A few weeks ago, local musicians, venue owners and fans took to social media to mourn the loss of Spokane singer-songwriter Henry Nordstrom. A longtime fixture of the city's rock scene, Nordstrom died of liver failure in late February. He was 32.
He first gained notoriety fronting his high school Christian rock band Catalyst, which won the RAWK Final Four youth band competition in 2005. He'd eventually become a frequent performer at the long-shuttered Empyrean coffeehouse, playing as a solo artist and with the shoegaze project Oil of Angels. It was with Dead Serious Lovers, the band he founded with fellow musician Vaughn Wood, that Nordstrom got his best local notices, and the duo was named one of the Inlander's Bands to Watch back in 2009.
In the weeks following Nordstrom's death, the Inlander spoke with several of his bandmates about his songwriting talents and asked them to reflect on the music they made with him. (Comments have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Vaughn WoodHenry and I met each other at church camps when we were in about the sixth grade, but we weren't really friends. We didn't play music together until after high school. We decided to start a band, a branch off of his solo project, and to make it more of me and him co-writing. Obviously we wanted a real band name and all that, so that's when we started Dead Serious Lovers. It was just the two of us at that point. We were still young, 19 or somewhere around there, and we started playing gigs at the Empyrean. We rented a house by North Central High School, and we wrote those albums there. Back then, we were just kind of young, angsty party kids.
At first Henry was a little intimidating. In his younger years, he was super talented and he would try to dress like young Bob Dylan. But he was so kind to me, and we became best friends because of writing music together. He was just an encouraging guy, and he loved music. It was a naturally positive atmosphere when we would write, even though most of the music was very down, more depressing.
It was kind of like a dream. It doesn't seem real to think about it now, because a lot of things had to kind of line up for any of that to even happen, or for us to be able to have written songs or to be able to tour. It shaped me into who I am today, for sure. That's a very monumental time in my life that I'll never forget, and it was a blessing. You know, I wish I had more time with him, obviously. But I feel very lucky to even have been a part of his life and his music.
Karli IngersollI think I first met him and saw him play when he joined Oil of Angels, and he was just out of high school. But everyone thought he was the coolest, and he had so much style and a vibe as a musician. I had done a handful of tours with my brother backing me up, and I was putting out this album that was more like a full band kind of album. These were the Empyrean days, and Henry and Vaughn were up to nothing really. We were like, "You guys want to go on tour and play with us, and then you could open the shows?" That tour was pretty terrible as far as turnouts, but I think for Henry and Vaughn, they were just stoked to be on the road. As far as us just hanging out and playing music, it was super fun.
We didn't really play together much after that. I would hop on stage with Dead Serious Lovers to sing a song every once in a while, and I think the last time I saw him was the Bartlett's final show. DSL was the last band that played at the Bartlett.
Henry had a very specific style. He was just himself, and that's a rare thing to find. His music was jarringly dark, and it definitely hits you in a certain spot that not a lot of other stuff does. It's brooding, it's cool, it's really beautiful and expressive. I think he just innately had all those things in his toolbelt.
Brandon VasquezI joined Dead Serious Lovers shortly after they released their first album. Being in the music scene all those years ago, I was definitely aware of Henry. I had heard the buzz around that album, and I listened to it and was thinking, "Wow, this is really great stuff, and I can't believe that this kind of thing came out of Spokane." Just to be able to come in and be part of that band and that songwriting was a huge deal to me. A lot of his songwriting was kind of moody or sad, and I think it really connected with a lot of people. I certainly connected with it. The whole feeling you get when you listen to it, it's hard to describe.
We had great chemistry on stage. With musicians, there's that weird communication between each other while you're playing. It was unspoken, but you just know what each other is doing, and he and I had that special something. It's just been a great experience for me, and really fulfilling musically. It's definitely one of the highlights of my adult life, and I just wish we would have had more chances to do more.
Schuyler DornbirerI'm a member of Dead Serious Lovers, but I will forever feel like more of a fan. What inspired me the most about Henry was his ability to tell his truth through his music. I feel like a lot of people write with others in mind. I never felt that with him. Whatever he said was his truth and expression. A reflection of his condition, pain and suffering. I felt like it was something he needed to do. I felt like we may have shared that feeling but never discussed it. We didn't talk about anything serious too often. It was always about comedy. I think he saved that for the stage. And whatever he put out really rubbed off on me. Never before or never again will I be that high from just playing music.
I really looked up to Henry, and having his respect in any shape or form always made me feel special. That music required that I put my whole heart into it, and whether it was good or not, I hope he knows I gave it everything I had because that was exactly what he was doing. ♦
A memorial fund benefitting Nordstrom's mother and covering end-of-life costs is still active at gofundme.com/f/henry-nordstrom-memorial-fund.