Henry Roland is an Austin music lifer. He logged his first gig on Sixth Street at the legendary old Austin dive, the Black Cat Lounge, when he was just 16. During the ’90s, he played in the regionally popular funk outfit Gingbreadmen, before decamping to NYC for nearly a decade in 1997. When he returned town in 2006, he briefly messed around with rock ‘n’ roll in a band called Starchild, before diving back into his funk roots, this time as a solo act. “I wanted to experiment with how far I could push the looping envelope,” he says. “As far as songs with ‘verse/ pre-chorus/ chorus’.. that sort of song structure that is not common with conventional looping.”
He started playing gigs as a one man band in 2009 and rapidly built a solid following with his energetic live shows. His debut full-length as Henry + the Invisibles, “Musaic,” is due out on Saturday, Sept. 17, and he’ll celebrate at Empire Garage that night. The first single “Whoa” is a funky love song, featuring saxophone licks from Jeff Dazey, who also plays with Leon Bridges.
We caught up with Roland to find out a little more about the release and what’s next for his “Onemanphunkband.”
Austin360: Intricate layers of sound are so integral to funk music. As someone who used to make these sort of songs with a large band, what have you learned about yourself as a musician doing it solo?
Henry Roland: When I first started H+TI, I realized that in order to make the kind of music I wanted to hear I first had to get in some serious practice time. Although I had been a bassist in a few bands while living in NYC, the kind of funk bass I aspired to play was something I had to work for… still am. I also hadn’t played much piano in a live setting until H+TI… or created beats on a drum machine for that matter. I rented out a rehearsal space (a hospital ward in an old pre-war building that used to be a bomb factory… haha, I miss that place sometimes) and basically locked myself up there for about 2 years. It was there I finished my first EP, focused on my craft and made my looping station… what I now call “The Spaceship”.
I guess you could say I learned that with focus and diligence those kinds of musical goals, and I suppose most everything in life, are truly obtainable and ultimately rewarding.
How many instruments do you play and what’s the max you get going at one time on stage?
At a live show I’ll play the keys, guitar, bass, percussion pads, drum machine and I sing… soon to add the alto sax. I try to incorporate the variety of instruments differently for each song and most times use all that I mentioned. Sometimes playing a timbale solo while hitting some accompaniment on the keyboards, or a bass solo while keeping steady on the kick drum. I try to challenge myself with tricky combinations, as far as rhythm syncopation and harmony, and work those kinds of moments in my show. It definitely keeps me on my toes!
Obviously, the financial logistics of touring as a solo act must make a lot of sense, but is it harder to rock a crowd by yourself?
I can honestly say that after having lead a few high energy bands in the past, getting the crowd lit by myself seems quite natural to me. I feel the synergy from an enthusiastic crowd the same way I would feel the on-stage energy when performing with bandmates… it really is a beautiful thing to have that sort of reciprocity with a vibrant audience.
You talk about how the process of putting this album together included “healing myself with the messages of this music.” What do you mean by that and what do you hope other folks take from the album?
Yes, I feel most messages to be healing on this record… “You Made It” talks about how we are in control of our destiny, whether you believe it or not.
“Future” talks about the realization to take action in life. “Inspire” talks about that person or people that inspire you most… in this case I was singing about my fans, but the message could be translated in many ways. “Equinox” is a peace anthem for the World we live in… Lord knows we need it. “Long Way Home”, one of my favorites on the record, is all about the journey we call life and the lessons we learn along the way. “Fly On” is about the loss of a loved one and partly about a relationship that has drifted apart… and there are more tales of life which I feel we all experience and could use some music to help make some sense of it all
I think the beauty of poetry is that personal interpretation will speak to whomever needs the message needed at that time. My hope is that folks are going to appreciate some thoughtful lyrics with some solid grooviness and that the songs will help in some way to make life a bit brighter, and to remind folks to hang in there and to keep love strong in their hearts… and, of course, with the party tracks on this record to start dance parties in their living rooms!
“MUSAIC” is a collection of these emotions and stories that when given a moment to reflect, one will see the big picture of life… or musaic, in this case. Here is my definition I made for the word: MU·SA·IC – /myoo͞ˈzāik/ noun – A picture, pattern, or concept produced by the imagination created by the arrangement of vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to conjure beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.