Steve Hensby is a multi-faceted musician, in terms of both talent and experience. For his debut solo album, however, he had some simple objectives in mind.
“I wanted a very honest sounding recording,” he notes. “Most tracks of everything, whether it is rhythm section, guitar, accordion or vocal, is first or second take. Lyrically, I wanted to make a positive record that’s a bit daydreamy and musically I wanted to have everything thrown in… including the kitchen sink.”
The kitchen sink part might not be as simple as it sounds, but Hensby got it in there and then some, and rather tastefully at that. It’s why his first solo release is a double album, brimming with a variety of genres, moods, arrangements, covers and humour throughout. The first disc features his full band while the second disc is Hensby on his lonesome.
“This double album is really two albums in one,” Hensby explains. “The solo disc was recorded in a couple of hours in front of a microphone in (friend and collaborator) Matt Geary’s living room. Disc one was recorded in a few different sessions, some songs recorded live in studio and others recorded piece by piece. Rather than put out an album of solo acoustic songs it’s more tagged onto the back of the full band album. Committing to the double album was easy because of the amount of material I had and I really enjoyed playing the songs; I write a lot of material but I’m not always blessed with having so many songs that I also enjoy playing.”
The Berklee College Of Music-trained Hensby spent the better part of the last decade fronting the Perth band, Tracksuit. From recording with that band he was well across what he did and didn’t want.
“I wanted to make a completely different record than Tracksuit albums. Tracksuit was more four-piece rock band that focused on tight songs but with the solo album I wanted it to sound like a circus. I always recorded quickly as I think it gets the best sounding performance on tape, if you take too long with one vocal on a song I think it starts sounding tiresome very quickly.
“Elliot Smith at Villanova got some very nice acoustic guitar sounds, and Josh Dyson helped get some great ideas across such as the drunken Bosnian choir in Ballad of a Skinny Man and writing and recording a great piano part for Monsieur Ou Madame. Working with these chaps was a very lovely experience.”
There is a touch of the Tracksuit days included, however. The aforementioned Monsieur OuMonsieur has received a unique revisit.
“It’s on the Tracksuit full album but it was recorded without a rhythm section,” Hensby says. “With this record the song deserved to have a home as it is a staple sound of what is going on in disc one. It’s a fun song to sing and having the full band play on it gave it new life and energy. The song is about going out dancing for an evening and not knowing whether you are dancing with a man or woman, but you take them home because you don’t want to be rude.”
When asked if there are particular tracks on the album that encompass where he is as an artist and musician at this time, Hensby is please to reveal that the whole album accomplishes that.
“I think it’s the best thing, musically, I’ve done by a country mile. It explored different avenues that I definitely want to do more of in the future. The only song that I thought about not including on the album was Merry-go-round but that was before Nikki Dagostino recorded her accordion part and gave it a massive dose of new life. Wake Up In Bordeaux is one of my most favourite songs I’ve written. I feel that sometimes my writing can be a bit gimmicky,whether it’s an attempted vocal gymnastic part or a widdly guitar solo, Bordeaux is just a half-decent song,” he says, with some modesty.
Adding to the circus of it all is Hensby’s version of The Tymes’ So Much In Love, a hit 1963 song co-written and originally sung by his late uncle, George Williams.
“That was a lovely experience,” he recalls. “I had the pleasure of recording on some tracks with him when I was 16 and then 18. He was a very nice chap and was still recording songs right until he passed away about 10 years ago. I hope we did it justice! I sang lead and played snare drum, Josh played bass and my partner Elysia sang all the backing harmonies. She was the doo-wop choir.”
Hensby is keen for this double-album to open new doors in terms of airplay and touring opportunities. As a prolific songwriter though, the songs and ideas keep flourishing.
“I’ve been writing a lot of Brazilian songs and some more acoustic rambling,” he notes. I have an idea to collaborate with (Fremantle brass and recycled percussion band) Junkadelic on an album and include a lot of horns. We’ll see what happens! I have almost another album’s worth of songs so later on in the year I should be recording the next one.”