A week after the launch of new single Flux at Knox Street Bar in Sydney, singer and producer Ross Henry continued the ambience of this experience from one city to another, when performing at The Grace Darling Hotel, in support of Kate Martin on the Melbourne leg of her Set My Life To Fire tour. Hours before this performance, the experimental, folktronica artist was kind enough to allocate time talk about the man behind the artist, the origin and inspiration behind his music and give us an insight into his live performances.
Walking into the 19th century style room, surrounded by classic leather bound couches on the second floor of The Grace Darling Hotel, two hours before he is due to play is Sydney, singer – songwriter, producer and multi – instrumentalist Ross Henry. Who after experiencing an instant hug and confirmation that Ross is in fact not a stage name, demonstrates the warmth and humility of this artist. Henry, a large figure dressed head to ankles in all black looks the part of your typical artist with the beard and long hair to match. Although shortly after sitting down reveals his red socks and brings to view his grey sneakers, his fashion sense acting as a metaphor for many artists including himself – underneath the immediate appearance they are creative, colourful and bright people. As Henry gets comfortable in yet another familiar small stage, his hands cannot stop moving, not out of nerves, but in a state of constant drumming, as if he is warming up for his show already. As one of the unique facets of Henry’s music is his percussive drum beats, which when listening to a recording are as diverse as sounding like he is tapping the floorboards of his studio and when viewing a performance involve drum pads, it is surprising to hear that the artist is not a drummer. “I produce my rhythm quite syncopated and I play my rhythms physically before I turn them into something,” validating how the music is literally within this man.
This music within Henry first came out as a youth, when he picked up one of his father’s (a bass guitarist) many acoustic guitars and started tinkering. As Henry explains how he grew up listening to music but had no direct influences, it is aurally obvious that this British born man, despite it being some time since his migration, has still retained his slight English accent, complementing his softly spoken voice. This voice goes on to say “A lot of people say when they hear a certain album, that’s the moment, I didn’t have that moment, I have been inspired by so many artists, genres and ideas. I am just in love with music and noise in general,” and laughs before finishing his sentence. As a youth, playing an acoustic guitar led to Henry hiding away to create demos and now as an adult commits to the same behaviour, except now in a studio, leading an observer to believe that this is the producer’s happy place. “Isolation and having time to think, create and focus are massively important, it’s part of my practice, sometimes it’s not a happy place, and it can be incredibly frustrating, especially if the track is not coming together, but eventually you get to the rhythm of it.” On the stage he is sitting, it is questionable as to whether this sanctuary is another happy place, as his studio is where he spends most of his time, to which he replies “I am naturally more comfortable in my studio, but I do enjoy the opportunity to play live.” In purpose of enhancing the joy the performer feels on stage, as well as enabling the audience to further understand his song origins, Henry states, “I have been trying to engage people by being a story teller and explaining the tracks,” which is something he wishes to improve on. At this point it is fair to assume Henry is an introvert, of which he confidently replies “Absolutely, 100%.”
As can be interpreted from the written, physical description (or any photos of Henry), his face of hair is one of his most recognisable features, making it a wonder how after filming the video for Flux, he managed to remove all the paint and glitter, in which he was covered. Henry chuckles before saying “Oh my goodness, I actually didn’t get enough material (paint and glitter) for the clip, so I had to keep going back to re-do it. So it was everywhere and my bathroom was looking really messed up. My housemates were like what have you done?” After the magic of humour established a further comfort and connection, Henry was open to filling in the grey areas between his acoustic sessions in his English bedroom and instrumental gigs in Australia, by confirming he was looking to study environmental science, which additionally filled in the blanks behind the inspiration for Flux. “I was going to study environmental science back in England and then I got here and was like, I have been making music my whole life, I might have a crack at that.” Henry despite avoiding this tertiary education has incorporated these two interests by poetically stating “I feel there is a vague anxiety with everyone and everything,” but more so through the song meaning of Flux, “the idea of the whole planet as a safe space,” and “what goes into dissolving or sustaining a cultural and physical sanctuary?” Henry’s curiosity, artistry and hunger for knowledge can be elaborated with his interest in reading literature, which in today’s society among the common book club readings of text messages and Twitter feeds, it is refreshing to hear a young man’s interest in the poems of Wilfred Owen. Owen’s writings on war served as the muse of his 2015 EP “The Forester’s House,” this fact despite clarifying Henry’s unique distinction from constant mainstream lyrics on binge partying and shallow relationships, did not make clear a common muse for Henry, after pondering whether Flux (or The Deep for that matter) had any literary roots. “Not particularly, I guess they came from a different origin, it may be easier to look at The Deep and be like this was derived from this source, whereas Flux was sort of fresh, but maybe if I stepped back a bit I could be like, there are ties to things I have read.”
