Talk to Starchild creative force Henry Roland for five minutes about being in a band, and he’ll go to a place most musicians are too cool for: Bidnezz.
“The price of living was getting so high,” he said of attempting survival in New York City. “Even when `shows were` packed, we still couldn’t make all that much. We didn’t charge at the door, but we made some bar money.”
It was the late ’90s, and Roland had just formed his signature trio Starchild with members of another band he played in, Lotus 33. He wanted to play music for people, sure, but he also wasn’t churning enough cheddar as a web designer, thrift-store employee, and DJ. Starchild was a way to play several nights a week.
“I was paying $2,000 a month for this little apartment on the East side,” he told me over drinks at Mitchell’s on Lockhill.
It didn’t matter that Starchild’s eccletic, infectious “Rock and Soul” sound was life-affirming for hipsters and funk junkies alike. The NYC market was (and remains) oversaturated.
“Man, you need 100 bucks just to walk down the street in New York,” he said. “Meanwhile I would talk to friends `in San Antonio`, and they’d say, ‘Man, I played this gig last night and everyone got paid two bills!’ In New York, you’d be lucky to make $30-50 a show. If I had stayed in New York, I would have gone broke. For good.”
So Roland shut down the Starchild project. In 2006, he revived the trio in San Antonio with a new lineup and a venue he would become synonymous with: Rebar on Broadway.
Roland’s Starchild project brought a sound to San Antonio that was as historical, daring, and professional as Luna’s own Thrasher Big Band, but it offered more grit, sweat, and Prince interpolations for your dollar. On the band’s classic “Write You a Letter,” Roland married slow-jam balladry with his Ray Charles-meets-Robert Plant vocals, letting the lyrics come in waves that altered a sentence’s meaning when it met the ear.
“I’m gonna write you a letter / and tell you I’m not sorry / that we ever met,” he sang, like an Earth, Wind, and Fire understudy.
Roland’s love for all things rock and soul led him to pen multipart compositions with a pop sensibility. His de-facto rug-cutter “House of Pleasure” opens with a riff straight out of a trailer for a Pam Grier flick. The chorus is anthemic and self-serving, tailored to the radio fans in the crowd. But it’s the disco call (the “whoop-whoop!”) and Roland’s deft soloing that take “House of Pleasure” into a territory equally “jam” and “song.” He can sustain the ecstasy of the tune for 10 minutes and slide into another funky rocker with only a moment’s rest.
This, along with Roland’s ability to meld genres without distracting listeners, packed Rebar week after week, until his bassist left to tend family matters. The band broke up entirely in October 2008, and Roland was tasked with explaining to club owners how he was going play booked gigs with no band.
“I sold it to `them` on the phone: ‘Hey, I’ve got this new project going on. It’s this one-man thing that’s going over really well here,”’ he said. “I was totally lying. I didn’t have anything going on. I had a loop pedal, and I knew what I wanted to do.”
Henry + the Invisibles was born.
Now, Roland has reformed Starchild with Shawn O’Banin (drums) and Justin Schneider (bass), amid a storm of other projects. He will release a Henry + the Invisibles EP in August and play guitar for hip-hop band Mojoe come fall.
“This thing was really about putting together some shows to make fans happy,” he said, although he’d like to record another Starchild album, this time from live shows, late in the summer. That’s when the reunion may end, at least for a few years.
“That’s kind of what I like to do. I like to play for a while, get things kind of big, and then take a break,” he said.
So get your ass to Rebar on Thursday nights, before Starchild once again disappears. •