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Hembree, Boulvardia 2023, Cory Weaver photo

Midwestern Mentality: Irrevocably Entwined Indie Rockers 

Story: Lauren Textor 

photos: Cory Weaver

The members of Hembree are far from stereotypical, scandal-driven, adrenaline junkie rock stars. They don’t boast a rollercoaster history of heartbreak and rehab. They don’t tout fall-outs with bandmates or venue owners. Again and again, they credit their collaborative spirit, their overlapping interests, their Kansas City origin, and—above all—their friendship. 


“I know we sound kind of boring,” lead singer Isaac Flynn laughs. “‘Here’s Hembree. They like each other and they have fun making music.’” 


Hembree is composed of Flynn, Eric Davis (keyboard/synth), Garrett Childers (bass/vocals), and brothers Alex Ward (guitar) and Austin Ward (drums). Interconnectedness is woven into the fabric of the band, thanks to the configuration of two siblings, two brothers-in-law (Flynn and Davis), and an enduring childhood friendship (Flynn and Childers). 


Alex Ward describes it as “friendship first, musicianship second.” 

Hembree, SXSW 2024, Cory Weaver photo

There’s a thrumming, kinetic energy between Flynn and Ward as they lounge on the couch in the venue’s storage room. There’s a nearly empty bottle of Tabasco sauce and an ashtray filled with cigarette butts on the table between us. The bandmates trade jokes, their excited voices overlapping even after we’ve settled into the interview. 


Hembree’s March 8, 2024 performance at The Ship marks the premiere of their new single, “Money Time Love.” It’s their first time playing at the Kansas City West Bottoms lounge, a historic cocktail bar that originally opened soon after Prohibition’s repeal in 1935. The Ship’s expanded music club, All Else the Sea, is new to them, but the venue itself certainly isn’t. The stage is in the exact spot where Childers stood at his wedding. 


One of the best bands they’ve ever played with, Flynn and Ward agree, is Phoenix. The French indie rock band has retained all of its original members since its formation in 1995. Hembree opened for Phoenix on tour in 2017. 


“It was inspiring because they had been a band for 20-plus years at that point, and they were all hanging out,” Flynn says. “There were multiple green rooms, but they were all hanging out in the same one, sitting on the same couch, laughing and watching YouTube videos.” 


“Man,” Ward says. “If we could be like that in 15 years…” 


Between the two of them, they easily reel off more than half a dozen people in KC’s community who helped launch Hembree into orbit. Many are from 96.5 The Buzz or 90.9 The Bridge, two local radio stations that Flynn says went out of their way to promote Hembree’s music. 

The Bridge’s production manager, Jon Hart, advocated for Flynn, Davis and Childers’s previous project, Quiet Corral. Because of this nomination, Hembree was selected for NPR’s Slingshot spotlight in 2018. 


“There’s all these people I could go on and on about who have gone to bat for us time and time again, and that might not all be because of the music,” Flynn says. “I think there’s a friendship aspect, too, where we like them and they like us. We look after each other, which is a Midwestern mentality.” 


Flynn calls Hembree’s new record the most collaborative project they’ve ever done— “an absolute joy.” 


He describes 2019’s House on Fire as Midwest rock alternative grit while 2022’s It’s a Dream! sounds more Californian, given that four of Hembree’s members are now living in L.A. Their upcoming album, Flynn teases, has more anthemic Americana songs like those of Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty. However, he’s quick to clarify that it’s nostalgic rather than patriotic (in true Springsteen style). 


“This new record,” Flynn says, “I’m not going to lie. It is ketchup, mustard and relish on a hotdog.”


For comparison, he equates It’s a Dream! to a sriracha mayo (or, as Ward says thoughtfully, an aioli). 


It’s unlikely that the song that has perhaps challenged the band the most—an unreleased track called “Hours,” which has been recorded multiple times for each of Hembree’s records—will make the cut for their upcoming album. 


“If it ever gets released, you’ll know the pain that went into the creation of this song over the dozen different versions of it,” Ward says. 


Hembree doesn’t dwell on the negative, though. Because it’s a hometown show, the band’s family and friends are in the audience. Soon, Flynn and Ward will unfold themselves from the couch to mingle with their biggest cheerleaders. Flynn’s father will even make an on-stage appearance for a rendition of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell.” 


“I don't know how other bands survive if they don't get along,” Flynn says. “You have to live essentially on top of each other. When we're on tour, we're all in a confined space, whether it's the vehicle or the green room. I totally see how bands don't make it that long, but we want this on record: Hembree forever.” 


“Hembree forever!” Ward echoes. 

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