How does a half german, half danish, lanky freak end up in The Aloha Steamtrain? Well, it is a long and tiresome tale, riddled with incongruencies and lies. Enjoy
It's first grade in hilly Andover, Massachusetts sometime in the 1970's. There are shadows all around, the hallway floor slants, a classroom shrieks. In the distance, surrounded by angels and protected by a tiny giraffe, a little boy with an Incredible Hulk T-shirt stands hovering two or three inches above the floor. Nobody notices. In walks Henning, eyes still red from crying, shoes stained from Melissa Label's rejected breakfast, someone is in his chair. It might be Amy Gallant.
Minutes later it's ninth grade and Russell no longer wears the Hulk line. But he is aware of nerd, Henning, and he doesn't like him one bit.
A few years later find the two of them, popular outcasts, writing a song about Viking Death Rats, in Henning's tiny off-the-kitchen yellow room. This song has nothing to do with The Shrugs or The Purple Stars Sound. But you might hear it weeks later in their extended liberal arts course called Odyssey.
It's the late 80's now. Henning moves away to The University of Massachusetts about 100 miles west. His co-op hippie dorm embraces him but he does not turn hippie. He rooms with Russell's childhood friend and agitator Lee Rosenstubble, and begins to take shape. It's not long before Russell arrives, he isn't enrolled in the school but that doesn't stop him from moving in to the dorm surruptitiously. There is music everywhere, seems that there always was. (Not long after, Brian Todd basks unknowngly in the echoes that Henning and Russell left behind, as he also, moves into Butterfield Dorm).
A few years behind an old Farmhouse in a decrepid barn, Russell and artist Steve Busch lead Henning with an oil lantern on a haunted and terrifying tour of things to come. A year in the farmhouse filled with recording and composing and performing and exploring, causes Henning to return back to school, this time for music and the recording of it, Russell escapes to Hawaii.
Four years have past and Henning and Russell have returned from their seperate spiritual journeys. Henning starts sleeping on Russell's roach infested just-above-the-bar apartment. They kidnap and take over a band called Funnilingus. They find a better apartment. Although popular for it's shows, Funnilingus is clearly a dead-end street. They shed their clown make-up, step-out of their electric costumes and join up with everybody's favorite drummer, Brian Todd. And The Aloha Steamtrain is born.
Henning enjoys music
Maybe it started in 4th grade with the piano lessons. My brothers were taking them, too. And we practice in the basement on the old black mess of a piano that we had. Piano lessons didn't last too long for me or for Norbert but Alvin devoured them and learned more than me and Norb combined, in half the time. That didn't stop us from banging on the higher and lower keys while Al played tunes by Abba and Neil Diamond.
Maybe it started when Norb performed his Machine-Gun antics along with the drum break in Frankenstein by The Egdar Winter Group. Later it was all the XTC and Lou Reed that was eminating from his room. And when I was just learning guitar it didn't hurt to have Norb play Suzanne Vega's Small Blue Thing about eighty times in a row.
Alvin, meanwhile, had learned to play every part to every song by Yes, Genesis, Marillion, and Ultravox along with countless songs by REM, Pink Floyd, and Kate Bush. I decided it was time for me to learn the guitar. But I still only knew a few chords on the keyboard.
That was enough to start a band with friends, Herb and Gary Wang and Lee Wilkinson. Herb taught me that its possible to write songs. And the first thing we did as a band was to start to record them. Herb is one of the world's great unheard song writers and I learned just about everything I know from him. He taught me how to play bass and how to record four tracks with two tape decks, too. I played a casio keyboard until I bought my first and to this date only keyboard, my Korg Poly-800 for 600 bucks. Lee played a toy drum set and used a kitchen waste basket for a snare. And we recorded a record. Or a cassette anyway. We went by the name Secular Humanism but soon changed it to The Shrugs (slackers before our time).
The Shrugs recorded 5 albums: Secular Humanism, So Now What, The Alvin Project, Lack Depth, and Hoedown all on 4-track cassette. Nobody but our friends and family have ever heard them. Over all this time, we only played three live shows: Two at Phillips Academy in Andover, and one at Dartmouth College. And that was it.
When I went off to The University of Massachusetts in Butterfield I began playing the guitar about 6 hours a day. Not practicing it, just playing it. Writing songs and playing songs by REM, Robyn Hitchcock, Paul Simon, and They Might Be Giants. This is when I started performing on my own at Coffehouses in the dorm basement. I listen to some tapes now and I admire my fellow dorm mates for sitting through my singing. I also began playing acoustic rock operas with my friend and writer Derek Leif. These rock operas became dorm favorites and I began to feel like I could entertain people for real.
All this time I was recording my own albums on the 4-track, playing all the instruments and writing all the songs. My albums include: Henning's Self-Promotional Tape, The Farmhouse Henmasters, The Search For Rub Wrongways, Big Plans For Underachievers, and soon Henning's School For The Dead. On top of those I have about 90 million little songs and doodles trapped somewhere on DBX 4-Track Cassettes.
So, when I started school at Umass Lowell as a recording student I already had some ideas about how I like things to sound. As a music major I started to learn to read music better, to sight sing, to compose in classical theory, and to lose some stage fright by having to embarrass myself over and over again. I recorded a full album while at school, Big Plans For Underachievers, my best up to that date. And I started to realize that if they could get passed my singing voice, people might actually enjoy my music, not just because they were my friends but because it could actually move them. It's not an easy thing to admit.
After moving to Northampton I started playing in Funnilingus with Russ and in another band called Humbert. When I first saw Humbert, Frank Paddalero of King Radio, Scud Mountain Boys fame, was their temporary bassist. After I saw them I said to myself, I said, "Henning, that's the kind of band I want to be in." About a week later Ari Vais, of Humbert, asked me if I would like to play bass for them. And so began a three year adventure in rock and roll. Ari and Tony Westcott had both been at Umass when I was and I recognized them both to be incredible songwriters. I had never considered myself a bassist but I picked it up pretty quickly and after a year we put out Humbert's second CD, my first, The Great White Lunchroom and I found that I had a local hit "The Screen Door". Humbert played all over the place in New England and NYC and our new album is actually still in the works, despite the fact that Ari lives in London and Tony lives in New Hampshire. For the last year, Brian played drums with Humbert and he is the drummer on the new record, which promises to be a chaotic mess of great pop songs. Meanwhile, The Steamtrain has been going strong and I enjoy playing the occasional solo show.
Looking back (it is presently Febrary 8, 2000) I see that it has been 5 years since my last solo album was released. I am overwhelmed with grief. Where did all that time go? I have probably 30 good new songs to record but unfortunately I never seem to scrape up the funds to record them properly. I have been working on a project in my head and via demo quality tapes for years now called, "Henning's School For The Dead." Hopefully, soon I will figure out a way to bring it to fruition. And I keep writing new songs, now there are too many for one record, too many for two records. What's a guy supposed to do?
For more information about me and my projects please visit my web site: Henning's Area, thanks.