Santa Cruz export Henry Chadwick talks roots, progress

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Getting his start in Santa Cruz, solo artist Henry Chadwick was able to break out of the area with his hit “Guest at Home,” the title track to his first solo EP that came out in 2016. Breaking out in 2016, Henry Chadwick has defied expectations. With a sound that bends genres, Chadwick was able to garner attention from the likes of Rolling Stone, Time and HuffPost, among others.

There has always been difficulty in pinning down Chadwick’s sound; he himself has difficulty putting it into words stating, “ I guess I think it’s like sort of an indie power pop, ‘60s meets ‘90s meets modern indie, indie rock.” Chadwick cited a number of inspirations that corroborate this self-identification — artists like the Beatles, the Kinks, David Bowie and T. Rex — capped off with a healthy dose of ‘90s grunge. There is a clear effort to create music that sounds timeless in this sense, never belonging to one single decade. 

This lack of sticking to a genre is what can be seen to have set him apart from the Santa Cruz indie scene, a scene that has been remarked for its insularity, with many locally successful acts never able to resonate with outside listeners. Chadwick himself seems somewhat confused by his ability to transcend his zipcode, saying: “I’ve had varying levels of success. I think that I’ve never paid close attention to what’s going on locally. I’ve always had a taste for what I liked, a kind of pop sensibility.”

Tracing his pop-punk roots, his musicianship beginning with the band My Stupid Brother, aptly named for being a shared project with Chadwick’s brother. Chadwick remarked, “I never fit in and that worked because everyone was trying to have an edge. They didn’t like it if it was too catchy, and I thought it was more punk rock to not care.” This aversion to conformity might hold the secret to his appeal to grander audiences. 

Part of Chadwick’s individuality also lies in his hands-on approach to his production. His background in recording his EP sounded less like the lo-fi recordings of an upcoming artist with their MacBook as their only tools for mixing music, and more like a signed studio artist. 

“If I had to pick my favorite part of the whole process, it’s recording,” Chadwick recalled of his process. Chadwick’s dad had an in-home studio, and he got the chance to appreciate the process of layering and hearing sounds in his head and trying to figure out his arrangement. His single “Alright,” which was the first of his singles released for his Guest at Home EP and it has enjoyed the most commercial success, started out by just downloading various sounds and constructing them for about a year and a half, letting it sit just as an instrumental piece before adding words. According to Chadwick, “just going to (the studio) and being able to build up tracks, and then put words to it. That’s what it’s about. 

In 2017, Chadwick released a full-length album, Marlin Fisher, in which he was able to work with producer Rob Schnapf, who he was a big fan of. He explained that the album “sort of skips a cycle of songwriting.” It was the album Chadwick wanted to make, and working with a producer who took the time to think about different guitar voicings, arrangements, sounds and being more deliberate with things definitely shaped the record. He remarked, “it feels less indie in some ways, less electronic, leaning toward more organic sounds.” 

Regarding Marlin Fisher, Chadwick stated that his favorite song to perform from the album is “Bag of Chips” because it is “different, has something special in it. There is something nice about the sense of humor in the heaviness.” The song is deceptively upbeat, hiding its darker lyrics. This playfulness is a prevailing constant across his work.

Two years later, Chadwick returned with a five-song EP called The President Of Make Believe, an EP that he believes bridges the gap between the first EP and his album. And even with this development, the artist still has his eyes on the future.

“I’ve got about a whole albums worth of stuff written,” he stated. “The type of stuff I’ve been writing is kind of journalistic. I’ve been looking forward to showing a different side, I want to keep writing, I want to keep making music, I’d like to take it as far as it can go.”

As Chadwick gears up to head out on tour, audiences can look forward to catching him this Saturday at Amnesia in San Francisco. And with Chadwick’s clear commitment to artistry, it’s bound to be a great night. 

Zoë Cramer covers music. Contact her at [email protected].