Spinning Platters Interview: The Henry Clay People

by Gordon Elgart on August 2, 2010

Which one's Henry?

When I called The Henry Clay People for an interview, lead singer and lyricist Joey Siara was driving the band through Oregon, on their way to another gig with Silversun Pickups and Against Me. I did my day job proud and made sure Joey was wearing a headset before continuing with the interview, making this Joey’s first interview given while driving, dialing up the degree of difficulty a bit.  While we later got into detail on the life of an opening band, I started where a lot of interviews start: with the name.

About the name of the band, named after 19th century politician Henry Clay. Of all the obscure 19th century politicians, why him?

I don’t have a good answer for that, like basically we were coming up with a band name, and we wrote down a list of probably a dozen-or-so band names, and most of them were kinda tongue in cheek, y’know goofy, stupid stupid names, and Henry Clay People was one of them. I guess we were kind of on a little bit of a history kick, trying to find some sort of obscure politician. The Forgotten Presidency of Chester A. Arthur was one of the contenders but it was a little too long so we ended up settling on the Henry Clay People. I don’t know, in hindsight I think we could have come up with a better band name, but it is what it is and we’re dealing with it.

Do you ever get asked “Which one of you is Henry?”

Yeah, it’s like that Pink Floyd thing. “Which one’s Pink?” Yeah, we get asked that a lot. And sometimes we lie and say and say that’s my brother’s name.

I came up with a brothers-in-bands scale and I’m wondering where you fit. I put the Gallaghers at 1 and the Hansons at 10 for getting along, and I’m wondering where you fit on the scale.

It varies from day to day. Today he’s not feeling so good, so my big brother instinct is kicking in and I’m getting him water and getting him food, and other days he drives me nuts, and we were about ready to punch each other yesterday. We were playing Risk in the car, on the computer, and I was about ready to sock him in the back of the head, so it’s a day-to-day thing with us. Overall, though, it’s only ever come to, like, blood, a couple of times, so not too bad.

So it’s more like The Davies then any of the other ones.

Yeah, I’ll take The Davies. That sounds good.

In your press materials, and people I’ve talked to, they say they sound like Pavement. When someone compares to you Pavement or any other band, do you like that because it’s easy? Or do you not like it because you’re trying to be your own thing?

I don’t mind, as long as it’s a good band like Pavement. If people started saying, “man they sound like Nickelback”, I would probably be more bothered. But Pavement is one of my favorite bands, so if people hear that, I think I’m OK with dealing with that. Ultimately, I would like to be our own thing, but everybody needs shorthand in comparing bands so if that’s what they need to do, I’m cool with it. People ask me about other bands like my friends’ bands, and they’ll say “oh what do they sound like.” I’ll do the music geek thing and say they sound like a mix between Leon Russell and late-period Stones. It’s just one of those things that people do.

In your lyrics, you do a lot of “we” like stuff about “we were” and can you comment on why you use that as a construct?

I think we got into this thing for a while where, and I guess we’re still there, but I really like the idea that what I’m writing lyrics about isn’t about me — I mean everything is autobiographical — but it’s also that the situations I find myself are situations that a whole crapload of 20-somethings who don’t know what the hell they’re supposed to be doing are in as well, and I think I use “we” a lot when I write because I’m writing from the perspective of not just myself, but me and my brother, me and the rest of the guys in the band, me and my girlfriend, and I think that I like that, and I feel like there can be too much I-I-I and you-you-you.  I really like the idea of rock n’ roll being more of a community like “hey man we’re in this together” ideal.

So in the song “Working Part Time,” you say you’re broke all the time. How close is that to your former reality, and as a touring band, how close is that to your current reality?

I wrote that song in 2007, and I wish I had more money now then I did then, but I don’t, so it’s very much my same reality, which makes singing it that much more real. I guess I still have the vinegar in me, so I really mean it when I say I’m working part time all the time. And yeah, at the time I wrote it I was working two part time jobs and then doing the band stuff at nighttime and now that the band stuff has kinda taken over full time, still. We’re the opening band, we’re the first band of three bands. By no means are we going home with money in our pockets. We’re breaking even or maybe going home with enough money to pay for a week’s worth of groceries or something, so it’s a whole lot of financial sacrifice to be in a rock ‘n roll band at our level. But at the same time, we’ve had lawyers, doctors and this pilot that we met in Columbus, OH say “aw man, you guys are living it up. This is the life.” And I kinda laughed because their financial security is just so much different than what we have yet they have an idea that this is the life, so I’m kinda OK with where I am right now. Some day I’ll have to pay the bills but right now I’m OK with treading by.

Is the tour you’re on with Against Me and Silversun Pickups the biggest one you’ve done yet?

Yeah, easily our biggest tour. We did several shows in a row where we were breaking our own personal record — “woah that’s a big show we played“– I know Boston was the biggest one we’ve played. 4000-plus and it was pretty nuts, I’ve never seen that many people in the audience for us, so it was kinda surreal.

How are the audiences treating you? Pretty well?

Yeah. Overall I think it’s pretty good. It’s always an uphill battle for the first band. People get there and they really don’t want to  … I think most people look at the first band as like “hey man, you’re getting in the way of us, what we paid our money to see”, which is Against Me or Silversun, so they have this chip on their shoulder about you and what we have to do every night is to convince them to remove the chip from their shoulder and give us a shot. And you’re never, as an opening band, gonna get everybody, but I think that every night we have to earn it, we have to work our butts off to make a couple of converts at least. That’s the name of the game.

Against Me is the punk crowd and a lot of those guys have been into us. It’s kinda weird because Against Me and Siversun have very different audiences, and I don’t necessarily know where we fit in within their audiences. I think we occupy this kind of weird midsection: the punk kids aren’t all going to like us, and the cool radio modern mainstream radio guys aren’t all gonna like us, so I just hope that there’s enough people that get it, but who knows?

Do you think the Drive By Truckers fans are going to be better? (The Henry Clay People have an upcoming fall tour opening for Drive By Truckers.)

Right. We toured with them before. We did a little two-week tour and I felt overall that was the audience that got out music the best. At the end of the day, I think we have that old-timey classic rock sound, so Drive By is of a similar ilk, so I felt like that was the easiest crossover. Their fans got us, overwhelmingly compared to other bands.

We’re a Bay Area music site, so what’s your favorite Bay Area band? All-time or now or whatever?

All time has gotta be Creedence. I’m a big Creedence fan. Right now, I know that Girls record is really really really good, so I’ve been obsessed with that Girls record, and I grew up listening to Op Ivy, so Operation Ivy is definitely up there on my list of favorite Bay Area bands. You got Creedence, Op Ivy and Girls.


Thanks a bunch to Joey Siara of The Henry Clay People for an insightful interview. You can catch the Henry Clay People on Tuesday, August 3 at the Fox Oakland opening for SIlversun Pickups and Against Me, and also this fall with the Drive By Truckers. Their new album, Somewhere on the Golden Coast, is available now from TBD Records.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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Ben August 2, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Nicely done man. Saw them when they played in San Diego with DBT. Good stuff.


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