When singer-songwriter Richard Hennessy came to Fort Worth because of a job transfer in early 2013, he expected to dislike Texas. But in reality, the 33-year-old New Jerseyan said, Fort Worth became the home he thought he’d never find, a city with a thriving but laid-back and supportive music scene. Hennessy had been performing his catchy, fast-paced brand of punk-pop under the moniker Henry the Archer for years up in the Northeast, sometimes solo and sometimes with friends. Once he hit the Fort, he made the band officially a trio, “adopting” (as he puts it) bassist Matt Hembree (Pablo & The Hemphill 7, Goodwin) and drummer Kevin Geist (Bindle, Sun City). Last year Henry the Archer recorded and released a smart, intensely melodic debut album, When Something Means Nothing, that generated a lot of good vibes from the scene and local press. The trio also received strong reviews for its live performances around town.
Then corporate fate intervened again. Hennessy changed jobs, and his current employer, a national tech communications company, asked him to move to Colorado Springs for a year to train for his current Fort Worth position. So now he’s residing in the land of mega-churches and legal weed, pining for a full-time return to the city that brought him his greatest creative satisfaction as a musician.
“I own a house in Fort Worth, and I’m not selling it,” Hennessy said. “But I’ve also got a 1- and a 4-year-old, and I needed insurance for them, so here I am in this beautiful prison. I’ve only got about six more months on my [training] contract. I’ll be back when my work is finished up here.”
Trading Colorado for North Texas wouldn’t seem like a bad exchange to some people, so it speaks to Hennessy’s affection for the Tarrant County music crowd that he’s chomping at the bit to get back down here.
When Something Means Nothing is the kind of first album any band would be proud to claim and any local music scene would like to call its own. The nine tunes, all written by Hennessy, are tight, stripped-down, and more hook-filled than a large-mouth bass in a summer Texas lake. Tunes like “Laser Gun” and “Why Can’t You Hear Me” have the kind of bouncy, synth- and-guitar-embroidered drive that propelled early 1980s trailblazers like The Cure and New Order. Hennessy, who also plays guitar and keyboards on the album, has a memorable vocal delivery that mixes snotty punk attitude with wry humor and surprising emotional resonance. Interestingly enough, he claims his biggest musical influences growing up were Motown and doo-wop, pretty much the only kind of music his mom would play in the house. While there are few overt traces of those unlikely inspirations on the album, his songs do evince a craftsman’s care for harmony and structure similar to the legendary Detroit and Jersey songwriters he heard in his youth.
Hennessy has been returning to Fort Worth about once a month to rehearse and play live shows with Henry the Archer. When he has the time in Colorado Springs, he tries to hit some of the local open-mic nights to play solo versions of songs from When Something Means Nothing, harkening back to his days as a New Jersey troubadour. With his eyes turned fully on a return to Texas, he has a few goals in mind for Henry the Archer in 2015: recording a sophomore album with Hembree and Geist, collaborating on a music video with The Jerry Jonestown Massacre’s Dustin Schneider, and, most importantly in Hennessy’s eyes, growing a regional and, ultimately, national fan base for Henry the Archer. Bringing the trio’s sharp, infectious sound to as many ears as possible is both a creative and financial investment for Hennessy.
“I usually do most of the funding for the band –– recording, releasing the music, merchandise, all that,” he said. “But the idea is to have the music support itself. We’re not using the money we make at the door to buy beer. We’re putting it right back into the band. The faster we can grow new fans, the better.”
Henry the Archer
9pm Fri w/Criminal Birds and Kites and Boomerangs at The Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge, 1311 Lipscomb St, FW. $6-9. 817-926-0968.