Mike Rimmer met up with an eclectic bunch of pop rockers from Nashville, BROTHER HENRY
Twin brothers David and Ned Henry together with older brother Jeff Henry and friend Park Ellis make up the Nashville-based group Brother Henry, who Cross Rhythms radio listeners will have heard recently through the airplay given to their song "Your Heart Needs Love". In fact, Brother Henry are far from being raw beginners. The Henry twins have gained a reputation in Nashville for their skills as sessioners and have worked with such luminaries as Ben Folds, Indigo Girls, Cowboy Junkies, Sixpence None The Richer, Steve Earl and R.E.M.. "Your Heart Needs Love" comes from the band's most recent independent album 'Love Survives' with a sound that is part Crowded House, part alt country, part pop rock and displays a grasp of memorable melody and exemplary vocal harmonies. The band have just announced that they will be releasing a spiritually based album in May though in truth there is plenty of faith on display in their mainstream releases. I met up with Ned and David Henry in my hotel suite last year and they told me their story so far.
David explained, "With both of us being here in Nashville we work together a lot, but we also certainly have our own families and whatnot and there's people that know one of us that don't know the other. They might work with us one day, see the other one the next day at the grocery store with different wife and kids and think, 'That guy didn't talk! What a jerk!' You have to explain sometimes. I forget; it's not like you say, 'Hey, I'm David but I have a twin!' But it can be kind of interesting."
The three Henry brothers grew up in a musical environment so maybe it isn't surprising that they make their living doing music now. Ned reminisced, "Both our parents have musical talent. Our dad is a violinist. He's one of these guys who grew up in a small town in Georgia and would get on the bus by himself, drive up to Atlanta, take a violin lesson, go to the Atlanta Symphony and come back by himself when he was 13. It was a pretty rare thing but he just loved music. He loved classical music. So when we came up he introduced David and I to playing. David played cello and I played violin. So we had dad playing classical music and loving that and then our oldest brother was like, 'Yeah, the classical stuff's alright but here's The Rolling Stones! Here's Bruce Springsteen! Here's what you really ought to be listening to! Here's some old blues!' So we had that two-thing going on. We'd been playing in orchestras and bands so we started playing with a rock band with our next brother since we were in junior high. We've always dabbled in both."
These days the brothers don't get to play in an orchestra, at least not a proper one. Sometimes for studio sessions they are asked to re-create a string quartet by overdubbing themselves. Ned explained, "People like us doing that because we can get the sound of a string quartet and we're cheap! But we also understand what the chorus is and what a verse is and we understand how to play off the vocal line and know when not to play, and we know how to improvise because of all of our work with playing pop/rock and all that, so we put it all together. So if you need the poor man's orchestra you call the Henry boys! That's kind of the way it works." David jumped in, "Funny enough though, we've done this work for Ben Folds and the Indigo Girls and Steve Earl. So we've got some people who can pay but they still do it the cheap way!" He laughed, "But it's fine! We're just thrilled and honoured to do Jars Of Clay and bands like that.we're just thrilled to work with them."
The identical twins were raised in a Christian family. Their mother is a Methodist minister and they grew up in a church in Macon, Georgia. David remembered, "We were very involved in youth programmes and certainly music is a part of that. Now we and our families attend Belmont Methodist where we're very entrenched. Of course Methodists have a committee for everything you can think of I guess like a lot of churches and we're on half a dozen of those I think! That's a really big part of who we are. It's funny because I guess Brother Henry have had three pop rock records and anybody that looks at them can tell instantly that faith runs throughout the whole thing, as we do our lives, you know. We tend to live by example and so we try to write that way as well. We feel as though the church community has heard this message, let's take it out to the other people. It's kind of sneak way to bring them in or bring these concepts to the world at large. As Christians, isn't that our mission?"
When it comes to a history of the band, it's obvious that the brothers have been playing together since they were in junior high, playing in talent shows and at churches. In the late eighties the pair formed a band with their brother Jeff and toured in the south east corner of the USA in the late '80s and early '90s. Each brother then moved to a different part of the country. Ned and David both ended up in Nashville and started playing together as Brother Henry in the late '90s but it wasn't until 2004 that they finally recorded the album 'Come On, People', which began to create some interest. This was quickly followed by 'Live At The Basement'. Around this time Jeff Henry joined his brothers and they added friend Park Ellis on drums. In 2005 they released a third record, 'Chasing Happiness', and 'Love Survives' was completed in early 2007.
The brothers are no spring chickens and they're aware that in an industry that treasures youth, they are a little out of step in more ways than one. "One thing we kind of laugh about", said David, "was when Ned and I were playing here in town most of the encouragement we got - surprise, surprise! - came from friends and members of our church. So what did we do? We made this record and instead of playing churches we did what we knew and started playing bars and clubs like we used to do back in the day."
He continued, "But we realise that we're not 27-year-olds but hey, go to the website - We're bald! Hair's greying!" David laughed. "I've got three kids and Ned's got two kids and we're happily married so it's a lot harder to take off for three weeks and go play and sleep on people's couches and not bring any money home. That was fine when we were 21. So we have to be a little bit more judicious about how we perform and the time out of town and things like that."
Ned observed, "And that's what we're trying to do too. Another thing with the families; we don't want to miss it. We have so many friends that tour so much they're missing the lives of their children. But at the same time when you get to a certain level and you don't HAVE to take every job that rolls around, we can be a little bit more picky and choosy. So we can pick the ones we want to do and if something comes along and we don't want to do it, we don't do it! So that way playing music is still fun and special. It's not where I've been before as a guitar player for hire when I did have to take any van tour that came at me. I once found myself standing on the side of the road in Chicago in rush-hour traffic after our vehicle had been hit; the trailer had turned over and my guitar was over in the middle of the Interstate and cars were zooming by. I've got a daughter at home and it was like, I don't need this! I can be miserable anywhere! I can be miserable at home! I don't have to stay out here in Chicago by myself!"