Who are your favorite climbers

While his band is climbing the charts, he is climbing the walls - Adventure 2021

Northern California's signature fog slowly blew from the Pacific, and breakwaters drowned out much of the noise coming from the town of Stinson Beach as they awoke to a soon-to-be sunny summer day. In the sand just above the tide, Kenny Hensley, the piano and keyboard player for the folkie rock group The Head and the Heart, swung an arm. He jumped up and stretched past the white chalk paw prints that lapped the side of a large blue-gray boulder. When he found a finger grip, he pulled himself up.

He paused, looked over his shoulder at the sequoias emerging from the mist behind him, then jumped down into the sand. He took his bag and went back down the beach to write music another day.

28-year-old Hensley has been busy since that morning last September.

He and his band triumphantly return from a year-long hiatus to write and record their new record, Signs of Light. Since debuting on September 9, it peaked on Billboard's rock album charts and peaked at number 17 in the world, ahead of contemporaries like Wilco and Local Natives. Now, after an epic August show at Colorado's Red Rocks Amphitheater and a flurry of high-profile performances ranging from the Late Show with Stephen Colbert to the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Hensley is overwhelmed with a breakneck sell-out concert series that spans the fall and winter Spanning the world.

Hensley defies the growing pressures of fame and constant touring by staying humble and putting the stress on the rock climbing wall. National Geographic Adventure caught up with him because he did the climbing on tour and a quick music playlist that inspires him.

How did you get into climbing?

When I lived in Seattle from 2009 to 2015, I lived near a climbing gym called Stone Gardens. My friend Brad and I started in 2012 or so, but he had an elbow problem and had to back away and avoid climbing shortly after it started. Then I totally got the bug, but couldn't hold out because I was busy with touring and it wasn't that pleasant without a partner. I went to a gym here in LA with a friend in the summer of '15 and I didn't look back. I was also starting to get a little chunky around the waist, so climbing helped me get back into better shape.

You mentioned that you caught the bug - what is it about climbing that attracts you the most?

It's just one of the most therapeutic times for me. Like any sport or hobby you enjoy doing, it distracts you from stress and anxiety, and I think that's positive no matter what. I love the challenge, and I'm a pretty Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder too, so I think it's great that I can track my improvement using a decimal system. I was also terrified of heights for most of my life. So climbing was a great way to get over it.

Climbing can devastate your hands. Have you ever feared that this could affect your ability to play music?

No, if anything, I've gained some stamina since strengthening my hands and forearms. It might not look like it, but playing 17 or 18 songs every night can be pretty taxing on your tendons, especially on the piano, because I stretch my fingers all over the place. I've found that I can play longer without feeling the tension.

But you can also get hurt. Has that possibility come into your head since Head and the Heart just released their third album and the first on a major label?

Of course it got inside my head, but I'm not worried about it. I've always been active, whether it's skateboarding, which has been a passion for most of my life, or climbing. I'm a pretty safe person overall. I know my limits and only exceed them when I have a good reason to do so. I'm also quite headstrong when it comes to telling myself what to do or not to do and have found the greatest success in my life when I hold on to my gut. If someone told me to give up climbing because it can be dangerous, it would go in one ear and the other.

Do you climb on tour?

We took so much free time last year when I really started that I didn't experience much tour climbing. I had a gym membership when we made the record in Nashville, and I went three to four mornings a week before I hit the gym. My goal is to do research before each tour and email local climbing gyms to offer a few spots on the guest list for a day pass to our show.

Climbing and music are creative passions. In your experience, do they complement each other?

Certainly. I started making music because it was therapeutic for me. Until I moved to Seattle and started the band, I was a closet musician. I've never been in a band and most of my friends didn't even know I was doing that. I would just play and write at home to get my mind off things. Music is a profession now, and as much as I love it, the intimacy is gone because it's so noticeable and when I have a break from the band I tend to stay away from it. Climbing has its place in this sense. What used to wake up and sit at the piano now drives me to the gym and climbs, usually on my own. I'm not at all against having more climbing friends and getting involved in the community, but that's exactly where I am, just like with music before I moved north and dived in depth.

Who are some of your favorite climbers?

I wish I had more knowledge on this question! I feel like the kid in high school who wanted to be a skater but didn't know enough, so he claimed his favorite was Tony Hawk and he was always making fun of something. [Laughs] I love the idea of ​​climbing big walls. I grew up camping in Yosemite with my family every year, and this place holds a special place in my heart. Next time we have a bit of free time I plan to go and live there for a while to climb. As amazing as it is to see people like Adam Ondra or [Chris] Sharma, I think I look up to Hans Florine, Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold the most.

What is your dream mountain or current goal?

I'm fighting my fear of heights again. I have the idea that I will climb the nose at El Cap and / or the northwest face of Half Dome. If that's going to be in five or ten years, I have no idea, but I've made up my mind, so at least I'll keep climbing and getting stronger with the goal of being skilled enough to try a climb like this one in the Future. I have a big old El Capitan route map in my living room to remind myself of. At the moment my goal is to stick with it.

You might like it too

  • Photos of the most epic routes by free solo climber Alex Honnold
  • Alex Honnold's first interview after free solo ascent on El Capitan
  • Exclusive: Alex Honnold completes the most dangerous free solo ascent of all time