Things to Do

Band Notes: Bronze Radio Return

Ahead of their show at the Hamilton Thursday, lead singer Chris Henderson talks about his songwriting, his favorite live shows, and having his music in commercials.

Photograph by Michelle Jonne.

If you’ve been around a TV any time in the past few months, it’s likely Bronze Radio
Return’s “Shake, Shake, Shake has wormed its way into your consciousness. The handclap-filled tune, which captures
the feeling of playing a show from the band’s perspective, has been featured in a
variety of television shows and commercials, most notably a TV spot for the Nissan
Leaf. The band formed in Hartford, Connecticut, when singer, songwriter, and guitarist

Chris Henderson met drummer
Rob Griffith, bassist
Bob Tanen, and keyboardist
Matt Warner at the Hartt School of Music. With lead guitar
Patrick Fetkowitz and harmonica/banjo player
Craig Struble, BRR puts out danceable, ridiculously catchy tunes infused with blues and tinged
with nostalgia. They’re wrapping up their 2012 tour soon; before their show at the
Hamilton on December 13, we chatted with Henderson about musical bucket lists, juggling
creative visions, and the concept of selling out.

How’s it going?

Good—we’re currently en route from Columbus, Ohio, to Ann Arbor, Michigan. We just
had a bit of time off around Thanksgiving, so we’re just doing eight more shows for
the year and we’re gonna wrap up the year with the Wheeler Brothers and finish out
around the middle of December. I grew up in Maine, so I got to go home for five days
[for Thanksgiving]; prior to that we’ve had a pretty busy fall. We’ve been going steady
for the past couple of months.

Tell me a bit about your life on the road.

We travel in a 15-passenger van and tow around a trailer with all our gear in it.
I don’t know what we did before we had iPhones—my neck gets sore from looking down
at my phone for hours on end, killing time. Sometimes we’ll practice harmonies in
the van, listen to music, try to do things that are productive, because we spend a
fair amount of time in the van.

We try to stay up on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and be on top of the connections
and everything like that. We’ll stream YouTube videos, Spotify, do everything and
cycle back through it again, and keep doing it all day. I think we’re fortunate to
have some of these tools in the current music industry climate to connect with folks
outside of markets you’ve been in; if you use them correctly, you can really connect
with people all over the country and work on developing real fans.

Do you have a favorite city to travel to?

We’re from the Northeast, so we like New York City and Philly; we like playing in
our hometown of Hartford. And we like the adventure of cities we haven’t been to much;
we like spending time in Austin, and we really enjoyed Asheville. We were just in
LA recently, and that was totally a trip, a fun experience. The big thing we like
is the adventure of it, meeting people we’ve yet to meet.

The band’s name is inspired by your dad’s old radio—do you remember the first band
or song that really got you interested in music?

I know some of the early stuff was Eric Clapton, BB King, Muddy Waters—more along
the blues theme of things. That’s what we play a lot in the studio.

And when did you start to think, “Okay, I could be a musician for a living”?

I feel like I was a bit late to the game. I went to school in Hartford, where most
of us met, for music production and technology, so I was on the studio engineering
side; I didn’t start songwriting or singing until junior year of college. I just wrote
a tune and wanted to test out some audio gear, so I tried it myself. I passed it around
to friends very reluctantly and got some encouraging words, and I kept doing it, but
it was a while before I realized, “I’m going to have a job in performing music.” The
band’s been together for four years, and we recently all became fully dependent on
the band, with no other jobs—that’s a huge milestone for the band.

What kind of jobs were you working before?

For the past few years, prior to spending time with the band, I was teaching guitar
lessons. I had a good group of mostly younger children, so that was fun. Prior to
that I was more or less a butler/personal assistant to a lawyer in Hartford. We don’t
have enough time in the day to talk about that job—it was interesting working with
a very quirky gentleman.

There are six people in the band—what’s your strategy for juggling all those individual
creative visions?

We have a good system for working on it: Most times I’ll start with the idea, the
concept, the rough structure of the song, and I’ll record it down a little bit—garbled
nonsense that will be the melody of the song but not have words to it. I take that
and send it to the guys, and everybody kind of has their take on what the drum part
should be or a section that’s too long; it very much becomes a team sport at that
point. We do a good job of being respectful with people’s ideas; it can be tricky
with six cooks in the kitchen, but everybody values everybody’s ideas.

We recorded a new record this summer in Virginia, about an hour east of Charlottesville,
on a farm. It was very removed, down about five miles of dirt road on a few acres
of property. There was this great studio in a barn; we recorded on the first floor
and lived on the second floor for about six weeks.

So it was a full-immersion experience.

I think it was more fully immersed than we thought it would be. We liked the idea
of doing it all at one time, wrapping our brains around it, being away from friends,
family, girlfriends, wives, and focusing on making an album. We’re getting the final
masters soon. We’re excited to have the new record, and we’re releasing it next year
in February; we’re looking forward to new songs, a new repertoire.

Speaking of which, your song “Shake, Shake, Shake” has been featured on a bunch of
TV shows and in commercials. Do you ever get sick of hearing it?

[laughs] Our largest placement to date is this Nissan commercial. I’m dying to see
this thing on TV; I feel like everyone else has seen it. It can be tiresome to listen
to your own music, but it’s exciting to hear when people are hearing it; we don’t
really sit around and listen to our own records, but it’s exciting to hear when it’s
on a commercial or a TV show, and it’s nice to get that exposure.

Did you have any hesitation about licensing your song for a car commercial?

We didn’t hesitate; we were excited to be a part of the campaign. Our band doesn’t
have the mindset of selling out; we look at using your stuff for commercials as an
opportunity to get our music out there and get new fans.

What was the last concert you went to?

I went to see Delta Spirit; I’m a big fan of them, and they put on a really great
show. A couple summers ago we went to see Eric Clapton. That was a great field trip
for us; it was such a spectacular show, and a really special moment as a band to sit
there and watch someone we grew up listening to.

Who’s on your bucket list for bands you’d like to see live?

Clapton was definitely on that list. I’ve heard so many crazy things about Mumford
& Sons, so it would be great to see them live. Talking Heads—it would be so fun to
do a live show with all of them together. I’m a big David Byrne fan. There are so
many great shows, especially with all these massive festivals now.

Are you planning to play any of those big festivals?

We have our fingers crossed for a couple—we will be doing FloydFest,
in Virginia, a stopover in Savannah, South by Southwest, and hopefully several more
of the larger fests.

[Otherwise] we have a little downtime, time off for the holidays. We don’t have any
shows for January, so we’ll use that time for rehearsing new material. Then we head
out for an extensive run February, March, and April. It’s a national tour, so we’ll
be pretty busy.

What do you hope people take away from your live show?

That it was a worthwhile time to come out. We take pride in our live show and having
energy; we love doing this, we feel very fortunate to have this be our jobs, and we
like to have a good time, so we don’t forget that.

Bronze Radio Return performs at the Hamilton Thursday,
December 13, at 7:30 PM with
the Wheeler Brothers. Tickets ($17) are available through
the venue’s