I interviewed local indie-rocker Henry Chadwick back in March for GT’s “Love Your Local Band” column. He was putting the final touches on his debut solo EP, and was excited to shake his reputation as a one-trick-pony pop-punker with local punk band My Stupid Brother, a group he’d been in since before high school. I found him to be a nice guy. Humble, unassuming, and now, at 25, anxious to show off a new side of himself. I also immediately liked his new music, influenced in equal parts by ’60s and ’90s rock ’n’ roll, but with infectious hooks that stood up to multiple listens.
I didn’t think much about Chadwick after that until June, when I was shocked to discover that Rolling Stone magazine had declared his song “Guest At Home,” the title track off his solo EP, one of the best pop songs of 2016. This wasn’t an article highlighting the best up-and-coming indie singles—Chadwick was suddenly being put in the same conversation as Pitbull, Garbage, Enrique Iglesias, and Tegan and Sara. It’s not that his song didn’t deserve the attention, but how did Chadwick, an indie musician almost completely unknown outside of Santa Cruz, suddenly crack the top-pop list in the biggest music magazine in the country?
A week later, Time Magazine also named “Guest At Home” one of the best songs of 2016, this time placing him in the company of artists like Kanye West, Brandy Clark, Flo Rida and Miguel. And that was just the beginning of an avalanche of press; to date, Chadwick’s Guest At Home EP has garnered write-ups in more than 50 publications. Some have focused mainly on the title track, others on the song “Alright”—which has actually gotten more listens on Chadwick’s Soundcloud than “Guest At Home”—and others on the entire EP.
The Santa Cruz artist is a bona fide sensation, but with all of this publicity coming seemingly out of nowhere, none of the national publications writing about Chadwick know much about him. Rolling Stone even mistakenly said he was a “San Diego solo artist.”
Meanwhile, Chadwick, a longtime fixture on the Santa Cruz scene, still doesn’t know how it all happened.
“I stumbled across the Rolling Stone thing, and I was like ‘what the hell?’ It was very surprising. It was bizarre. I didn’t really know what to think,” Chadwick tells me over beers at Harlow’s Nightclub in Sacramento, where the Coffis Brothers—who he drums for—will be playing that night. “It’s weird to me that people heard that song and thought of it as something worth sharing and putting alongside other cool songs.”
What’s even stranger is that these publications consistently refer to his breezy, Beatles-influenced garage-rock sound as “pop music.” In reality, he’s a rocker who happens to write catchy hooks.
“I was confused by that as well, but I’m not complaining,” Chadwick says. “I like pop, and I think there’s some pop sensibilities in my songwriting. Maybe pop is just a big umbrella.”
CURSE OF THE LOCAL BAND
Maybe it was no coincidence that Rolling Stone thought Chadwick was from somewhere else, as it’s rare for Santa Cruz musicians to break out regionally, let alone nationally. The local music scene here, while thriving, is extremely insular. Ska band Slow Gherkin sold out the Catalyst multiple times in the ’90s, but struggled to draw crowds elsewhere. Only a handful of bands from here have gained popularity nationally, and even those that have—Camper Van Beethoven, Good Riddance, and the Devil Makes Three, for instance—tend to be thought of either as cult bands or popular solely within a niche genre. Meanwhile, the Santa Cruz band that almost made it big is a tradition that stretches all the way back to ’60s rockers Snail.
So Chadwick seems to be on his way to beating the odds. And though this sudden rush of attention is a total shock to him, I can see barely any trace of excitement exuding from his face. Chadwick is a short man wearing a Beastie Boys T-shirt and sporting a Beatles moptop circa 1964. He speaks quietly, and takes measured sips of his beer as he explains that it doesn’t exactly surprise him that he’s gotten so much publicity. That was, after all, his plan. What surprises him is that it actually worked.
