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on punk island time with singer/guitarist Melody Henry

from aspirational fiddler to Brooklyn bandleader

Ello. Today in the Molly Zone: an interview with Melody Henry, who plays guitar in Low Presh and heads up her own band Phantom Signals!

Melody came recommended to me by Pat Petrus, who, if you’ve been following along, was a great dude I met at a deadmau5 show and then interviewed about his drumming (in the band Low Presh + the NYC jazz scene) and other creative pursuits like fiction writing. Melody’s in Low Presh too, and her story of getting into playing music with others after an initial interest in playing guitar and then a long musical drought is inspiring.

Plus Melody’s story is fascinating because it shows all of the hidden utilities of the NYC DIY scene: small venues dedicated to supporting and promoting unique music; the East Williamsburg Econo Lodge Band Lottery, which assembles random bands from a drawing that play together; rehearsal spaces that double as impromptu recording studios. New York is obviously an expensive and tough place to live, but the artistic climate it can still foster is immaculate, and Melody’s tunes are proof. Check out our conversation post-haste…

but first…

Thank you for being down to chat! I have many questions for you, but first, to get into things: what's your personal musical history in terms of when you started playing music, singing, writing?

When I was younger, this Irish fiddle group came to my elementary school. Half of my family is from Ireland, so I signed up to play violin. But then they put me in classical violin. I saw other people with guitars coming into the music store where I would take the violin lessons, and I was like, those people look so cool, I look stupid with my violin. Then I started playing guitar, and I did musical theater. Then I quit everything for a while and became a cheerleader.

In college, my friend asked me to play guitar for a recital, so I got back into it. Then Covid happened, and I had nothing to do, so I kept playing. Then I started writing stuff because it was boring to learn other people's stuff. And now I’m in two bands.

That’s crazy. I've talked to people who incubated various creative things during Covid, but this feels like almost an extreme version of that, going from 0 to 2 bands. Did Low Presh come first?

Yeah. I moved to the city in April of 2021 — I grew up in upstate, not that far away — and I was looking to try out for different bands. I tried out for a couple, but they were very bro-y, and also, I think, wanted somebody that had much better qualifications than me, because I was not very good at the time. They were like, Can you play barre chords? And I was like…no. Now I can! But I was quite limited in my skills.

Then I found Low Presh. Nick, the frontperson, had posted on Reddit saying, “I started this project over Covid and I have a drummer and we've been recording some stuff” — this was a different drummer than Pat at the time — “I'm looking for a guitarist and a bassist, and especially women, people of color, LGBTQ people, please feel encouraged to reach out. I want this to be a safe space.” I messaged them and we met up and got drinks, and I was like, “I want to be super honest…I can't shred. I'm not that good.” And they said, “It’s fine. We just want someone that really likes the vibe.”

And then my own project [Phantom Signals], I’d been wanting to start for a while. But I felt like I didn’t have time with Low Presh going on to get it off the ground. Then our previous drummer left the band and our bassist was getting surgery, so I had a couple of months of nothing. So I found my drummer on an ad board and I found the bassist and the other guitarist through the East Williamsburg Econo Lodge band lotto.

I feel like that's kind of old school, finding a band member through a classified sort of ad. What is it like to source someone in that way?

I was actually looking for a drummer for Low Presh. I’d seen this guy that posted, and based on the stuff he said he liked, I thought his influences were closer to mine for Phantom Signals. So I reached out and was like, “Hey, I'm starting this project, here's my demo, let me know if you're interested." I totally didn't even think he was going to respond. He said, “Sure, let’s play together.” We practiced. And he was like, “When is the next practice?” It was much faster than I expected.

That’s so funny. It naturally worked out! So you’ve released a couple singles for Phantom Signals, and then there's an album on the way later in the year?

Yeah. I released three singles. Those ones are 90% me because I had written them before I had a band. I mostly play guitar, I'm okay on bass. Drums, I'm questionable. I went to the rehearsal space and recorded each drum separate and put them all together in the song. So now we’re making either an LP or EP…I think we’re leaning towards LP at this point, and I think we're going to re-record the first three that I did by myself because they've become different songs as we've started them as a band. But we've finished writing everything, so that's really exciting.

