I’m like, ‘Aw, we got something better.’ So it has been faster—a little more of a punk rock thing like we grew up listening to. I think the music is a lot more simple. 1-4-5 chords—nothing terribly complicated. I feel there was a tendency for us to show off a little bit and be like, ‘Yeah, we’re good at guitar.’ But there’s always somebody better at the technical thing, so it’s nice to play basic open chords. You can have a more fun performance when you do it.
Is this connected to Henry Clay’s leaner lives?
J: I think so! It’s punk rock, man!
Who does the band like more: John Fogerty or Bruce Springsteen?
N: Bruce Springsteen. Greetings From Asbury Park is still one of my favorite records. But Creedence is still pretty amazing.
J: It changes every day. I drive a van around and I pick up kids from after school, so Creedence and Springsteen are two bands kids can agree on. We basically go back and forth with the Boss and Creedence.
Those sound like awesome kids.
J: Well, some of them don’t like Nebraska-era Boss.
Aren’t they like ten?
J: Second to sixth grade. One kid knows every Creedence song, every Boss, every Beatles, every Stones—I put on Exile On Main Street and he knew it right away. I was like, ‘Wow, your dad trained you well.’ His dad is a corporate guy with a personalized plate like ‘BTLGUY.’
What’s the hardest you ever laughed at a live show?
A: For me, it was playing at the Scene, and the last song—a couple people knew the song—and it has a cool drum part at the end, and Joey invited everyone on stage. And they were beating the shit out of Eric’s drums, and throwing everything around, and Joey steps up on his amp and falls backward on stage and takes the P.A. monitor with him and lands on the hard concrete. He sprained his wrist or something—it was a pretty gnarly fifteen-foot fall.
And you were laughing and laughing…
J: I wasn’t laughing, man! My head hit the concrete and everybody looked all concerned, and my brother was laughing because he’s an asshole.
Through conflict comes productivity.
J: I guess.
Why is it true that you always need a Replacements album when you’re in a car?
J: Because nothing is better to drive to. Really nothing is better to drive to.
A: Rocket From The Crypt comes pretty close.
N: ‘Left Of The Dial’ is the most ultimate driving song.
But didn’t the Replacements themselves recommend having a Big Star album to drive to?
J: They did, and I have one of those in my car right now, too.