Zach Humenik and friends release new alt-country EP while continuing to record during the pandemic
Zach Humenik is on the phone talking about a tubing trip down the Brandywine River he took during our most recent Independence Day weekend, which saw temperatures hit the mid-90s.
“What a great activity to do when you can’t go out and do what you normally do,” Humenik says. “I’m so thankful for that little area there. My wife and I floated down for four hours. It’s a nice little trip.”
The story is an appropriate place to start the conversation about his latest alt-country project, Hey Slow, for two reasons. First, recording music is also another great activity for musicians when they can’t do what they normally do—play live. For Humenik, the pandemic pushed his energies toward recording, which, in turn, helped bring about Hey Slow’s first EP, Yosemite.
The second reason the tube-trip story is a good starting point for the interview is that the river takes center stage in Hey Slow’s new song “Ride.” In it, Humenik opens with these lines:
My precious baby,
Her name is Brandywine;
I went down to the woods,
A couple of times.
The song brings a local tie to a genre of music that is often lightly represented in the greater Wilmington area: original country music.
Aside from the local settings, another interesting feature Hey Slow’s music brings to the table is a wider palette of sonic textures that one doesn’t typically associate with country music. For instance, “Ride” opens up with a reverse guitar strum, a flourish more reminiscent of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” than it does Connie Smith’s “Once A Day.”
Similarly, on “Make Time,” breezy guitar tones drift in and out of the verses and solo section with a slightly psychedelic flavor. And on “Ghost Boi” a faded feedback seems to echo each line Humenik sings, like a haunting memory lingering just beneath the surface of a conversation.
“That’s kind of the fun part about producing stuff, ” Humenik says. “Especially with the quarantine, I had a lot of time [to experiment].
“For some of these songs, I decided, ‘This is kind of fun, let me add extra stuff to it.’ By adding different types of keys or synths to a song kind of takes it a little bit out of that country style and starts dipping into indie or a folk-rock type of thing.
“The country-folk thing is the foundation for all this stuff. To the extent in which I want to add stuff to it to change the vibe is really taste specific.”
In some ways, Hey Slow is a distinct departure from the type of music Humenik has been known for making, particularly with his style of singing in lower registers on Yosemite. It certainly sounds different from his first band, Diego Paulo. More than a decade ago, Humenik and his musical friends attracted large crowds performing their takes on vintage Latin and island music.
“I was really into—and still am into—Brazilian bossa nova music and other types of Latin and Central and South American music,” Humenik says. “So that was my inspiration [for that band].”
But in other ways, Hey Slow feels like an understandable progression from some of the music Humenik has done recently with his long-term ensemble, Travel Songs. That popular group also has borrowed similarly from Latin music, but, unlike Diego Paulo, it largely succeeded by creating dreamy folk signatures through a more modern, pop-rock filter. In that sense, perhaps it would not have been too unnatural to hear Travel Songs cover one or two Hey Slow tunes during, say, their last show at Dogfish Head Brewpub. Different, but not too different.
On that note, it’s probably no big surprise to hear Travel Songs co-founder Sam Nobles playing bass on these six Hey Slow songs—or that longtime collaborator Zack Thomas (High Reeper) is joining the team.
“Sam and I worked on the record together,” Humenik says. “I played the drums, the guitars, some of the keys and sang. Then Sam played bass and some other keys. And we just sent sound files back and forth to each other.
“But then when we play live, we work Zach Thomas into it to hit the harmonies. So, it’s like it’s a three-piece now, but we’re still early in the project.
“I’m already in the phase of writing songs for the next [release]. Actually, I got Zach coming over later tonight. We’re going to work on some music.”
Although the band’s name might imply something different, it doesn’t appear Hey Slow is waiting around when it comes to creating original material and moving into new directions.
Hey Slow’s Yosemite is available on most digital formats including Spotify, Google Play and Apple Music.