Hear First: Reese McHenry’s No Dados

The premiere of the new album, plus a profile of the artist by Lydia Loveless.

Hear First is Talkhouse’s series of album premieres. Along with streams of upcoming albums—today’s is Reese McHenry’s No Dados — we publish statements from artists and their peers about the mindsets and impressions that go into, or come out of reflection on, a record. Here, Reese is profiled by her friend Lydia Loveless; the two discuss the long and hard road to the completion of No Dados, which you can listen to right here.
—Annie Fell, Associate Editor, Talkhouse

When I tap on the door of the Chapel Hill home where Reese McHenry is dog-sitting, I can hear her playing guitar softly on the other side. This is no romantic pre-interview put on; I am friends with Reese, and she seems to always be working on something. In the car, she is always singing random snippets, her powerful voice somehow more haunting in its restraint behind the wheel. Her energy as an artist could make you feel envious if you didn’t know how well- deserved it is.

She has spent years struggling with health issues after suffering four strokes in late 2008. The fire in her creativity, whether it is in the form of a song or a crushing joke told with a stony face, seems to come from a place deep within that has been trying to burn this hard for a long time. Though she has released albums over the years under various band names, she has only recently begun to perform under only her own name, explaining that she feels more connected to her material as she learns to pay attention to her health.

“I feel like I’m getting stronger and stronger,” she tells me on a Sunday night in March. “I feel like I have goal posts. The Dirty Little Heaters record was when I was deathly ill, then the Spider Bags record took seven years [to make] while I was sick. The Second Wife record was when I started feeling a little better. I’m still sick — I’ll be sick for the rest of my life. I just know how to manage it better. I know my limitations and I listen to my body, and I feel because I’ve gotten good at that, I’m becoming a better songwriter. I’m happy and proud of stories that I’m able to write.”

The stories she’s referring to are the ones on No Dados, her upcoming record out April 12 on Suah Sounds. Her original plan, in the summer of 2018, was to take each and every one of the 100 songs she had stockpiled over the years and record them in the six days of studio time she had booked. Eventually, lineup changes caused her to have to prioritize and pare down to the 13 songs that comprise No Dados. The result is an emotional ride, kicking off with “Magnolia Tree,” a song seemingly made for dancing around in your underwear, and ending with “Scheduled Trains,” a tune that may make you want to hop in the car, smoke cigarettes and start a new life. On the standout “White Bear Incident”, Reese wails, “I just want to lay in bed/but I get so bored/I get so bored,” and ennui is washed away by the commiseration. “Someday I’ll See,” with its raw emotion, makes me miss people who don’t actually exist. It is a wonderful rock & roll record — crunchy, catchy, sad.

“I wish I had your music when I was a kid instead of old guys talking about fucking women with a fish, or whatever,” I tell Reese.

“I have fucked a woman with a fish!” She quips, and after we stop laughing, I tell her she seems to be in the stage of her career where the fire is really burning.

“Yeah,” she says, “I feel like for the first time, I’m not looking to anybody else to do something. I kept thinking I have to wait for things to work out in order to do this, to do that, and now I’m not like that anymore. I don’t have to wait for anything or anyone. I feel more confident to do whatever I want to and not have to wait for anybody at all.”

“So, you feel like you’re in a great place.”

“Yes. I’m burning to see everything. I wanna tour everywhere. And while I feel that way, I wanna strike while the iron is hot.”

— Lydia Loveless

Reese McHenry is a Chapel Hill-based singer/songwriter known for her work in the Dirty Little Heaters, Spider Bags, and The Second Wife. In 2009, she was diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation, an irregular or quivering heartbeat; that same year, with a loss of speech, a lethargic and often useless left side, and the failure of her memory, she found out she had suffered at least one major stroke and likely several smaller ones in the intervening months.

In 2012, after doctors installed a pacemaker to regulate her heartbeat, McHenry began to slowly find her way back to the rock & roll path from which she was forced to stray; by 2017, after nearly a decade of trying, McHenry released the first album under her own name, Bad Girl, which has become her most celebrated to date.

Still armed with hundreds of songs from her years spent on the couch, McHenry started to furiously book shows, making up for years lost to her debilitating illness. Soon, she found herself in North Carolina’s famed Fidelitorium studio alongside beloved producer/engineer Missy Thangs. Backed by Raleigh rockers Drag Sounds, the crew cut the fourteen songs that would become her new album, No Dados, over six days.