After listening to The Forester’s House EP the acoustic guitar becomes a noteworthy asset of Henry, which made it of interest that he was choosing to play an electric that night. The instrumentalist explains that among everything that had been going on, his personal guitar was not in Melbourne, so he was planning to borrow a Fender Telecaster off a Melbournian friend. As it was now less than two hours until show time, it would be reasonable to believe that the artist would feel under pressure, however, Henry’s body language remained nonchalant and no anxiety could be found in his soothing voice. This scenario is a metaphor for Henry as a songwriter, performer, videographer and artist in general, the man is spontaneous, and he goes in without a structured plan, feels his way and somehow finds his destination. The concoction of the Flux video “was a series of physical experiments that I was playing with, I came up with the design and artwork and I wanted to expand on this and have something to experiment with visually, similar to my music.” Which makes it no surprise that since his last EP his music has progressed to a style that includes a heavier electronic sound, more upbeat tempo with major keys, “one of the most interesting things about electronic music is that there are no real barriers, I guess I am really into that because it is the most liberating area.” Henry keeps his listeners entertained, especially in a short attention spanned world as he says “I am never going to make something the same.”
At this point the picture of the introverted, spontaneous and unstructured artist gets repainted when he expands on his talents and explains how he likes to be in control of his projects. Henry orchestrated his videos himself, as a producer is a one man band and when asked about whether he plays well with others says “my project as Ross Henry is what I am interested in, it would be cool to collaborate, I guess the only thing you have as an artist is your own tastes and interests to create something.” At this point, similar to artists like Prince it would be right to assume Henry is a perfectionist and this could be a reason he likes to work alone, but on the contrary “I am quite happy being like, yes it is done now.”
As the man behind Ross Henry had now been explored, it was necessary to hear his commentary prior to his performance. After the shattering discovery there would be no acoustic guitar tonight, it was of question to whether Henry would perform any covers, like the unplugged version of Golden Brown at Sofar Sydney in his short hair days. Aligning with Henry’s personality he says “I do a remix of sorts, there is a finger style guitarist called Antoine DuFor and he does this tune called These Moments, I thought man this would be an awesome electronic track,” which the performer sandwiched in the middle of his set. The bread according to Henry will be Blue Horizon, as the opener and Flux as the close, “as that is the freshest one and gives me time to warm up.” Henry talks about how his favourite personal performance was the previous Friday, when he launched Flux as a new single at Knox Street Bar in Sydney. This was a show that he put on himself with some local musicians and ended up filling the room with 70 odd people, “we all had a great night and the context and vibe was awesome.” In a conversation that has included talk about inspiration, part of the outro includes The Sticks as one of his favourite live acts because of their “interactive drumming,” and use of visual accomnipments in which Henry takes an interest to, highlights how this is a band not only worth checking out, but could be a potential reference point for the singer-songwriters performances.
To close and bring context to both the past and the future, when asked about his achievements and honours Henry simply and humbly concludes that “it is all quite nice, I am pretty happy with anyone who basically enjoys my music, I am generally like what’s next?” In terms of “what’s next?” Henry says he would like “to keep going, keep building a career, become better, keep playing live and get a position where I am touring internationally and making a decent living and continuing to have a good time.” As the artist is left by himself on the stage to set up and do a sound check it is obvious that he was not lying when saying that he does not really get stage fright, his concern lies with making sure his diverse array of performance tools all work. It was also reassuring to learn that after speaking about his large set up preparation “(I) make sure the drum pad is simpler but then I am like what if I incorporate this,” the performance did begin at the set 9pm, not 11 or later.
If music represents the nature of an artist, it is Ross Henry, minimal structure and offbeat spontaneity with a unique truancy and down to Earth honesty. As it is the beginning of this folktronic, creative mind’s career, it will be interesting to see where he goes, but wherever it is, it will be nothing but Ross Henry, a name and description with a naturalness and unconstraint that cannot be predicted.