Houston based recording artist Without A Face has just released their debut CD, Worst Debut Album Ever on Redbird Records. Henry Dillard is the mastermind behind the project that mixes a healthy does of tongue in cheek humor with some very good songwriting. While Worst Debut Album Ever is not your typical rock record, as it is stripped down and mostly comprised of acoustic guitar and vocals, I feel it is worth checking out. I recently spoke with Dillard about the project and the origin of it’s interesting name.
Where did the name Without a Face originate from and is there a special meaning to it?
Henry: Back when I had more than one band member we thought ‘Without a Face’ was a good name to insinuate that we were more interested in making music than looking like we were cool. Now I like to think of it more as if the band-name almost calls for doing different things. For a radical example, if I want my next album to consist of nine rap songs about daily house chores I can do that because I’m in ‘Without a Face’ as opposed to ‘Sonic Death Monkey’.
The first thing that struck me about this record personally is how well it flows. It is a very natural sounding album and the songs just seem to complement each other supremely well. Was this intentional or just the way it worked out?
Henry: It was painstakingly intentional, I spent nearly two weeks going through many different drafts and getting some one else’s opinion on what would make this album a listening experience from the beginning to end. I actually recorded 14 songs for the album. I felt like two of them were not very complimentary in the context of the other songs. Another song that I decided to leave off the album was because I thought it would sound better with a rock band at some point. So I think I spent more time on the track listing than anything else in regards to making this album.
You have pretty eclectic tastes in music. Have you listened to any artists recently that have moved you?
Henry: Yes indeed, so far my favorite album of ’09 is called ‘The Great Re-Arranger’ by Robert Ellis. It flows very beautifully and even my least favorite song on the album is still something that I enjoy hearing. His lyrics at different times manage to move me, make me reflect, and he does all this without sounding as if he has a Messianic complex. Kind of a country/bluegrass sound but very minimalistic since he rarely utilizes a traditional backing band.
Do you think a lot of people might dismiss Without a Face as being a gimmick band?
Henry: I’m sure there will be people who dismiss me as a comedy act or a gimmick, yes, or maybe some would even embrace me as that too. Either way it is not as if I intend for every song I ever write to be similar to this album, I used to write a lot of serious music before this debut. I saw a documentary where a painter said (to paraphrase) “There was a time when success in music was not dollar-driven; but it was based on whether or not you had something to say.” I tried to have something unique to say on this album, and if not I’d at least say something normal in a different way – if that makes any sense.
What song from that album is the most exciting for you to sing?
Henry: I think I enjoy singing “Fratford Bratford ’06” the most. I cannot really a think of a reason why, maybe it is because the subject matter has a lot to do with how I always felt about the area that I am from. I could probably go off on a really long rant about this and it would not make any sense. It’s not like I personally had anything against anyone, but maybe more so that I was just disappointed for them.
What is the toughest lesson you ever learned in the studio and on the stage?
Henry: The toughest lesson I ever learned in the studio is that it takes awhile to mix and master the recordings in which case it’s not free of charge. I think I’ve also learned that’s it’s good to sit on what you’ve recorded for awhile and maybe see how you feel about it a little later. It is great to record demo versions of your stuff at home to get an idea of what you want to do in the studio. The toughest lesson I ever learned on stage is that you should maybe not play the guitar so hard, this will decrease the likelihood of your strings breaking.
What is your musical background?
Henry: A lot of people in my family are talented at screaming, but I’m louder than all of them. A few people in my family dabbled with instruments as a hobby, my deceased grandmother actually played piano throughout her entire life ever since she was 3. I started singing in 7th grade, took some piano lessons in eighth, and then in 9th grade I learned to play the guitar from websites that had guitar tablature and began writing songs. I’ve been songwriting for roughly 6 years now.
Overall, what musical artists have you been the most inspired by?
Henry: As long as I enjoy their music despite whatever changes in their sound, and if their songwriting is not so formulaic or predictable, I suppose those are the kind of musical artists that I’m captivated and inspired by. So in that regard there’s a somewhat lengthy list of artists that inspire me in general or inspired me at some point in my life, and I don’t know which ones played a more significant role than others.
How quick are you in the studio? Can you usually knock things out in a couple takes?
Henry: My philosophy for the recording process is to rehearse a bit before recording, do a couple takes and just accept what occurs. I would play the guitar maybe once or twice for each song, it is not as if my guitar playing is complex or difficult though. I was pretty care free while recording vocals. I think ultimately I just felt like the content of the songs required more work rather than the quality of their performance, and I just wanted the record to sound natural anyway. Rarely did I consciously try to “sound great” unless the trustworthy producer Mike Thompson suggested it here and there. He did a great job of accentuating my ideas rather than trying to change them.
This record takes chances artistically. How hard is it to take chances with your music in an industry that is declining?
Henry: The industry is certainly in a transitional phase right now and I feel this inherently yields a more creative nature for all parties involved – which is fantastic. As far as artistic risks, if I had wanted to make an album that sounded like The Backstreet Boys I would have done that but I felt like making ‘Worst Debut’ at the time that I was recording it. You can really stress your self out if you worry too much about what other people will think about your songs, so I try not to dwell on that for better or worse. I just want to make the songs that I want to make, release them and hopefully people will enjoy them.
What is next for Without a Face?
Henry: As of right now my definite plans are to hopefully release two more albums next year and to constantly play concerts in between recording those. I’ll probably follow the 3rd album up with an EP and after that I feel like there’s a few different paths that I can take but who knows. My biggest problem has always been to think ten years ahead so now I try not to think beyond one year into the future. [ END ]