14

Henry Hey: Learning From The Stranger Things

Mike Jacobs By

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I find the [piano] trio incredibly daunting because I feel a great responsibility making an acoustic record. That ground has been farmed over and over again by the greatest trios that have ever existed so you had better bring it if you are going to do one. —Henry Hey
Keyboardist Henry Hey's resume is an interesting read. In addition to a wide range of gigs and stints with some top name players in and around jazz, there's work in theater, TV and soundtracks. There's producing records as well as working in sessions with legendary producers. There's being a musical director for some of the biggest names in the pop and rock world. There's also a thing or two you probably couldn't have dreamed up but as Hey says, it was all very "educational." Add to this a solo album and genre-busting work with his own co-led bands Rudder and Forq and you might understand how Henry Hey is seen by many in-the-know as one of the most original and versatile talents in music today. All About Jazz spoke with him just before Thanksgiving 2019.

All About Jazz: So what are you up to?

Henry Hey: Just working on odds and ends around the house. Nice to be in New York for a minute and not be on a plane or running around.

AAJ: Does it slow down for you around the holidays or is it changeable?

HH: It varies all of the time. With the exception of touring, I don't really play gigs in New York that are affected by seasons so much. It happens to be busy now. Looks like January's going to be sort of busy. I don't know what February's going to be like. Maybe I'll be living on the street then...(laughs). That's kind of how it goes as a freelance musician. You look three months ahead and say, "Oh my God..." I have something five months ahead but three months ahead is a wasteland...

AAJ: Well you have a lot of experience in a lot of different areas, so at least there's that, right?

HH: Yeah. The truth is that I'm very lucky to enjoy doing a lot of different things and I'm lucky that people ask me to do a lot of different things. I have some freedom of choice so I'm the most fortunate guy there is.

AAJ: Well thanks for taking the time to talk. In preparing for this interview, I ran across some interesting chestnuts that you had posted quite a while ago on Youtube. There are few videos of people talking where you derived melodies from the note values of their speech and orchestrated it. That's a fascinating and relatively rare ability. Have you always been able to hear the melody in speech?

HH: I certainly didn't invent that. I had heard that on a Hermeto Pascoal record and I thought it was fascinating, the tone of speech. No, I didn't really have to work hard to hear those pitches. I started playing music by ear and with Suzuki Method. I also have perfect pitch so I hear there are notes and lines there.

AAJ: Well that's a good segue into your early years and formative influences. Where did you get the music bug and how did you get started?

HH: Well, my parents started me on classical piano when I was around five. I guess nobody really calls it classical piano at age five because you're basically just trying to find the notes but... as I said, I started with the Suzuki Method which is a lot of ear work. It's quite an aural method of learning along with written music but back then I was sort of cheating and listening to things and memorizing them. It made my ear really strong and my sight reading weak -I work on that a lot.

Then I got exposed to other music because my father's side of the family is quite musical -my uncle Jerry Hey being the most famous musician in the family. But my father was quite a good musician, playing low brass. He minored in music in college so I grew up in a house with music. I learned the basics of jazz and blues from my father. I started playing trumpet in sixth grade going all the way through high school in addition to piano. Eventually, when I got into college I let trumpet go because the instrument is slavery. You have to practice all the time. It's a beautiful and horrible instrument and I have the greatest respect for trumpet players because of the amount of work that it takes.

AAJ: Was there a moment for you where you knew that music was something you wanted to do as a vocation or did you always know?

HH: I didn't always know. In fact there was a time when I thought I wanted to be a pilot. In fact I'm still fascinated by aviation. I've been playing music so long that it's always been a part of my life. I will say though, there were moments in my musical upbringing where I was discovering new facets of music and they were quite a change for me.

I had been playing classical piano and I almost quit because I was bored with it. Then I started discovering jazz through trumpet, and then on piano. That was a whole new world for me, to play jazz and improvise on the piano. Then I started playing with other musicians and it was so much fun.

