Asked about the inspiration for his latest single,"Jesus Christ Second Amendment Blues," Henry Luther gives an odd but surprisingly earnest response: "It’s a true story." The sardonic country-folk romp, which tells the story of a Bible- and gun-wielding Jesus being shot by the town sheriff ("afraid of an armed brown man") is obviously not a factual account of the life of Jesus Christ. Still, with almost convincing sincerity he repeats,"It’s a true story. America killed Jesus."
The single, released on the heels of Henry Luther’s debut album, Carolina Folk Revivalism, is strikingly political in contrast with that album, which at times alludes to the political but mostly deals with the personal.
“I wrote that album over the course of several years – a few of these songs are even 5 or 6 years old – and I was mostly trying to make songs that conveyed a particular mood or feeling. I call it sonic impressionism. I still write that way. I try to think of moods or scenarios and write to the logical conclusion. Some people might call that political, but I’m not putting out a protest album anytime soon. I mean, I did just put out a song called 'I Love Liquor (But Liquor Don’t Love Me).'"
The new single also contrasts sonically with the album. Where the instrumentation on Carolina Folk Revivalism is sparse, not straying too often from vocals, acoustic guitar, and subtle sub bass that sounds more like an extension of the guitar than a distinct instrument, "Jesus Christ Second Amendment Blues" kicks off with a twangy electric guitar solo over driving bass and spacey steel guitar.
“I wanted my first album to be an accurate representation of what I sound like live– just vocals and guitar. I added a few extra instruments here and there and some electronic interludes to keep it interesting, but I didn’t want anyone coming to the show expecting a full band, or to have people thinking I’m playing acoustic versions of my songs. Like, these are the songs, you know what I mean? I also mixed and recorded the entire album myself, and I was kind of learning that process as I went, so I thought having less instruments to deal with might make that process easier.”
With his first album under his belt, Henry Luther is ready to expand the sonic palette of the next one. He says he’s almost finished writing it and is beginning the recording process.
“My newer stuff seems to be taking me in a more country direction – I’ve been listening to a lot of Hank Williams lately – so adding a little more instrumentation, whether it’s an electric guitar or steel guitar or banjo, seems to make sense. I’m a solo artist and I want the music to reflect that, and I want the songs to translate well to what I do live, but at the same time I want to give the songs a chance to be what they’re meant to be. A lot of the songs will still be just guitar and vocals and harmonica. It really just depends on what the song calls for.”
Although he expects his next album to exhibit more country influence than the first, Henry Luther does not expect it to be a radical departure from his first offering.
“I mean, the vibe might be slightly different, but it’s all acoustic music, it’s all Americana or roots music or whatever you want to call it. I’m still occasionally writing songs that would have fit well onCarolina Folk Revivalism, but at the same time I want the new album to feel like a body of work and not just a collection of Henry Luther songs, so that’ll probably translate to me trying to keep the country vibe going throughout. But I don’t think there’s going to be a stark contrast when I play the older stuff and the newer stuff back to back live. There will be signs of growth and evolution, but you’ll still know it’s Henry Luther.”
Asked about what’s next for Henry Luther, he doesn’t hesitate:
“You know, I really just want to hit the ground running now that I’ve got this album out. That's why I gotten two new songs out so quickly. I’ve been playing very infrequently the last few years, so the most important thing at the moment is to start playing as much as possible wherever people will let me play. I moved home from DC for this. I left a job at the Smithsonian for this. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I took my time and made the album I wanted to make, but now it’s time to actually do the work and get in front of as many crowds as possible and just play the songs. So that’s the mission at the moment.”
Henry Luther is a South Carolina-based folk singer specializing in indie-folk impressionism and alt-country surrealism. Bob Dylan, the Avett Brothers, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Hank Williams are some of his influences.