D Henry Fenton's newest single is titled 'The Loneliest Boy In The World'.
Blues, Americana, folk-pop musician, D Henry Fenton was an expat living in California before COVID altered everything.
His career has seen him open for the likes of Keith Urban, Kasey Chambers, The Corrs, and John Mayer, release three studio albums and travel the world as the proverbial musical journeyman.
Currently based in Darwin, but eyeing a return to the US, Henry sits down for a chat about his new single 'The Loneliest Boy In The World', another possible studio album and how 2020 allowed him to self-analysis his strengths and weaknesses.
'The Loneliest Boy In The World' is your new single; the floor is yours... how does this song capture the current sound of D Henry Fenton? It was a tough song to record and started off at twice the speed it's at now, more of a punk-rock thing, but it felt rushed.
My thinking was to halve the time of the drums to open up space, so I asked Joel Sutton, my old band mate, to track some beats and overlay some real drums on top at a half-time tempo. This felt better so then I re-recorded everything starting with acoustic guitars, mandolin and double bass, and got the musicians to react to it without any preconceived ideas, so it's more of a reaction of sound.
There is some subtle layering of guitars that are more noticeable with headphones; that's something I want to work more on with future projects. The current sound I am trying to create is kind of alt. country/ folk-pop I suppose, a little bit old and new, and a little bit sad and sweet.
The use of a programmed drum sequence in this track; how much of a step was that for you to make, allowing yourself to venture into unknown territory? It ended up being an easy step to take because the real drums at double time weren't working as well as I'd hoped, and then I heard a David Gray track and thought: 'What if we programme some beats and then play a small, real drum kit on top of that and mix it all together?', which turned out being an absolute game changer.
Is it a recording technique you'll utilise again? Yes, I want to try it again for sure. It was a happy accident as normally my recordings have real drums with added percussion; using a programmed drum track changes the way you build the song and you have to be a little more precise with musical parts whilst also keeping some of the rough edges to give it some grit.
You wrote the song pre-COVID-19 in late 2019 with Bentley Rumble in LA; and it came together across the internet this year (with Amanda Brown and Nick Maybury contributing parts). Given its title and your experiences this year quarantining, did it feel a little like the future speaking to the present as the song came together? 'The Loneliest Boy In The World' is actually an old song I wrote years ago with Bentley Rumble in Australia, we had a band called Holly Golightly which played around Sydney.
It felt like the past speaking to the future whilst coming together in the present. Amanda Brown on mandolin and Nick Maybury on lap steel were amazing as were the other musicians: Jonathan Zwartz on bass, Joel Sutton on drums, Mary Beth Kedzior on backing vocals and Arlan Schierbaum on Hammond and pedal steel (he lives in Greece; the others reside in LA and Australia).
I wasn't in the room when any of them recorded their parts which is different, but I'd do it again for sure with the same players.
Is this single the first chapter of the next D Henry Fenton album? 'The Loneliest Boy In The World' was a song that I wanted to record and release, my lockdown project so to speak. It could be the first chapter of something; there are a bunch of new songs to choose from, so I might start work on another one soon.
Your next body of work (whenever it arrives), how will it compare to your 2017 studio album 'Twice I Fell Down Once'? I think it will be much more layered with more vocal harmony and pedal steel. 'Twice I Fell Down Once' was meant to be a simple recording with my LA live band The Elizabethans, there weren't too many overdubs. I really like the songs on that album and it captured our vibe and sound.
You were once described by Rhythms Magazine as a vocal cross between Tom Petty and Roy Orbison; not bad company to share; are you a musician who likes to soak up, tune into a lot of other musicians' material (even just for listening purposes)? I don't own any Roy Orbison or Tom Petty records but love them as artists. I think it's just what I sound like or maybe what the reviewer thought I sounded like.
I always try my best to make each song have its own identity. These days I listen to a lot of classical music and old blues records, and they may influence things I write.
You were in Ireland touring when the world really began to shutdown from coronavirus – in amongst all this madness have you found positives that may have otherwise not occurred in a 'normal' year? I realised all the things I was addicted to. Things I was afraid of. Things that made me different as a person. Things that were my strengths as a person. Things I needed to work on, people that mattered in my life and people that didn't.
Things that were really important in life like was I a physical being having a spiritual experience, or a spiritual being having a physical experience? Those were some of the things I thought about.
Not being able to perform regularly; has that been a major mental hurdle for you to overcome this year? It hasn't been a major mental hurdle, more a sad inconvenience as I don't tour all year long like some of the top-tier musicians. I do two-week tours a couple of times a year to major cities, and then weekly residencies and smaller shows.
I started a course at university in 2020 and that was amazing; the joy of learning, that occupied a lot of my time this year as well as producing 'The Loneliest Boy In The World'. I don't think I have ever spent as long working on one song.
You're based in NT at the moment; the near, to mid-term future for you – will you base yourself back in Oz till the uncertainty surrounding international travel settles further? I have a few more shows coming up here, although I think I might bite the bullet and head back to the USA soon as that is where my life has been. Sometimes when you play things too safe, it gets boring, and it's all based on fear, especially this current situation.
Before COVID, you were based in Los Angeles – how have those experiences living, touring the US shaped the musician you've become today? My LA experience made me a better songwriter, singer and musician than I was that's for sure; much more than if I had stayed in Australia.
I went through some very tough times there but overcame them, and hanging around and playing LA bars and clubs, and making friends with musicians who have moved there from different parts of the US and the world can only open your mind and change you.
A piece of advice related to your craft that was given to you by another musician that routinely sticks in your memory bank? 'Aim for the sweet spot' is what my friend Jorgen Carlsson told me a few times, and I totally think he is right. Everything has a sweet spot in this universe; you've just got to find it.
Three people you'd like to invite around for a dinner party? Normally I would be thinking famous figures, musicians, actors, writers, but at the moment I would invite my Mum, Dad and sister as I haven't seen them in ages.
If we were coming over to your place, what would you cook us? I love cooking spaghetti bolognese, so that would be the dish. Vegetarian option if required.
What's the one chore you dislike the most? Cleaning, but it's got to be done.
Thanks for your time; anything else you'd like to add? You are most welcome, and I hope the readers enjoy the song, cheers.
D Henry Fenton plays Darwin Railway Club 15 January.