I grew up in Iowa and one of my peers was Ryan Kisor, the trumpet player. So Ryan and I had this little quintet and we would play this dumpy little bar in Sioux City. It was great and a huge formative time for me just soaking up, what was for me, a new language and new music. I went to [Jamey] Aebersold's camp and learned a lot from that. Then I went to [the University of] North Texas and I was opened up to all these peers who were playing music. I think that learning from my peers was the greatest experience for me. I know a lot of people who in their formative years had mentors but there weren't really any jazz mentors per se in my hometown—there wasn't enough of a jazz community there. There were a lot of classical musicians who were fantastic and were mentors, but my peers were really my mentors [in jazz].

When I went to Texas, there were a lot of musicians I listened to and played with and revered. It was very eye-opening just realizing the the world of music was ever-expanding and I became aware that there were really no limits on what music could be. I mean I had absorbed a lot of music on the radio and listened to rock and pop and new wave -I'm a kid of the 80's. I also listened to TV shows a lot.

AAJ: Well listening to you play in your current band FORQ, your penchant for quirky sounds—some very reminiscent of TV and cartoon themes— certainly comes through.

HH: Absolutely. That's not a coincidence.

AAJ: It's almost a signature.

HH: Well, yeah sure. I think that's fair and I'll own that. We all grew up with popular culture as a part of our soundtrack. I'm certainly someone of the television generation. MTV came into its own in my youth. Video games came into their own in my youth. That's all very much a part of this new record [Four]. I was definitely the kid who spent time in the arcade. In fact I have a vivid memory of going to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theater and then going to the arcade next door. It was exactly like the show "Stranger Things" (laughs) except it was my youth.

AAJ: Getting back to your time at UNT, who was in your peer group?

HH: I went to school with people like Ari Hoenig, Keith Carlock, Brian Delaney, saxophonist Ben Kono, Art Hays. Shelley Carrol was around the scene and Brad Leali... a great trumpet player named Brad Turner, Jim White the drummer... Jon Button who plays with the Who now... Keith Carlock and I played a lot around Dallas in a cover & funk band called Dallas Brass and Electric. We also had our own stupid little fusion band that would play in the dorm. It was an environment that was quite rich with good musicians—especially drummers. I learned something important at that school about peers. That these relationships you make early on can last the rest of your life -for better or for worse -so you want to make them well.

AAJ: So after North Texas, what was you next step?

HH: Well, I went on a cruise ship for four months to save up some money and then I moved to New York.

AAJ: More than a few musicians have done that very thing.

HH: [Bassist] Tim Lefebvre did that too. Tim was on a cruise ship for a long time and basically wasn't going to move but [drummer] Zach Danziger came on the boat and basically told him, "You've gotta move to New York, you don't belong here on this cruise ship." (laughs)

But yeah, I had my sights set on New York. I thought about L.A. and of course my uncle being out there could have opened many doors for me. He made that overture but I wasn't feeling it. At the time L.A. was a place that didn't have that much live music happening. New York had a lot but L.A was holding onto the remnants of its recording scene. I saw there was a lot of work out there but I wasn't really moved by it.

AAJ: Coming out of the UNT program, would you have called yourself a jazz guy at that point?

HH: Not exclusively but yeah, I was a jazz guy and I wanted to play creative music. I wanted to play with live musicians in live settings and make it different every time. I didn't want to do what I saw people doing in L.A., which was basically sitting in a studio doing keyboard overdubs or playing for commercials or something. That just seemed incredibly stagnant and boring, even if it was well paid.

AAJ: So you chose New York. Did a lot of your peer group follow?

HH: When I moved to New York there were very few of my peers here. Brian Delaney and I toughed it out and made a go of it. Fortunately, I did make some connections with some people that I didn't know personally through some other North Texas peers. Bob Belden, rest in peace, recommended me to a company that was creating Japanese karaoke. (laughs) It sounds insane but...

AAJ: Especially in light of what you were just saying about the work in L.A....

HH: Yeah, I know but this was just a first job. Where most people move to New York and get a day job as a dishwasher or something, this was my day job. Bob Belden had asked me, "Can you program, can you sequence?" and I said, "Sure." So he set up the introduction and I met a Japanese guy who had an order from Japan to make massive amounts of MIDI karaoke. It was a new thing at the time and frankly terrible but they had a huge order... thousands of tunes. And it was all Japanese tunes at the time.

