Polyphia’s Tim Henson Recalls How Berklee Rejection Affected Him, He Achieved Success Nonetheless

Tim Henson and Scott LePage, guitarists of modern prog rock band Polyphia, recently sat down with Kerrang! to discuss all things guitar and their career. Among other things, Henson looked back on his beginnings as a guitar player and a somewhat odd reason why he practiced so much as a kid. He said:

“I was really into marijuana. I mean, I still am. I had a couple of possessions, which are like misdemeanor charges as a minor. Because of that, I was on probation with a five o’clock curfew. Legally, I had to be inside the house at five o’clock.”

Polyphia - Ego Death feat. Steve Vai (Official Music Video)

His parents, of course, didn’t like that at all. But he ended up using this time for something positive:

“On top of that, I was extra grounded. So for my entire high school time, I was grounded on probation. And so what I did was just play guitar.”

Despite being grounded, Tim managed to persuade his parents to let him go out and practice with his band. He didn’t want to go out and do what his peers were doing at the time. He just wanted to practice. Tim continued:

“I remember asking my dad, ‘Please, for the love of fuck, I don’t care about hanging out with people, just let me jam with my band.’ That was the only extracurricular thing that I was allowed to do outside of school.”

Polyphia - Playing God (Official Music Video)

Elsewhere in the interview, Henson also recalled his attempt to enroll in Berklee College of Music. The prestigious institution has been the ultimate educational goal of many modern prog guitar players. However, he didn’t get a spot at the college. To make things worse, he didn’t really have a backup plan at the time. Tim said:

“I didn’t have a backup plan. It was just like, ‘Well… fuck.’ There was a week of depression, but after that, it was just like, ‘Okay, fuck college. Let’s do this band for real.’”

Nonetheless, he kept working on his band and Polyphia ended up getting some attention. One thing that he did, as he recalls, is “doing graphic design for soccer moms who want their fucking kid’s name and a soccer ball on a T-shirt.”

Polyphia | G.O.A.T. (Official Music Video)

He put the skills to good use and managed to make the band’s merch without spending more resources on it. He was even “getting up at the fucking ass-crack of dawn, pretending I had 8 am class, and going and sitting in Starbucks with my laptop, promoting our music.”

Eventually, it paid off. After some smaller releases, the band kicked off a crowdfunding campaign for their first full-length studio album. When asked how his dad reacted to this, Henson simply said:

“He was pissed off.”

Polyphia | The Worst (Official Audio)

The goal was $15,000. But they surpassed it. Tim recalls:

“We ended up raising like 33 grand. That’s when my dad was… he wasn’t pissed anymore.”

And how did his dad react to that?

“After that, he was like, ‘Okay, you guys could do this.’ I guess that was the moment that we all realized we could do this.”

Although finished, the Indiegogo campaign is still up to this day and you can find it at this location. From the initial $16,000, as it says in the campaign goal, they got just a bit over $33,000. The resulting album “Muse” wasn’t huge in terms of major commercial success but was an important moment for the band. Now, with four full-length albums under their belt, Polyphia are known as some of the biggest innovators in prog rock.

Polyphia | Champagne feat. Nick Johnston (Official Music Video)

In another recent interview, Henson discussed unconventional but effective, ways of achieving different sounds on their material. Asked about his favorite techniques, he replied:

“I like to layer the synths. So I’ll take the guitar part and it really works when you have something percussive and clean. And then I’ll take the exact notes and put them on, like, goofy ass fucking sins like shit you hear and rage beats and like hyper pop and like video game sounds.“

“But I like to use sidechain plugins, where they’re linked together, and you put them in a group, and then you throw like a glue compressor on it. So they’re triggering each other. And so you get this hybrid between the guitar part and the goofiest synth. And they’re playing the same thing.“

Polyphia - Neurotica (Official Music Video)

“And so depending on which one has the more dominant transient, they’ll overtake. But they’ll switch, right? Because it’s side-chained. So you get this like a crazy fucking hybrid. And then when you put it in a group and then throw the glue compressor on it, and then a glue compresses it.”

When asked to reveal his tone-shaping process, he said:

“Dude, I track everything on Archetype Tim Henson. It’s ‘The Worst Clean.’ That’s the preset. I track everything, I write everything. Because if it can sound cool on that tone, which is like the most basic dry tone, it’s going to sound fucking sick on anything else.“

Archetype: Tim Henson

He also added:

“And then once I know that I have something sick, like, just from that tone, that’s when I kick back and relax, and just like put all the different things on it and just go through all the different presets and see what sounds the coolest.“

Photo: Delusion23 (Polyphia – Manchester, UK – 6 February 2019)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.