Henry Wagons is Expecting Company, to borrow the title of his new EP, but judging from his wild behavior onstage, this dinner party might end up swinging from the chandelier.
Influenced by the progressive music of the 1960s and 1970s, yet drawing on his own original material, the Australian frontman for the band Wagons has detoured off his usual Americana road for Expecting Company, inviting along some lovely duet partners for the ride (Alison Mosshart of the Kills and Dead Weather and singer-songwriters Jenn Grant and Sophia Brous).
CMT Edge: You’re not from around here, are you?
Wagons: No. You can tell, can’t you? I’m from Melbourne, Australia. I’m spending almost as much time in North America these days as home, though.
How did you start playing music?
I didn’t start playing right away. In college, I had a lot of spare time on my hands — that combined with an interest in my parents’ record collection. My dad was listening to Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins, and my mum was listening to Tom Jones and Rod Stewart. I started to play guitar and write songs straight away.
We’ve always been known for putting on a big show, occasionally throwing over a drum kit. We found ourselves the subject of a little bit of talk. Unbeknownst to us, we had a few record labels come down to see us, and we got a deal back in 2007 which changed our fortune. We were sent from pillar to post around Australia and now around the world playing this music. We fell into it. I’m incredibly thankful and fully immersed and passionate.
It was an authentic drift towards music for me. It was basically an excuse to get drunk with my friends every weekend and trash a few bars. (laughs) We’re doing it for the fun of it, and any business symptoms are purely side effects.
Were you playing your own music from the beginning?
More or less. Back in the early days, I modeled my guitar playing around Johnny Cash. Then my egomania took over and just started writing my own. I have a huge fascination with late-era Elvis, when he was pretty much a superhuman. He’d just drive down Las Vegas Boulevard in his Cadillac listening to the radio, and he had such a hot band at the casino, that he could say, “I heard that song on the radio. I want to play that song tonight,” and he could make it happen. He was at the pinnacle of human existence. He was Superman in a jumpsuit. So we occasionally throw in a couple of exclusively late-era Elvis covers. He could sing anything he wanted, eat anything he wanted.
Fried peanut butter and bacon sandwiches!
I do crack open the crazy recipes from the Graceland cookbook every now and then — sweet and sour meatballs.
How did things change for you all?
Even though we had a label, we were just casually playing. We still had our jobs. We’d play our last chord on a Sunday and still get home for the final parts of CSI. Then in 2009, we had a hit song in Australia. That’s basically changed our lives. It’s good. I’m really enjoying myself. When I did come home sweaty, watching that episode of CSI, I could never have imagined this. I’m incredibly thankful. The path is littered with unsuccessful stories, so we’re trying to do it as smart as we can and make all our trips worthwhile. I think the signs are positive so far.
What has changed with your sound in this procession of records?
I feel like I’m finally hitting my stride just now. We’ve had the opportunity to see so many bands, and it has influenced us. Just the amount of new music and showmanship we’ve been exposed to has been fascinating. We want to make a big presence, like those consummate Vegas entertainers, Tom Jones and Elvis.
Who has caught your eye recently?
Justin Townes Earle is a supreme showman. We had the pleasure of touring with him both in Australia and in the U.S. He has a mesmerizing show. We’ve also done some touring with a great all-female cowpunk band called Those Darlins. They put on a really rocky, trashy, no-holds-barred kind of show. They’re both inspirations and thankfully friends.
What led to the most recent recording process?
A lot of ‘60s and ‘70s progressive music was inspiring me. Part of the process of learning to play music for me included recording myself. I’ve learned as much through production as I have through playing. I’ve wanted to get more behind the helm in the recording, and I just recorded an EP of duets. I’m really excited about it. I got to produce the whole thing for the first time in ages and ages. I feel like a mad scientist putting it all together.
When I cook my sweet and sour meatballs — when I record — I feel like I’m putting in a little bit of this, a little bit of that and my hair becomes wilder and my glasses become at an obtuse angle. I start going absolutely crazy. I love it. It’s very fun.