Henry Miller’s first novel, Tropic of Cancer, provoked a worldwide scandal when first published in 1934. The American author’s frank depiction of sex and sexuality caused the book to be banned in the US, England, and Canada, and was widely viewed as pornographic smut. New York-based power pop quartet The Henry Millers may not have reached the same notoriety as their namesake, but there’s an undeniable weirdness about their music that might just change that.
Based off the chemistry between lead singer and guitarist John MacCallum and longtime BFF/vocalist Katie Schechter, the group makes what they refer to as ‘chaotic indie pop.’ On their debut record Daisies, this translated to soaring choruses propelled by pulsating synths, much in the vein of MacCullum’s perennial favorite, Passion Pit. But for album number two, the upcoming Posies, the band have been looking inwards, leaving behind playful sensuality for a more grown-up sound courtesy of Chester French’s Maxwell Drummey. We chatted with MacCullum about the upcoming album, nude songwriting, and identifying with Ron Swanson.
Let’s not beat about the bush. Why Henry Miller?
Kate and I are both big Henry Miller fans. We both read a lot his works growing up. I don’t know whether we named the band the Henry Millers because we liked sex from an aesthetic point of view or whether Henry Miller has inspired that aspect of the band. I think that a lot of the writing that Henry Miller does regarding sex has subconsciously worked its way in there. I think it’s just who we are as fans of Henry Miller to begin with.
Sex seems to inform a lot of the band’s activity. After all, you don’t see many artists posting pictures of naked jam sessions on Instagram.
Katie and I are best friends. We hang out comfortably and we have sleepovers, and that’s how we started making music to begin with. Our attitude to sex goes all throughout our lives. Both of us like to have a sexual element to songwriting, but I think it’s not just the music. These pictures come up on Instagram of us naked and making music, but that’s just us hanging out.
On your recent single “Children,” you seem to have shifted focus from babymaking to child-rearing, and ushered in a new, more directed sound. Are the Henry Millers maturing?
We worked on this new record with our producers a lot more in-depth. The process was much more so the three of us- Max Drummey, Dan Stringer and myself- fleshing out the songs from the bottom up. That helped us mature. A lot of music I like is a wall of sound going out to the listener, but I think on this next record it’s a much more concentrated effort as opposed to creating so much chaos that I think is more the Daisies sound.
Max Drummey is an interesting choice of producer considering his background in hip-hop and R&B. Did he take the album in any unexpected directions?
Max is a really interesting guy. He makes a lot of hip-hop music but he’s a very rock and roll guy at heart and that definitely has an effect on his music. “Daisies” was recorded over two years and this album was made immediately. Before the tracks were even fleshed out 100% we had him giving edits and recording different parts. I do think hip-hop influenced the record because Max did so much of our drum programming and setting different grooves apart from song to song. He helped out a lot with making each song an individual world of music, whereas on “Daisies” the music tends to run together more.
Daisies produced some pretty wild videos, including the milk-drenched video for “HOP.” Where did the idea of soaking Kate in half-and-half come from?
The production team that we work with, House of Nod, who we’ve made three of our videos with, got a phantom camera that shoots in incredibly slow motion. They were in a competition to win this camera so they were shooting as much footage as they could so that even if they didn’t win the contest to own the camera they’d still have all this footage. We went over to their house at midnight and came up with a list of bizarre ideas, and milk in the bathtub was top of the list.
In the video and in many of your photoshoots you evoke images of retro Americana, especially from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Do you have a particular affinity to that era?
A lot of these photoshoots are just done in my home, so a lot of the things you see in there are my belongings. I went to school in Charleston, South Carolina, and I got this retro Americana style there, from lunchboxes to chaise longues, old trunks and radio. I personally feel a connection to that time period. I like things from old American industries, like objects mass produced in the ‘50s.
A cursory glance at your Twitter shows that you guys are very into another American institution, Parks and Recreation. Which character are you?
I relate to literally every character. That’s what makes the show so incredible. I’d like to be Ron, but I’m probably more Leslie.
Apart from striving towards Swanson, what’s next for you and the Henry Millers?
Our video for “Children” is coming out on February 11th. I think we’re trying to premiere a song at the end of February, but I don’t know yet. We’re taking the time between now and SXSW to learn our new record so we can play it there, then tour in the east and hopefully the south-east over the summer. Then we’re going to LA after SXSW.