Don Rooke admits that the Henrys aren't the best role model for bands looking for fame and fortune.The Toronto quintet operate on their own time. Recordings, including their sublime new Joyous Porous disc, appear sporadically, there's a peculiar air of mystery about the group's hazy instrumental roots music, and the band has a work ethic that would impress the Teamsters.
In the Henrys' world, a live show like the CD release party Wednesday (December 4) at Hugh's Room is big news.
"I can't really remember the last time we played," Rooke laughs over drinks on College. "It's been at least a year, probably more like two years."
That's no way to build a career.
"We're not interested in hustling," Rooke concedes. "We'd like to play concerts in places where you can sit down, but I don't think we've paid our dues yet, and we don't have a manager, so it's kind of impossible. I think the momentum's starting to build, though. This could be the start of something new. We're actually playing a show!"
Fortunately, the Henrys' music is something that works best in a slower gear. Built around Rooke's languid slide guitar and featuring woozy instrumental accompaniment from bass, percussion, steel drums, theremins, thumb pianos and wheezing organs as well as the occasional vocal gurgle from Mary Margaret O'Hara, the Henrys' playing has an abstractness that simply can't be rushed.
Part of what's kept the group silent recently was the recording of Joyous Porous. The album was pieced together in basement studios and spare rooms over a year at the not exactly challenging recording schedule of one day a week.
Sparse but still warm, the music staggers along, often seeming on the verge of total collapse, the clanks and clunks of dusty pipe organs kept in for effect.
"This record was the most modern thing we've ever done," Rooke offers. "We started working with some newer technology. Michael White was playing these ancient synthesizers, with all these wires sticking out. It was, like, welcome to the 1960s!
"I think we were trying to fight the instruments. You can hear the pump organ working and hear the guitar scrapes. We were trying to capture the natural sound of the room, which is what you hear in real life, not this pristine, cleaned-up atmosphere."
Four records in, this is familiar territory. Because the band's sound is so rooted in Rooke's Weissenborn, kona and National Steel guitars, it's as though the Henrys have created their own unique language. Their music is immediately identifiable but also remarkably pliable.
Rooke mentions Bill Frisell, someone the Henrys get compared to regularly, as an example of a player with an elastic signature sound.
"Frisell can go from jazz to country to whatever and it always sounds like him," Rooke nods. "I think having your own instrumental language is a good thing.
"We've been trying to get to that place where we can freely mess around with what we do. I feel like there's enough room in our music to be able to move around like that and still sound like ourselves."firstname.lastname@example.org
THE HENRYS at Hugh's Room (2261 Dundas West), Wednesday (December 4). $8. 416-531-6604.