Indiana Music: Catching up with Henry French

After his stint as leader of Henry French and the Shameless (and the excellent rock record that came from that version of the band) French has been spending his time with solo gigs, the Purple Hat Project and working his way towards a new album.

French, who has a healthy understanding of what makes rock music great (read about his favorite DVD’s here), seems to be the kind of guy who has it in him to make Indianapolis’ next great rock and roll record. That’s what I think. We caught up with the Telecaster-wielding guitarist recently, hoping to uncover what is next for the singer/songwriter, and when we can expect to hear a new record.

ROB NICHOLS: What about some new songs and original music? Got any for us?
HENRY FRENCH: New songs are definitely on the way. I’ve whittled the list down to 15 songs, and will certainly reduce a little more from there as I start recording real soon. What was intended to be another EP last year has turned into either a full-length album or maybe two EPs.

RN: Do you have a new band?
HF: Full band shows will start back up towards the end of July. I’ve been playing solo acoustic shows over the past year or so as a way of trying new material out. I’ve always been a firm believer that any good song can be played on one guitar with one vocal, and that’s how I’ve tested songs for the past several years. The Shameless has evolved into a revolving cast of players, so, depending on the night, there may be different players than the last time. In the past I looked for a core of musicians to call my band; (Now) I’m happy to have some great musicians to call on as needed, who all lend their own stamp on the music for each performance. The album will probably follow the same formula, using different musicians to get a blend of different takes and tastes on my tunes.

RN: How do you get your music recorded?
HF: I do demos at home, get together and flesh them out with musicians, and try to let the songs evolve on their own. It’s a pretty long process, sometimes taking months to years to get it to the point where I feel it’s ready to be recorded. I then try to turn over the recording portion to a producer or engineer, so I can concentrate on the performance. If done right, I like the studio and home for different aspects.

RN: How’s the Indianapolis been treating your music? I’d call your style rock and roll, to try and not pigeonhole it too much. To me, rock is guitars, drums and good words.
HF: I’d consider myself a pop songwriter, the same way I consider Foo Fighters, Tom Petty, the Replacements, and Wilco all pop songwriters, and heavy influences of mine. At the core of all these bands are simple, memorable hooks. Ttheir delivery is just not in the commonly perceived “pop” vein. I love the honesty of that folk/americana/alt-country sound, or the simplicity of what a rock band used to be, and that’s the sound that gets me described as Americana – which I’m ok with. The art of the 2 1/2 minute pop song, actually written and played by the band seems to be a lost art nowadays (with a few exceptions), and that’s what I strive for. Simple, honest, intelligent and personal pop songs seem to be rare, regardless of genre. Although it’s really tough to build an original music business in this town, these tenets of how I try to write are a big reason why I live here. Indianapolis is a great midwest town that, at it’s best, can be simple, honest intelligent and personal. That’s why Indy is my home.

RN:What have you been listening to recently?
HF: Recent listens? Gaslight Anthem, the Deep Vibration, the Damnwells, Lucinda Williams. Considering the current musical landscape, I’m generally excited by music I rediscover years later. Currently in my car is Pleased To Meet Me by the Replacements, Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie (Wonder), The Smithereens, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco, and Will Hoge.

RN: So, musically, the next year means what?
HF: The remainder of this year is all about getting my little tunes recorded right. If I can get it done quick, the songs will be out at the end of this summer. If it takes longer, it takes longer. Life has a way of making it’s own schedule for my tunes.

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