Wormburner is one of the great sounds rooted in New York City. Along with many other great bands in NYC (TV on the Radio, The National, etc.), Wormburner is an amalgam of great influences with a different approach. Steve "Hank" Henry, lead singer, interacted with antiMusic to complete a spirited interview about the band and A Hero's Welcome, their first release. Similar to his lyrics, Henry's talents as a wordsmith shine through each question.
antiMUSIC: What is the Wormburner mission statement?
Steve "Hank" Henry: First, it's about having a good time amongst ourselves while giving life to new songs in our practice space. Then it's about bringing those songs to the stage with a passion that makes for an exciting live concert experience. Someplace along the way we'll go into the recording studio, and that's where the songs can really reveal themselves to you in ways you hadn't foreseen.
antiMUSIC: How did Wormburner come into being?
Henry: Terry Solomone (guitar, Micromoog synthesizer) and I met years ago, and we shared a lot of similar tastes in music. I mean stuff like the early R.E.M. catalogue, and too many other bands to name really. Both Terry and I played music, but back then I think we were reluctant to take ourselves too seriously when it came to our own original creative efforts. Hence our self-deprecating band name.
antiMUSIC: Your lyrical style has a folk feel. Explain how that came to be, and how you fit it into the style of your music.
Henry: I'm a big fan of a song whose essence can stand on its own. And by essence I mean when the song is broken down to the most basic, bare level: chords, melody and lyrics. Years ago when learning to play the guitar, I found myself gravitating toward songs by Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Springsteen, Uncle Tupelo, early Wilco and other folk-inspired bands and writers whose songs could be just as impactful when played with a full accompaniment or stripped down to one acoustic guitar and one vocal. When I started writing songs of my own, a song's essence was really a necessity for me because back then I didn't really have any bandmates to speak of. So the songs needed to be playable on acoustic guitar if I ever hoped to perform them live. Then as the band began to take shape, complimentary players just fell into place. A driving rhythm guitar, strong harmony vocals, and melodic synth lines can really elevate a simple, lyric-based song structure into something louder and more forceful.
antiMUSIC: What's the best band story you have that no one forgets once they hear it?
Henry: That's easy. When we were recording A Hero's Welcome with David Lowery down in Richmond, mostly we would drive back and forth from New York for the sessions. But occasionally some of us would fly, especially when Jet Blue had these crazy $29 fares. Anyway there was a hungover morning when one bandmate (who will remain nameless) was aboard the short flight back from Richmond and his stomach was upset from the previous night's boozing. He really had to let out some gas, so he did. It was one of those "silent but deadly" releases, and within seconds the nearby passengers were reacting with disgust, squirming and covering their noses and trying to identify the responsible party. So this one bandmate, eager to deflect the attention from himself, begins covering his nose and acting all outraged as well. Then he spots a heavy-set woman across the aisle. She looked a little like Nel Carter from that '80s sitcom Gimme a Break. And apparently she had boarded the plane eating some bags of McDonalds. So I guess he thought he could make her the scapegoat. After what she'd eaten, it might be believable that she was the passenger with the gassy, upset stomach. So he looks directly at her and kinda squints judgmentally. To which she immediately, loudly replies, "DON'T CUT YOUR EYES AT ME BOY! I SAW YOU LIFT UP!"
antiMUSIC: A Hero's Welcome has been out a little less than a year. Where's it been? Where's it going? How is that influencing the band's direction at this point?
Henry: The album has gotten good reviews, and a whole bunch of the songs are being played on internet radio, satellite radio etc. One of the songs (Turndaround) was featured on a "Brooklyn Playlist" marketed by Domino's Pizza. At every live show, we're playing to bigger audiences. And it's a real joy to see complete strangers in the crowd singing along to the words. I think the entire band has a vested interest in continuing to see things succeed like this, and that's being reflected in a lot of the new songs we're writing. The
songwriting is feeling more like a collective effort than it did previously, and I think that's stretching us in good, new directions.
antiMUSIC: You make obvious allusions to other bands/songs on numerous tracks
of A Hero's Welcome. Yet you manage not to sound like you're ripping anyone off. Give the readers some insight into this statement, and discuss how you pay homage to your influences without resorting tomimicry, which many other bands tend to do.
