On Thursday (22nd) Martin John Henry will bring his full band to Dexter’s in Dundee for their first public outing. Ahead of the show the most interviewed man on MPT told me a little about what looks like being a busy few months for the ex-De Rosa songwriter.
MPT – Tell us a little about your debut solo LP.
MJH – “It’s called ‘The Other Half of Everything’ and it’s being released on Gargleblast Records, which is the label that signed my old band De Rosa and is run by two of my best friends. It took about a year to make and it was recorded by Andy Miller, who has produced some of my favourite albums, like ‘Any Other City’ by Life Without Buildings amongst many others.”
MPT – How do you think it differs from your previous work?
MJH – “I think it differs in terms of the process and in terms of meaning. I spent a lot of time trying to get my old band-mates into the studio to help me play the songs, but they couldn’t get there for various reasons, so I ended up playing all the instruments in order to make the record. I think maybe the other guys needed some time out after De Rosa split, some time away from me!
“But I like to think they wanted to see what would happen if they left me on my own, a bit like when you’re learning to ride a bike and your parents take off the stabilisers for the first time – you shit yourself and then you learn really quickly that you could do it already.
“In terms of lyrics and meaning, I think the songs are quite different from my other work. They’re much more forward-thinking, less drawing on the past, less nostalgic. The mood of this album is much more polarised than the De Rosa albums. There are real peaks of joy but the mood becomes quite dark at points. I was keen that there would be a balance in this.
“In terms of music, it was all really intuitive, and we let the recording process guide and influence the shape that the songs took. I wanted it to sound expansive at points yet poppy and present at others. I’m particularly proud of ‘Only Colour’, which has this flowing, cinematic feel which is evocative of the landscape. For me it kind of sums up the whole point of this album.”
MPT – You (in)famously reckoned there’d been a little too much techno in the solo set you played supporting Kid Canaveral. How much techno is on the record? 😉
MJH – “Well, there is definitely one song that is influenced by pop and trance as much as anything else, and that’s a song called ‘Span’. I love that feeling of dark euphoria that a lot of club and trance music can put across.
“A lot of the new songs share a sensibility with contemporary pop, with a blend of electronic and traditional sounds. There’s a certain freedom that I love in a lot of pop and hip hop records, where strange, discordant samples are crunched together to create new textures, and we certainly were using a similar approach, for example in the intro to ‘There’s a Phantom Hiding in My Loft’. Most of the songs were written and arranged using software which is very much geared towards dance producers.”
MPT – You played most of the instruments on the record yourself . Why did you do that and how did it work out?
MJH – “James Woodside from De Rosa came in and played bass and mandolin on a couple of songs, and Suz Appelbe played some amazing cello. Other than that I played everything, and it was tough at first, especially learning the drum parts.
“I mainly did it because none of my musician friends were available at the time, and I didn’t have any money to pay session musicians. Although problematic at first, I really enjoyed doing it all myself, and I learned so much about the instruments and the songs in such a short time.
“I think working on my own showed me how sketchy I used to be with my song writing, and I was forced to figure out how to take things to completion in a way that I didn’t have to in De Rosa. I feel really proud of what I’ve managed to do in this record, I think it’s the best sounding and most convincing album I’ve made. Having finished it though, I’m looking forward to working more collaboratively with the band for my next recordings.”
MPT – Talking of the band you’ll be playing live with other musicians for the first time since De Rosa. Who is playing with you? Do you prefer playing with a band or by yourself with the laptop?
MJH – “I much prefer to play live with a band. There’s so much pressure when it’s just me, I’m very shy and I prefer to have the support of some good musicians, and it helps to have some good-looking faces for the audience to look at when they get bored of my ugly mug.
“I have enjoyed playing on my own, but I guess I get bored watching most solo acoustic guys so I don’t expect people to be able to bear an hour of me and my guitar. So I’ve got this great band together and we’re currently rehearsing the album. It’s great, it feels like some of the songs are developing further, changing and taking on new meanings based on the input of all the players.
“The band is Chris Connick (De Rosa) on bass, Paul Mellon (F,O. Machete, Red Light Company) on guitar and Raindeer (Mitchell Museum) on drums. You can see all their pretty faces in the video for my new single, ‘Ribbon on a Bough’.”
MPT – You’ve played Dundee a couple of times before, once solo and once with De Rosa. What do you remember about those shows (other than the depressing lack of punters for the De Rosa gig)?
MJH – “I don’t remember much about playing the full band De Rosa gig. I remember carrying a lot of heavy stuff up a narrow flight of stairs. You try to forget the empty ones. I remember playing acoustic at The Tasting Rooms on my own, with Alan Bissett reading from his current book at the time. I think he was amazing and I was average.”
MPT – OK to finish with, what else are you doing to promote the record?
MJH – “I have a new single from the album called ‘Ribbon on a Bough‘ which is out on 3rd October, and has a funny video which is online already. Also there will be a really special remix EP coming out digitally really soon, and there’s going to be a remix competition as well. It’s all still in the planning stages but it will be announced soon via www.gargleblastrecords.com and my facebook page.
“Touring will also be happening, we have a few Scottish dates including a full band in-store gig at Avalanche Records, Edinburgh on 7th October and an album launch party at Stereo, Glasgow on 8th October. UK wide dates will be announced soon.”
All of which certainly whets my appetite for the performance on Thursday.
To finish here’s the rather brilliant video for the aforementioned first single from ‘The Other Half of Everything’ – ‘Ribbon on a Bough’. Whilst it retains a lot of the hallmarks of the best of his songwriting, it is also by far the poppiest song he’s ever released. Get the single here.
Martin will be supporting FOUND at Dexter’s in Dundee on Thursday 22nd September on a bill which also features Man Without Machines and The Strangers Almanac. As far as I know this is the first public appearance of Martin plus his new band!
Advance tickets for the show can be purchased online here or from Groucho’s in Dundee. Additionally myself and Andy will be delighted to sell you tix at the advance price of £7 per ticket.
The Facebook event for the show is here.
Thanks for Martin, not just for the interview, but for coming to the rescue for MPT Podcast #9 which features his song ‘First Light’.
Other interviews in the series
FOUND (part 1)