John Szymanski reflects on a quarter-century of the Hentchmen

John Szymanski reflects on a  quarter-century of the Hentchmen
Doug Coombe

Year 25 has turned out to be a landmark one for quintessential Detroit garage rock trio the Hentchmen. Devil's Night saw the Third Man Records reissue of their 1998 record with Jack White, Hentch-Forth. The week after that, vocalist and keyboardist John "Hentch" Szymanski and wife Kelly Jean Caldwell finally reopened the Outer Limits Lounge on the northern border of Hamtramck in Detroit. Szymanski had bought the closed former neighborhood dive bar back in 2012, and the Hentchmen set up a studio in the upstairs of the bar last year to record their first new record since 2010, which will be the fourth release on the newly formed Outer Limits Lounge Records.

The bar is just down the street from John's old family home on Caniff, which became the second and most infamous "Hentch House" in the '90s and the '00s. The party spirit from the Hentch House has moved down the street to Outer Limits, along with some turntables, cool records, and some fine vintage '60s and '70s artwork. Fittingly, the Hentchmen are going to celebrate the release of their new record XXV there on Friday, Dec. 22 with labelmates the Cheetahs. We sat down with Szymanski, guitarist Tim "Hentch" Purrier, and drummer Mike "Hentch" Latulippe at the studio upstairs at Outer Limits to talk about their new record and their first quarter-century together.

Metro Times: We're assuming the new record was consciously recorded to celebrate 25 years of being together.

John Szymanski: We knew that 20 was a big one, right? So 20 kind of came and went. Then we were thinking about doing like a 21 or 22 sort of goofy one, but even back then Mike was being like, "You know, 25 is going to be a big one. We've got to really start moving on it." So, we just kind of made time over the last couple years.

Most of the ideas on this album are new except for a couple old skeletons from quite a while ago. The idea was going [to use] all old ideas. But it just turned out we got inspired and wrote a bunch of new songs, which is why it took like a year and a half to record it.

MT: How did the label come about?

Szymanski: I started a record label about a year ago to put out Kelly Jean's record. Kelly's record was done already, and it's a great record. We started a label because we're not going to try to have other labels put it out. We're not going to satisfy another label by touring because we have families now, and we can't do that. So it just made sense for us to do it. And then the Cheetahs came along, a band that had nothing out yet, and I really dug them. So I said, "You know what, I want to record you guys." After that we put out the Wiccans album (Kelly Jean's band with Aran Ruth), which was also recorded here.

MT: How did you come about recording the record yourselves?

Szymanski: With the Cheetahs, it came out pretty well, and I learned a lot recording them because those guys are all audio engineers, and they actually taught me a lot. So I felt confident in doing the Hentchmen from the get-go. I think soundwise it's on par with other things that we've done in real studios. And it was easier to do it here because we had more flexible time.

MT: So hopefully the next Hentchmen record won't take as long?

Tim Purrier: It's in the plans to do a seven-inch.

Szymanski: Yeah, we left off a couple of songs that we're excited about. We used to do a lot of singles so I'd love to do more. We started out the label doing five full lengths to kind of launch the label. [The fifth record, by the Sugarcoats, should be out in a couple months.] For some reason, I just felt like that would be a bolder way to start a label. But I love seven-inch singles, so I really want to put out the singles this year as well. So we've got to get in here and record again, guys.

MT: You guys had your sound and style down right out of the gate. Were there a few bands and records that were key to your inspiration?

Purrier: The Mummies, the Milkshakes, and Back From the Grave compilations. I had never played guitar before and Chris (Handyside) our (first) drummer had never played drums before.

Szymanski: I really liked late-'70s punk rock, Devo, and the Ramones in high school. We all did. Mike, Tim, and I went to high school together. When you listen to Devo records you don't think, "Oh, I should start a band."

Purrier: It was way out of our league.

Szymanski: So, it wasn't until we heard Back from the Grave where we said, "Wait a second." This is totally amazing. And we can actually almost do this — without having to learn our instruments [laughs] because we didn't really know anything. So I wouldn't say it was like our first love, but our first accessibility in music. Like, "OK, we can do this..."

Purrier: And you had the Pebbles compilation...

Szymanski: Yeah. Those records were so awakening. My dream would have been to have a song good enough to have been on one of those compilations... even just one song. You know what I mean?

The Hentchmen's record release party for XXV with the Cheetahs will start at 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 22 at the Outer Limits Lounge, 5507 Caniff St., Hamtramck; $5.

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