Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Heavy Handed New Yorkers! Reviewed & Interviewed

HEAVY HANDS – “Smoke Signals” CD ’08 (Language Of Stone, US) – “HEAVY HANDS.” On first impression, the moniker kinda reminds me of a nickname for a shortstop that wouldn’t get drafted too high. But then I put the inner sports fan aside and think…hmm, “heavy, yeah, we like heavy around these ‘Realm parts.” And, so when I see a used copy of this disc in a local emporium for the bargain price of $8, I keep thinking, “Yeah, I can do this.” And when I finally get the piece of plastic home & spin it in the spinner, I’m like “Yeah, I can definitely do this!” See, while HEAVY HANDS are a trio of young whipper-snappers from Brooklyn, NY, they sound for all the world like a crew of crafty German veterans from 1971 (wasn’t that a good year, Pooch?) Is it so ironic then, that this nifty disc starts out with a ditty called “Can’t See Thru,” when Hairy Chapter once lamented that they “Can’t Get Through?” Yeah man, moving from that prophetic opener, right on thru (ooch!) slammers like “See Saw” to “3 Days Gone,” these cats summon up the Liebling-named “ambulance guitar,” crashing drums & rumbling bass enough to wake the dead. Your neighbors will be awake too, honcho. And… while some of ‘em may call the fuzz, the dude in the tie-dyed t-shirt downstairs who just fell asleep with a roach on his copy of “Vincebus Eruptum” will be up to ask you for a copy. Mighty sweet smoke! 8.0

Pretty frickin’ nice find, this here HEAVY HANDS disc and I’m really looking forward to what these dudes come up with on their sophomore effort, as they’ve got quite a promising future. In the meantime, I spoke just recently to guitarist/vocalist Sterling & here’s what he had to say!

RAY - I’ve got to admit, I’m 51 years old. That’s not something I take lightly…especially when I’ve spent a day working, picking up 5 kids from school, doing 4+ loads of laundry, fixing dinner & then listening to music! I’m tired! But then again, it means I came up during a period when rock was pretty damn exciting, so I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Bands like early Sabs, Cactus, Vanilla Fudge, 13th Floor Elevator, Blue Cheer, Hendrix, Hairy Chapter, Silberbart, Budgie…that was fun. So how old are you guys? Were you around for any of this stuff when it came out or have you gone back to investigate? If you’ve done that, many kudos…a lot of younger guys don’t take the time…and it shows in their music. Your commentary?

STERLING - We are investigators, and quite avid, but not first-hand witnesses. We range in age from our late twenties to early thirties.

RAY - Maybe it’s just my bad eyes, but I couldn’t see band member names on the CD and there’s just first names on the website, not saying who plays what. Care to introduce yourselves…or do you like to dwell in mystery?

STERLING - Well, we don’t mind a little mystery. The whole idea of HEAVY HANDS is that it is a collective creation, so we don't focus too much on our individual roles but for curiosity sake...Sterling plays guitar and sings, Mitch plays bass and Matt is on drums.

RAY - You guys are from Brooklyn, NY. Is that where you’re all originally from or is it merely the portal of magical confluence where the 3 of you have come together to form an unholy racket called HEAVY HANDS?

STERLING - To get technical about it we actually practice in NYC in the lower east side and two of us live in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan. As for our origins there are no original Brooklynites in the outfit, Matt is from upstate NY, Sterling from Detroit and Mitch from Atlanta, GA.

RAY - And, to what do we have to thank for the band name?

STERLNG - Namely the excessively loudness of our drummer.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: I used to shop at a record store in Brooklyn during the ‘80’s called Zig Zag Records (Since moved to Staten Island & now New Jersey). 10 points (which are good for absolutely nothing) if you can tell me what corner it was on.

STERLING - Alas no clue on this one....none of us lived round here back then.

RAY – Well, then, I can tell you it was 23rd and AvenueU! Is “Smoke Signals” your first recorded work? You really managed to get a sound that takes the listener back to “the day” and yet still, somehow does not sound “dated.” Who produced the record…or did you…and what kinds of production techniques/gear did you use? The guitar sound has that great “ambulance” sound, as Bobby Liebling of Pentagram once described it.