So Brian Delaney and I got the job together. I remember it was our third day in New York and we went to the Ed Sullivan Theater building where the office was and we had an interview with this guy and we showed him our stuff. We played him our demo on a DAT [tape] and we basically told him we could do anything. We couldn't really do anything that he asked, but we told him we could. So he said, "Ok, take this song home and program it." From there, we went to the music store and bought the software he was working with and read the manuals on the subway.

Sometimes these experiences, if they are really weird and really challenging, can be very educational. Transcribing karaoke and turning it into sequences taught me a ton about production. You had to spend all this time listening inside of parts, to the specifics of guitar, bass and keyboard parts to see how things fit. We transcribed song after song after song. And because it was for Japan, everything had to be exactly right. That includes metal songs with crazy guitar solos and bending. We had to recreate all that with synthesizers. So I learned a whole bunch from that gig and I paid my bills for over a year from that work.

AAJ: Did that job take up most of your time?

HH: No, the crazy thing is, because they had all these people already working there and because we were the new young guys, we said, "We'll work any time you want." They had these little work stations in cubicles set up in their offices. My friend called it "the karaoke sweatshop." So Brian and I would go hang out and hear music at night till one in the morning. Then we'd go to the Ed Sullivan Theater building and work the rest of the night. I mean, we were in our mid-twenties, paying the bills and doing New York. Sleeping in the morning, getting up in the afternoon and playing music with people, then doing it all over again.

This was about '94, and New York in '94 was definitely rougher. Back then, well... If you look down Broadway now, it looks like Disney—like daytime at night— everything is fantastic and sparkly and polished. I'll never forget, when we came out at 53rd st on our third day and looked down Broadway, the marquee on a nearby theater said: "Tight Anal Rampage..." (laughs)

AAJ: So what was your first playing gig in New York?

HH: The first steady gig I got was with Blood Sweat and Tears. The only remnant of the original band was David Clayton Thomas and (pause)... let's just say he was a challenging individual. I worked with them for about four months and got fired—because everybody got fired from that gig. I played a gig or two with Chuck Loeb, a really great guy who's unfortunately no longer with us. Then Chuck recommended me to Bill Evans, the saxophonist and we toured Brazil, Europe and Japan. I played with Bill for several years and had the opportunity to play with some great players like Rocky Bryant, Lionel Cordew, Nicky Moroch, Dean Brown, Victor Bailey -it was a great experience.

AAJ: There are some other interesting things on your sideman resume. You played with Bill Bruford's Earthworks Underground Orchestra.

HH: Yes, a few different things that led up to that. I had been playing a weekly gig with Joe Locke, the vibraphonist, at a now defunct coffeehouse in Soho called Kavahaz. They served relatively terrible coffee and food that was not great, but they had a stage and Joe had developed a weekly thing there. Mike Pope was the regular bassist on that gig. So I ended up playing with Joe a lot and then, through co-producing a couple of Joe's records, I was introduced to [drummer] Jeff "Tain" Watts.

I played on Jeff's Bar Talk (Columbia, 2002) record and I started touring with his quartet, which was exhilarating and terrifying. Exhilarating because he's an incredible musician, but terrifying—because he's an incredible musician (laughs). He generates so much energy and the music can be so complex but he's also so giving. If you're lost —and if you're familiar with Jeff's music, you can understand how you might get lost—he'll throw you a lifeline. He doesn't leave people out to dry. He's so welcoming and inclusive with his bandleading also. The happiest feeling for me on that gig was to know that he was happy and didn't feel like he had to throw me a lifeline. If we were playing some very complicated vamp and he could be free soloing over it, then I knew I was doing the right thing. He's a wonderful musician and a wonderful person.

So anyway, I had been working with Joe Locke and we went to Europe and I met Tim Garland, who had been working with Bill Bruford. Tim asked me to play piano in his big band for some concerts in New York and then after that he asked me to play piano in the touring Bruford [Earthworks] project, which came to the U.S.

AAJ: Why didn't they use their regular Earthworks line up on the U.S. tour?

HH: Simple answer... money. Visas and flights. So Bill brought Tim who was essentially musical director and there was me and Mike Pope and we did quartet gigs.

AAJ: And out of that came the Earthworks Underground Orchestra record?

HH: That was a big band and all of the added musicians [to the quartet] were New York musicians. They were all people Tim knew from his collaborations with Chick Corea and elsewhere.

AAJ: So how long did you do the sideman thing?

