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Years in the making, up-and-coming singer and composer Henry Wolfe’s first album, “Linda Vista,” due out April 5, began taking shape when Wolfe drove to Los Angeles from New York, where the self-taught musician — and son of Meryl Streep — had become a seasoned performer as frontman for indie rockers Bravo Silva. Accompanying him and his possessions in the station wagon were two musical favorites: Paul McCartney’s “Ram” and Harry Nilsson’s “Nilsson Sings Newman.” Those early Seventies classics would become the inspiration for Wolfe’s new journey from a Manhattan loft to a hillside bungalow in Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon, where the self-described “compulsive” songwriter said he started teaching himself jazz standards as well.
“I wanted to write songs that combined that tradition of uncomplicated, yet really profound songwriting with the immediate, visceral energy of rock ’n’ roll,” Wolfe says. “Kind of like Sir Paul does.”
That intent comes through on the 10 tracks on “Linda Vista,” including “Someone Else,” a gentle rocker about life changes; the reflective “Used to Be,” and the pleading, slow-trotting break-up song, “Stop the Train,” which was featured in the soundtrack for “Julie & Julia.” When it came time to make the album, Wolfe and producers Nico Aglietti and Aaron Older, who have also worked recently with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, got out of the way to let the songs and performances speak for themselves. Its sweet melodies are sophisticated yet hummable, performed with a swing, a swagger and, most of all, a soul.
WWD spoke to Wolfe, who is also an aspiring actor, about his music, his move and what it’s like growing up in the world of celebrity.
WWD: You played a minor role in “The Good Shepherd,” but you’ll make your acting debut this summer in a new indie movie. What’s it about?
H.W.: I’m actually going to be in two upcoming indie films. I have supporting roles in both of them, and in both I play someone named Henry. The first one, called “The Wait,” is a supernatural drama written and directed by my friend M. Blash. It was shot last summer on location in central Oregon and features a cast of great actors, including Chloë Sevigny and Jena Malone in the lead roles. I actually do some acting in that one, as opposed to the second one, “Wolfe With an E,” in which I play myself, or a version of myself. This film was written and directed by another friend of mine, David Zuckerman. He came up with the idea for the story while video documenting the recording process of “Linda Vista.” Much of the film consists of [his] footage from our sessions; the rest was shot in and around L.A. with a cast of mostly nonprofessional actors. The film follows a music journalist, played by real-life music critic Sophie Haewood, who is trying to track me down for an interview while contending with the age-old conundrum of trying to navigate L.A. without a car.
WWD: The artwork for “Linda Vista” is from photorealist Robert Bechtle. What is the significance to you?
H.W.: This is my first full-length record. The quality of the songs and the sound surpasses anything I’ve ever done and from the start I conceived of it as an album in the classic sense: not as a collection of tracks but as an artistic statement. Ten songs. Two sides. I’m kind of old-school and that’s how I prefer to experience music. And partly because we tracked and mixed to tape, because the whole process was analog, I always imagined the completed physical product to be a vinyl disc. The artwork is an essential part of that package and it had to be great.…The recordings were informed by the environment of the area, which is residential but also in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountain range on the eastern edge of L.A. I wanted the cover to be an urban landscape, kind of like an Edward Hopper painting, but recognizably Californian, to reflect that sense of place.
WWD: What was it like growing up with your mother?
H.W.: The first 10 years of my life my family moved around quite a bit: Africa, Australia, London and Litchfield, Conn., where I went to high school. I’d always be the new kid on the block. It was a constant process of making new friends. Movie sets…I always thought it was so boring…Sitting in my trailer bored to tears. Making a movie makes football or baseball seem like the most fast-paced of experiences…it takes so long to shoot what ends up being a one- or two-minute section of a movie.
WWD: Are you impressed with celebrity?
H.W.: No, I can certainly say that I am not.
WWD: Do you care if your music sells?
H.W.: I do, because I want to be able to pay to make more records. But it’s ultimately immaterial. I just want to make music.