STERLING - Yeah the whole record we did ourselves, with some help from our friends. We recorded most of the record live (engineered by our friend Charles Burst at Seaside Lounge in Brooklyn) to 2" tape with the exception of overdubs for vocals and the odd extra guitar, keyboard or percussion track. We have the good fortune to have an engineer in the band, Mitch, so most of the work of overdubbing and mixing was literally done hands on by us with Mitch at the knobs. As you might guess we use lotsa vintage gear both what we are recording and what is doing the recording. As for the guitar sound, that is achieved by using a tape delay and sending the delay signal to a second amp thus creating the big "ambulance" sound.

RAY - Pick…oh, let’s say 3…songs from “Smoke Signals” and give us a run-down about them, what they’re about, where the inspiration came from, etc.

STERLING - Well most of the songs are not terribly specific in nature as they tend to be more about state of mind or being out of your mind, which is not to say they don't have some reference point or inspiration, the most obvious being the song no. 6 which is a roundabout reference to the 60's british tv show The Prisoner, a personal favorite.

RAY - “Smoke Signals” is on the Language Of Stone label, which appears to be fairly new in that they only have a couple artists. I see that the disc is also manufactured by Drag City, who have a pretty diverse artist roster. What can you tell us about how all this worked out and what kind of distribution have you seen for the disc thusfar? I can tell you that The Sound Garden in Baltimore had 2 copies in stock (1 new and 1 used) and the clerk who rang me up said he was really digging on the album.

STERLING - Hey we are always glad to hear that the record is getting out there and people are getting a chance to hear it. We have great distribution, thanks to Drag City, though in this day and age it's a pretty tough market out there to draw attention to yourself and your music. Ideally we'd be out touring and supporting the record, which we hope to be doing more of in the upcoming year.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: Do some word association for me!

a. Baltimore, Maryland = George Brigman
b. Tony McPhee = Groundhogs
c. Sarah Palin = Bulldog
d. NY Mets = Baseball

RAY - I saw that you guys have played Baltimore…and grimaced to myself because I missed it. Any chance of a return trip? Where else have you guys presented your wares?

STERLING - Yeah we love playing Baltimore, we've been twice actually to play with our Baltimore buddies Sri Aurobindo and plan to go back sometime soon. We have played around mostly close to home here on the east coast, in Philly and in Conn, also at Wesleyan College and of course, frequently in Brooklyn and NYC. We are trying to get together a more coherent and longer tour, but its complicated by scheduling, money etc.

RAY - What’s next on the recording front for HEAVYHANDS?

STERLING - As of this early this last week we headed back into the studio to lay down basic tracks for 5 new songs. We'll be working on these over the next couple of weeks/months so stay tuned, no plans as yet on how these would be released, but we are looking forward to sharing them when they are ready.

RAY - You know what? I’m not going to let you off the hook without this one…Give me the lowdown on some crazy, nutso or just plain disgustingly weird story about something that has happened in the course of the band’s history! Entertain us!

STERLING - Hmm, putting us on the spot eh? The only thing that pops into my mind was actually on our last trip to Baltimore which happened as we were getting back to the house where we were going to crash for the night. As we pulled up a woman came out onto the fire escape and violently tossed a couple big flourscent tubes which smashed into a million pieces right in front of us, needless to say we were a bit baffled by our welcome, as it turned out it wasn't intended for us but was just conicidental with some kind of lovers quarrell, at the time though it was a bit nutso...

RAY - Any final ramblings for the readers of ‘Da Realm?

STERLING - Many thanks and good vibrations...

Great to see a buncha young guys reach back into the past & embrace the music that led to so much of today’s heavy metal thunder! HEAVY HANDS have got the gonads to plug in, turn up and kick all kinds of lysergic-tinted ass and the world had better pay ‘em some heed. I’ve gotta see this crew live!

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