‘What I mean is, we were able to capture the mood, expression, and intention of the songs in a way that feels honest and sincere. The goofy ones are goofy, the clever ones are clever, and the moving ones are moving.’, says Henning Ohlenbusch about the new Gentle Hen release ‘Be Nice To Everyone’.
I couldn’t agree more. What a gem!
What was the biggest fun during the making of the last album?
In general, I write the songs in solitude while sitting on the sofa with my red acoustic guitar or while I’m walking through my little New England town, arranging and rearranging words in my head. One of the great pleasures of my life is the first time that I present a song to the band. We’ll be sitting around in the studio with our instruments and I’ll start to play the song. By the time I’m done: Brian, Max, and Ken are generally already playing along working out parts, jumping in with inspired suggestions. It’s an incredible moment to hear one of my songs take on this new life and to watch those guys work their magic in that little-carpeted room.
At what point, during writing, rehearsing, recording, did you know you were on to something special?
I was pretty sure that we had a good collection of songs. Some of them, we’d been playing live already and they felt really nice. I also thought that the arrangements and performances in the recordings were just right for the songs. While recording, we generally kept things simple and fast and inspired, struggling to not to over-think and over-work everything.
But it was when I first got the preliminary mixes from Justin Pizzoferrato that I truly heard the album as a listener rather than a creator. I knew I’d like his approach since I already was familiar with much of his work with Body/Head, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., Lou Barlow, Suitcase Junket, Speedy Ortiz, J Mascis, Sonic Youth, and And the Kids, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the powerful, natural, and full sound he was able to achieve. I had already attempted to mix the album myself, having done all the recording, but he was able to make us sound more like us than I was. Hearing his mixes for the first time was a great moment, the music worked as a movie soundtrack in the car while driving through the small winding roads of the Berkshires in the early autumn.
The meaning of ‘success’ has changed over the years. When will the new record be a success?
There is an artistic success and public success. I think the record is artistically successful. That’s not to imply it belongs in a museum or that it’s a national treasure or anything. What I mean is, we were able to capture the mood, expression, and intention of the songs in a way that feels honest and sincere. The goofy ones are goofy, the clever ones are clever, and the moving ones are moving. Of course, this is purely subjective. But to me, artistic success simply means that the creator was able to express what they sought out to express.
I set the bar pretty low for public success. If one person is moved by the music, well, then that’s a success. I’ve received enough comments now in which people expressed how the songs have helped them or moved them or amused them that I feel satiated. Anything more is just more and I’ll lap it up like a kid eating too much ice cream. There’s no greater feeling than learning that someone is listening to your music. (Note to everyone: let the artists know when you are interacting with their stuff. It feeds them.)
Do you feel part of a community?
Yes, this little town of Northampton, MA is, for whatever reason, an incredible mecca for songwriters and performers. There’s wonderful, creative music coming out at all levels in underground house concerts, at multiple small venues, and in large concert halls. Besides those at the various area colleges, we’ve got two incredible radio stations (WRSI and WXOJ) that support local independent music. We have international heroes like Frank Black and J Mascis and tiny never heard-of-them bands and it’s not terribly unusual for them to cross paths and share stages. I’m not sure what it is about this and the neighboring towns but there’s a real community of support and collaboration and I’m so pleased to have found it.
Lately, I’ve found another community online on Twitter. It sounds silly and superficial but it’s been so great to find all these people around the world that share a love for music. I’m pretty sure we’re not all bots.
Magic can happen when you are playing in front of a crowd. Can you recall such a moment?
I experienced one of these moments just last week at our album release concert. We’re playing in this beautiful cozy listening venue called the Parlor Room in Northampton, MA. The audience sat at tables with flickering candles and bottles of BYO-wine. We invited a couple of guests up on stage, Lesa Bezo from the Fawns (on guitar and vocals) and Andrew Goulet of Night School )on pedal steel guitar) and we kicked into our last song, the gentle atmospheric ballad Rock and Roll Camper.
I wrote the song years ago in the basement of my parents’ house and somehow it has followed me through all my bands through the years. We recorded it when we were called School for the Dead on our first full length The New You. During the show, as the song ambled along, I suddenly really tuned in to the sound of the music. This band of incredible players was creating the nicest lush warm embrace. It was so lovely and pure sounding and the crowd has fully tuned in, and it kind of just turned my brain on its side. I was so taken aback by the mood in the room that I completely skipped a section of singing. I forgot where I was and the band, of course, didn’t miss a beat and followed right along. The song took over and we floated atop of it. The cold cruel autumn wind outside was forgotten. Time stopped and sped by simultaneously.
These are moments that you dig for as a performer and when you stumble across one, there’s nothing like it.