Smile Politely

Bruised and broken, but still lovin’ it

Pygmalion goers should expect the unexpected from LA-based Henry Clay People. This year, the band released Twenty-Five For the Rest of Our Lives, an album that marks the return to a time before being in a band too closely resembled having a job. With no formal setlist and minimal compromising, it’s hard to predict what will happen during the quartet’s set. I talked to Joey Siara, the band’s singer/guitarist, about why 25 was an exciting year, getting injuries on stage, and his reason for not performing shirtless.

Smile Politely: You guys are on tour right now. How is that going?

Joey Siara: It is full of ups and downs. Some shows are better than others, depending on city, depending on night of the week, depending on level of intoxications. Several factors are involved.

SP: Has anything interesting or funny happened?

Siara: Not really, actually. The tour so far has taken a kick for staying in interesting places. We got to stay in this little loft above a record store in Chicago. It was pretty much, like, straight out of a scene in High Fidelity. There was a whole pinball arcade downstairs, so before going to bed I would go play pinball in this giant arcade by myself. A couple nights ago we stayed in this place in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was some artist’s warehouse; it was just covered in crap and dust and it was pretty gross. It was very big and the people who let us stay there were obviously very nice. We were grateful.

SP: Let’s talk about the record you released this year, Twenty-Five For the Rest of Our Lives. Can you tell me about the behind the scenes of it?

Siara: I wanted to write all of it in one chunk so the lyrics were pretty coherent. That’s why the record has a more consistent theme. Musically, we decided to get out of L.A. and we went up to Sacramento, and we got this big warehouse where we recorded, but we slept there also. So it was kind of cool to be able to go to a place and basically create our own hours. A normal work day, a nine to five, is definitely not our band’s strength. Between the hours of ten at night and three in the morning, somewhere in there is our sweet spot. It was the most fun we’ve ever had recording.

SP: What is the significance behind the title of the album?

Siara: When I was 25, that was pretty much the high point of the band. It’s like post-college, where nobody really expects you to be that responsible, but you’re old enough to not be in … wait, how old are you right now?

SP: Twenty.

Siara: So you’re in college right now probably, yeah?

SP: Yeah.

Siara: So once you graduate college and you have that, “oh shit, what are you going to do for the rest of your life?” question, nobody really expects you to actually have an answer to that ’til probably in your late twenties. But then, when you’re 22, you walk out and you graduate, you’re like “what do I do now?” So it’s this weird thing. But 25 is kind of the sweet spot for that feeling like, “Hey, I have this band I play shows with a lot. I’m having the time of my life doing it, this is a really cool magical moment where I don’t need to be responsible, I’m in a rock ‘n roll band and it’s keeping me busy.”

I loved the band, and after a while the things that I loved about being in the band kind of got away from me. The band was becoming a job as opposed to something I was doing just for a hobby. So the record is mostly about getting back to that. We are doing this for the right reasons and we are very aware of our time and place in this little indie rock blip, and kind of seizing that in that moment. I like it. I usually hate all our records the second we’re done recording it, but I like this one.

SP: You like this one? Why do you think that is?

Siara: I was aware of all the shortcomings of our other records and knowing that I held back or that I compromised on some level. Clearly, you compromise on anything that you ever do because there are few things that are pure and raw and pristine right out of your brain, but there’s definitely a lot of compromises that are inherently made. But on this record, compared to the others, there are less of those compromises, and I am trying to get to a point where I can do something with as little compromise as possible.

SP: Do you think that your less compromising mentality also translates into your live shows?

Siara: That’s a huge part of it. Somewhere between the ages of 25 and 29, the last shows became routine. The reason why people gave a shit about us back in 2008 or whenever they did, in L.A., pretty much not beyond L.A., was because they would come to our shows and they were unpredictable and we were just having fun and seeing four guys on stage have fun is contagious. The success of our band early on was kind of based on that — here’s four dudes who are obviously just doing this for fun but it’s cool to come and watch. Then as we started touring and all of a sudden playing thirty shows, opening up for bigger bands, you have to be like, now we have to make a setlist and we have to actually show up and play proficiently, and we’re on early. With that comes a level of professionalism that we were just not used to, but as an opening band I feel we kind of compromised by catering too much to the audience instead of just trying to please ourselves, which is why people liked us in the first place.

