By Michael Aushenker
Ralston Edward Henry can’t stand still.
Not when the music’s going.
The lithe, agile lead singer of the band Black Party Politics addresses the audience with the intonation of a charismatic Baptist preacher — “I ask you only this one thing: testify with me” — and then suddenly explodes into movement, feet kicking, arms waving, hips swinging along to a barrage of drums and bursts of electric guitar.
Backed by his bandmates’ revved up, polyrhythmic beats and bouncy grooves, Henry leads a physical, genre-mashing stage show rooted in equal parts soul and rock.
It all started nearly a decade ago at Venice High School, when a teen with prematurely gray hair caught Henry’s attention while playing a rendition of a Jeff Buckley song (“Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”) on an acoustic guitar.
“I went back into the school to hang out and there was what I thought was a 25-year-old man playing guitar,” Henry, who goes by the nickname Eddie, said of Black Party Politics guitarist Miles Safford. “I still have the Live Journal post of the day I met him.”
The two got to know each other because, at the time, “Miles was trying to date some girl in my artsy-fartsy group of friends,” Henry said.
Cut to college, and Safford is by then dating another friend of Henry’s. At Cal State L.A., the pair performed as Lipstick from Nowhere for a class assignment, but then came a second gig at sculptor Laddie Dill’s warehouse art space on Electric Avenue in Venice.
“We decided to keep the band together,” Henry said.
Drummer Chris Wilson had also come aboard but later left to found electronic duo Our Name is Legion, opening up the drum set for current percussionist Chris Ramirez.
Keyboardist Bonnie McIntosh, who was playing soccer at Cal State L.A., joined the band that would become Black Party Politics after accosting and impressing Safford with a drunken challenge related to her piano-playing prowess.
The band derives its sound from its members’ interest in hip hop, contemporary R&B, disco, punk and classical music. McIntosh enjoys Bach as much as Beyonce, while Safford and Ramirez are huge hip hop heads, digging acts such as Talib Kweli and Black Star.
“In a city like this that’s so laden with bands, you run into a lot of homogeny. The fun thing for us is that we’re so incredibly different,” said Safford, who, as onstage alias Rocco Sinclair, plays lead guitar to his own prerecorded baselines (the only part of the show that isn’t played live).
“We’re real devotees of rock ‘n’ roll, spewing out our different influences,” added Henry, who inherited his musicality from his mother, who used to write rap lyrics for Priority Records.
“There’s some random shot of me, my mother and Eazy-E,” Henry recalled of his childhood.
Henry’s mother provided a musical education that included not only performers such as Eric B. & Rakim and NWA, but also David Bowie and Nat King Cole. As a teen, he played in a Bad Religion-esque ska-punk band.
At first glance, the name Black Party Politics may lead some to assume the band is a militant rap group, and they have occasionally been hindered by confusion over the moniker and the stereotypes it can evoke. But Henry shrugs it off, the band refusing to back down from performing under a name that has been taken out of context.
“Black” does not allude to the African-American experience, but for the band represents a hue formed by the melding of all the colors of the rainbow.
“We’re about a really inclusive mentality,” Safford explained.
On its Facebook page, the band claims musical inspirations that vary from the “flamboyant neon pink of Little Richard and T-Rex, deep blues of Tom Waits, earthy browns of James Jamerson and pearlescent whites of Beethoven” that converge “into a dense, unmistakable black.”
The politics part comes from “being 18 in political science class,” Henry explained.
“People look at us and couldn’t put together that we’re a band,” the singer said. But, “Our true colors are bright and hard to hide.”
It comes as no surprise, then, that Henry’s lyrics often address both importance of the individual over groupthink and self-acceptance.
“I don’t want to fix my crazy,” sings Henry in the song “Kings of Disco.”
Another song, “Mobs in Masquerades,” is about hipsters “trying so hard to be part of a scene,” he said.
Safford said L.A.’s music scene has “become more fragmented” since Black Party Politics started performing seven years ago, and he and Henry insinuated that the still coagulating Westside music scene has become a respite from the pretentions of the Hollywood club circuit and the self-consciously hip east side of town.
In recent years, Black Party Politics has played several Westside venues — the Good Hurt a few times, Zanzibar in downtown Santa Monica and the now defunct 14 Below and Air Condition Supper Club.
“[The Westside] is still kind of finding its way, but we love its openness to bands. We love growing with a place like that,” Safford said.
Black Party Politics released their first album, “Hive Mind,” in 2012, and formed deeper bonds with each other last year while going through bad breakups in their personal lives.
“We’ve all been through the love ringer,” said Henry, who turned lyrically “Victorian horror, Dorian Gray, man vs. monster themes” in the aftermath of his own broken relationship.
The band will showcase the bulk of its new material — the makings of a new album, due out this spring — on Friday at the Good Hurt.
“We’ve never felt better about [being in this band] — the songs that we’re writing, we’re really very happy with,” Safford said. “We’re excited to showcase them to people who haven’t had a chance to see us.”
Black Party Politics plays at 9:45 p.m. Friday at Good Hurt Nightclub, 12249 Venice Blvd., Mar Vista. Also on the bill are Aftereptiles (9 p.m.), Kayla Starr (10:30 p.m.), Wires (11:15 p.m.) and Inner Prism (midnight). Show is free to those who RSVP by messaging the band through facebook.com/blackpartypolitics. Call (310) 390-1076 or visit goodhurt.com.