Tommy Henriksen – Interview

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Tommy Henriksen

the gang:
Joey Sykes-guitar
Nate Morton-drums
Vince Cole-keyboards
Chris Trujillo-percussion
Mark Meadows-bass

Tommy Henriksen has a unique vocal styling that hasn’t been heard since the Psychedelic Furs last graced us from behind the mic. It’s apparent that his record label, Capitol, wants to market him as a pretty boy, but his talent will be what eventually sets him apart.

From the minute I discovered his self-titled record, I loved the world music flavor. I found out that Tommy was doing radio shows and would be playing a small club upstate to get the synergy flowing with himself and the group, and I knew I’d never find a more opportune time to hook up with him.

From the first introduction, I couldn’t get past Tommy’s thick Long Island accent.

We set up in the so-called dressing room in the back of the club. Chris Trujillo joked that catering must have been there since there was a bag of tortilla chips on the table. I pressed record and here is what I caught on tape.

“So how did you guys get together?” I queried.

Tommy chimed in first. “Actually, I met Joey in college and I was out in LA and moved there about ten years ago and when I got the record deal I called him up and he called Vince. Then Nate came down from this guy Barry Squire (a record company headhunter who keeps a stable of local musicians in LA), and then Mark also, but they both played with other people. Mark was on tour with Meredith Brooks last year and he (Tommy motioned to Chris Trujillo) had been on tour with everyone under the sun. He played on Salty Balls (South Park Chef Aid album with Isaac Hayes).” (Everyone laughs hysterically)

Vince adds, kidding me, ” I hope you don’t think you are going to get a serious answer out of this crew.”

I wasn’t worried; I figured that the worse case scenario would at least allow me to trade a story for a half-hour of joking around with this great bunch of guys.

“So Tommy, you left LA to come back to Long Island?” I began questioning again.

Tommy replied, “I went back to Long Island in like ’93 because I didn’t like it in LA after living there for a while. One day you just wake up and go ‘I hate this place’ and you sell all your stuff and get out.”

The question and answer began.

Were any of these guys involved in the record?

Tommy Henriksen: I just met these guys about eight months ago, but I’ve known Joe for a long time. But it’s like I’ve known them for a long while. But I’ll let you know how things go six months from now. (Tommy laughs along with his crew)

You brought these guys in for the tour and you played all the instruments on the album, right?

Tommy: Yeah, it was just me. It was me and Keith Forsey and then we had a couple of guys come in. Joey played a couple of things here and there. Jay Mahobrack, he played with Seal. He’s like Seal’s musical director. He did all the cool sounding keyboard stuff. I did all the easy stuff. Anything that sounds cool, I didn’t do. (laughs) A lot of the guitar stuff, I did bass and sang everything pretty much because I didn’t have these guys back then. (pauses with a laugh) The next record I will have them, I hope, (pauses again) or maybe they’ll just quit and join another band. (everyone laughs)

Nate: (speaking of Tommy) He’s all ‘ahuh ahuh.’ (everyone laughs as Nate mocks Tommy)

Tommy: Yeah. And then you’ll interview me after the next record and ask, ‘So why did you play all the instruments again on this record?’ and I’ll be like, ‘They all quit.’

How did you guys get into music?

Mark: I’ve been doing it for a long, long time. Longer than I’m willing to admit.

Tommy interrupts, “Yeah. And he’s pissed because he’s in this room playing with us.” And once again the room erupts with laughter.

Nate: I played since I was about five and shortly after that it became obvious to me that it was basically all I could do. I didn’t have the mental whatever to do anything else. I tried throughout my years and I went to college as a mechanical engineering major, but it only takes like a couple mornings of eight a.m. calculus. So, I basically said it’d be more fun to just hit stuff. So here I am.

Chris: I started playing when I was five and that’s all I ever wanted to do.

Vince: I never actually played anything. [Tommy] just taught me all of the parts and that is all I do.

Joe: I can’t remember doing anything but guitar. My father bullied me to quit music for many years and now I have a feeling he accepts it now.

Nate breaks in to interrupt the group’s laughter.

Nate: Charlie, I just want to say publicly, for the record, I love all these guys. And I consider it a true blessing to be able to go out on stage and perform with these guys every night.

Does everyone else feel the same? (I asked with a bit of a laugh before the room begins to laugh along with me)

Mark: The funny thing is, yeah, we all do.

Tommy, so what instruments do you play or was playing all the instruments something you did just during the recording?

Tommy: No, I actually started to play guitar when I was fourteen. And I was playing at a party with my brother, who was a drummer, and there was this better guitar player on the block named Mike Wolf. So Wolf wanted to get up and play guitar and the bass player was out making out with some girl. So I played bass, Wolf played guitar, and he was better than me, so my brother said, ‘You are going home and you are playing bass.’ I went home and cried to my mother and I was like, ‘I don’t want to play bass.’ And my mother was like, ‘Do what your brother wants you to do.’ (The room explodes with laughter as Tommy mimics his mother’s voice) So, when it came to doing this project, I had nobody to play with, so I started to play guitar again. I always loved playing guitar though.

