I spoke with Bronze Radio Return’s Chris Henderson about the up-and-coming jazz-inspired, yet not-jazzy-sounding band’s five year journey. As the singer, guitarist, and lyrics/music composer, Henderson has led the six-member band from its start at Hartt Music School in Connecticut. The band recently played in Milwaukee at Shank Hall on Oct. 13, two years after their first performance at Summerfest.
What’s the origin of your band name?
I grew up in Maine and my father is an artist, and my sister and I hung out in his studio, where he did work. In his studio there was this old bronze-colored radio that he had gotten from his dad, who had gotten it from his dad, kind of passed through the family. On that bronze radio, I learned a lot about music, from folk music to blues and jazz, and that was a big part of my musical upbringing, was listening to music through that radio. And when we started this band, you know, it turns out we all have some sort of early exposure to music, and it’s kind of the return of the bronze radio back into our approach of reinterpreting music we grew up on.
So jazz is one of your main influences?
Yes, in a certain way I would say. I don’t think people listen to our music and say, Aw, man, I can hear, you know, Herb or Coltrane in there. I think the influence came from several of us. Four of us went to school or at some point studied or had some concentration in jazz music. And I learned a lot about balanced progressions and language and all sorts of valuable tools from the world of jazz. We kind of reinterpret it into another style of music and we play that.
Do you have a music-making ritual?
I think it’s always evolving, it’s refining in a general sense of the process. I will start by working on a song, working on the melody of the song, kind of working on a demo, at my house in Hartford, Conn. And then for lyric-writing for the album, I’ll go up to Maine, and spend some time working on lyrics sort of in a space that’s a little bit more removed, easier for focus for me. And then once I kind of have these foundations—melodies and the lyrical ideas and the chords, stuff like that—I bring it to the band and we all work on the music together from there.
Do you think the Mumford & Sons comparisons that various YouTube commentators make to your music are fair?
While I certainly have a larger respect for Mumford & Sons and what they represent in music today—their songs being big tunes on the radio and these guys singing songs, playing instruments in this kind of, you know, upbeat folk vibe—I’ve never wanted to listen to a Mumford & Sons song and say that I’m inspired to write music like this. I think our music sounds really drastically different from Mumford & Sons in general. But I think some people will draw comparisons to maybe some of the harmony singing or that we have a singer playing acoustic guitar, or examples like that. I think it’s flattering, but I think it’s inaccurate. We have a banjo, they have a banjo. We sing four-chord harmonies, they sing four-chord harmonies. We like to have moments of kind of like big musical choruses and vocals and things. There are certainly some similarities, but my personal opinion is that I don’t think we sound like Mumford & Sons. We certainly don’t try to.
Did any of you know each other before meeting at Hartt Music School (in Connecticut)?
Not really, a few of the folks met outside of the school. I was introduced to Packy (Patrick Fetkowitz), the guitar player in the band, who was a mutual friend of someone I went to school with at Hartt, and Packy’s and my friendship turned into making a band together. Then we actually went back to the resources at the Hartt School, and ended up approaching people who I had known, but I didn’t know them personally and lo and behold we are now travelling the country together and are very close friends.
Were any of you part of any other bands/gigs before Bronze Radio Return?
All of us have grown up playing in bands, so it’s a big part of it. In college, I played in a blues band and a hip-hop band. Some of the guys played in, you know, a lot of live jazz bands. We played a lot in the jazz world. So yeah, we’ve kind of come from a mish-mosh of various bands to form Bronze Radio Return.
Why this band?
I’m not exactly sure, but I do know that, of all the coincidences, we have a shared interest in this kind of style of music. Kind of blues rooted, then it’s kind of exploring different sounds. Kind of having some full, maybe rock, flavors. Musically it felt like we were all on the same page. And, just as important, is that we were all on the same page to be in a band for a job. And that has been really important for us moving forward. Knowing that we have six committed members in our band and that we all make sacrifices in time with family, friends, lives, girlfriends, while everybody’s on the same page, I think that’s a big factor of why we’ve enjoyed doing it for this long.
Henderson says he hopes to come back to Milwaukee for its fun, beer and Indian food. The band’s latest album, Up, On & Over was released in June.