John Henry Explains Why Concerts are Good For the Community

Nov 16, 2012 at 7:05 am
John Henry Explains Why Concerts are Good For the Community
Courtesy of John Henry

Local rocker John Henry has Eddie Vedder's hair, Paul Simon's thoughtfulness, Otis Redding's soul and a bit of Roger Miller's singing drawl. And if Henry's music incorporates ideas from all music genres, why shouldn't his personality, too? Henry will show off his innate musical melange when he performs with his band, The Engine (Neal Klein, Michael Hickey, Nate Moran and Jordan Heimburger), at Off Broadway on Saturday, November 17. We talked to Henry about his new EP Spinning Wheel, what it's like playing guitar under water and how it feels getting the third degree from the Secret Service.

Allison Babka: What's special about Spinning Wheel?

John Henry: This was the first thing I'd ever done where the guys that I tour and play with didn't play on the album. It was different, a unique experience, and one that I really loved. But I also really love what we do together as a band.

An opportunity just opened up to record with a group of musicians down in Nashville -- guys that I kind of idolized. I'd never written songs with people before, and three out of four songs on the EP now are cowrites. That was a different thing, but now I love, love, love it. It was really rewarding to write with these people.

Do you have to let go to let other people in during that writing process?

I think you do. You also have to not self-edit right away, which is something I never was really good at, but I'm better. You wanna jump on it right away and be like, "Oh no, this isn't the way I want to go," but sometimes you can't steer. You just have to let it go.

That's one of the things I really like about Nashville - people there treat writing like a job. They write every day. Sometimes you end up with something cool or not cool, but every day, you're working that muscle. It's like working out. Rock has taken a firm grasp down in Nashville -- and Americana and country, too -- but the lines between them are blurring. There's music being made there every single day, that's the guarantee. Can you become part of that? Can you write with these people?

Is Nashville where you want to end up?

I think so, yeah. I think that St. Louis will always be my home, but Nashville is ultimately a place where the majority of stuff is happening.

It's just a really exciting time. When I think of "Spinning Wheel," I think of embracing this really exciting moment of being in Nashville for the first time. Everything was really fresh, really exciting. There were no boundaries. And it was really liberating, like, "Who knows? Maybe we'll write something really exciting today."

I love St. Louis, though. There's a lot of really, really neat music being made here, for sure. But when I think of the Spinning Wheel EP, I think of that exciting time in Nashville. It's just really exciting. [laughs] I keep saying that over and over.

The video for "Spinning Wheel" sort of looks like Instagram in motion. Whose idea was it for that kind of style?

My friend Doc Crotzer is a film editor in L.A. and edits the TV show Glee. Doc was coming to town and I really wanted to shoot the video, and he was able to do it with a small crew of some local guys (Kein Bartlett, Brian Cummings and Derek Feldman). As for the concept, he was seeing the Eagles in L.A. and called me during the show. He said, "You can maybe barely hear me, but I have this idea for the video! It just hit me!"

Doc came up with the concept of a little bit of live stuff plus the underwater stuff. The meaning of the song is that the same things keep going, good/bad/good/bad. That's what we used the water for, to show how you're soaked and then you're dry again. Always moving.

Doc could see it all. It makes all the difference in the world when you're with somebody who has a vision and knows how to execute it. It just gives you a lot of confidence.