Henry True, my bandmate and friend of 21 years, is slated to open Free Range’s album release show in Chicago tonight (Friday) and I’ll be drumming with him. Ahead of the show, I thought I’d write an abridged history of our musical relationship, which started when we were seven years old. 👶
(Lots of links and audio clips in this letter; feel free, of course, to skip any and read however you like.)
The Blisters (2002)
My classmate Dylan Johnson and I form a band, The Blisters. The original concept is “turntables and drums,” but after seeing how expensive turntables are on zZounds.com, Dylan sticks with his electric guitar. We recruit Henry to play keyboards and bass.
That December, we play our first show, in the first annual 24 Hour Improv and Music Letters to Santa fundraiser at Second City. We know one song: “Heavy Metal Drummer” by Wilco.
Henry’s dad, Rick “Pigtail” Mosher of The New Duncan Imperials and The Service, is slightly offstage, unlit, propping us up with rhythm guitar. The audience of Second City fans and sleep-deprived comedians applauds for an encore. We play “Heavy Metal Drummer” again. (Rick is our band coach for years to come, a mentor who helps us learn how to play together and play well.)
Knowing we can’t rely on adult figures in the shadows to play our guitar parts forever, we put up a poster in the school hallway advertising for a guitar player. Hayden Holbert responds and comes over to my basement to audition. He plays “Sweet Home Alabama” on a cherry red Telecaster causing Dylan’s, Henry’s, and my jaws to plummet to the ground. We have never heard a fellow child play something so complicated so well. He instantly joins the band.
Quaker Oats and a rockumentary (2005)
The Blisters star in a rockumentary created by Scott Smith, a parent of our classmate. Scott also invites us (and my brother, Sammy) to audition for a Quaker Oats commercial that he’s producing, directed by ERROL MORRIS (shot with the Interrotron). We spend the majority of the audition bickering about which one of us had farted a moment earlier. We get the gig, we’re told, because of the fart-bickering.
I think, hope, Hayden has forgiven me for the way I treated him during that poster-creation session. We now produce a music festival together.
(Aside: The Quaker commercial producers called me back to a voiceover studio in Chicago to replace one word. Apparently, at the shoot I had said “Quaker Oatmeal is the breast” instead of “best.” I get another union-scale check for the overdub.)
Salad days (2006-2013)
Due to now-long-gone band dynamics we fire Dylan from the band. Hayden, Henry, and I meet at my house to inform him on the phone. Each of us talks/listens from a different wireless landline handset.
Henry becomes the principal songwriter of the band. Up to that point, we had mostly only played covers by Flaming Lips, The Ramones, Blue Öyster Cult, etc., and written archaic rock songs as a group.
This is really the beginning of my musical relationship with Henry, because in the succeeding years, he would generously give his songwriting talents to The Blisters. He would grow and grow and grow and grow, absorbing his favorite songwriters, learning obscure chords, finding new territory, becoming a young expert in melody and lyricism.
Sometime in or before 2008, Henry and I form a pop-up side project called Santa and record three albums with his dad’s two-channel audio interface one spring or summer break: Evil Santa, Shavingcream, Soundphobia. The album art for Evil Santa stands out in my memory especially. I think we downloaded a graphic from Google Images of Santa Claus smoking a doobie.
Recording the Santa albums with Henry is my first time using or even witnessing recording software. Henry does most or all of the engineering. It’s thrilling to be making our own records! We burn them to CDs and print artwork (the aforementioned Santa-doobie photo) for jewel cases. Real.
Shortly afterward, The Blisters, now pre-teens, have a band meeting and decide we’re sick of playing “kids shows” (e.g. the Target Kids Tent at Millennium Park) and want to try to get booked on real, grown-up bills at grown-up bars. Over the next years (with my mom teaching me how to book shows) we do that: play Beat Kitchen, Schubas, The Hideout, Lincoln Hall, Marytrs, Metro, Subterranean, Fitzgerald’s, Lollapalooza (though, contrary to our new stated mission, that was on the Kids’ Stage).
In 2011, while painfully pubescent, The Blisters star in a Funny or Die video directed by family friend Chris Storer (now of The Bear and Ramy and Eighth Grade!). That same year Hayden meets Tory Postilion-Lopez in the jazz program at Lincoln Park High School. Tory rules. Tory joins the band on bass and Henry switches to guitar full-time.
The Blisters albums (2013 and 2016)
Ten years into the history of the band, it’s finally time for us to make a record. Henry, Hayden, Tory and I record with Mark Greenberg at the Wilco Loft. It’s my first time in a session of more than one song there. Mark is a saintly angel and shepherds us through the process and all of our harebrained, teenage ideas. We release Finally Bored with a show at Schubas.
Later that summer we play (as, you know, loosely, a Wilco World “side project”) at Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival in North Adams, Massachusetts and self-book a small tour on the way back from the East Coast. Liam Kazar, a whopping two years older than us (but already a zillion times more experienced, having clocked the whole country touring with his band Kids These Days) is our tour manager. We play Albany, Asbury Park, and New York. We stay in a New Jersey motel and huddle in the bathroom, guarded by Hayden and his conspicuously large hunting knife, after we hear a strange noise at the door. When the tour is over Liam drives us home in one heroic all-dayer sprint.
In 2016 The Blisters record a second album, Cured, at Liam and co.’s Fox Hall Studio in Chicago. I mix the album partly on my laptop in the car on our way home from a show in Michigan.
Henry True albums (2018-2021-present)
At this point in the past (and today), The Blisters aren’t broken up, but we’ve all begun separate lives with new projects and other obligations. All along, Henry has been writing songs, sometimes bringing them to The Blisters, sometimes recording them and releasing them on his own. In this period Henry records one EP and two full-lengths with me.
In 2018 I’m at school in Appleton, Wisconsin, where The Refuge Arts center, a former Franciscan monks’ monastery, is letting me use a basement room as a studio. Henry drives up to record an EP, Long Way Down. It feels like Henry’s most mature songwriting and our best producing and arranging to date.
And Mass to Gloria Hills:
And True Reality:
At the end of one of these sessions, I get salmonella from one of three places: the local grocery store salad bar, a “Monster Burrito” served by a taco joint on College Ave, or a Hmong restaurant. I think I just have chills from the frigidness of the monastery, whose boiler had broken, until a week later, back in Chicago, the chills haven’t subsided and my doctor says yep, salmonella.
Faith in You (2022)
I had nothing to do with this release, but it’s so great I wanted to make sure it gets included anyway: Henry’s 2022 EP, Faith in You.
Hen is back in town and reuniting with our Chicago music peeps. Like I mentioned, we’re opening for Free Range at Schubas tonight (2/24), where they’re celebrating the release of their debut record.
If you follow Henry on Instagram you’ll hear about new shows coming down the pike. I’ll announce them here too.
Henry has new material up his sleeve… If management or label people secretly lurk in the now-2,239-strong Spoon-hive, and you wanna hear Henry’s new stuff, will you email me?
There’s more to our musical relationship than I could possibly contain in a newsletter, but it’s fun to share this CliffsNotes version. We’ve been farting around with sound for a long time. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank, even in this show-and-tell, our parents and all the people who have given us things and the time of day to facilitate music-making over the years.)
Thanks for reading,
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I loved reading and listening to this. Such a long, wonderful friendship between two musical talents!
And I always loved your Quaker Oats commercial. Classic! 😂