Henna Roso on food insecurity and songwriting
Members of the Tulsa funk, jazz band discuss their new album and what drives them
Phil Clarkin Photography
Bassist Taylor Graham and guitarist Justin Dupuis of local funk, jazz, soul band Henna Roso answered some of our most pressing questions in the wake of their debut album’s release. “Feed the Hungry” is streaming and available for purchase from most major music retailers. Their single "Mars" appeared on a recent episode of Tulsa Talks: A TulsaPeople Podcast.
Starting from the beginning, “Henna Roso” is a unique name for a band. What inspired that choice? What does it mean, if anything?
Taylor Graham: Henna Roso is a play on the Spanish word “generoso” which means generous. We wanted the name to reflect our mission of fighting food insecurity.
Justin Dupuis: Taylor gives a speech at just about every show letting the crowd know this very answer. We were joking around at a gig one night and in the moment, I was the one to give it a go. Needless to say, I did a horrendous job. So, with that being said, I think I am going to let Taylor’s response be the answer for this! I could never in a million years articulate it as well as him.
Henna Roso has been active since at least 2016 – why nearly three years before your debut?
TG: We started playing shows/operating food drives in April 2016. We wanted to show people what we were about while continually tweaking and creating our sound. It was my intention with this band to do everything the right way even if it took a long time and that really can be seen with the record and the process with creating it. We started recording in July 2017 when we felt we had the songs where they needed to be and had compiled the funds to begin the process. Money is honestly a huge reason why it took so long to get the album done and released. We did not want to rush the end-product and decided to do each step right, which is a very expensive process.
JD: It took us about three years to get the record out because we were perfecting the heck out of it on the mixing side of things. We recorded live as a band, laying the groundwork down in only two days, though, a full year before the record came out. Everyone played so unbelievably well that weekend. Too bad we can’t always play that good (totally kidding)! The band was also hitting the road almost every single weekend: we called them our “two-ers.” One weekend we even drove to Lincoln on a Friday, then to Chicago on a Saturday, and then back to Tulsa Sunday. That was brutal!
I saw in your VENTS Magazine interview that it took over two years to write the music for your new record, “Feed the Hungry.” Did you know during those two years that you wanted to turn those songs into a record, or were you just writing and polishing individual songs until the record gradually formed from that? How many Henna Roso deep cuts didn't make “Feed the Hungry”?
TG: I would not say it took over two years to write this material, but it was being continually tweaked and shaped over that time. It took two years from start to finish on this record from tracking to final product. We had a good idea of what songs would be on the record by which ones were the most solid live. We have probably an additional 8-12 songs that did not make this record but will be on the next release.
JD: We were constantly writing and polishing our songs in those two years. These songs are really hard to play, and we needed all the time we could get mastering them. We have vowed that we are going to stop writing hard songs. It is pretty daunting when every show you play you look at your setlist before the gig and go, “Oh crap.”
Your website establishes your band as one “dedicated to fighting hunger,” with your new record getting an appropriate name and 10% of your profits working to that end. Why this particular social issue?
TG: Hunger is an ever-present issue that affects 40 million Americans every year. We thought it was an issue we could make an impact on immediately while continually providing support and awareness for an issue that people deal with daily.
JD: Everyone needs to eat, and not everyone is eating. Plain and simple.
I know this is a bit of a large question, but what do the members of Henna Roso take inspiration from, musically or otherwise? Between the incredibly technical instrumentation, the funk influences and the humorous track titles (like "McSteamy," or "Eff This"), I wonder if any of you would cite Vulfpeck as a musical influence. Of course, your music borrows from more than just funk.
TG: We like all types of artists and music but tend to lean towards the funk/soul/r&b side of things. As a bass player, Vulfpeck is definitely an inspiration with the incredible playing of Joe Dart, and I love them as a band in general. Not only on the music side of things – those guys are marketing geniuses who do not take themselves too seriously and many independent bands could learn a thing or two from them. We are D'Angelo fiends and listen to “Voodoo” about every trip we take. He is a huge influence and the artists that you hear in his sound also influenced us heavily (Sly and the Family Stone, Earth, Wind and Fire, Parliament-Funkadelic, etc.)
JD: I have been writing hard technical songs for a long time now, no idea why it started to happen, but I’m unfortunately good at it. I studied jazz in college, which has been a huge factor in pushing my technical knowledge deeper and deeper down the theoretical rabbit hole, but in the end, you still just want your song to groove. This is where Taylor and I work so well together. My songs tend to have a million chords and technical lines, while Taylor’s have a big ole pocket. Most of my influences have come from guitar players like Bill Frisell, Ted Greene, John Scofield and Scott Henderson, to name a few. But to be completely honest, I really don’t listen to music very often these days. All I do is listen to audiobooks, which absolutely helps the mind stay creative in all things.