HH: A good while, but in the '90s, I had also started a band with Tim Lefebvre, Chris Cheek and Adrian Harpham. We gigged around the Bleecker Street scene—which kind of no longer exists. There used to be a kind of blues scene around Bleecker Street and a bunch of great musicians came out of that, including Joan Osborne and some musicians who are associated with big acts. But anyway, we had this band that gigged around that scene for a while, and then we stopped for a few years. But when Keith Carlock came to town, we started it up again with him on drums and that band later became Rudder.

AAJ: So the seeds for Rudder were planted in the 90's. Sound-wise and style-wise, there's almost a direct line that can be drawn from Rudder to your current band FORQ -modern grooves, synths, electric, etc. Yet your 2003 debut as a leader, Watershed (Nineteen Eight, 2003) is a classic piano trio record. Would you say that album was a detour for you or do they both just represent different facets of your musical persona?

HH: I think they are both me and I still might make another trio record. I find the trio incredibly daunting because I feel a great responsibility making an acoustic trio record. That ground has been farmed over and over again by the greatest trios that have ever existed so you had better bring it if you are going to do one. To me, the concept is the most important part so I labored and suffered trying to compose for that trio. If I do another trio record, I'm sure the process will be the same. I didn't continue with that [piano trio] at that time because I felt it would have been nearly impossible to take on the road. And I felt that a record without a live presence behind it would not get that much attention. That's not to say that I don't identify with that style of music or composition but with Rudder there were more players involved. I felt like I could write better for that and be a little freer about concept and collaborate more. My trio record was just me writing and Rudder was all of us leading and writing.

AAJ: So right about the time of your solo debut and Rudder beginning to happen, you got the musical director gig with Rod Stewart when he was doing the Great American Songbook (Sony Music, 2002), right?

HH: That's right. I had been playing a bunch of jazz gigs in New York. Then almost on a fluke, I get this message on my phone from this [music] contractor I had been working with. She said, (imitating nonchalantly) "Oh, I was just wondering if you could do these television dates with Rod Stewart, but you have to do them all." And then she rattled off all these dates and I'm thinking, "Do you have the right number?" (laughs). It turned out to be good. We went off and did this promo and a video performance. The video performance was sort of un-steered and Rod was leaning on me heavily to lead him through these loose piano intros. I was kind of nodding because no one was really directing him and that generated some trust. Then he asked me to be musical director for the Great American Songbook project.

AAJ: Did that open a lot of doors for you?

HH: It did as far as putting my name on the map but that kind of gig doesn't really generate other gigs the way people might think it does. It's not like all of a sudden I was getting calls from all of the pop stars to play.

AAJ: But later you did get the call to be musical director for George Michael.

HH: The gig with George Michael came through Phil Ramone. I had been working with Phil Ramone peripherally on a recording or two. I wasn't really a known quantity to him but once I started doing more of Rod's stuff, then I was. He produced some of the tracks on the Great American Songbook That's when I formed a relationship with Phil. I started doing demos with him and he would come to my apartment and work. So we were working on an Australian film and he asked me if I wanted to be involved in this George Michael project. Then Phil put me forward to be the musical director and George was fine with it.

AAJ: While we're on the subject of working with big names, talk about your time working with David Bowie. How did that come about?

HH: That came out of working with [Bowie producer] Tony Visconti on a Lucy Woodward record. I had been been playing with Lucy for years. She brought me in [to the session] as part of her band and I hit it off with Tony. He and I then worked on another record and then later he reached out to me one spring and said, "There's something happening in April. Are you around?" and I said yes. He said "Just hold these dates. You won't want to miss this." That turned out to be David Bowie's record The Next Day. My first session for Bowie was playing piano on the song "Where Are We Now."

AAJ: Bowie kept those last few projects of his tightly under wraps. What was that like?

HH: The Next Day was actually the biggest secret but it was done to maximize the impact of the release and not have people asking about it all of the time. It didn't have anything to do with his health because he was in perfect health at the time. We had to keep that record secret for a year and a half.

AAJ: Were you successful at keeping it a secret?

