Out musician Michael Hensley prepares for his next live show
Emerson College graduate and out musician Michael Hensley has quickly emerged as an artist with a fresh and unique sound. On the eve of his first live performance in almost a year, we talked about his career thus far.
John Keith: How would you describe your music in 3 or 4 words?
Michael Hensley: Hmm … I think I’d say something like “emotive synth-pop” – I always want my songs to have a point of view. Sometimes it’s just about lost love but it can also run a little deeper, like my song “Life is a Disco,” where I sing about making sure you take advantage of the time of you have here and put yourself out there – you never know how long the music will keep playing, so you better dance while you can!
JK: Have you always wanted to be a musician?
MH: When I was a kid in the mid-90s, I became a music fanatic, obsessing over artists like Björk, Madonna, Garbage, and Tori Amos, and I was particularly drawn to the electronic touches. I started learning music theory and piano and then I studied audio production in college, so by the time I graduated I had early versions of a bunch of songs that would eventually turn into my first album.
JK: You’ve released just two full-length albums over the past decade. Would you say your creative process works … slowly?
MH: I’m not necessarily the fastest songwriter -- I usually have a lot of song fragments I’m working on, but I tend to focus on just a handful and work them over repeatedly until I’m happy with the result. Sometimes a song is pretty much done and I’ll decide to completely re-work it from the ground up if it’s not sounding just right.
JK: How has your music changed over the years?
MH: I think early on I was really focused on fleshing out the instrumental production first and foremost, and then finding ways to incorporate vocals and melodies later on, which sometimes led to a bit of a disconnect. I focus more on writing songs holistically now, where the melodies and lyrics are a more integral part of the process from the start. I’ve also been working on some new music recently where I’ve shifted toward a moodier and darker sound that’s a little less poppy.
JK: As an “emotive synth-pop artist”, how does performing live work out?
MH: [It can be] a logistical challenge. I just don’t have the financial resources to get a bunch of people to learn my songs and play live on stage with me, but I will have one helper up there with me at my Café 939 show. I will say I definitely feel more comfortable in the studio, but a good live show can also be a real rush if you have a good crowd and a good sound system, which I fully expect for Café 939!
JK: You said in an interview in 2007, “I guess right now I’m just figuring out how I’m going to live.” Six years on, are you closer to figuring that out?
MH: I suppose I am a little bit! I think that everyone is probably still figuring it out as they go along, but for me I decided that I had to live without any regrets. I learned that wishes and dreams don’t just happen on their own, you have to work at them, so I’m always trying new things and putting myself out there.
JK: Have you found a welcoming community in Boston, both personally (gay man) and professionally (independent musician)?
MH: I love Boston, and I think being gay has really reached a point of widespread acceptance here. I still feel it’s important to have a sense of a gay community, which I definitely feel like I have found among some really great friends who have become my extended family. In terms of indie music, there are a lot of great little venues and DJ nights that make this a really great place to hear other new music by emerging artists.
JK: What’s next?
MH: I have been working on some new music with my NYC-based musician friend Adam Rio, including a couple cover songs, and I have new songs that I’ll be debuting at the show. The future’s pretty wide open, and as long as I still have inspiration, I’ll continue to write and record music!
Michael Hensley is performing at the Red Room at Café 939 at 939 Boylston Street on Wednesday, May 15th. Facebook invite: https://www.facebook.com/events/653020921390763/. More about Michael, including a free download of his latest album "Heart Mechanical" at http://www.michael-hensley.com.