Chadwick is a talented multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, singer and recording engineer. As such, he was able to record Guest At Home at his father’s home studio for virtually nothing, and used the majority of his recording budget to hire a publicist. He wanted to “get his music out there,” but didn’t have too lofty an idea of what exactly that meant.
“I wanted to be Google-searchable. That was my goal with it all. I really lucked out that this person hustled,” he says of his publicist.
Probably the biggest score was getting featured on music blog Indie Shuffle, where he was the No. 1 artist for a week. As a result of the attention he got from that, two of his songs were featured on Spotify’s “Fresh Finds: Six Strings” playlist. He was also approached by a small label, and even scored a manager. The Indie Shuffle highlight is also likely what led to the Rolling Stone and Time magazine features, since his publicist didn’t reach out to those particular publications.
TREBLE IN THE DETAILS
Chadwick’s new EP is short and sweet, with five songs, three of which Chadwick has released videos for. Each song stands on its own in terms of sound, with influences all over the board—including ’60s rock ’n’ roll, surreal psych-folk, electro-rock, surf-pop and ’90s alt-rock.
What connects the songs is Chadwick’s approach to infectious hooks and overall production quality. The songs are similar enough to occupy the same record, and different enough to keep the EP from getting boring.
“I wanted each song to have its own identity,” Chadwick says. “It’s more rewarding when you hear a band and there’s some punk stuff, surfy stuff, some Beach Boys-y stuff, some Beatles influence and some electronic stuff mixed in. It feels more authentic to just incorporate all of them, at least for me, because I like a lot of stuff.”
Though the result is a quick, easy listen, Chadwick worked on the EP for nearly a year, in between touring with local band the Coffis Brothers, and recording other bands at his studio. During the interview he repeatedly refers to himself as “obsessive” and “OCD,” qualities that are in no way apparent to me as I sit across from him. His worry-free, go-with-the-flow demeanor reveals no obsessive characteristics.
“It’s kind of a paradox,” Aidan Collins tells me over the phone. Collins plays bass in the Coffis Brothers, and in Battlesnake, Chadwick’s backing band. “He’s really easygoing, but he’s definitely detail oriented. He doesn’t get hung up on the little things. He can be pretty open to change. He’s pretty democratic with ideas.”
Perhaps Chadwick’s secret weapon is his remarkable recording skills, which have roots in his childhood. His father was a recording engineer in Hollywood in the ’80s, and moved up to the Bay Area in 1988 when Chadwick’s older brother George was born. In the ’90s, the Chadwicks moved to Ben Lomond. There, Chadwick’s dad built his own studio using leftover equipment he saved from his Hollywood days. Chadwick’s father dubbed the studio Hale Kua (Hawaiian for “House in the Back”), and it’s where Chadwick recorded Guest At Home.
By the time he recorded his solo album, he was a seasoned engineer. His dad helped him record My Stupid Brother, a band Henry and George formed in 2002—before they were old enough to drive themselves to gigs. The first record in 2007 was self-titled, and Chadwick’s father recorded it for them. The second, 2009’s What You Need, was an engineering collaboration between Henry and his dad. The final record, 2014’s Welcome To My Head, Henry engineered and produced entirely on his own. He spent a lot of time on it, tweaking every little detail he could imagine, and sometimes overdoing it, he says now.
By the time Chadwick was in high school, he was also recording friends’ bands, and this has continued in more recent years. Some of the bands he’s recorded include Subpar, Jesse Daniel and the Slow Learners, McCoy Tyler, and the Leftovers. He records bands at Hale Kua, and another studio, the Compound.
“He’s really professional. He has a really good ear for things on the production end of it that I wouldn’t necessarily think of. I’ve had a lot of people compliment the sound,” says Jesse Daniel. Chadwick recorded Daniel’s country-rock American Unknown EP last year. The two have been friends since childhood, and Daniel also plays drums in Battlesnake. “He’s meticulous. If something’s a little bit off, he’ll tweak out on that, and obsess about it. It’ll be a good thing. It’ll end up sounding perfect, exactly the way you want it.”
