The Hendersons: Back to the Future
Nolan Robertson labored intensely over every sonic meter of Lotosyros, the first mini-album from his ’60s revivalist, dream-pop project The Hendersons. After the 20-year-old Arlingtonian’s former band, the uptempo Holy Mothership, dissolved, Robertson took control over every instrument and every careful note of the new material. Well, almost. Childhood friend Zach Mayo, who describes himself as Robertson’s “brother by proxy,” responded to Robertson’s huge workload by offering to play drums.
With Mayo’s help, Robertson completed the long and detailed mixing process for the eight-song album in September and has now recruited three friends to tackle the instrumental parts in live settings. The band will make its first corporeal appearance outside Robertson’s garage recording studio in early April. Although necessary, loosening control is “terrifying” to Robertson.
Part of the reason The Holy Mothership broke up was Robertson’s re-evaluation of his musical direction. The former band was modern and slightly psychedelic, but as the multi-instrumentalist started immersing himself in Russian romantic music and pursuing classic piano and composition at Tarrant County College, he decided to incorporate more standard musical tradition into his pop compositions. The classic-rock aficionado –– The Hendersons is a reference to the Beatles’ “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” –– started to care more about airy harmonies and authentic tonal texture than the sonic possibilities that technology presents, though he smartly utilized the latter to give Lotosyros its retro feel. “I spent a long time using new technology to make [the album] sound as if I didn’t spend any time at all,” Robertson said.
Due to budget constraints, he and Mayo used a small selection of cheap microphones to capture everything for the album in an eight-track mixer. After the sound collection was complete, they manipulated the music with Garage Band software and added effects galore. A few of the tones are pure emanations from Robertson’s Italia Mondial guitar, but most of the album is soaked in reverb and delay added with a few mouse clicks.
After spending months slaving over the mixing software, Robertson published Lotosyros to the artist-friendly website Bandcamp.com. Now, listening gives him an accurate picture of where he was when he wrote the songs. “The Red Lotus” and “You Know Me, Too” were remnants that didn’t fit with The Holy Mothership, but the rest is derived from a summer backpacking trip Robertson took through Europe. What he describes as “the capriciousness of going place to place every day” got Robertson thinking about all the ways we escape our lives.
Lotosyros is a reference to the island discovered by the lotus eaters in Homer’s Odyssey. The songs “The Red Lotus,” “The White Lotus,” and “The Black Lotus” touch on the joy, boredom, and depression that accompany escape and flight from mundane life. Robertson didn’t intentionally design the message, though. He writes the music first, then lets the lyrics bubble up from his subconscious as he zones out to the layers of guitar, organ, and piano.
Robertson keeps his meanings loose by design. “It’s an abstract meaning as opposed to anything literal,” he said. His voice is more a part of the symphony than conductor, and the sound of his vocal cords is more important than any message he hopes to convey.
The next effort, of which he and Mayo have already recorded half, I Know Why the Pied Piper Plays will feature contributions from the three members yet to play a show as The Hendersons. Chris Mansfield, who also plays drums for The Dirty Dandies, will fill in on bass, and Robertson is open to letting him and the other new members interpret the songs freely.
Everyone involved with The Hendersons plays multiple instruments. Drummer Mayo plays everything from harp to standup bass. Former drummer for the punk band Reemer, he also fronts his own project, Mayo as the Crying Shames, and plays several instruments along with Justin Elliot (Josh Weathers and the True+Endeavors) in the bluesy Sugarmen.
Robertson has to carefully divide his musical attention between The Hendersons and his classical piano studies, but the cross-pollination is helping him develop his pop music by introducing him to practical pitch shifting and key changes. The next album will incorporate both the distant past and the unknown tomorrow in what Mayo calls a “futuristic flashback” style.
Of course, the future is unwritten, especially for The Hendersons, who are on the verge of another transformation. The first trial will come on Fri., Apr. 1, at The Moon, where the band will share a bill with the Dirty Dandies and Breakfast Machine. In the end, Robertson just wants people to appreciate his music, and if adopting a team mentality helps him get there, he’s open and willing. At the moment, he is “relinquishing a considerable amount of control,” he said. “It’s frightening and liberating.”