||The Henry Clay People
fourth wall destruction - by Hugo Gomez
It's no surprise a long line is quickly forming outside The Echo of those waiting to get The Henry Clay People experience. Not even an unannounced January freak storm could stop fans from packing the beloved east-side hideout beyond fire hazard capacity. When a band has as much hype and scars as this Glendale-based new Americana group, packed shows are the norm.
But a packed show is hardly the only constant for this quintet, started by brothers Andy and Joey Siara. Their live shows--in all their epic glories, even minor embarrassments--have been of the most widely discussed on the blogosphere for the past two years. They've been hyped as "the best rock group in Los Angeles" by Aquarium Drunkard and diminished to "the most intoxicated band" at SXSW in 2008 by Esquire.
When asked if their days of stumbling performances are over, Joey, 27, can’t break from being shy about it, “I dunno,” he said, “I don’t drink as much on stage these days because I want to be sort of… proficient on my instrument.”
And this is what defines The Henry Clay People’s bizarre rock-and-consequence dichotomy. Behind the college-frat exterior (they’d be leading the hazing) are serious artists who weigh out on-stage antics and the ability to be “proficient” with their instruments. One night they will make--with all due respect--complete, boozed-up asses of themselves, breaking an arm in front of industry heads, and the next day they’ll be playing an afternoon set to parents and toddlers at what is truly an all-ages show at The Echo.
Their live show is all sorts of debauchery, but with classic rock integrity. Aside from the PBR, a prime element to their live show is the total destruction of the fourth-wall. Don’t expect them to stay on stage for too long on any given night.
“Growing up a fan of punk rock,” Joey said, “the whole idea of there being no barricade from the audience was always appealing.”
This is, after all, The Henry Clay People philosophy. To be on stage is to perhaps be a little too rock star. With over 300 shows under their belt, co-singer Andy knows that getting in the grind of the audience and sharing the mic with them is what keeps people coming back. It’s not simply a showcase. It’s a memory for you and the band both.
As blue-collar as their music seems, it’s just as reflective on growing up all too fast, without much money, but with enough spirit to not give a shit because, at the end of the day, if you’ve got your band, that’s all that really fucking matters. It’s a sound that promises to buy the next round, offer advice, and doubly promises to make this night one for the books--sort of like The Boss (not “Nebraska” Boss, but more “Glory Days” Boss). The Henry Clay People are the ultimate (and, ultimately, the conscious music fan’s) party band.
On this night, however, co-singer Andy, 23, is seriously under the weather. It looks like a damper might be put on their signature chaos tonight. "When he gets sick," Joey said, "he gets sick."
Nearly an hour before their set, Andy, Joey, keyboardist Jordan Hudock and bassist Jonathan Price brave the cold outside behind The Echo and trade jabs about being full-time members of the Henry Clay clan. “We make no money off of this,” Andy said, perhaps too honestly, if not bitterly, when it comes around to the topic of sacrificing steady jobs.
Brothers Andy and Joey were, up until May of 2009, employed by after-school programs. On the side, Joey had a museum gig teaching history to kids on field trips. Jonathan simply claims, “I’ve worked,” only to be met with the heckle of shocking laughter from his band mates. Jordan, who just recently joined the group, gave up a cushy job at Universal Pictures to go on tour with them.
Regrets? None. Well, maybe a tiny, unspoken bit. Jordan smiles at the notion, but says that joining The Henry Clay People is “like joining your best friend’s band,” to which the rest of the guys simply guffaw and mockingly, “Aww.”
Evidently, being broke in this group isn’t a setback. It’s simply just part of being in the band (for now, at least.) The group isn’t a stranger to being left with only scraps. On a past tour stop in Montreal, Joey remembers a moment where the entire band only collectively had two dollars.
“We shared a two-dollar loaf of bread in a park,” Joey said. “That was the lowest, poorest I’ve ever been.”
Being latchkey kids of the indie sort works in their favor though. The trudge inspires good material, and good material makes great records. Being “cool” is simply not part of the Henry Clay DNA, and the authenticity in their new-roots sound simply never gets (and shouldn’t be) questioned. With the resurgence in recent years of Americana music to the local likes of Olin & The Moon, Mississippi Man and Dawes (to name a few), it’s the perfect time to be in this band.
“In order to wear tight black pants and makeup you have to have an element of cool,” Joey said, “Which I think that the bands we love never really had. I feel [they’re] dudes that can just show up and play adequately and have fun doing it.”
And that’s exactly what The Henry Clay People did that night at The Echo, albeit sober, wet, sick, and/or remotely worried about the sustainability of being full-time rockers. The fireworks were at a minimum, but in these days of economic strife and overall turmoil, all it took was a dose of distortion for the audience to love and understand The Henry Clay People’s beer-loving, penny-scraping, all-nighter-pulling story. It is, after all, their story too.