He Can Funk All By Himself

He Can Funk All By Himself
Staff Photo Stephen Ironside Henry Roland, who performs as Henry + The Invisibles, specializes in a unique performance of live recorded loops to create a full funk band sound.

Photo by Ironside Photography
Henry Roland, who performs as Henry + The Invisibles, specializes in a unique performance of live recorded loops to create a full funk band sound.

There’s something pretty unique about Henry + The Invisibles. Notably, there’s only one guy on stage, and it sounds like an entire band is up there with him playing along.

That’s because Henry Roland, from Austin, Texas, is a one-man-funk-band who utilizes loop recording pedal technology to live record several different instruments to create a funk fest of sounds. To streamline the process, he starts with a previously recorded drum loop, and goes on from there to incorporate bass, keyboards, vocals, percussion and guitar. He uses a lot of improvisation, and because of that, his sets are never the same.

The highlight of his high-energy funk set was his performance of “Only Human.” He asked the crowd if we wanted to see an alien, and sure enough, he threw on a disco shawl over his head and used his arm to operate an alien puppet wearing sunglasses that moved its mouth to Roland’s singing underneath the shawl. It was a lot of fun, to say the least.

The next day after his late Friday night performance, we sat down to talk about funk, loop musicians and love. Here’s our Q&A:

TFW: Okay, so you looked like you’ve been playing all of those instruments onstage for a long time. What instrument did you start your musical career with?

Roland: My very first instrument was alto sax. That was like in middle school. In high school, they had too many saxophone players, so they asked me to play percussion. I did the tri-top for a little while predominately, and then guitar was the second instrument I got into. I picked it up when I was about 11. I did jazz studies and stuff. The sax taught me how to read music, and the guitar was my love because my dad had a great record collection so I grew up listening to Hendrix, Zeppelin, Santana and Sly and all that stuff. It’s kinda where I got my flavor for funk.

I remember progressing on guitar and wanting to really get good at guitar. I didn’t start playing the bass or piano much until I moved to New York, just to get gigs, I picked up the bass. I played bass with some mod-rock and pop bands and started doing more studio work. The more instruments you know, the better your chances are of getting gigs. I was doing session work for a while.

TFW: While you were doing studio work in New York, were you ever in a serious band?

Roland: I was in one band called Gingbreadmen. We did some amazing things, like we went on the road with Maceo Parker for a few weeks, and he’s the sax player for James Brown and that’s where I kinda really got into some funk. We were like a 12-piece band and we were a bunch of kids so it didn’t matter then and we did a bunch of touring and learned a lot. After that I moved to New York and was in all kinds of bands, singer-songwriter duets, jazz trios. It was great.

TFW: So how did you develop your funk/soul style of vocals the “Uh!” kinda stuff you do?

Roland: I’ve always loved that kind of singing. So when we started playing when I was a kid, I wasn’t the original singer, but we had a falling out with the original singer and I just kinda said y’know I don’t know what this is gonna do but I’ll try it. I started singing and playing guitar. So I just decided I was going to take the reins on this and funk music just kind of happened. There was somewhat of a funk scene in Austin, but we had a horn section, percussion section, backup vocals. It was great. Then I went to jazz, then rock and then back to funk. It’s always been a part of my roots. The first time I heard those James Brown records like Live in Paris or at the Apollo, it just blew my mind.


Photo by Ironside Photography

TFW: So how did Henry + The Invisibles start?

Roland: This project is going on five years now, about 2009. Honestly, I was in a band called Starchild, and we got flown to L.A. for this television show thing called America’s Band, kinda like American Idol. We went out to L.A., and the bass and the drummer got into this huge argument while we were out there. They were on my neck about copyrights about the song that I had written. I just had this vision immediately when I got back to Texas that this wasn’t going to work. It was a quiet ride home, and I’m thinking about what I’m going to do next. So I thought about starting this project y’know, and that’s kind of how it all happened.

I had five shows booked for my band, and I didn’t want to cancel them. So I called them up and told them how my band was broken up, but I’m doing this one man show thing. A lot of them were like sure, we’ll give it a try. Not all of the venues enjoyed it, but most of them did. Then it took off and started building a fan base for its uniqueness. That’s where it all started, man.

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