Writer Of The Week: The Headlocks
Meet The Headlocks, the rock band from Staten Island, NY, whose debut album, Cuckoo Bird, we can’t get out of our heads. We spoke with singer/guitarist Rob Carey about their Bob Dylan-inspired band name, songwriting, and the nature of the word “Americana.” “It’s like stewed chicken versus fried chicken,” says Carey of writing off the cuff, versus meticulously editing your lyrics. “Different way of cooking, but equally pleasant.”
Tell us about how the band formed, and why.
Frank Duffy and I had been writing songs together for years and occasionally gathering a batch and playing them out. At that time, for some reason weren’t really playing them out. At one point we were playing supportive roles in the jug band The Wahoo Skiffle Crazies, I was on harmonica and he on acoustic and percussion. One day Frank said “This is great, but why haven’t we been playing our own stuff??” I said “I thought you didn’t want to do it anymore?” He said “I thought you didn’t want to do it.” I said “oh no, I do” and he said “me too”… So then we did it. We started playing our songs anywhere and everywhere.
How’d you get the band name?
Kind of by accident. Bob Dylan has a line in “Jokerman:” “Nightsticks and water cannons, tear gas, padlocks,Molotov cocktails and rocks behind every curtain”. For some reason we thought he was saying “headlocks,” which looking at it doesn’t make much sense in the context of the song. Haha. Anyway we were looking for a name for a while, and we liked that one. We still do.
Do people expect your music to be aggressive because of it?
I get the feeling that sometimes they do. People are often surprised by what they hear.
What’s been the secret to your success so far?
Not getting discouraged when things go wrong and being patient enough to take one step at a time. Also, by seeing confinements, limitations and slights as simple tests and opportunities to grow.
What’s been a career highlight?
I’d have to say the community support we got for our Cuckoo Bird release concert. We had no way to make this album happen financially. Through a friend, we managed to secure a 680 seat theater in Snug Harbor, Staten Island. Hand to hand, we sold it out. It was a great success, and it paid for a huge chunk of the album. Seeing everyone come together in support like that on a local level really blew my mind. It’s unheard of.
You’re sometimes billed as an Americana band. What does Americana mean to you?
Great question. Americana seems to me to apply to all things American. Meaning it starts with things like the constitution and the founding fathers, the Civil War, traveling by ship or wagon… and people like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, Stephen Foster, Edgar Allen Poe, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Patton — you see how this list is endless. It also includes things like highways and bridges, carnivals and circuses, revivals and other traveling Shows, and every type of uniquely American Music — jazz, blues, etc.
Obviously our country is one of immigrants, so that’s where it gets tricky. How the term Americana applies to a band is another story. Maybe the band has an aura that it somehow belongs to the vibe of what the whole country implies, for better or worse.
What’s a song on your Cuckoo Bird you really want people to hear, and why?
My favorite on the album changes from week to week. I’m sure the rest of the band would say the same. Right now it’s “Ways and Means” or “The Round Up.” Ask me next week and I might say “I Freak Out Too.” Our hope is that people will really listen to the whole thing, because we really designed it to have the feel of an old-school album, start to finish.
What’s a lyric you’re particularly proud of on the album?
Maybe “Made of Fire.” Where normally I write all of the lyrics, that one was a collaboration between myself and Duffy. So I don’t know if proud is the word, but it stretched me out a bit.
Are there any words you love, or hate?
Um, not really. That’s kind of like asking what my favorite song is. I do really love words though. If I’m reading a book and don’t know a word, I’ll circle it and look it up later. I also like looking up words I think I know well. For example, look up the word “love”. There are more meanings than you’d think.
How do you typically write songs? Words first, or melody?
Mostly words first, but lately I’ve been getting melodies first more and more, which is scary.
Do you find yourself revising a lot, or do you like to write automatically?
Most of what I would consider my best writing lyrically is done automatically with minimal revision, and as a result of a certain state of mind. But more and more I find myself revising and being open to that process — there’s so much more you can do with it. It’s like stewed chicken versus fried chicken. Different way of cooking, but equally pleasant.
Who’s an underrated songwriter, in your opinion?
Howard Fishman. That’s some Americana.
What’s a song you wish you’d written?
Oh there are so many…Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want To Make Love To You.” That’s a great one.