Sean Henry's New Single Is a Creepy Ballad About Ant Murder
"The Ants" from the New York songwriter's first studio album 'Fink,' is both unsettling and hilarious, a reminder that songs can contain multitudes.
Photo by Marcus McDonald
For the most part, the songs that Sean Henry has made over the last half decade have been made most special by the smallest of details. On his 2015 release it's all about me—which I understood at the time to be an album but is now being referred to as a "demo tape"—he filled straightforward, home-recorded songs with little moments of care, an upward lilt at the end of a fragile vocal run here, a haphazardly double-tracked harmony there. Standouts like "The Crow" bear these moments throughout—this handworn quiltworks of humbly recorded instrumentations coming together with the simple bliss of the last couple of generations of home recording geniuses—people like Sparklehorse, Elliott Smith, Lou Barlow, and Henry's supremely talented labelmates on Double Double Whammy.
Today, the intimate world Henry's been crafting goes widescreen with the announcement of his first studio record Fink, and a single called "The Ants." In the years since it's all about me, Henry's played a ton of shows, both on his own and in other projects—most recently he's been a live member of the similarly minded ensemble Trace Mountains—which he says has taught him a lot about his own work. "I learned a lot about how to be a real rocker, professionally and spiritually," he says via email. "I got a taste of what it’s like to make music your life and that’s inspiring."
What that means, if "The Ants" is any indication, is a fuller, more realized version of his quiet, slow-moving songs. Henry sings in tense, foreboding tones of killing the vermin that give the track its title, whispering with an startling self-possession as the song swells around him. The chorus is more or less ecstatic, by his standards, a single-minded mantra that goes, simply "Goodbye, all of my problems." Henry says the track was inspired by a real life infestation, during which he was forced to do some large-scale ant murder. "Since then, oddly enough, I feel like I’ve been cursed by bugs," he says. "It’s like they know what I did and they’re getting even."
Rendered in more high fidelity realms, the creepy, crawly track become even more impactful than they might have otherwise been—the clear and constant thrum of an acoustic guitar giving the instrumental passages an unsettling sleepwalking energy. But there still remains this haze around the production, which gives the proceedings a mystery to them, a sense that you're uncovering each of these songs under a thick coating of cobwebs, unclear of what dangers may also lurk there. Fink takes its title from a curious image from his childhood, a word that his father spray painted in the basement of his childhood home. "We used to look at it and laugh," He recalls. "He passed away and I’ll never know anything more about it or see it again. It just sticks with me." This duality, of childlike innocence and unsolvable enigmas, seems to be part of what Henry intended for the record.
"The album takes place back and forth between the town and the city in sort of an intimate and childish fantasy world," he says. "We’re dealing with some mature realities and feeling on the other side of everything, like a vampire wanting life, but not having it."
The video for "The Ants," premiering here, explores some of this feeling, casting Henry as the vampire in question, trying to make a life for himself among the rhythms of city life. It's strange, straight-faced, but a little bit funny too—a sentiment at the background of all of his work.
"I don’t know if it’s living in New York City, but I feel like I’m constantly on the verge of death or failure or something and it becomes part of the music," he says. "I take it so seriously, but it’s incredible fun. I try my best to keep it together but sometimes I loose it and just want to destroy the song and just make a mess and we don’t always edit that out. I also consider myself a pretty chill and happy person..."
"The Ants," and its video, are a reminder that both of those things can be true. So check it out up above and pre-order Fink in advance of its release July 13 on Double Double Whammy.