Procrastination is a thing of the past now musicians Ross and Tara McHenry have a nipper in their midst. When their two-year-old daughter, Mabel, arrived, she made them focus on what really matters.
“I am heaps more productive with my time now,” Ross says. “Three or four years ago, projects would take months but the hours of procrastination are now gone. There’s no time to stuff around.”
Music has been their life since they met as 18-year-old university students in Adelaide. “We were music nerds,” says Ross. “Very uncool.”
They wasted no time starting a band but it wasn’t destined for big things. “It wasn’t a terrible band but the music was terrible,” says Ross, “because it was our first attempt at writing original music. Composition is no different to any other skill. You’re not good at it [to begin with] but you just have to do it.”
Twelve years on, Ross is a multi-award-winning, composer, record producer, bassist and leader of Afro-jazz ensemble Shaolin Afronauts. He’s performed all over the globe including at Glastonbury, Sydney Festival, Adelaide Festival, WOMADelaide, and Falls Festival. Tara knows her way around a microphone, too. She was the vocalist in Ross’ first serious band, The Transatlantics, and her current project Hurricanes is a hybrid of rock, soul, indie and country.
The pair lives in Rosewater and balances touring, recording and day jobs (Ross is Music Program and Marketing Manager for Nexus Arts and Tara works in marketing for History SA) with parenthood. Ross has an interstate tour, studio time and a new album release on the horizon. His Ross McHenry Trio (featuring New Zealand drummer Myele Manzanza and New York–based pianist Matthew Sheens) hits Melbourne International Jazz Festival during June and will release their debut recording in late 2016.
“I’ll be turning to my family for help while he’s away,” says Tara. “It redefines the importance of family and we’re lucky they’re close.”
Ross smiles. “People who don’t have family around to help are heroes. Legitimate heroes.”
Ross also releases his album Child of Somebody, recorded in New York, in July. “I’ve always been a fan of the music that’s come out of that city,” Ross says. “After uni we spent a year saving and went to New York, and it was everything we hoped that city would be. There’s a musical energy in that place which is quite incredible. I wanted to create something in that space.”
He recorded the album with artists including Marcus Strickland, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Tivon Pennicott, Duane Eubanks and Corey King.
“I wanted to work with a lot of musicians who really inspired me, and they lived in New York so it made sense to do it there.”
Despite Ross and Tara’s love of the Big Apple, Adelaide’s creative community keeps them here. “It’s a strong community of people that we trust musically and who are our dearest friends,” says Ross. “We are probably the first generation of artists who are truly connected to the rest of the world via the internet.”
The cheap rent doesn’t hurt either.
“There’s the space to think here and the space to create projects, big projects.” He pauses. “The difference between LA and New York in terms of music is New York has all the best musicians but LA has the space for ideas. Adelaide could be that if we just wake up to the fact that there’s no better place to develop something in Australia.”
It’s not a case of rose-tinted glasses.
“We still have that cultural cringe,” says Ross. “We have to stop trying to be something we’re not and realise that our perspective is unique. I look at the music created here and can say with absolute certainty, for better or for worse, it doesn’t sound like anywhere other than Adelaide. In my mind that’s a good thing. When you stop trying to be something else is when people actually care about what you do, because they can’t get it anywhere else.”
No matter where the music takes them, Ross and Tara’s home will always be full of noise.
“From the start of our relationship we always have played together and I think we always will,” says Tara. “Music is one of those wonderful things that you have forever; you can grow and change and the music grows and changes with you.”
The Ross McHenry Trio performs on June 3 at Adelaide’s The Jade; and June 4 at the Melbourne Recital Centre and June 5 at Uptown Jazz Café, as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival;.