Henry Jamison’s transcendental folk lyrics flicker with confrontations of truths—whether it be truths of society or his own. His new album, Gloria Duplex, addresses heavy themes such as the pressures of masculinity and how it affects his own experience. We caught up with Jamison, who opens for Guster at House of Blues on Jan. 19, and chatted about touring, the role of storytelling in his music and his next album.
How does it feel to be performing at the House of Blues? It’s a big crowd in a town I’ve actually had a hard time in. Not in any bad ways, it’s just hard to break into Boston for some reason. So it feels like a big moment. Also I’m playing with Guster there, and Guster was the first show I ever went to, so it feels sort of full circle.
And you’ve played with acts like Big Thief and Nick Hakim in the past, what was that like? I did tour with Big Thief and Adrianne Lenker. Last March I did around seven or eight shows with her. The New York show was at a synagogue and it was with Nick Hakim also and we all played solo. It was a lot of people and a pretty great thing to be honest. They’re two of my favorite musicians.
How do you think you’ve changed from your debut album, The Wilds, to now releasing your second record, Gloria Duplex? Well, one big difference is the production because I was basically self-producing on the first record and this record was produced by Thomas Bartlett. I made it in New York. I mean, to me, the process was completely different. The similarities are probably the fact that it’s just me and my songs and similar instrumentation. But he is a pianist so there’s way more piano and lots of synthesizers, but played in a much more expert way because I really don’t have any business playing the keyboard. That’s the main difference. The other thing is that it’s a little more conceptually-driven. I wouldn’t really call it a concept album but it’s just short of being one.
What message do you hope people will receive from this record? It’s about the state of men in our culture and my own case, predominantly. So without despairing, it’s about how we’re so messed up and what we do about it, with some redeeming, hopeful ideas. But the main thing isn’t letting the concept override the particulars. It would be better to just listen to the songs and not worry about interpreting it too much.
You’ve spoken about how this album centers around the idea of masculinity as a “toxic fraternity,” do you think this album is serving a political purpose in some way? Yeah, I always feel like calling something political kind of categorizes it… I’m not really what people might think of as a “political person.” I don’t read the news, but I’m always looking at what’s around me and seeing particular things in myself, seeing particular trends, and I want to address it. So I think that it is political… in a human way. It’s still more poetry than politics.
Your lyrics have a story-like quality to them. How important do you think that narrative is in songwriting? People always say “your songs are stories.” It’s true that they are, but it’s almost like they’re the messenger for me. It’s like when I want to write about something, I can’t just tell you in philosophical terms because that wouldn’t be very interesting. I’d rather have it be a story in which something is shown. And if you really want to go there, stories go back to the very beginning of humanity–stories are how we explain our existence to each other.
Speaking of songwriting, what is your process like? It’s basically playing guitar until I have something down, singing until I have some sort of melody I like, saying kind of gibberish while I sing that melody and then recording on my phone. And then I’ll listen back. Very often, the gibberish has some words in it even though I didn’t really know what I was saying as I was singing it. Then I kind of extract the lyrics from that.
Henry Jamison plays House of Blues on Jan. 19