Utah’s Desert Noises Take 27 Ways on the Road

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If frontman Kyle Henderson had his way, you’d listen to Desert Noises’ new album 27 Ways half-naked. It’s music meant to be heard on vinyl, he says.

“When I’m at home, I love putting on a record, making some coffee and sitting around in my underwear,” he explained. “That’s a good life.”

Playing tight, dusty desert jams and channeling West Coast influence — including Fleetwood Mac, Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds — the Provo, Utah, quartet has toured constantly for years, quietly building a large audience of loyal (and presumably fully-clothed) fans.

All those miles and all those shows paid off this month when Desert Noises emerged as one of the most-hyped young acts of the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin.

As the band drove through the mountains of North Carolina to a show in Roanoke, Va., Henderson talked to CMT Edge about enduring festival crowds, inspiring audiences to dance and recording on a pecan plantation.

CMT Edge: How many shows did you play at South by Southwest?

Henderson: I think we played around 15 sets altogether. About three or four a day. We had scheduled 12 or 13, and then we got down there and got two extra. It was exhausting but fun. We met a lot of new people and hung out with some old friends. Right before we went down there, I came down with some kind of strep throat that was going around. My wife had it, so I’m sure that’s how I got it.

How did you manage to play so much with strep?

I was able to sweat it out. Everybody was trying to push through and just do the shows. It was exhausting. … We were too busy to see any other bands, although we did see a group called Diane Coffee who were really good. We were so tired and wouldn’t want to go on, but once you got onstage and hit those first notes, it’s like, “Here we go!”

Was there one show in particular that stands out as particularly memorable or pivotal?

The last one on Saturday was really fun. I was not feeling very good, but tons of people showed up. I don’t know how that happened. We were playing for our booking agency showcase, which was a really good time. We had a good crowd. There was a lot of dancing going on, and we had some friends going around and making sure everybody was dancing and having a good time.

Is there a lot of dancing at a typical Desert Noises show?

It depends on the city. Some cities, they just don’t dance. And that’s fine. But it’s fun when people are grooving along and moving around to the music. That makes us feel better.

You worked these songs out for months on the road. What is that process like for you?

We write the songs at home or wherever, but we’re on the road for so long that we just take them out with us and keep playing them and playing them and developing them. Some of them change more than others, but they all changed and evolved into new things.

That’s the great part of learning on the road. You can sense things a little more in front of an audience. … I don’t know if people caught on to what was happening, but it’s a very helpful process for us. And we’re always writing and getting ready for the next song.

How did you capture that live sound in the studio?

By the time we recorded them, we had them down really solid, so when we went into the studio, we knew we could play them and really home in on them. It wasn’t like we were piecing parts together or anything like that. We had a clear idea of what every part needed to be and how they all fit together.

We were all in the same room playing. I sat in this chair that looked like a woman’s high heel shoe. I think we were in El Paso for about two weeks working on it.

Why El Paso?

There’s this place out there called Sonic Ranch. A lot of bands have recorded there — Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, Beach House, Black Angels. Band of Horses did an EP there. It’s a huge studio. It’s just outside of El Paso on this 1500-acre pecan plantation with five studios. The whole place is filled with Salvador Dalí lithographs. The owner is a great collector of gear and art. It’s the most amazing place to be and create.

There are a lot of familiar influences on 27 WaysTom Petty, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young — but the band really puts them across in a new way.

Right. I think all of us have different influences across the board, but we really just try to do what the song calls for. It’s all about the song. You have to put your ego aside and determine what the song is asking for, even if it’s not necessarily what you want. We want to be honest with the music.

You’re already back on tour, but did you at least get a break after such a hectic South by Southwest?

We needed a couple of days off. Luckily, we had planned to take a short break after all those shows. We curled up in blankets and slept for a few days straight.

Now we’re just getting back on the road. We got a lot of good press and stuff like that, and it’s really nice to get those compliments. It’s very gratifying. It gave us this feeling like this is going to be a great tour. It’s a nice way to start everything off and know that some people are excited about the album coming out. It makes a huge difference.

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