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The Henry Clay People on Lollapalooza, the roots of their name and snow cones

August 14, 2009 |  3:16 pm

The Henry Clay People "Something in the Water" from Adam Mesinger on Vimeo.

If you’ve ever watched a Henry Clay People performance, the notion of the band organizing a rock 'n’ roll circus with cotton candy, clowns, mimes, balloon hats, magicians, skee ball and free snow cones doesn’t seem that outlandish. After all, few contemporary bands can top the four-beers-deep ebullience that the Glendale-based quartet bring to its live shows, which have been increasingly rare since a Spaceland residency earlier this year.

A national buzz has built around the best band ever named after a Whig politician since the November 2008 release of “For Cheap or for Free” on Justin “Aquarium Drunkard” Gage’s ever-reliable Autumn Tone imprint. Most recently, Spin named them one of the 15 must-hear acts at Lollapalooza, and MTV rightfully hailed the group's ability to bring “a West Coast halo to the bleary-eyed barroom rock perfected by the Hold Steady and the Replacements … perfectly capturing the get-in-the-van indie experience.”

The Rolling Stones-inspired circus, held tonight at the Echoplex, will also feature sets from Fol Chen, the Flying Tourbillon Orchestra and Marvelous Toy, interspersed with acoustic performances from Downtown/Union, Natural Disasters, Damselles, Les Blankes and Roadside Graves. In advance of the extravaganza, Pop & Hiss spoke to singer-guitarist Joey Siara about his experiences at Lollapalooza, the roots of the band name and the sheer awesomeness of free snow cones.

You guys told the Lollapalooza crowd that you’d brought a vial of ashes across the country for the specific purpose of bringing it onstage at the festival. Care to elaborate?

Our drummer’s girlfriend’s best friend’s stepdad passed away recently and he stated his desire to be cremated, with the ashes split up among various people. The idea was that this way, he’d be able to travel the world — so she gave us a little tiny vial of his ashes to bring onstage, so we did it and made a little announcement. His name was Randy and we have a song called, “Randy, Where’s the Rest of Me.” It seemed to make sense.

You spent much of the year on the road opening up for The Airborne Toxic Event. What was that experience like?

It was our first major tour and we were gone for six weeks. Nearly every show was sold out and it was incredible to see those type of crowds. The reality was a lot of sleeping on hardwood floors and trying to eat healthy so as not to gain 20 pounds, which we unfortunately did anyway. It was full of the standard tour clichés. It was an exciting time because The Airborne had never gone on a national tour either and we were all experiencing it simultaneously.

The band is also known for doing lots of covers, and once performed in Ronald Reagan masks under the name The Ronald Reagan People. How did that happen?

It started in our practices. We’d get bored and start messing around and covering other bands' songs. Whether it was Neil Young or Tom Petty, it was mainly pop radio hits, and it just became one of those things we’d start doing. Whenever we’d get bored with a set list, we’d throw in a cover; for better or worse, it became a theme that stuck. We tallied it up and we’ve played something like 40 different covers. 

How did you guys settle on the name Henry Clay People and did you secretly vote Whig in the last election?

It was originally just a bad joke. We were trying to come up with a band name and initially settled on The Berlin Airlift but another band already had that name. Then we started thinking of forgotten presidents like Chester A. Arthur and finally arrived at Henry Clay, who was not a president but is mostly forgotten. 

The idea for a rock 'n' roll circus was taken from the Rolling Stones, but what led you to decide to do one in L.A.?

We’d really wanted to do a summer show and didn’t have an album to do a release party for. We had the idea for a mustache party, and that somehow morphed into a rock 'n' roll circus. We also wanted an excuse to get as many of our friends together as possible, and that’s why a bunch of bands will play acoustic sets, whether onstage or outside or by the merch stands. It could be really good or really bad, but free snow cones are always a good thing.

--Jeff Weiss

Henry Clay People with Fol Chen, and the Flying Tourbillion Orchestra. Friday at the Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., 8 p.m., $10