Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 May-Jun Contents Rhythms 41
“I like to add a little bouncy castle in
the songwriting carnival.”
Henry Wagons is not an actor,
as such, but he is an inspired
performer. Even at work, as a DJ
for ABC’s Double J digital radio
station, he always wears his shades.
He’s also game.
Justin Townes Earle reckons Wagons
is like, “Dr Seuss meets Conway
Twitty, strutting like a Tennessee
Walking Horse on PCP”, and it’s
fabulous to watch, as a dare, Wagons
walk down a corridor and try to
embody this mythical creature –
at turns, Cat-in-the-Hat rubbery,
Jagger-jittery spasmodic mixed
with moments of smooth-gait, sure
footedness. It’s a saunter that would
give John Cleese a giggle. The
beauty is, Wagons carries it off with
aplomb. And, the sunglasses
Wagons is never going to be a
songwriter. He’s too Australian
for that. Too funny, too droll. He
describes his first solo album,
After What I Did Last Night..., as a
confessional record but “a barroom
confessional”, surrounded by friends,
with jokes and asides coming just
as fast as the drinks. In song, he
veers from singing about Santa Fe to
hometown Melbourne to cowboys in
Krakow and, amusingly, about being
the ‘Only Sane Mother F*****’ in sight.
“It’s a different chapter,” he explains
of going solo. “It’s like taking a
divergence in your own choose-your-
Every song has a joke in it. Is it
important that your sense of humour
comes through in your music?
I wanted this to be a confessional
record. I wanted to pay full attention
to the fact it was a solo record. I
wanted to mine my own history
and life. But there’s the sense that
confessional writing should be emo
or male pain and serious. When I
went to investigate my life, funny
stuff would come out. My life is a
roller coaster ride but it’s not all
angsty. You’re right, there’s probably
a joke or twist in every song but that’s
the way I live. I would say it’s more
honest and open than a lot of people
who use songwriting as a substitute
for a psychiatrist’s couch.
It’s a very Australian way of
dealing with emotional things.
Laughing at them.
Is it? In the current climate,
songwriting is getting all too serious.
I look back and see footage of Johnny
Cash imitating Elvis and the ‘Rat
Pack’ stumbling around, drunk. I feel
like the times are gone where you can
be a raconteur. The singer-songwriter
field is quite a maudlin, and
humourless, space these days. I felt a
little weird, putting in a few quips but
I like to add a little bouncy castle in
the songwriting carnival.
How will ‘Melbourne’ go down in
Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide or Perth
– places that despise Melbourne?
It will go down really well because I’ll
switch out Melbourne for Brisbane.
It’s a simple substitution, I’ll just
change the chorus. Adelaide doesn’t
scan in the right way, so I maybe I can
put in Hindley.
I played this song at the Meatstock
Festival at Homebush in Sydney
and changed it to ‘Homebush’, but it
didn’t have the same romanticism or
mythology as Melbourne.
What can you say about Santa Fe
that hasn’t been said before?
That song isn’t necessarily about
the city of Santa Fe. It’s about road
tripping. So much of my life is spent
road tripping with a large-footed,
sweaty band and my family, too. Every
long car ride spans the emotional
gamut. You’ve got the hypnotic
boredom of the long ride. You’ve
got the angry anticipation, you’ve
got the naïve excitement, the high-
expectation of getting to your final
destination. There’s also the inevitable
mild disappointment, the tiredness of
the afternoon, the unexpected twists
and turns that can lead to disaster
or triumph. The town, Santa Fe, is a
beautiful place but it’s more a conduit
for my passion and interest in fanging
it along the highway.
How has sitting on the other
side of the desk as a Double J DJ
influenced your songwriting? Are
you finding out which songs work
on radio or which don’t?
The radio show has forced me to get
across this entire songwriting scene
in Australia and beyond. Nathaniel
Rateliff and the Night Sweats has
been the MVP but, ultimately,
any song that drops obtuse, mind-
blowing, lyrical bombs always sets the
switchboard alight. That, and when I
play Bruce Springsteen.
WAGONS IS LIKE DR SEUSS
MEETS CONWAY TWITTY,
STRUTTING LIKE A TENNESSEE
WALKING HORSE ON PCP
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