Hartford, CT’s Bronze Radio Return is one of those bands whose songs you might not know you already know the words to. The band’s personal blend of indie/roots music has earned them over 100 sync placements since their formation in 2007. We chat with singer/songwriter Chris Henderson about working as a six-piece, blues music and the importance of preparation.
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What’s your typical songwriting process?
I’m not sure I have a typical song process. It changes regularly. Sometimes it starts with a melody on guitar or a vocal line or a drum groove. I’m open to any and all ways for songs to come together. What I work on making more typical is how I save and store ideas to be used at later times. I often have ideas for a verse or for a chorus but nothing else around it at the time. I keep lyric ideas on hand that I can pull from when I need direction. For me, the more organized I am with these little snipits and melody nuggets, the more I’m able to build ideas from thoughts I’ve had over a larger period of time.
With six members in the band, does a lot of your songwriting end up being collaborative? If so, how so?
There is certainly a collaborative effort that happens during the recording process for BRR albums. I’m a believer in the team sport mentality. Generally, I will start with an idea somewhat worked out- chords, melody, some ideas for certain instruments. It’s a loose foundation that can be broken down or expanded at any minute. For us it’s important to have a starting point in the studio. It’s cool how some bands can show up to the studio and just write and get material together on the spot. I can’t do that- I need time to think about things. The more prepared we are with starting points, the smoother the recording process goes for us. Most of the time we have not played the song together before we record it. That alone really adds to the collaborative nature in the studio. We are all hunting for the right parts and we all help each other find them.
Your song “Only Temporary” is so honest and relatable, especially for anyone who’s ever wanted someone they can’t have. Where do you generally find inspiration for your lyrics?
I’m not sure where inspiration for lyrics comes from- but I do know that when I go looking for inspiration to write words I often come up empty handed. I try to write down lyric ideas as they come to me over time. Sometimes it happens while standing in line at the grocery store. I think good lyrics often come from questions and observations. I also think good lyrics can be interpreted on different levels. In a song like “Only Temporary” it could be heard on the surface as a tale of unreciprocated love. You mentioned wanting something you can’t have. My favorite songs and lyrics can be heard different ways.
How long have you been writing songs?
I didn’t start writing songs until college, right around the time I started getting the courage to sing in front of other people.
Who were your first influences, and are they the same influences you have now?
I grew up listening to blues. Muddy Waters, Eric Claption, Howling Wolf, etc. For me it wasn’t what these guys were singing about, it was how they sang it. Raw. Intriguing. Genuine. In my early teens I was introduced to the power of great lyrics by Ben Harper. His lyrics really spoke to me and his voice tells its own story. In my later teens I went through a huge Elliot Smith phase trying to learn all the ways he wove melodies around interesting chord progressions. My early twenties listening was dominated by Ryan Adams. Jacksonville City Nights and Cold Roses are still 2 of my favorite albums to this day. Now, in a world of accessibility to so much music I find myself jumping around in what I listen to regularly. I may not listen to the above mentioned artists frequently but when I do I am always reminded of why and how I fell in love with music.
What’s a song on this album you’re particularly proud of and why?
Knowing where the song started, I’m proud of where “Nowhere to Be” ended up on the album. It was one of the last songs on the album to have finished lyrics. We started recording it in Texas in a different key, faster tempo and a rocking drum groove. It didn’t feel right and was very close to being cut entirely from the album. We went back to Oklahoma to finish up recording and this tune just seemed too daunting. We had some downtime one night and I took a uke in my room and hashed out the lyrics. I walked back into the control room and played it for the guys and that night we just about fully recorded the version of “Nowhere to Be” heard on the album.
If you could co-write with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Boy, that’s a tough question….so many interesting writers out there. To me a co-write is a great way to learn about someone else’s process. Looking at it from a learning perspective it’s hard to name one so I will name a few. Elliot Smith- teach me how you write melodies. Father John Misty- teach me how you write a story. Ray LaMontage- teach me how you evoke emotions with your voice. Vampire Weekend- teach me how to be so effortlessly cool.
Who are your favorite songwriters?
My favorite songwriters are the ones that figure out fresh ways to tell stories, share ideas and make the listener replay the song when its finished. Most of my favorite tune crafters use production as a tool to enhance the vibe yet don’t lose focus on the song itself. These song writers are not reinventing the wheel, rather finding new ways to look at it.