The northernmost reaches of Westchester County might seem an unlikely setting for a song romanticizing the modern man on the run, but that’s exactly where Brooklyn-based indie rock band Wormburner sent a fictional fugitive in their 2010 track “Peekskill.” The portrait isn’t exactly flattering (“Peekskill / It’s even colder with the wind chill”), but we caught up with frontman Hank Henry to talk about what makes the tiny city the perfect place to lie low.
First things first: Where did the band get its name? We’ve been making records for close to 10 years now, but we’ve never taken ourselves too seriously, so we took a self-deprecating band name. A ‘wormburner’ is baseball slang for a scorching ground ball. Let’s just say it’s not the prettiest way to get on base, but it works. We grew enough of an audience over time that it was too late to change it, and we just got stuck with the name. So now I like to say we’re competing with The Arctic Monkeys for the honor of the best band with the worst name.
How would you describe the music you’re making? I would say lyrically it’s heavily narrative, and musically it owes as much to the Sex Pistols as it does to Midnight Oil.
So why did you write a song called “Peekskill”? We’ve been a regional band for our entire existence. We play primarily in New York City, but we also tour around the Hudson River Valley, so I’ve passed through Peekskill a lot driving upstate. We wanted to write a sequel to Steely Dan’s ‘Kid Charlemagne,’ where the premise was that a character’s crimes were uncovered, and he’s got to skip town, and for some reason, for me, the most obvious place for the character to run is Peekskill. It’s picturesque is some ways—with the industrial past: It’s almost as gritty as it is pretty. But if it’s a windy, wintry day on the Hudson, it can feel cold and isolated and cruel, and from the vantage point of New York City, it can feel farther away than it is. To me, that was the right place for the character to hide because when you’re driving up there, it can start to feel remote, like the beginning of upstate, the beginning of the frontier.
Has the song linked you to the city in ways you maybe didn’t expect? Absolutely. Someone who lives there or grew up there inevitably shows up at every show we play and wants to talk about the song after the set. So this weird connection we have with the place endures.