“It’s more rewarding when you hear a band and there’s some punk stuff, surfy stuff, some Beach Boys-y stuff, some Beatles influence and some electronic stuff mixed in.” – HENRY CHADWICK
All of the time Chadwick devoted to poring over the final My Stupid Brother album, as well as the hours he’s devoted to friends’ bands, paid off on Guest At Home. It’s an incredibly fresh, professionally produced batch of songs that manage to steer clear of the over-polished radio sheen, but also doesn’t sound like the work of a DIY artist with no label affiliation who played virtually every instrument himself. The balance of instruments and vocals is exceptional. Certainly, if Rolling Stone had heard the music of a completely unknown artist without a flair for production, it’s unlikely they’d even consider featuring him alongside Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias.
As far as I can tell, it’s this high level of production value that has Chadwick pinned as a pop artist by so many music writers. When I mention this theory, Chadwick agrees.
“Some of my songs at their core are garage-rock songs. Maybe they’re pop songs. I just mask them in fuzz and stuff. If it was more drowned in reverb, it could have been straight up indie or garage,” he says.
FEELING ‘AT HOME’
The recording process for Guest At Home was a liberating experience for Chadwick. Up until recording these songs, his primary creative outlet had been My Stupid Brother—he’s played drums for the Coffis Brothers since 2010, but when he played with his brother, he was the primary singer-songwriter.
From the beginning, My Stupid Brother was a pop-punk band, an identity they kept intact more-or-less until their final album. It was on that last album that Chadwick felt himself wanting to write different types of songs. Some of it ended up being pop-punk, some of it steered into indie and garage-rock territory.
The band was changing anyway. Chadwick’s brother George moved to New York to get his master’s degree before the album was released. The band continued on a little bit. Between playing without George, and Chadwick wanting to move away from strictly pop-punk, it started to just not feel right continuing to play as My Stupid Brother.
All of these other musical influences, that up until then had to take a back seat to pop-punk, were not new for Chadwick. He’d always had eclectic musical tastes. The first band that ever had an impact on Chadwick was the Beatles, a group he’s been in love with since he was in diapers.
“It was everything—all albums, all videos, all movies, all books,” George tells me over the phone, regarding his brother’s Beatles fetish. “He knew the words. He could sing the melodies. I remember him knowing the names of songs and knowing the names of stuff before I did. At one point, he was able to make his face look like every one of the Beatles. He could do a John Lennon impression, a Ringo Starr impression. He was like 8 years old. They were really pretty good.”
My Stupid Brother never broke up, but the group hasn’t played much over the past several years. Meanwhile, Chadwick had all these unused demos. When he started recording the songs, he wasn’t sure what it would be for, or if it would be a full album or an EP. Ultimately, he settled on the five songs, since they were so fully developed.
As for the name of the project, it just clicked in his head to go solo, which helped him to go anywhere he wanted genre-wise.
“I’m always going to be Henry Chadwick. I’m always going to be able to get behind my name. I can’t really break myself up,” Chadwick says. “There are solo artists that do something different every album, like Beck or David Bowie. They can just kind of reinvent themselves at any point and it doesn’t shun fans away.”
As press continues to roll in for Guest At Home, Chadwick takes it all in stride, unsure what it all means for his future. One thing that’s changed is that he’s working with people on his solo music—a manager, label, publicist—and they’re all in discussion about what he should do next: releases, tours, etc.
“It’s weird having a little team built around me now. That’s never something I’ve had before,” he says with reluctant enthusiasm.
After we finish the interview, he heads off to join the Coffis Brothers on stage. In this role, he’s completely unassuming—for half of the set I can barely even see him, hidden behind one of the lead singers. As I watch, it suddenly strikes me that no one in this club would ever guess that that guy is poised to be a genuine rock star. They certainly won’t hear it from him.
Henry Chadwick and Battlesnake with Jackie Zealous perform at 9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 9 at the Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $8. 429-6994.