That's great. Do you know where you're going to record-slash-produce them?

We’ve been recording them in our practice space, so it's been pretty DIY. Our guitarist is also a drummer in the band Castle Black, so he has a bunch of drum mics and we've been bringing them to this practice space and recording them there. For the bass, we've just done it direct into my laptop, and then for the guitars, I have this tiny little amp from when I was, like, 12, when I first started playing guitar, that has an output that I can put into my laptop. It sounds vintage in a way, so I’ve become very partial to how that sounds. For mixing, the singles that have already been released have been mixed by a combination of me, my friend in California, and Nick from Low Presh; and then our guitarist has a friend [Nick Kelly] who’s in music production school and he’s mixing the new recordings.

I wanted to ask about the song “Basement” in particular, because I saw it was inspired by going to see a show. You don't have to say who was playing, but will you tell me more about what the circumstances of that night were?

I was checking out a lot of DIY venues in Brooklyn with a friend at that time. I was getting sick of the bar scene and just wanted to see what else was out there. So we went to the venue called the Tubs and it's in a basement. There were four sets that night. The first three, they were all good. But the fourth one really blew me away. It was this one girl who had a guitar and a tiny little mini keyboard, and a drummer who was so good at following what this girl was doing.

I’ll tell you — the band was called Or Best Offer, and I haven't seen them again because I feel like it's going to ruin it. I haven't listened to their stuff. I haven't reached out to them. I completely severed all connection to that band after, and I never spoke to them in person. But it was just such an incredible set. I’ve never seen two people that were so in-tune to each other before. And I think that was the moment, too, where I realized they were doing totally weird stuff and the DIY spaces are really welcoming to this kind of thing. You could do something that in a bar would be considered bad or weird. So that’s when I was like, I can do that — even if my stuff's weird, I could play here.

I love that so much. There really is something when you see a super-small show and feel like, oh my god, this is a moment that only a limited amount of people even saw, and even if I tell people about it, it’s not going to be the same, but I know what happened. I think that really came through on “Basement.”

And with that song, we’ve been really struggling with how to do it live, because it's only me that sings in the band. We've tried a looping pedal but then only I can hear the click track…we were almost going to take it out. But our drummer was like, You can't take out that song when it's about playing a DIY set. You have to play it! So we recruited some friends that will sing it with us.

So I saw you’re playing Econo Lodge soon.

Yeah. June 3rd is our first show, at Econo Lodge. Then we have shows at the Windjammer, Arlenes, and another at 18th Ward through New Colossus.

I actually just went to my first Econo Lodge show this past weekend. It was cool. It was sweaty.

And the floor is bouncing and you hope it doesn't collapse.

Yep. I truly had the thought: this would be really bad if that happened. But what are the odds?

During the band lotto, when we were playing, we ended up doing this really rhythmic set because we had two drummers and two bassists. We were playing this one song that was super uptempo and everyone was kind of bouncing to it, but you could feel the floor just going like this [making bouncing motion] the whole song. And I was like, I'm gonna probably die right now.

You gotta hope for a gentle collapse. Anything else you’re looking forward to, music-wise, these days?

I’m excited to see what happens with Low Presh, because we have our new drummer, Pat, and I feel like we're trying to take that project in more of a different direction, a more garage-y area. We have certain songs that we realized that people were really receptive to on our last album, which were not the ones that we expected, so that was really surprising.

I’m also excited for Punk Island. I love that event and would love to play it in the future. It's super fun and welcoming.

Ooh, what is Punk Island?

It's a small daylong festival run entirely by volunteers. They used to have it on Randall's Island, and then they had it last summer in Maria Hernandez Park. It’s just a bunch of punk bands. Going to it made me see how diverse and friendly the punk scene is, because I feel like outside the music scene, it gets such a rep of being scary, and it’s totally the most friendly of all the music scenes. It’s happening in June, so hopefully it will be less hot than last year.

When was it last year?

It was late July, and it was like 100 degrees out that day. I didn't go until it got dark because it was so hot.

Yeah, that's like a self preservation thing.

These bands played during the day and were shredding in the heat. I was like, yeah, you guys are really hardcore!

Here’s Phantom Signals’ Linktree and Instagram, and Low Presh’s Linktree and Instagram.

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