I first came across the music of Honey Radar through the great magazine Dynamite Hemorrhage, who decribed the band as bedroom lo-fi pop savants. I've since gone on to discover the band's main man Jason Henn’s impressive and prodigious discography and fallen for his songs that bring to mind 60s jangle, psych, and, yes, a lot of Guided By Voices.
Now based in Philadelphia, Henn started producing and recording songs in his bedroom in Richmond, Indiana around 2005, and has built a staggering collection of home recorded limited edition records CD-Rs and handmade, lathe-cut seven-inch EPs. His latest album Blank Cartoon, is an LP that will be released May 20 on What’s Your Rupture? (Parquet Courts/Royal Headache).
Take a listen to album track "Fort Wayne Mermaids" and read a short interview with Jason below.
Noisey: “Fort Wayne Mermaids” is an interesting song. Is there much of a story behind it?
Jason Henn: I was binge-watching Ken Burns' Baseball documentary series again around the time the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed in Indiana , and I think the two things got jumbled in a dream I had. The episode of Baseball that features a lot on Hank Aaron mentioned that he had been on a Negro League team called the Indianapolis Clowns, which got me thinking of funny fictional sports team names. I made a list of about 100, and I decided to use "Ft. Wayne Mermaids" as a jumping off point for a song. In the dream, I-69 between Indianapolis and Ft. Wayne was flooded, and Hank Aaron and I swam to Indy to argue with Mike Pence. It was kind of a weird dream. During the vocal take, I got worried that the lyrics were too on the nose, so I moved some words around, and now it makes even less sense.
Are you getting tired of talking about Guided By Voices when your music is mentioned?
Haha. No, it's not a problem. I obviously admire Bob Pollard and understand the connection people make because of the short songs and recording fidelity. I grew up about a 40-minute drive from Dayton, and as a teenager playing shows with my friend Andy Stout, I found myself in the same room as Bob a few times and always felt like I was in the presence of a sage or magician. I never knew him personally, but I was one of a bunch of teenagers who hung out in the orbit of this house on North Main Street that was dubbed the Rock n' Roll Bed and Breakfast. Bands practiced there, touring bands crashed there. On a Sunday morning after a party it could look like a recycling center.
On the new album I can hear the Kinks too. Is that because of your singing voice? Have you always sung in that style?
That's interesting. I'm actually not a giant Kinks fan, I think mostly because that was a hole in my family's collection around the age I was getting into British Invasion bands. I really only know Arthur and the singles well. The Stones, too. I only started listening to them around the time I turned 30. My parents thought they were immoral and steered me more toward the Beatles. I always found that to be one of the weirdest parenting moves. They were scared of hair metal and Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison, so they're like, "Here, listen to anything you want by this guy on acid who thinks that he is The Walrus." So, I listened to "Revolution 9" nonstop, which ruined me more than almost anything else could have.
The accent developed unconsciously, but I think it was probably a defense against singing like a redneck. The earliest songs I recorded were basically sung in my speaking voice. It takes a while to discover, or I guess invent, the way you want to sound.
What was Richmond, Indiana like in the mid 90s?
It kind of sucked to be a teenager there, but I ultimately love Richmond. I think it was hit hard economically, the same as a lot of places in the area. In the early 90s, a giant Wal-Mart and some other stores off the Interstate sucked the business out of the center of town, and we lost manufacturing jobs, too. My family was not too bad off, but we were definitely in what you might call the Roseanne tax bracket.
What saved me mentally was growing up a couple blocks from the small college there called Earlham. My dad worked in housekeeping, which enabled us to afford for my sister and me to go there, and I always felt like sort of an art hick caught between the two identities. I think the Richmond music scene of that time would surprise you. The first Richmond punk band was the Malignant Pigs, and they formed in 1987, so only about 10 years late, which is quicker than a lot of stuff makes it to Central Indiana. The townie kid music was mostly punk and hardcore, and the college bands were a little artier.
Are you aware of the recent growth of the North West Indiana punk scene based around bands like Coneheads and Big Zit?
Yeah, in fact, when the Coneheads tapes first surfaced, some people wrote to me to ask if I had any connection, I think just because our page looked cryptic and mentioned Indiana and they were desperate to find any information. I don't know them personally, but I love all of those groups so much, and it's really heartwarming to me that people now associate Indiana with this great, strange music.
Why do you think you are so productive when it comes to recording and releasing records?
I keep an inspiring Carole King quote about writers block above my recording set-up, and I try to work on something every day, which I guess has built up over time, and all of these one-off 7"s and things are like the compound interest. It's been gradual, and I don't actually feel that productive, but I appreciate you saying so.
'Blank Cartoon' will be available May 20 via LP, CD and digital download through What’s Your Rupture?