I recently found myself diving back into some Beatles music, a la Rubber Soul, Revolver, and The White Album namely. And it brought me back to what I think of as my melodic awakening in my later teen years. I really don’t listen to them much anymore, but every so often I nitpick some favorites if not let select albums play out from time to time.
Point being, I recently stumbled upon indie psych-pop songwriter Henry Chadwick, whose single “What I Mean to Say,” dare I say made me think of The Fab Four in or around their Revolver or perhaps White Album years. At least the introductory lyrics…“Somethin’s cloggin’ the drain/I can’t say/What I need to say,” sings Chadwick from the jump, in a somewhat defeated, melancholy minor tone akin to say Lennon’s “Julia”. Layered beneath and within those lines are some haunting “ahh” harmonies that this time make me think Abbey Road’s “Sun King.”
But this Santa Cruz-based songwriter, instrumentalist, and producer no doubt has a unique style all his own. He displays a mastery of melody and rhythm with intermittent psychedelia that I quite frankly am here for. “Chadwick’s music dances between genres and lands somewhere between indie, garage rock, psychedelia and shimmery, sunshine-tinged power-pop,” reads his artist page bio, and I find that to be accurate and adhering to originality.
In 2016, Chadwick released his self-produced debut EP Guest At Home, which garnered the attention of prominent publications such as Rolling Stone, Huffington Post, Indie Shuffle, and not least of all, Time. From that point on, Chadwick has continued to swell his body of work with various release compilations, often playing nearly every instrument on the records.
Prior to the June 19th release of this single, Chadwick released his five-song EP, The President of Make Believe with Brooklyn-based indie label Swoon City Music.
We had the chance to pick Chadwick’s brain regarding the single, how the pandemic has affected his creative process, accolades, and much more.
So who or what got you into playing and writing music?
Well I grew up in a musical family. My mom was a singer-songwriter. I remember seeing her open up for Jonathan Richman and Timbuck 3 when I was really young at a local venue. My dad was an engineer at the now defunct Cherokee Studios down in Hollywood in the ‘80s up until my older brother was born. They moved up to Santa Cruz and he built a studio with gear he’d saved up through the years, so the environment and instruments were there from a young age and I took to it at a young age and it stuck.
What’s the Santa Cruz-area music scene like? Are there certain genres that are more prevalent than others, or pretty diverse?
It’s a small but mighty and very supportive music scene. There’s a little bit of everything if you look around for it.
What is your songwriting process like? Is it more regimented and structured, or more loose and sporadic?
I think it’s fairly sporadic in that I don’t often complete a song start to finish all at once (when I do it feels great), but I keep a steady stream of ideas logged in my songwriting journal and my voice memo app on my phone. It’s sort of like putting a large puzzle together. You work on one section for a little while and then there’s another section that becomes apparent and eventually you realize how they all fit together. I bounce around from idea to idea and project to project, but I do designate time to sit with ideas and help them along. I just don’t like trying to sit and force something. There’s always something to do, so if something is feeling forced I put a pin in it and work on something else. If I get stuck on lyrics then maybe I’ll switch to playing through the chord progression and melody for a while and tweaking it to make it more interesting. Or maybe I’ll just free-write in my journal to help come up with new ideas etc.
Do you mostly write alone, or do you take part in co-writes?
I was in a band in high school with my brother George and we co-wrote a good amount, but since then I’ve only done one co-write that I released. Greg Camp (mostly known as the guitarist and songwriter for Smash Mouth) is a friend, he used to live and operate a studio out of Santa Cruz. I took a half finished song to him and he came up with the bridge and helped finish it up. That one is “Awake” which I put out last year. Otherwise I mostly write alone, but I’d be open to doing more co-writes if the opportunity felt right. I’ve been in bands and I produce bands and artists as well, so I’ve definitely done a good amount of creative collaboration since then but there’s always been a distinction between arranging and producing vs. actual songwriting roles.
So it was your song, “What I Mean To Say” that caught our ear. Can you talk about the influence and inspiration behind this track?
