Today, as well as being my actual birthday, is also a fairly significant milestone for the blog in that this is my 500th published post. Now whilst I appreciate that blogs of a similar vintage have had probably more than double that number, it is nevertheless a number of posts that, in my hectic life, I am more than slightly amazed at.
I actually only noticed this by accident last week and when I discovered a new, free MP3 from Martin John Henry, I decided to do something a little different to mark the milestone. Since only a tiny percentage of the posts have been interviews of any sort, I thought that it was time to do another. And I’m very grateful therefore to Martin for his help in turning that initial thought into a reality in the space of a very few days.
Martin, of course, was the singer/songwriter in the late lamented De Rosa. The band split in the middle of last year, a matter of weeks after releasing their second LP ‘Prevention’ (which was of course MPT Album of 2009). Since then, Martin has been maintaining a low profile with only the occasional solo gig, so it seemed that a good place to start the interview was to find out what he has been up to this year.
MJH – I’ve been working on my first solo album on and off since February. Apart from that I’ve done some travelling, reading, taking pictures and teaching.
MPT – How is the LP coming along?
MJH – It’s going really well. I’ve had a great time working with Andy Miller again. I think he’s the greatest producer working anywhere today. Some of our conversations have been really important to the direction of the album. When we go into the studio we always spend about an hour just talking about new music or art or books that we’ve discovered. It sets up a really healthy, creative framework for the day. So far we have about 16 songs, all about 80% recorded. And then there’s mixing of course.
MPT – How does it compare to your previous records?
MJH – It’s hard for me to judge it while I’m still working on it. The last De Rosa album was very focussed and deliberate in terms of lyrics and musical style. This album is entirely the opposite of that. It’s all about experimentation and new ideas. It’s more positive sounding, and that’s a reflection of the fun we’ve had making it. I’ve been writing lyrics very quickly, sometimes using improvised vocal takes.
MPT – What’s been the key influences on the record?
MJH – Mainly my family and friends, and the conversations I’ve had with Andy about what we’re doing and why. Also the photographs of Peter Fraser and William Eggleston, the writer Annie Dillard, local maps old and new, the music of folk like Jim O’Rourke, Low, Philip Glass, Brian Eno, Vic Chesnutt, Robert Wyatt, Aphex Twin, Bjork and the Blue Nile.
MPT – Who’s playing on it?
MJH – So far I’ve played most things, with James from De Rosa playing some great bass and mandolin stuff on a few songs.
MPT – Are the songs all post De Rosa in origin?
MJH – Most of the songs were written recently. A few came from demos that I made before De Rosa ended. In fact, one of the new songs called Only Colours came from an original demo that I made about ten years ago, possibly before De Rosa started.
MPT – Have you found a home for the record yet?
MJH – The album will be released by Gargleblast Records in spring 2011.
MPT – You talked latterly in De Rosa of the band having a greater input into the recordings – how has it been going back to having total control again? Or has there been a degree of collaboration?
MJH – In the past I was lucky enough to have people around me who had great talent for taking my ideas to a state of completion. I’ve had to re-learn how to finish things now. I’m getting the confidence to make and arrange music in a way that suits me, and I hope that sense of self-discovery comes through in the recordings.
MPT – Probably not something you can answer quickly but with the benefit of a bit of separation in terms of time, how do you look back on the whole De Rosa experience? And how happy are you with what the band achieved?
MJH – The only reason I ever started writing songs was to make albums, and with De Rosa I got to make two brilliant albums with four amazing people. We worked so hard on the band that it put strain on our relationships with each other in the end, but we didn’t let that interfere with our music, and because of that I am amazed, chuffed and eternally fond of the time we spent working together.
De Rosa performing at The Hew Scott Hall, Anstruther on their last tour, March 2009
MPT – IMHO De Rosa never achieved the level of success or recognition you deserved. What keeps you making music?
MJH – I could say something idealistic like I want to make the world better by making beautiful stuff, but I’m not that talented or selfless, and a more honest answer is that the process of making music, photographs, anything, makes me happy. As Alasdair Gray said in a recent article in the Herald, “…ecstatic lovers know happier states, but folk absorbed by their craft have calmer, longer-lasting states they dislike leaving.”
MPT – The last De Rosa recordings of course were not the songs on ‘Prevention’ but those recorded for your ‘new-song-a-month internet only’ venture, ‘Appendices’. Is there any prospect of ‘Appendices’ getting a CD release at some point? (You knew I’d ask that!)
MJH – I doubt it, getting CDs made is like throwing money away for independent musicians. Maybe it’ll get a proper release if there’s some revived interest in De Rosa at some point. The mp3s are quite easy to come by online with a bit of searching, if folk are interested.
MPT – Finally, you’ve only played sporadic live shows since the band split. Do you have any plans to play live?
MJH – There might be a one-off thing around the time of the album, but I have no plans to tour again. There’s no particular reason for this other than I don’t do things that I don’t enjoy. I’m still into doing interesting live things with interesting musicians, but I won’t be thinking about anything until the album is finished.
And that’s yer lot from Mr Henry. The free MP3 I mentioned at the top of this post is a radically altered electro take on De Rosa’s ‘All Saints Day’. Get it here:
Martin John Henry – Allz Saintz Dayz
Finally this has been out for a few weeks (and has featured on here before), but for a tantalising glimpse into the new LP, there’s nothing better at the moment:
Taking everything we know about the LP so far (clips, influences) it does seem that the first MJH solo LP is going to be as different from ‘Prevention’ as that LP was from De Rosa’s debut LP ‘Mend’.
Once again thanks to Martin for doing the interview.