I haven't really dropped off the face of the earth, but between getting up
to speed with my new job and exploring the fabulous scenery, I've been out
and about a lot. Here's a few music features from the past week, starting
with one on my favorite record-store employee/songwriter with almost the
same name as me.
The Karl Hendricks Trio
Writer: ROBBIE WHELAN
Photographer: HEATHER MULL
The Karl Hendricks Trio have been playing geeky indie rock in Pittsburgh
for more than a decade. After a five-year hiatus from recording, their new
record, The Jerks Win Again, comes out this week on Chapel Hill's Merge
Records. The band's namesake and songwriter now lives in Bloomfield with
his wife and two daughters and is finishing an M.F.A. in creative writing
from the University of Pittsburgh.
How did the Trio get started?
I was in another band in Pittsburgh at the time called Sludgehammer, but I
also wrote songs on the side that didn't fit. Two of my friends, Tim
[Parker] and Tom [Hoffman], really pushed me to start my own band, and they
were the ones who wanted to call it The Karl Hendricks Trio, which actually
I'm very thankful for because there have been a lot of people in and out of
the band over the years. Because I'm the frontman, I'm able to maintain
some sort of continuity.
Is there a connection between the band and Pittsburgh?
I always thought that Pittsburgh is the kind of place where, if you are
obsessed with doing something like music, you can create your own little
world for yourself. There's room to pursue your obsessions in isolation. I
think The Karl Hendricks Trio has sort of had a strange place in this city.
A lot of things are written about us, all of the records get reviewed, but
when we play, no one really comes to see us.
Might that have something to do with the fact that you're not on a local
For me, the making of the records has always been the really important
thing, or at least more important than playing shows. There is a social
aspect to every music scene, and I think that sometimes I'm not a very
social person. I guess the Karl Hendricks Trio is not really centered
around what happens in Pittsburgh. It's centered more around reaching a
wide variety of people.
The Jerks Win Again has a baseball theme to it -- from the cover art to
"The Ballad of Bill Lee" -- and even in the concept of the album, the big
team's jerks winning over the underdogs.
I think baseball really lends itself to having poignant things written
about it. I'm actually more of a football fan, but a song about something
like football cards wouldn't really have the same emotional resonance or
nostalgia. Bill Lee's story is one that I'm really attracted to. I actually
discovered him by reading a story in a magazine and I wrote the song a year
later. I'm not sure how accurate it is, but I recently talked to someone
from Boston who had heard the song and said that it did a good job of
capturing his character.
Is there a conflict between the guy who you are in your songs -- the guy
crying about "Misery and Women" -- and the family man that you are in real
I consider myself an extraordinarily lucky person. In the grand scheme of
things, I have a great wife, healthy kids, and a nice house -- and there
are a lot of people in the world who have nothing. But I'm really unhappy
and dissatisfied with the world a lot of the time too. One of the great
things about art -- whether it's music or stories or anything -- is that it
allows you to talk about things that you wouldn't say in day-to-day life.
If people say, "Hey Karl, how're you doing, how're the kids?" I can't start
rambling about my inner fears and worries. It's just not appropriate.
Do people ever come up to you after hearing your songs -- songs about being
"almost happy" and "hiding your shame at the bottom of the trash" -- and
try to comfort you? How do people react to how depressing your music can
I don't think they do. My wife, Megan, knows me well enough to know the
extent of my angst and the extent of my happiness, so she doesn't get
worried about me, really. I'm not even really writing those things about
myself anymore -- I'm really trying to write about being a person, I think.
I view the songs on this record -- songs like "The Summer of Warm Beer" --
as being pretty hopeful. They're about finding happiness in situations
where happiness might not be apparent.
On the new album, the guitar solos have changed. They generally don't fit
into the structure of the songs as easily, and they sound more improvised.
It reflects my own interest, as a record-listener, in improvisational
music. I'm not saying I want to play jazz, it's just that I think it's
really fun and important for me to try and inject some of that stuff into
the band. A lot of my favorite records are from the '60s, and the really
interesting thing about that period is that you would hear a lot of records
that you couldn't really call "rock" or "jazz" or "blues" or "folk." You
got a sense of people playing just "music" and you could feel how excited
these people were about doing that. A lot of new music really wears me out
because an awful lot of bands sort of conceive themselves as being one type
of band and just play that genre.