Well some musical influences that probably show through pretty strong in this one are The Beatles, Elliott Smith and The Beach Boys I think. There are many others in there but I think think it sounds almost like a blatant nod or homage to all of their music which I love. In writing it I wasn’t thinking about that though, it’s just how it came out. The song is about being exhausted with everybody, including and almost especially yourself. It’s something I assume a lot of people have felt if not everyone. I really needed a change and a break from doing things, and to just be for a while. Incidentally, I got one – along with everyone else – although not in the way I would have hoped for with this pandemic.
Is it a part of or going to be a part of an EP or LP?
It’s shaped up to be a full LP! I really wanted to put together another full length. I’m still finishing up some loose ends on a few tracks but I’ll hopefully have more updates on the full release soon.
As a whole, what messages do you hope to get across to your listeners through your music?
I think I strive for honesty in my music. Music and art in general can act as a lens to view the world from different perspectives. Life is complex. It’s often happy and sad and a bunch of other things at once, and there’s really not one thing that comes without a flip side. I write a lot of songs as a way to figure out about the world and to work through problems, so as a result a lot of songs tend to have somber undertones – especially lyrically. I’ve felt self-conscious about that in the past because I don’t want to be a musical wet blanket, but then I think about how listening to songs that deal with tough subjects has helped me out on countless occasions. I sort of feel like music is more important in those times. That’s how it is for me anyway. If it turns a few people off but makes someone feel better who needs it and relates then I think it’s worth making. It’s never calculated like that while I’m writing songs, these are just things I tell myself to justify putting them out in the world.
I see you’re a multi-instrumentalist and played multiple instruments on your 2018 record Marlin Fisher. Do you consider yourself first and foremost a songwriter as your master craft, or would you consider yourself more of a jack-of-all-trades?
I’d say that I consider myself a songwriter first. I learned all the instruments by writing songs and recording them for the most part. I think maybe I could call myself a jack of a few trades at least though. I do work as a drummer some times, as well as recording and mixing. The rest of the instruments I mostly just play as a means of serving the songs I write.
Do you feel the pandemic has helped or hurt your creative process? (or perhaps neither)
I feel sort of guilty saying it, but it’s been a huge help creatively. I’ve had time to sit and ruminate and write without being pulled in different directions. I’m lucky that I was able to record the bulk of the drums and loud guitar stuff in a proper studio before everything shut down, so now I’ve been finishing overdubs and mixing at my little home bedroom-pop-style studio. It’s been a nice, comfortable situation. I’m such a hermit by nature anyways, it’s been nice to feel like it’s justified. I did have a tour planned for July that I had to cancel which is a bummer but what can you do?
What’s one of your proudest/most accomplished moments as an artist so far?
I think reading a positive review of my album from Rolling Stone was a pretty big one. RS has been such a big force in music and such a golden goose of sorts, that seeing that was really gratifying. There are others, like getting to work with great producers and artists and getting to travel and play in great venues and record in beautiful towns and cities etc., but that one jumps out off the top of my head as a moment of validation.
What can fans expect from Henry Chadwick in the latter half of the year?
More music! As I mentioned, I’ve been working on a new album and I’ll be releasing more singles as they’re completed. I’ll probably be doing some more live streaming as well and I’ll try to put out some more video content of some sort. What else can you do in a pandemic? If there’s an opportunity to play live and it feels safe that would be great too, but I don’t want to put myself, the band or the audience at risk.
Slowly but surely life as we know it is opening up again, for better or worse. What are some local Santa Cruz establishments you look forward to frequenting and supporting again? Or perhaps already are?
I’m probably going to be hunkering down pretty good for a while. The COVID numbers are starting to spike around here since things have been reopening. Whenever it’s safe, I’m looking forward to going to a couple music shops in town – Sylvan Music and Starving Musician, as well as record shops – Streetlight Records and Metavinyl. As far as food goes, most of my favorite spots are up and running for takeout which is good enough for me at the moment. I could go for a burrito from Tacos Moreno and a spicy tuna hand roll from Shogun Sushi pretty soon here. That sounds really good actually, I’m gonna check in on their hours today! I also look forward to walking down to out local favorite breakfast joint, Spanky’s in Ben Lomond.