He has been described as a cross between Dr. Seuss and Conway Twitty, and his strut has been likened to a “Tennessee walking horse on PCP.” The outgoing Australian Henry Wagons is the madcap front man of Wagons, a charismatic roots-rocking crew who recently released the album Rumble, Shake and Tumble and who hits Canada this week, with shows in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa. He spoke from Melbourne.
You get all sorts of convoluted comparisons. What do you make of them?
In a sense, the descriptions are convoluted. But in other terms, they’re quite resolute, and they’re quite definitive as well. We’re definitely not a band that doesn’t wear our influences on our sleeves. By the same token, I’ll defy and confuse expectations as well.
Wouldn’t you prefer to be defined on your own terms?
I don’t get particularly sensitive about comparisons to other musicians, especially if they are world-dominating ones. Also, any comparisons to impressive beasts of burdens I don’t mind either. Tennessee walking horses, they’re good workers. And for the record, I’ve never had PCP. I’m wondering if my life’s natural high might give some of the same symptoms.
People hone in on your rambunctious personality. Do you think your songwriting gets short shrift?
Sure, I’d obviously rather people were talking about the music and the twisted narrative tales I try to tell. But in the same way, I also don’t mind being talked about in terms of the visual aspect of music as well. Basically I’m just glad people are paying attention, directing faces my way.
We see a lot of alt-folk bands these days who don’t pay attention to the visual side. Do you have an opinion on that?
When it comes to seeing a live show, I want to be totally immersed. If I want to listen to the CD, I’d prefer to be in my plush, leather lounge chair with my dogs on my lap listening to my stereo, rather than standing up in some scungy bar somewhere.
You play those same scungy bars. What do you offer on stage?
We at Wagons are presenting our music in all forms. We try to be big and loud, both musically and visually. We like to put on a good show, where people’s ears and eyes are entertained.
In that regard I might compare you to Jon Spencer.
Oh, wow. I’m currently in my living room, looking at a framed picture of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion that I have above my television. You know, I’m too thick-set and goblin-like to pretend to be as lithe and fluid as Jon Spencer’s movements. But I hope, in some way, our band has a similar kind of energy level and the same sense of spectacular that the Blues Explosion has.
In 2009 you were named as one of the 100 most influential Melbournians by The Age Melbourne Magazine. Who exactly are you influencing?
I have no idea. The award in no way specified whether I was a good influence or a bad influence. In terms of my presence on that particular night at the magazine’s launch party, I was definitely a bad influence. I interrupted a speech by Julia Gillard, now Australia’s prime minister. But I think the mention might just be an indication that the band did quite well that year, and that my big mouth got heard a little bit for the first time. It was an exciting time, and it’s been an interesting ride ever since.
Wagons plays Vancouver’s Railway Club, Sept. 4; Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern, Sept. 6; Ottawa’s Zaphod’s, Sept. 7.