Carteret native says he has found his voice
Pop artist/songwriter Rich Hennessy has created a name for himself by performing and writing empowering, thought-provoking songs inspiring change. His message is intentional and direct. The first song he recorded is a cover of the 1980s anthem “You’re the Voice” released just prior to the 2020 election. It earned him a slot on iVoted’s live stream and inspired a partnership with Drag Out The Vote.
Upon seeing the effect that his music had, Hennessy started writing original songs: “Enough,” which chronicles as he calls it, his “love/hate relationship with America” through school shootings, police killings, and COVID, followed by “Break the Silence,” an empowering call to use one’s voice to “reclaim our time” in the wake of COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Hennessy’s newest single, “Keep Your Love,” perhaps his most personal song to date, depicts his inner conflict as a gay man raised in the Christian Church. “If I can empower others to find their voices through my music and to speak out against injustice, that is on a scale so much bigger than personal satisfaction,” says Hennessy. “I want my music to be an agent of change.”
Who is Rich Hennessy in your own words?
Rich Hennessy: Rich Hennessy is a left-handed twin who is a self-proclaimed over-achiever, stubborn as hell and a momma’s boy. He challenges himself every day to sing a higher note and write a better song than he could the day before, no matter how cringey it may sound or if it even gets released. His best and worst quality is not knowing when to give up.
What brought you on the path to music?
RH: I think the better question is, “When did I finally accept music as my path?” Music has been a part of my life since I was a child: playing clarinet and trombone through grade school and high school while being a student leader and heavily involved with extracurricular activities like musical theater and anti-smoking advocacy clubs. College is when I pivoted to taking vocal lessons but while pursuing a degree in marketing. It wasn’t until after college and a few life altering events that put into perspective what meant the most to me. Music took a back seat because everything else took precedence, and other people’s opinions of my future held greater influence than what I thought I wanted. When I took a step back and realized what influenced me the most in my childhood, music was always present. Music was what I cared about the most. With that, I began to treat it as such — my priority.
Some of your songs seem political. What kind of message are you trying to drive with your music?
RH: They are. And it’s intentional. I don’t believe in just being a show monkey, to just do my song and dance — that does little to push the narrative. I have to live in this world too as a gay man. Though I possess a lot of privilege being white, I have an obligation to my community and to my friends of all creeds, colors and beliefs to speak up when I have my soapbox to stand on, no matter how big or small. That’s who I am, and who I’ll always be. All I’m trying to do is start a conversation through my artistry in a world where we feel like we can’t have a voice.
How was it growing up with your religion and being gay?
RH: That’s kind of a difficult question to answer. I had a very good upbringing in the church — in my church. I enjoyed the sense of community and the idea of leading with love. I also wasn’t out at that point and still didn’t truly know who I was. I came out, and I moved away from home, so I never had that negative association with my church. It’s the denomination as whole that I struggled with after I had come out over nine years ago. I was loved in my community; people knew me and my family. We were active members. But headlines in the news and clips from leaders within the religion made it hard for me to feel like I could still belong in something I held close to me growing up. I wrote “Keep Your Love” as my response to that feeling — of it being too much of who I am or feeling like I’m not enough to be accepted, then you can keep your love.
What finally happened in life that helped you come out?
RH: My house caught on fire two months after I graduated college. That helped put into perspective how I needed to live the best version of myself moving forward. So, I lost a bunch of weight, built up my confidence (fell in and out of love hard) and just freed myself from the secret I had been keeping since I came to terms with being gay.
Can you tell me about your upbringing?
RH: I’ve been fortunate to have had the upbringing I did — two supportive parents, and a twin brother and an older brother who are my two closest friends. We have a lot of good memories growing up. We were always involved with sports and extracurricular activities, running around town from one practice to another, travel games all over the East Coast. Pretty mundane to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t perfect, and there were struggles, but what family doesn’t have those?
If there is anybody who made it hard for you while growing up because you were different from them, what would you want to say to them now?
RH: I think I was the hardest on myself. Growing up, I was so high strung and always tried to either be the best or at least the best example. I feel like a lot of that came from trying to overcompensate for who I was hiding from the rest of the world. I think I’m much more chill now. My friends from home have seen the difference in me, especially since I’ve come out.
Give me a fly on the wall moment while recording or writing your latest single.
RH: It was a really honest conversation with my co-writer, Jay. We went down the rabbit hole of my personal relationship with God and religion. I can’t be anything but honest with myself and everyone else anymore. My conscience bears a lot of weight on my heart. But I didn’t want this song to be a ballad, and I didn’t want it to scream “I’m unhappy with organized religion.” It still needed to be relatable. And so, we made it subliminally about religion with the face of it being about a relationship which I can also relate to and others could as well.
How did you feel performing at Jersey Pride recently after having your own struggles with being your authentic self and finally telling your truth?
RH: It was a full circle moment for me. After being in the crowd the last nine years seeing other artists perform, to now being an out artist pursuing my dreams as my authentic self in my home state — it was a really special day. My mom, my twin brother, my sister-in-law and all my hometown best friends were there. The day was gorgeous, and I couldn’t ask for a better time.
If there is one thing that you would like to tell the younger generation of kids, what would that be and why is that most important to you?
RH: My grandmother has always said to me, “Be good to people on your way to the top. They’ll be the ones to catch you on the way back down.” It’s what I live by. I’ve only gotten the opportunities I have because of being kind to people. I can tell you firsthand, no one wants to work with someone who is absolutely miserable. Bad reputations travel fast.
Ever notice that country music typically are songs of love, loss and heartache? All music has a message that makes you feel something, remember a time in the past or even imagine a future. Rich Hennessy’s anthems will do just that and maybe even make you want to get up and dance.