Local State College, Pa musician Andrew McHenry really enjoys making music, but he doesn’t feel as if he has to be locked into a single genre or style. Like many musicians of his generation, he likes to mix multiple elements into his music, not allowing himself to be handcuffed by his audience’s expectations. So it’s no surprise that McHenry’s two releases thusfar in 2013 (The Raw Doggerel EP from Gay Republicans, and his solo EP, Toss & Wash) sound very different from one another.
On Raw Doggerel, McHenry and Gay Republicans’ sound has mutated from their thrashy punk origins. Raw Doggerel has a groove, almost a poppiness to it, while maintaining some of the hard edges from their punk roots. The new sound is aligned with the new generation of indie rock explorers, folks like King Tuff, Ty Segall and Little Barrie. The songs on Raw Doggerel are catchy and jagged, full of fuzz and emotion. Each of the four songs has a different feel, and shows the band growing into a more mature and inventive group that still knows how to have a good time. The EP deserves a listen, so why don’t you check it out, and come to your own conclusions?
McHenry’s solo work veers off in a different direction. Toss & Wash is a collection of four songs written and recorded from 2009 to 2011 by McHenry. The songs on the EP are beautiful and simple, and show some of McHenry’s varied influences. They couldn’t be more different than his work with Gay Republicans. “One Trick Pony” has an Elliott Smith vibe, replete with vulnerability and melodic guitar. “A Leg To Stand On” sounds like an unreleased Built to Spill song from the band’s early years. “Moving In My Sleep” has a Shins feel to it, with a catchy guitar and solid melody. Andrew McHenry’s Toss & Wash EP proves that McHenry can create a great variety of music, from sentimental and emotional to kick-a-hole-in-the-drywall chaos. I’ve included the Toss & Wash EP here for your listening pleasure. One guy, two very different sounds.
THE BOMBER JACKET spoke with Andrew McHenry about his two new releases, and the differences between the two albums. Here is that conversation, brought to you via the miracle of instant messaging. Enjoy!
TBJ: Okay, first: The new Gay Republicans album, Raw Doggerel. Tell me a little about how it came together.
Andrew McHenry: Well, Kevin and I had written and performed a bunch of songs and started to sort out a few that were our favorites, and decided that we should sit down and record them to make an EP that more accurately reflected the music were playing.
It was recorded right here in State College–I’m lucky enough to have a Berklee-certified recording engineer as a cousin who was willing to take time out of his schedule to help us make some really solid recordings.
So what are some differences between your older music and the songs on the new EP?
Well, I think that when we started out it was all punk. We were trying to just be loud and play shows. Eventually we started writing more complex songs with different influences and realized we needed to add another person, and that’s when we brought Danny Pawola in to play bass. We’d already recorded most of Raw Doggerel by the time he joined, though. We were able to include him on the vocals for “I Like My Life,” though.
How has changing to a three-piece affected your sound, and the band in general?
I think it’s allowing us to do more. It’s one thing to write accessory parts in your head and add them to records, but it’s another to add another person to the dynamic of writing and playing. I think our live shows as a three-piece have been more dynamic as well.
So how would you describe your sound on this new EP?
It’s a little slower paced. I think it’s a little more oriented toward parties where people are trying to dance. I think it still has its indie and punk edges, but the beats have more groove and less speed. It’s a little less Dead Kennedys and a little more Ty Segall.
There’s also a bit more focus on vocal melodies than before, something that we’re expanding further on in future recordings.
Speaking of which, who’s singing on the third track, “Cocaine Werewolf”?
That’s actually a track where Kevin and I trade off. It’s really the first song we wrote together that had different vocal parts. As I started getting more comfortable with the drum style I wanted to take on a bigger role in the band, so we decided to try out some contrasting vocal parts on that track.
Wow. The vocals on that track are wild, didn’t sound like either of you at first… What are your plans for Gay Republicans in 2013?
We actually just finished recording tracks for a new single and B-side that should be coming out in the coming months. They’re two songs that we’ve been playing for some time now, and it’s our first opportunity to showcase our sound as a three-piece band rather than just a studio-elaborated three piece. We’re also working on branching out and playing shows elsewhere in the state, maybe even farther away.
That they can.
I have to ask about the cover art. Tell me a little about the picture.
Ha ha, well. Kevin and I tossed around a lot of options for the cover that were okay but neither of us really felt adequately represented our band’s humor. Then, like, one day a photo from San Francisco’s pride parade was circulating around Reddit that was absolutely perfect. We tried, unsuccessfully, to get in contact with them about permission to use it, and ultimately went ahead without it. Hopefully our success won’t come with a pending lawsuit. No press is bad press though, I suppose.
Ok, I want to shift gears and ask you a few questions about your solo release, Toss & Wash.
First off, I really enjoyed it.
So “One Trick Pony,” the first song on the EP. It’s a beautiful song. Can you give us a little insight into it?
Well, “One Trick Pony” is a song I wrote a few years ago during a particularly low spot in life. It also happened to be around this time of year, too. Bone chilling cold. I wrote the entirety of the song in one sitting, which is fairly unusual for me.
I had just come out of a series of relationships where I felt like I was just repeating the same story over and over. Telling the same stories, going to the same places, doing the same things. I felt like I was going around and around on a carousel.
What do you feel you can do on your solo project that you’re not able to do with your full band? Were there any things you wanted to explore musically that were easier solo?
Well, I’ve been in several bands over the last few years. In some of them I’ve been the main writer, in others I’ve just been a co-writer. Eventually, I just felt that I had a clear vision for some of the songs I was writing that I wanted to explore writing music where I was able to play all of the parts myself. I think it was a lot more work, but I was able to have more control and precision with the outcome than I think I would otherwise.
Well the end result certainly sounds great. Between this EP and the Gay Republicans EP, you’ve shown off a lot of musical range. Is there any genre of music you haven’t tried yet, but would like to in the future?
Well, there’s a very good chance that my solo work will develop into something more in the future. I’m surrounded by talent, and I’d really like to make more music. I think that I’ve really developed in terms of abilities, drums especially, and I’d really like to explore music that is really filled out. I enjoy a lot of Grizzlybear-esqe bands and I love a lot of what’s happening in the indie or indie folk scene, but I’d like to see more sounds from previous decades emerge. I think there are a lot more possibilities for different sounds and mergers of scenes than currently exist or are currently popular.
And finally, what do you hope the listener will get from each of the EPs you’ve recently released?
Haha, well, first I hope listeners like them. In making these last few releases I’ve realized how “loud” recordings these days are being made. With Raw Doggerel we tried to push, maybe even make fun, of the limits of loudness. We did some digital processing that allowed us to push boundaries of brick-wall limiting and distortion. Raw Doggerel is loud. Comically too loud.
I appreciate that.
With my solo material, I’ve tried experimenting more with dynamic range–making songs that are softer or use loudness as a tool to add drama to the music. Moving forward, I plan on actually making a louder full-length of my own work, maybe even with a full band, that would probably bear strong resemblance to Toss & Wash but would include some louder compositions and more driving rhythms than anything you hear on those recordings.
I would really like to hear that.
I’m excited for you and everyone else to hear it. There’s a bumper-crop of talent in this town right now, and I’m optimistic for the future of music here. I’m glad to be a part of it.
Definitely. And we’re glad to have you.