Henry: Around the time I started trying to write songs, I was really into the first few Oasis albums. Those were really informative for me, and I liked how Noel Gallagher's lyrics could make reference to or twist around lines from the rock canon. Mostly lines from Beatles songs, if I recall correctly. So when lines like these started to pop up in my own songwriting, I felt validated rather than troubled by it. If Noel Gallagher had taken that poetic license, then why couldn't I?
antiMUSIC: Favorite and least favorite song on A Hero's Welcome?
Henry: A Standing Invitation was written at the very end of our recording sessions, so that makes it the newest song on the album. And I think most songwriters would admit there's a natural tendency to like your newest songs better than your older ones. I can't really think of a least favorite song, but there are a couple of songs we rarely play in our live show, so maybe that's the standard by which we could measure which are least favorite. (A slight frown for dodging the least favorite bullet.)
antiMUSIC: React to this statement: Artists sometimes forget they're entertainers.
Henry: Personally, there are few things I enjoy more than when the art form of songwriting is brought to life as entertainment on the rock'n' roll stage. But I don't think that means that all songwriters…or artists in general…have to view themselves as entertainers. Great art speaks for itself. It doesn't need to entertain if it's capable of engaging human emotion on other levels.
antiMUSIC: After a show, someone walks up to you (after having a few) and says "I think you guys suck." How does the story progress from there?
Henry: Clearly this guy is not a class-act, so I wouldn't be inclined to afford him much (if any) of my time. I guess I would wonder if his negativity is contributing anything worthwhile to the world around him. Anyway, I'm sure there are plenty of people who don't get Wormburner. And frankly there are plenty of popular bands out there that I don't like. But even if I was face-to-face with the lead singer of one of those bands that makes me cringe, I don't think I would be so impolite as to tell him I think he sucks.
antiMUSIC: If you could be in any other genre of music, what would it be?
Henry: Probably Bluegrass. The vocal harmonies blow my mind, and the lyrical compositions have a sort of timeless quality that turns me on. There are lots of bands with rock sensibilities that can really craft a great bluegrass song. Like Son Volt on some of their early records. I'm also a sucker for an indie rock band that can nail an original
country song…like Gone For Good by The Shins or Range Life by Pavement.
antiMUSIC: Best movie about music?
Henry: A year ago I might have said Watch Me Jumpstart, which profiled the early, underdog lineup of Guided By Voices in the mid-90s. Or maybe Tell Me Do You Miss Me about the final days of Luna. But hands down my answer is Beyond The Valley of the Dolls. It's from 1968 or 1969 I think. I didn't know anything about this movie until Terry Solomone showed it to me a few weeks ago, and my mouth was just agape. If you haven't seen it, I recommend getting your hands on it asap.
antiMUSIC: The interviewer is always this omniscient character. Being an egomaniac, I'm sick of that. Help me become flesh and hit me with a question.
Henry: At the end of every December, I hijack the Wormburner website and post a list of the best ten songs I've heard in the past year. Music journalists all seem to list year-end albums, but I list year-end songs. And I'm always interested in hearing the votes of other music fans like myself. Think you'd like to look back and compile a list of the 10 favorite songs you've discovered in the past 12 months?
antiMuldowney Answer (in no particular order):
Clear Island - Liars
Mistaken for Strangers - The National (probably #1)
Autographed Copies - Wormburner (no brown nose gesture)
One on One - Illinois
Wolf Like Me - TV on the Radio
Call It Off - Speaker Speaker
Lightbulb - Mezzanine Owls
Old & Early Numbers/Copper Tied - The Cape May
Breece D'j Pancake - Ponieheart
You Can Make Him Like You - The Hold Steady
antiMUSIC: Fast forward to the end of the Wormburner story. What's the title of the last chapter? Also, give a brief summary and the last sentence.
Henry: This is not an easy undertaking because ambition requires you to believe that it's only gonna get bigger and better and that it's gonna stay on that trajectory forever. But that's not reality, except I guess if you die prematurely at the very height of a brief but masterful career. More than anything I think I just look forward to getting better as a songwriter. And I think the guys in Wormburner ...in some configuration or another ...will be playing and recording with one another for years to come. We're all friends, and music is what happens naturally when we get together.
Now that you've snorted, sniffled, hmmmed, and aha'd with this interview, pop over to www.wormburnerband.com and www.myspace.com/wormburner for more stuff on the band.