Australian singer-songwriter Henry Wagons is familiar with Knoxville. He's performed on WDVX's Blue Plate Special while passing through town.
"During the last gig, I demanded my own plate! I took one down and made a place for it so I'm hoping they've arranged my portrait by now. I'm going to be one of the first people to eat my dinner off of my own plate! I'm going to take it and eat every single meal on it while I'm in the States!"
At the moment Wagons (whose actual last name is Krips) is far removed from the States. It's 4 p.m. Monday in Knoxville, but it's 9 a.m. Tuesday in Australia.
"It's not prime time for a musician, I know, but my dogs get me up at about 7:30 every morning," says Wagons.
In fact, Wagons has to take a moment from the phone to scold the dog.
"He's barking at the door and there's nobody there," he says. "I think I must have a ghost."
Wagons will come the U.S. to promote his new album "Expecting Company," a solo effort featuring special guests. He's better known in Australia as the leader of the band Wagons. He says he enjoys showing his band around cities almost as much as playing music.
"I like being a tour guide. If I was not in music I think I'd be working on one of those goofy tour buses pointing out things to people!"
Although he's the grandson of conductor and composer Henry Krips, Wagons says he hadn't really intended on a career in music.
"Unlike so many musicians, it wasn't something I'd wanted to do all my life," he says. "It was just something fun for me. I was at college and I was jamming with some friends in a droney, noisy rock band and some indie rock bands and I just got a little bored of just making noise and wanted to write some songs like my parents' record collection, I guess. My dad was into Marty Robbins and my mom was into Rod Stewart."
A friend also gave him a copy of Johnny Cash's "American Recordings," which inspired Wagons' vocal aspirations. He recorded an EP, which earned him a dedicated audience and critical praise.
"So I kind of stumbled into it in a weird way, but now it's my life and I couldn't be more thankful."
In the beginning, he says, he was no different than any young artist.
"I was 18, 19 and wanted to try any new kind of thing. You have to start off with some kind of blueprint, so it started off as imitation and over the course of a decade I've developed my own style that's a bit less mimicry."
Wagons says he's drawn to songs that "sort of make me laugh and cry at the same time.
"I'm sort of drawn to twisted tales."
In that vein, he shares a similarity with fellow Australian Nick Cave, with stories that are dark and laced with gallows humor. Wagons says the songs he writes with his band in mind are usually a little lighter, but on his current disc, he played the instruments himself.
"I think when I was alone in the darkness of my studio I got to entertain more twisted and dark fantasies."
It's also fairly obvious from the way Wagons writes that he's a reader.
"I'm a real nerd. I've worn glasses almost my whole life! I'm almost as inspired by literature or a good piece of art as I am songs."
Wagons lists Thomas Pynchon and Graham Greene as two inspirational authors, but he says his favorite author is Cormac McCarthy, "from your country." When told McCarthy is actually not just from the United States, but from Knoxville and parts of the book "Suttree" take place on Market Square on the same block as the venue he'll be playing, he is enthusiastic.
"That's one I haven't read. Now I know what I'll be reading when I come to the States!"
Scruffy City Ramble
With: Henry Wagons, Sturgill Simpson, Lydia Salnikova, This Mountain, Scott Miller
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21
Where: The Square Room, 4 Market Square
Tickets: $10, $5 for students with ID, available at www.scruffycityramble.com
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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