“It’s an entirely different experience,” said Wagons, whose latest seven-song EP, Upstairs at United, is available only on vinyl. “Holding an LP, in and of itself, requires two hands. It’s all consuming. The object forces you into the world of the music. You can scan the liner notes, and go through the elaborate steampunk process of playing the thing on a record player. It takes time and sucks you in. Whereas on the iPhone, you throw on some kind of random mix in the music app, then drift over to your email. It’s not forcibly immersive in the same way. Vinyl also sounds phenomenal; very different to an mp3. I compare it to seeing a photo on a film print compared to on a computer screen. Both have their own advantages, but I know what I'd prefer to put in the photo album.”
It’s old school in the best sense of the term, while also keeping in the Australian’s custom of following his gut and doing what feels right as opposed to what is the flavor of the week. It didn’t hurt that he got to record it in the legendary United Records Pressing Plant building in Nashville last March.
“It all started when I had my solo EP Expecting Company? pressed at United the year before recording Upstairs at United,” said Wagons. “The amazing folk at the pressing plant liked the record enough to ask me to be involved in the Upstairs at United series. The history was just a marvelous added bonus in the whole scenario. The idea of treading the same boards that everyone from Smokey Robinson to Wayne Newton to Jack White have traversed was quite a thrill. United have kept the room upstairs as it was from the old days...even down to the nicotine stains on the roof, from all of Smokey's smoking. It was a very special place to be. I don't really believe in ghosts, but in that room you want them to make an appearance.”
With the excitement evident as Wagons recalls the recording process, it gives you even more faith in the power of music to affect not just listeners, but the ones making the music. And for Wagons, that excitement extends to his choice of covers on the album, as he records his takes on Elvis Presley’s “Separate Ways” and Waylon Jennings’ “Lonesome On’ry and Mean.”
“Elvis and Waylon are both big, smelly, hairy aspirational figures of mine,” said the always understated Wagons. “I love how grumpy and intimidating they could both be. Waylon through pure, enigmatic, displaced anger, and Elvis through misplaced karate kicks. It’s a level of intimidating grumpiness to which I hope to one day achieve, without having to consume as many drugs and bottles of booze. And, over and above all this, I absolutely love their music. It was an easy choice.”
And with Upstairs at United done, eyes now turn to the sixth studio release from his band, Wagons, which, as the frontman points out, is done as well.
“I'm happy to say, after a fairly long creative process, it’s now in the can,” he said. “Mick Harvey from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds has produced the album and he has harnessed all of our evil energy and used it for good. We also had it mixed in Ocean Way studios by Matt Linesch, who is Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ man of choice. He's also worked with Van Halen and the Doobie Brothers. It’s a beautiful evil schizophrenia of a record, and I love how it’s come out. It was so inspiring working with genius heavyweights helping us realize our vision.”
Yet before that album hits the streets, Wagons is on the road to celebrate the release of Upstairs at United, with two Stateside shows culminating with a gig at Joe’s Pub in NYC on Friday. It’s only a brief visit, but we haven’t seen the last of him this year.
“Stay tuned for a return visit in the summer, whether you like it or not,” said Wagons, who hopes that listeners pick up his EP and enjoy it in a very particular, Wagonesque fashion.
“I hope people sit down in a recliner with a dog in their lap, put on a pair of headphones, pour yourselves a whiskey on the rocks and take a trip into my brain,” he said. “It’s quite a trip, if I do say so myself.”
Henry Wagons plays Joe’s Pub on Friday, February 28. For tickets, click here.