Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
The fun thing to do when listening to California's Henry Clay People is to imagine that this is the angriest they get. This is it - the needle slapping all the way to the right side of the scale, violently red. This is their heart and muscles in the middle of a serious decision on the fight or flight situation right in front of them. This is them completely worked up over something. This is the furor. It's at this point when we realize that their venom and ire is highly entertaining and could likely give us a golden opportunity to work off some of that beer weight that they also, inadvertently inspired us to put on as well. You see, the Henry Clay People (they have made it known that they're seeking to make everyone a Henry Clay person before all is said and done) make their jittery agitation a barrel of amusement. It's the same kind of light things up, belt out at the top of your lungs, literate and thoughtful lyrics and get the party moving and bobbing around the way that our old heroes from Boston, Massachusetts, Piebald used to when they were putting out albums like, "If It Wasn't For Venetian Blinds, It Would Be Curtains For Us All," and "We Are The Only Friends We Have."
These were albums that were eccentric and melodic and just odd enough to be out of reach for most kids. The Henry Clay People attain that accessibility by never being too strange, but instead letting everyone into their own personal lives of financial adversity and trying to stay in a position where there's at least enough money to pay the rent, put some gas in the car and to letting Fridays and Saturday nights hang out as much as possible. Their records are banging pieces of art that speak to these times and to a group of people fighting to make such art, swimming through poverty in the weird but normal and vicious cycle of art and struggle.
Joey Siara sings, "We were working part time all the time," and it's a major theme that runs through their last album, of the hard times being hard, but never dismantling or deflating anyone involved. It's as if there's too much youth involved for there to be any cashing in of the chips. There's too much naivety and brazen effort involved for anyone to trade in the van for a tie and some dress slacks. There is too much keen living and experience as well. Siara sings, "I was broke but still alive/I was fine," to carry on the theme of roughing it and there are many references to being out on the town, at the bars and clubs in Los Angeles, listening to bands and trailing off into the late night - drinking cheap champagne with someone's sister and just letting it all happen. It's a free-wheeling taste of the times as they are for these young dudes and so many more like them, unwilling to settle into some regular regime, or maybe they're just unable to. Either way, it just makes for longer weekends.
*Essay originally published May, 2010