HH: Yeah. The Next Day was a big shock when it came out and was pretty successful. But after that first session, I hit it off with David and he asked me to come back and do more keyboard stuff. I did a total of about four sessions and we started developing a rapport. Then his business manager called me and said, "Can you come by the office? I want to talk to you about something." I went in and that's when he told me about the theater piece [Lazarus]. He said, "David's working on a theater piece and he thinks you are the only one to do the arrangements and orchestrations." Of course before finishing the sentence, my answer was "Yes." I wanted to be involved in anything he was doing.

AAJ: Was it a big learning curve for you, doing a musical?

HH: There was some learning involved because I didn't have much, if any, theater experience specifically but I feel lucky that I did have experience in some related avenues of work. I had done a lot of scoring for pictures and events. I had also done a good bit of arranging and orchestration work. And also musical directing, which is basically coordinating people to achieve a certain sound. I had done that for both jazz and pop musicians. So I felt like I could draw on a lot of these experiences to handle it.

AAJ: There was a mixed reaction from the critics about Lazarus. Did you find the audience reaction any different?

HH: It's such a strange and artsy piece. When it premiered in New York people didn't know what to think of it at times. It's very artistic and I think that's exactly how David wanted it to be. When it played in New York, it played at the New York Theater Workshop and there were some subscription theater-goers that normally would never have gone to see a play like Lazarus. We had an after-show talk every two weeks for subscription-goers. It was an open panel and people could ask questions. I remember an elderly gentleman saying, "I don't understand, it made me angry. I don't get it." And I said, "Frankly, I've been working on this for a year and there are parts that I don't completely understand but I think that's OK." There should be some questions. It's kind of like the gift that keeps on giving. I think what's great about David Bowie's work, and a lot of great art, is that it can have multiple meanings for things and unanswered questions. You know, stuff that makes you think rather than have it be really straightforward. You can look at the lyrics and say, "What exactly does that lyric mean? It could mean this, it could mean that." I think that's very parallel to the way that Bowie and the playwright Enda Walsh wanted that work to be. So yeah, I think the play had some people upset because they didn't understand it. There were also some Bowie fans who said, "This isn't Bowie!" In fact, that is exactly what he wanted. He wanted the music to serve the play, not the other way around.

AAJ: Is that tough, when something is "your baby" too, to field that kind of reaction?

HH: Yeah but I think that's just how it goes with art, if you work really hard on something and put your stamp on it and you commit. I mean unless you're objective is to create the most popular piece of music for the mass market, you are going to find that people are divided. And if they are strongly divided, then maybe you've created something that, at least, is committed -that takes a stance. I think that's a much stronger way to be than being neither here nor there.

AAJ: So back to our timeline. When did you decide to start doing Rudder full time?

HH: After playing with Rod for a while and I got the sense (pause)... I think it's important to have a sense of where your employer's head is at and I got the very real sense that Rod was getting tired of doing the standards. He always gave himself to them but he started to include less of them [in the set] and at soundcheck he was less enthusiastic about them. I could see the writing on the wall. The entire time I was playing with Rod, he also had Chuck Kentis who had been Rod's long-time musical director before I started and was still the MD of the rock side of the show. I did play on both [standard and rock] sides of the show but would play piano and only a couple of parts [on the rock side]. Chuck would play all of the other parts and organ, he just played pretty much everything. Then we finished up the tour and Rod was starting to promote his new record Soulbook (Sony Legacy, 2009). The tour for that wasn't till the Spring and then I get this call. It's Chuck and he says "Hey man..." and I could tell right away. He said, "Yeah, Rod's gonna make a change" and basically he eliminated my chair. They hired somebody on who was utility -who played keyboards and guitar. So I thought, "Well, this is it, it's time for me."

I don't think you should stay on a gig like that for very long anyway. It's great if that's what you want but for me it wasn't where I ultimately wanted to be. So as soon as that happened, I decided to go full steam ahead with Rudder.

So we had been playing a bit and I called Tim [Lefebvre] and said' "Let's make this record and let's get out there on the road and do this thing." So we did. We basically fast-tracked all that stuff and went after it.

AAJ: Rudder was certainly a band that sounded like nothing else that was out at the time.

HH: Well, thank you.

