Born on the day of the dangerous quest at 3:33am, Henry Roland arrived to planet Earth somewhere outside of San Antonio, Texas. He played his first show on 6th street in Austin at age sixteen and has been playing music professionally ever since. His first band was called the Gingerbread Men. Based in Austin, the 7-13 piece band toured the country for a few years before ultimately splitting up.
Henry had studied music at UT, but it was where he moved to New York to study jazz that he says he got a lot of quality musical training. In New York he worked a nine to five grind while DJ-ing at night, running an open mic night and playing shows. Although he was there for the jazz, his band Starchild was more of a rock band. “We dove into the blues, and rock, more of that style,” Henry told me over the phone about the trio band.
In addition to his own contribution to the New York music scene, Henry enjoyed hearing some up and coming bands while he was there. “The Strokes were coming up to New York and we would play shows with them in little clubs - and no one would be there,” he said. “I remember seeing Lady Gaga at a small club with nobody there. It was a great time in New York, but very difficult to make ends meet with rent going higher.” So Henry came back to Texas.
The bass player from Starchild came to Austin eventually and the guys found a drummer. They continued to play shows together and still had five or six gigs booked in the calendar when they decided to break up. “So I tried my hand at the one man band,” Henry said.
He’s been back in Austin for about six years now playing solo acts under the name Henry and the Invisibles. He plays everything from a water jug to acoustic guitar, bass guitar and keys. He’s got a cocktail kit (stand up drum kit) and of course, he sings. “Over the years it’s a fine tuned spaceship that is all dialed in with the multiple instruments. So that’s how Henry and the Invisibles were born,” he said. “Out of desperation and exploration – and I ‘ve been the happiest I’ve ever been.
“For this acoustic show on Sunday,” he shared, “Some of these songs I haven’t played in well over a decade. I’m a little rusty but I’ve been practicing. It’s cool to tap back into these lyrics. Playing them the original way I wrote them has brought a warm feeling to my heart to know that these songs are still around in my head.
“I was always a songwriter,” he shared. “I used to write predominantly on acoustic guitar. I started writing in piano the last nine years or so, but acoustic was my primary instrument. So this is really cool for me to do this show in acoustic because I’m really tapping into an instrument that I’m revisiting.
He has a few tips for songwriters starting out:
“If you’re’ strating out, a lot of people really try to sound like other people – we have shows like The Voice and American Idol, there’s lots of karaoke, and people are singing similarly. I don’t want that to sound negative – I just think it’s really important to tap into your individuality. If it’s quirky, it’s going to be cool. What’s missing in the world is you. You could be a voice that’s really missing because you’re not trying to sound like anyone else – you’re just doing you.
“You could put a guitar in a room with 60 other guitar players. If you ask them to play a certain song, everyone would do something different on the guitar. With every aspect of musicianship – you should strive for that personal voice. That’s what separates you from the crowd.
“If you’re serious as a songwriter, you have to do it pretty much every day. You have to do it all day every day. Jobs get in the way. Schoolwork gets in the way. But it has to be something that you keep nurturing - watering like a plant in order for you to get better. If you want to get better at an instrument, you have to practice: there is no other way.
“For the young songwriters out there - dare to be gritty, get your hands dirty, and live life so you actually have something to sing about. No one wants to hear a song about your car or money – we don’t need any more superficial lyrics. Get into life and write about it.
“New York is a heavy place. For most of us who are starving artists and striving to break the scene, we go through a lot of hardships and struggle. But through that struggle it really makes you a better person and definitely a better artist because you are writing completely from the heart. I would honestly suggest everyone take a dive into something like that.”
I asked Henry if there were any special songs he would be playing on Sunday. He told me about this one called Timber. “It was a very heavy piece when I wrote it,” he said. “I was practicing in the lower East side of Manhattan. I was sitting in the park and this giant tree fell not too far from me. People were scurrying to get away from it. I was imagining the death of this tree – the end of it’s life – with some saplings coming up next to it. There was this whole beginning/end life/death contrast going on.” Here’s a taste of some of the lyrics to Timber, which he plays on open tuning:
I’m so in love with life
More than ever now
Isn’t is so funny how it always works out
We never know just when
Endings turn to beginnings
And beginnings to ends
To speak to Henry’s words of wisdom about not being afraid to jump in and live a little - has another song called “Keep on Keeping On.’ It covers a time he was mugged by four guys in New York and hit by a car on a bicycle. “It’s about keep getting up,” he said.
What’s his favorite place to eat in Austin? “Chuy’s,” he says with a big cackle laugh. “It’s crazy because living in San Antonio, I love authentic Mexican food. But I’m really in love with those chicka chicka boom booms at Chuy’s.”