High school sweethearts who’ve stuck together through thick and thin, The Wayward Henrys have rolled down a rocky road and turned their journey into song. Music is the grease in their engine. Songwriting is the soldering iron that’s kept their chassis together.
Married pair Brock and Natalie Henry have written a break-up record without the separation, weaving yearning stories of love and loss. Brock’s deep, dusty voice is a stirring counterweight to Natalie’s sweet, fragile vocal instrument. It’s a potent mix that gives the couple’s debut album, Cold Love, an emotional sincerity that can’t be faked or fabricated.
“Brock and I are high school lovers and have had times of joy but like most relationships over a decade, have also had our fair share of problematic times,” says Natalie. “Cold Love is our way of breaking up whilst sticking it out together. It’s the break up album minus the break up.”
The Wayward Henrys’ debut record was produced by Golden Guitar-winning country singer Lachlan Bryan, who they met at a songwriters’ retreat in Tamworth. The result is a songbook awash in dark, dream-like beauty that exists in its own timeless corner.
Lachlan was impressed by the pair’s process. “The way Nat and Brock write and sing songs is really honest and authentic,” he says. “Even when it's a story song about somebody else, they put so much of themselves into it. I wanted to make a record with them that captures the beauty at the heart of what they do, but still leaves as much of the dirt on as possible. Often the dirt you hear on records is fake, but in these guys' case it's all completely real. We made the album down here in Melbourne over a pretty long period of time - it was never about getting it perfect, but always about getting it right.”
“That's where the beauty of a writing partner in Nat comes in,” adds Brock, “she has a more direct engage-the-audience style and keeps me from straying off into the land of dark noise and keeps the music accessible.”
The Wayward Henrys have led eventful lives. Brock is the son of a policeman, and grew up immersed in an offbeat country record collection while his brother’s punk rock albums played somewhere in the background. Music took a backseat for a long time, with Brock travelling extensively, indulging his love of motorbikes and working as a mechanic. But it was a near-death experience in Italy that convinced the songwriter to return to his craft.
“I planned to sleep in a train station halfway up the mountains in northern Italy in the middle of winter, until at midnight the guards kicked me out with little money and no where to go,” says Brock. “So I fell asleep outside only to be woken by a Moroccan refugee telling me I had to get up and pace back and forth or I'd freeze to death. When the sun came up I gave him 20 euros, half of what I had left, and thought is that all my life is worth?”
Natalie’s life has played out like one long country song. The product of a broken home, with numerous stepbrothers, sisters and mothers, the singer was raised by her truck driver father, a KB drinkin’, camel-smokin’ man with the charm of Burt Reynolds. He would sing along to classics by Willie Nelson and The Highwaymen as Natalie lay in the sleeper cab of his prime mover, rolling interstate.
Natalie’s singing career didn’t begin until the age of 34, just after the couple was married. Now she joins her husband in the live arena, sharing her perspective on the relationship at the centre of much of their songwriting.
“We’ve spent the last seven years living apart due to Brock’s work and the emotional pressure that has put on us has brought us to breaking point and rather than quit we’ve sung our way through it,” says Natalie. “Our love affair is not one without sorrow and we’re not afraid to share it with the world and put our imperfect love out into the deep musical ocean to be eaten by the sharks.”
While the subject of their marriage is explored on many of the tracks on Cold Love, other stories and themes are explored. The album’s eerie first single is ‘Early Grave’, a murder ballad inspired by killer Israel Keyes. It weaves the story of a deranged man with the plight of a helpless and beautiful young girl.
The strength of the songs on Cold Love suggests Natalie and Brock have formed a perfect symbiotic relationship. They shape each other’s approach to lyrics. “The first track on the album, ‘Tears are Grey’, I wrote about a friend who was fairly unlucky in love,” explains Natalie, “and then Brock came home and said, ‘Yeah I like it, what about 'this ain’t just our break up song, this can be sung by anyone' and I loved it. This happens a lot. Brock or I will write something and play it for one another and I will say, ‘why don’t you try this, or maybe this would work. I really bring out the honesty in his lyrics and he hides my truths poetically.”