AAJ: Also though, it was one of a number of groups that represented the resurgence of the band in jazz. In the '90's, jazz seemed to be pretty devoid of actual bands. You saw a lot of great players surrounded by a nebula of other great players and everyone one would play on each other's solo albums. It was great for what it was but in the 2000's there were actual bands coming up in jazz again—like Nik Bärtsch's Ronin, Kneebody, Snarky Puppy and Rudder. They really reminded what groups that played together and stayed together could accomplish that collections of individual musicians, even great ones, couldn't.

HH: Well yeah, no question, a band is capable of reaching much deeper than a collection of hired guns, even if the hired guns have played together a bunch. And you're absolutely right, there was a time in the '90s when you could get out your checkbook and hire famous sidemen and it would make a difference in your profile and your sales. Obviously sales started going away, so that didn't matter anymore, and you're weren't going to take those people on the road, so it's probably a natural evolution that brought that to a close. People still hire famous sidemen but it's not nearly like what it was. I think it makes for a better live band to have musicians who are regulars. I know I enjoy playing music much more with musicians that I have a long communion with. It's great to have that relationship where you're practically reading each other's minds.

AAJ: And I imagine the material you can write when you have a bonafide band can be much more integrated. I mean, I'm sure a lot of the '90s thing was logistically driven -people didn't get paid to rehearse so it was more practical to just hand out the charts, especially to a great player. But knowing each other and hanging together, you can write more complicated arrangements and people will actually know the music well enough to really make it breathe.

HH: Even more than that, you can write that kind of stuff and get people to get deep into the concept of it—the feeling, the sound of it. The way that one rock band sounds different playing the blues from another rock band—because of the concept. They've honed that thing, you know? You can get to that place much more deeply with a band of colleagues that plays together all the time.

AAJ: So Rudder was your band of colleagues?

HH: It absolutely was. We felt it was something that if we took away one part, it wouldn't be the same. We did have one tour where [drummer] Jeremy Stacey played with us for some dates and Jeremy's awesome. He's a great musician, he's hilarious and one of the great rock drummers with a jazz background. He was great with us but the band sounded different than it did with Keith.

AAJ: It's hard to imagine that band without Carlock.

HH: The music was written with Keith in mind so... That sound of the band was created with the four of us, together. You take one of us away, it changes that sound.

AAJ: So what ultimately happened with Rudder?

HH: Well even while we were doing Rudder we were all still doing other things. At the time, Keith was playing with Sting, John Mayer and Steely Dan. Tim was playing with Uri Caine and a bunch of other folks. I was in between gigs and I grabbed the gig with George Michael. Eventually it got to the point where it was just too hard to keep Rudder going. Keith was starting a family, Tim had just gotten the gig with Tedeschi Trucks Band and Chris [Cheek] was increasingly busy with jazz projects, especially in Spain. Again, if a band isn't active, it doesn't exist. You're only around as much as the fading memory of your last gig. Especially now in the age of look-here, look-there social media.

So ultimately, we called it. I guess if anybody called it, I called it because I feel like I was the one who pushed it forward. It was possible and then it seemed like it was just less and less possible.

At the time, when Rudder was kind of on its last legs, I had already known Michael League. Rudder had played double-headers with Snarky [Puppy], when they were still just a Texas band. Mike and I had become friends and I think I had convinced Mike to move to New York by then. So I said [to Mike], "Let's start a project." This was before Snarky had any Grammys or anything. At the time Mike was saying, " Man, it would be great to have a small band" and "It's really challenging keeping all these musicians in line..." And I said, " Yeah, I'm tired of working in a band where nobody's available" etcetera, etcetera, so we started FORQ together.

We started as just a project. He said he had a great drummer in Dallas, Jason “JT” Thomas, and I asked [guitarist] Adam Rogers, who I played with in Bill Evans band. That was the first iteration of FORQ and we just played some gigs at the 55 Bar. Then we did a few more and said, "Let's make a record of this" and we were off and running.

AAJ: Has Jason JT Thomas always been on drums?

HH: Yes, he's always been on drums. Jason is a rare musician. I always count my blessings with drummers because I've gotten to play with so many great ones. I love drums and percussion and almost became a drummer but my parents said no because they were too loud. (laughs) Yeah, but Jason is so much more than just a drummer, he's a complete musician. I've seen him play in many situations and his musicality is second to none. You know you have a great musician when they have the ability to play anything they want, but choose not to because it's not appropriate.