Lately it’s been like, I’ll close my eyes a lot of times, I don’t care who’s in the room, I want to have a good time. Be snarky or be an asshole or play really hard, keep it based upon whatever mood we are in that night. Something that’s not predictable.

SP: How much of the setlist now will come from the last record?

Siara: A lot of it is coming from the last record, most of it is. But we never write a setlist. Part of getting back to who we really are, we kind of wing it so it varies night to night on what we play.

SP: On your Instagram account I saw this picture of a forehead injury. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Siara: Yeah, that was definitely my forehead.

SP: What happened?

Siara: That was our last show in L.A. right before we left, and it was in the first song of the set. It was one of those things where I did the head bang down, while lifting the guitar up. The physics of those two things going together is a bad idea, because the tubing peg just impaled my forehead. It was actually bleeding that night too. I had my little streak of blood warpaint on my face. 

SP: Do you get hurt often while playing?

Siara: To tell you the truth, yeah. For the last three days, there’s been some nerve in my neck that’s been really bothering me. I’m a little worried about it. I’ve definitely gotten a few cuts. This is not the first time I’ve cut my head on stage. From the bruises on my shins, you would just think I look like a ninety-year-old man. I was actually at Riot Fest in Chicago last week, and seeing Iggy Pop who is in his sixties come on to the stage without his shirt on and just roll on the ground like he was a 17-year-old kid and put on a show, I kind of felt like I cannot complain. No band has any excuse for not going for it a 110 percent, when Iggy Pop can get out there and still be the best frontman. As long as he’s doing that I can’t complain about little bumps and bruises.

SP: So when you play Pygmalion, are you gonna take your shirt off and get bruised up?

Siara: I’m definitely not a “take my shirt off” kind of guy, I’m extremely pasty and white and I wouldn’t want to burden the world. But I will go for it and I’m not going to try to harm my body, but I will play my heart out.

SP: You and Andy are brothers. How is it being in a band with your brother? Is that good or bad for your relationship?

Siara: It’s a little bit of everything. Some days it’s challenging; we know each other very well and we know ways to get under each other’s skin better than anybody else. But at the same time he’s my brother; he’s there forever; he’s my best friend and there’s a chemistry in that. I’ve tried playing with other guitar players before and it’s hard for me because how do you have that kind of chemistry with anybody else?

SP: So was starting a band something that you both decided on together?

Siara: It never was a plan. It just kind of happened. He was in high school when I was in college, and he said that he got offered this showcase for bands in his high school and asked if me and Eric, who is the guy I play drums with, wanted to play. So we kind of put together a band and came up with a five-song set to play my brother’s high school talent show thingy. It turned out to be super fun and that was the genesis of the band.

SP: What would you say to someone who knows nothing about your band?

Siara: This is a hard question to answer without sounding like a douchebag. Somebody who’s interested in seeing a band that is playing music that is not super cool or popular, but it is bratty and fun and sad and serious and not serious, and may want to see four normal-ish looking dudes have fun and play instruments not very proficiently on stage, they can come see our band.

SP: What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

Siara: Actually, I know exactly what it was. I’m a huge Elliott Smith fan; he’s one of my favorites. I moved to L.A. after he had passed away, so I’ve met so many people that knew him and were actually very close to him, but I never got to meet him in person. Somebody that I knew that was very close with him — and I didn’t find out this person was very close to him until later — they told me they really wish that Elliott would’ve been alive when our band was playing a lot because they said that they felt for sure that Elliott would have loved our band and what we are about. That compliment has stuck and has meant a whole lot to me.

SP: If you could curate your own music festival who would headline?

Siara: This year has really been a magical year for music for me, ’cause I got to see a lot of bands I grew up listening to get back together and reunite. I have to say that I’m a huge Pulp fan and I would love to have Pulp headline. Also, I saw Refused this year for the first time. I saw them twice, and they were easily one of the best bands I’ve ever seen.

The Henry Clay People play at Mike ‘n’ Molly’s on Saturday with Anna Karenina/Anna Karina, Broken Light, Deathtram, Motes, and Jet W. Lee. They headline at 8:00 p.m.

Related Articles