How did the songs on this album come about?

Tommy: I’ve been working on these songs for five years, just back and forth, sending out demos. Getting turned down by everyone at least twice or three times, and then persistence. Just keep on going. If they don’t like it, and as long as you love what you are doing, sooner than later someone is going to like what you are doing.

So were you in the studio recording stuff?

Tommy: I recorded all the stuff at home. We were working on a demo and it just turned into the record. We never went into a real studio until we mixed the record.

You were just sending tapes around or did you know someone?

Tommy: No, I sent the tapes around. Then it was luck. Someone at Capitol was like, ‘Great. We hear it.’ And then all of the sudden everyone that turned me down twice heard it. They were like, ‘Maybe we should listen to that again.’

How does your songwriting process work?

Tommy: Just sitting around with an acoustic guitar on the couch fooling around.

Like on some songs like “One Easy Street”

Tommy: That song was written in fifteen minutes, which is really funny because me and Keith were in his house and I was like, ‘I want to do something around this [guitar] lick.’ And it just wrote itself.

So where did you get your singing style? From your influences?

Tommy: Absolutely. Just from singing along with [Peter] Gabriel, Psychedelic Furs, and stuff like that. I just love that stuff when I’m home and I’m always singing along with it.

So those are some of your influences? Who are some of your (talking to the rest of the band) influences?

Nate: Mine, two influences would be the all time great drummer Philip ‘Fish’ Fisher from Fishbone and Animal from the Muppets. Animal is probably my primary influence. (everyone laughs)

Tommy: Chris, who was your influence?

Vince: Probably Desi Arnez. Sorry Chris. (laughs)

Chris: Santana. That’s the shit.

Tommy: As you can see, this band has totally wacky influences.

Joey: Beatles and U2. Beatles overall, and out of the last fifteen years it’d have to be U2. I don’t really like too many new bands. But I’m waiting.

Vince: I just listen to classical music. I know it sounds kinda weird.

Tommy: Mozart. That’s who his primary influence is.

Vince: I wouldn’t go there. He’s so commercial, man. No, really I do. That entails everything. Not just Eastern or Western, everything. So when I heard Tommy’s material, my ears perked up. It really impressed me.

So is being a musician all it’s cracked up to be?

Tommy: It’s really hard, but when you are a musician, this is what you love to do and you have everyone telling you, ‘What are you going to do if you don’t make it?’ and it’s not about making it. It’s about being happy.

Mark: When it’s good, it’s great. When it’s bad, it can suck.

Nate: There is nothing more rewarding that you could ever do.

Do you ever get a chance to enjoy any of the cities?

Tommy: Sometimes.

Nate: Yeah, sometimes.

Chris: I’ve been to Paris maybe eight or nine times and just this last time I saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time. We’re not like Joey and Tommy who are up at the crack of dawn.

Tommy: Hopefully we’ll see it next time. Well, we are number one in Singapore.

Vince: Where nobody can eat, but they all have cell phones.

I think a lot of fans are under the misconception that bands sleep all day and party all night, but I know from doing interviews for a long time that you guys don’t get that many chances and this is work.

Everyone: It is work.

Vince: When you are doing a standard tour, like when you are bussing from place to place, your time is very limited. You are doing this for twenty-four hours. You are on the bus getting to the venue, and when you are there it is this stuff like sound check to make sure everything is happening, eat, shower, and then you are on. Then you are off and back on the bus.

So what is the best thing about all of this?

Nate: The chicks.

Tommy: We always go out after we are done playing and always sign everything. We make sure everyone’s got their cd signed. That is always the most fun. Because when I was kid and at a concert and I saw David Lee Roth, I was like ‘Dave!’ He didn’t sign anything, but I still loved him. I think it’s great when you can put a smile on someone’s face.

So is the groupie scene as good as everyone thinks it is?

Tommy: No one has gotten laid on this tour. (everyone laughs hysterically)

Vince: (who has been video taping most of the interview) Now, let me shut the camera off and we’ll tell you the real story. (laughing)

Tommy: But Charlie, you can talk to this guy here. (pointing to Joey)

Joey: I’m living La Vida Loca. (the room erupts in the biggest burst of laughter yet)

Just as the laughter died down, their tour manager walked in and informed them that it was time for sound check. But Nate broke it down before they left. “I just think we are really, really fortunate to be able to do what we do. And it upsets me to no end to turn on MTV and see any number of guys, and I’m not going to name any names, the rock band guys go, ‘Yeah, man, it’s so hard. It’s a drag. We were doing Lollapalooza for three months and it’s ‘ And I’m sitting there going, ‘Do you know how many people would beat the crap out of you to be doing what you are doing?’ Wake up.”

+ charlie craine