AAJ:You've also found a very interesting foil in Chris McQueen.*

* (Note: McQueen replaced Adam Rogers in FORQ after the first album.)

HH: I love working with Chris McQueen. He's a great writer, composer and conceptualist. He's super, super musical and he's also very positive, which shouldn't be discounted. We were getting ready for this record [Four] and I was starting to feel like I didn't have anything that I felt great about composition-wise. And for me, if we don't have the tunes, we might as well just cancel it. Chris was saying he had a couple tunes but wasn't sure and I said, "Fuck it, I'm getting on a plane and coming to Austin." So I flew down there, camped in their spare bedroom and Chris and I wrote for two days. I'd get my computer out and say, " I have this start. Is it crap? should I throw it in the trash?" I think anybody who spends time composing has hundreds of pieces of paper on the floor -or the virtual floor that they've decided are shit. You know, "This sucks, that sucks, I suck... I can't do anything"—that's where I was and where Chris was at with his stuff. So I'd play something for him and he's like, "No, I think it's good. Maybe we can do this [with it]." And I was the same with his tunes. We sort of propped each other up and helped each other finish these songs. It was a super productive and positive couple of days and probably half of the record came out of those two days.

AAJ: Listening to Four (Self-released, 2019), it certainly indicates that the group's chemistry is alive and well, despite Michael League's recent departure from the band. Would you like to talk about the effect that has had?

HH: A lot of people ask about it because Mike is arguably one of the most famous bass players in the world now. Snarky [Puppy] has achieved, and deservedly so, a level of success that almost no other instrumental band has at this point. A whole bunch of things happened because of that with regard to FORQ -most of them not necessarily positive. They're not Mike's fault and they were bound to happen. One thing was that a lot of people ascribed FORQ to be a Snarky Puppy side project, which it never was. A lot of people thought it to be Mike's band, which it only was in part. In fact, even from the first record, it was a collective band— Adam Rogers wrote several compositions. On the second record, Chris McQueen wrote several compositions and on our third record, Mike wrote none of the compositions. By then he was already shifting. This is not a fault of Mike's. By the time we got to the third record Snarky had popped. They had Grammys, he was working on Bokanté and I think that his focus was well away from FORQ. We weren't touring and something had to change.

After a while, I said to Mike that we had to talk and he was so busy, I had to schedule a meeting with him. So we got together and I said, "I think we need to sub your chair out sometime." He was a little taken aback by that. I said, "If we don't tour, we don't exist." I said that to him and he knows more than anyone that it's the truth. Snarky was a touring monster that, as he would say, played in anonymity for 11 years. So we agreed to that and I was free to book us and figure it out. So then we started playing gigs without him. We played some gigs with Louis Cato, who is so great. He's like a freak of nature. But Louis was busy and I knew about Kevin Scott from Tim Lefebvre. I knew Kevin was playing with Wayne Krantz and I thought it might be good. So we started playing with Kevin and it turned out to be a good fit. There's always a growing and adjusting period but we've grown and adjusted and now I think the band is more of a unit than it's ever been. It feels like we're really in sync.

AAJ: So you're going to be touring more with FORQ?

HH: We're going to play at GroundUp [Music] Fest in February and it looks like we will be touring in Japan, Europe and US through the spring. Then it's the European festivals in the summer and back to the U.S. later in the fall. Then we'll see, but definitely more touring, then writing for a new record.

AAJ: Considering the undeniable sonic imprint you leave on this band and Rudder before it, do you consider FORQ to be the evolution of your voice come to fruition?

HH: I hope that I'm writing through to the music that I hear and I feel like I am. I think hard about concept and emotion in composition and try to put that into the music. I remember hearing Lyle Mays talking about drama in composition and how compositions should have an arc and a feeling and a story to them. I've always been really drawn to that. Even beyond just a story, to have a vibe. Like when you hear a composition and it really has almost a taste to it. It sounds weird to say this but I write with that in mind. I want a composition to have a feeling to it, whether it's the way it grooves or the way it sounds. I'm fascinated by quirky things and grooves that feel upside down or chords that move in dramatic ways. What I wrote for Rudder was what I was hearing then. I don't know if FORQ is an evolution but what we did on the latest record is what I'm hearing now. I hope to just keep exploring composition and concepts. I think that's an endless and joyous pursuit.

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