Monday, May 3, 2010

The Karl Hendricks Trio

From the desk of Henry H. Owings:

"I can safely say I've known Karl Hendricks and his music for 20 years. I was going to the University of Pittsburgh in the intensive 11-month MBA program in 1990 and was immersed in my studies. And when I wasn't studying, I was drinking. And when I wasn't drinking, I was seeing shows. And when I wasn't seeing shows, I was buying records with my student loan checks.

I first saw Karl's band Sludgehammer at the Decade Club (RIP) open for King Missile or the Blake Babies in the fall of 1990. I didn't know anything about them other than in their own write up in the local weekly they mentioned Bitch Magnet and Dinosaur so I decided to give them a shot. Now, admittedly, Sludgehammer was a band when they were all in their teens or early 20's, but I still love the hell out of their singles. The drummer was a teenage Ian Williams who has gone on to acclaim as the gum-cracking noodle-meister in Don Caballero, Storm And Stress and Battles. However, at the time, Ian was a janitor at UPitt and a friend that lived only a few houses down from me down in the South Oakland neighborhood near my school.

One night I went to a basement to see Nation of Ulysses perform in Squirrel Hill and ran into Ian. I had twisted both of my ankles while running earlier that week and was on crutches and was able to get Ian to have his bandmate Karl Hendricks give me a ride home after a requisite stop at the local diner for coffee and french fries. Karl was a very soft-spoken guy who I later would run into at Jim's Records over the bridge in Bloomfield and would thrust any one of a number of records into my hand ranging from Vertigo to (the newly released) Slint.

When I moved to Athens, I kept in touch with Karl and when he sent me the Karl Hendricks Trio's first LP Buick Elektra I was hooked. Immediately. He put out that first record on his own Peas Kor label, but it wasn't long before everybody wanted to put out his records. Local labels Mind Cure and Big Ten Rex put out singles and a 10" and Fiasco would release two LPs before Merge would be their permanent home. Er, that is until recently.

Living in Georgia has always made seeing bands difficult, and the Karl Hendricks Trio were no exception. They were to be opening for Smog in 1993 at the Somber Reptile in Atlanta on a Tuesday night and, as was often the case, I drove down solo to see the gig. After offering to have the band stay at my place back in Athens (an hour away), there was an announcement over the PA asking for me to come to the phone. My then-girlfriend was on the line telling me her grandfather had died and that I needed to come back home. So with the band totally understanding my predicament, I saw their gig and immediately left for home. So that was the only time I ever saw Karl and his Trio perform. And so it goes....

In the seventeen years since, Karl has released an armful of LPs and singles for Merge and toured modestly. He still works behind the counter at a record store in Pittsburgh and is busy with his wife and kids when not playing his own music."

H20: So without making you type paragraph upon paragraph, can you tell me how your Trio started?
KH: At the time (1990-1991), I considered Sludgehammer the 'main' band I was in.  But I had also been writing songs before Sludgehammer, ones that you could probably describe as a bit more sincere, perhaps.  I recorded these songs on a four track and put out three cassettes between 1989-1991.  Tim Parker and Tom Hoffman were good friends of mine -- and big fans of the cassettes.  To make a long story short, they encouraged me to start a band with them with the purpose of playing these 'other' songs.  And that soon became much more serious for me than Sludgehammer had been.  The first Karl Hendricks Trio show was Dec. 31, 1991 -- the New Year's Eve crowd was pretty excited, which was a good start for the band.  We recorded Buick Electra a couple of weeks after that.

H20: It seems like the records you were doing in the early 90's were similar to records being put out in remote pockets in the US (Seam in Chicago and Silkworm in Seattle immediately come to mind). Why do you think that is?
KH: Well, I was a big fan of both of those bands, though I didn't hear Silkworm until a couple of years later (1994-1995ish).  I am certainly a fan of a vast variety of music, but I can't deny that the indie rock from that period (slightly post-SST/Homestead and slightly pre-Nirvana fallout) hit me at the exact moment that I was kind of figuring out who I was (as a person and a musician). 

H20: Peas Kor. That was your label, but why did you go from putting out the first single to letting Mind Cure (and later Fiasco, then Merge) put your records out?
KH: Though I enjoyed being able to release my own cassettes and then the first 7" and LP, I did it more out of necessity than wanting to be in control of the process.  When other people approached me about putting out records, I quickly jumped at the opportunity (maybe sometimes too quickly).  In retrospect, I wish I had approached Merge even earlier -- and I'm pretty sad that they no longer want to put out the Karl Hendricks Trio records.  But I'll keep trying to make records, even if (reluctantly) I have to put them out myself.

H20: How much have you toured? Any notable tourmates?
KH: We toured with some regularity between 1993-1996.  But even then it was light by some bands' standards, maybe 25-35 shows a year.  Since then, it's been more sporadic -- kids and jobs make it harder, but the band has changed line-ups every few years, too.  We did a fair amount of shows in 2003 after The Jerks Win Again (the last Merge album) came out.  And last year, we played about six out of town shows, which compared to how little we've been touring seemed like a lot.  Probably my favorite bands to tour with (in terms of both music and friendship) have been Small 23, Kind of Like Spitting and the Kyle Sowashes (and those three bands cover a wide range of years).  Otherwise, the one tour with Superchunk was great, as was an early tour with Smog.

H20: Were there any critical moments living in Pittsburgh that directed your song writing? 
KH: I grew up near McKeesport, a dying mill town about half an hour away from Pittsburgh.  I have to think something about that has shaped my personality and my songwriting.  Otherwise, I think my songwriting in recent years is probably a reflection of trying to both simultaneously pay attention to and ignore the world -- and that's a tension I would probably feel anywhere.

H20: Were you dumped by girls a lot or were girls just a good lyrical mine to go digging?
KH: As a teenager, it felt like 'a lot'.  But reflecting on it about twenty-some years later, I think I had a tendency to exaggerate my emotions.  And early on, that did turn out to be a good lyrical mine -- because nearly every young person sees him or herself as the center of their universe and so lots of listeners could relate to those songs.  But I'm glad that I've found other themes for songs since then (at least I think I have, though I can imagine someone making the case that I haven't really).

H20: In some reviews, The Karl Hendricks Trio were called 'mopecore' or 'sadcore'. Do you think that's a reasonable assessment?
KH: I suppose.  The above answers might also shed some light on this question.  

H20: I always loved your early singles. You ever considered releasing a singles compilation?
KH: Yes.  To all interested record labels:  let the bidding war begin.

Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, The Karl Hendricks Trio.

I Hate This Party (Peas Kor)
1. She's The Shit
2. Fuck Shit Up
3. Beergasm
4. Ride You Home

Baseball Cards b/w Smarty Pants (Mind Cure)
1. Baseball Cards
2. Smarty Pants

Checking You Out b/w Valentine Melody (Mind Cure)
1. Checking You Out
2. Valentine Melody

Hooked On Hobbit (Egg Yolk)
1. Catch The Wind (The Karl Hendricks Trio)
2. I Love My Shirt (Mothra)

What Everyone Else Calls Fun b/w A Boy Who Plays With Dolls (Merge)
1. What Everyone Else Call Fun
2. A Boy Who Plays With Dolls

Live In Pittsburgh (Self)
1. Live At The Beehive 5.18.92

Live In Atlanta (Self)
1. Live At Somber Reptile 10.25.93

Live In Chicago (Self)
1. Live at Lounge Ax 12.31.93

Live In St. Louis (Self)
1. Live At Cicero's 10.12.95

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