HandGrenades – Album Release + Video Premier – 3/30 (Magic Stick)
Nick thinks, just maybe, this might not be the Dirtbombs’ city anymore.
“I mean, I think the young crowd’s starting to take over a little bit…I don’t know how ‘young,’ or what ‘young’ means…”
Nick Chevillet, bassist/guitarist/singer for the Handgrenades, is pulsing with a sort of nervous inspiration; his band (with drummer Joby Kaslowski and the brothers-Pawleski: guitarist/bassist/singer Andrew and guitarist/bassist/singer Tom) speaks to me just days before they’re driving down to SXSW Music Festival in Austin, where they’ll busk a bit on bustling corners and play a couple legit stage shows, while they’re also tying together any jewel-case-related loose ends for the release of their second album The Morning After.
Listen: The HandGrenades – “Green Eyes” – (off the forthcoming The Morning After)
But the HandGrenades have always been young…whatever ‘young’ means… They’re romantics for pop classicism, old souls in the song-related sense – dead serious about harmony preservation – and unabashed dorks for the Beatles! (Well, not so much for Kaslowski).
Young, yes, but, if they’re just 23, or 22, what have you, this band, still, has been in existence, sort of/technically, for seven years – starting in high school with Nick and Andrew, (a pair of football players from Allen Park,) meeting, musically, through your archetypal amateurish basement band of fellow students that they quickly took over in the hopes of toning it up with their preternaturally keen sensibilities for pop-rock craftsmanship. Both of them started young – Nick’s grandpa got him on guitar at age 5, while Andrew’s dad even built his two boys guitars to start strumming at age 4).
That origin-band fell to pieces after one of their first shows; the parents of the other members pulled them out after they played in a bar. “I was furious,” Andrew recalls. “That’s the story of being 16,” Nick adds, chuckling over how hard they took it. “That’s also why we’re still known as the HandGrenades, unfortunately, cuz when we named the band… we were…16…”
The HandGrenades aren’t your typical Young Turks, not any kind of irreverent upstarts or loose-cannon rookies. They may quip about the youngsters taking over, but they do it with such down to earth charm – especially considering they’ll go as far as donning dresses and falsettos to perform as the Supremes last Halloween. That, and they make yearly pilgrimages to BeatlesFest (in Chicago, where they won last year, performing “This Boy,”) and they all need both hands to count off their local influences – from the Sights to the High Strung to, shared between all four, Mick Bassett & the Marthas. They admit they’ve been growing away from their Brit-pop-revivalist roots and are now leaning towards a grander, dream-pop-leaning sensibility akin to Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr (another prominent influence).
Their affability is translatable across age groups (and sometimes genres); you can see their fresh faces at the bar after the show and share a PBR with them and they might quip something dirty about Lana Del Rey but ten minutes earlier they were crooning together in wonderful harmonies that woulda made your babyboomer parents swoon.
And who knew a punk-rock reveling drummer (Kaslowski) would be the completing rhythmic puzzle piece for this pop-reverent trio – his accelerative piston-pounds give the essence of their songs that much more of a forceful, whisked-out and whirling rock aesthetic – altogether sweetened by the glisten of their pristine harmonies.
So, the story: Tom joined his brother’s half-a-band in 2007 and the trio worked it out to where they’d just rotate around on drums – marking this as the proper birth of the HandGrenades, as a trio. Only thing was – they didn’t know how to book shows and they didn’t have any friends (any inroads) into “the scene,” so they took whatever random open slots bars had in need of filling – leading them to confusing match-ups to, you name it: hardcore, skacore, rap-rock…It was frustrating and awkward.
Anyway, the band winds up meeting former-Detorit-based songwriter Vince Frederick (of supremely-Beatles-worshiping group The Singles) who, from his new home in Los Angeles, starts advising them on the ways of working it as a band.Frederick connects them to a publicist, they start getting better line-ups and meeting scene shakers like Jesse Shepherd Bates (recently of The Satin Peaches, currently of The Hounds Below), with whom they start booking shows together.
And steadily, they slink into a scene with the bands that’d motivated them just years earlier, like Mick Bassett’s Marthas or The Satin Peaches. They put out one album, (“that we now hate…”) then the next year completed a comparably more impressive EP, Three Cheers to the Wonder Years.
The harmonies remain key, and get stronger and even more dazzling, through 2010. They lock in Kaslowski as their permanent drummer… and here we are.
Andrew: “I just sat down by him one night at the Magic Stick Lounge, and: Oh, hey, look, that’s Jim Diamond. We talked a bit…”
Nick: “He was interested in recording us, though. It was shaky going in, we never recorded live before…”
Andrew: “But we wanted to, because I feel like we play better live and because the Beatles did it…”
Nick: “We were having trouble at first though. I remember leaving that first day thinking: Dude, I hope Jim Diamond doesn’t think we suck…”
Andrew: “We were so excited though, even just about tape, tape has a warm sound. We like tape.”
Nick: “Crap, I forgot to credit Jim on tambourine on that one song… Let’s put sticky notes onto all the CDs crediting him, before we go down toAustin…”
Watch:The HandGrenades – “One More Drink” – (Live in Chicago)
Tom calls the next day and admits that they grew away from the Brit-pop thing on this album. “There’s an almost 50’s early-pop-rock sounding song, there’s songs with more of a Radiohead-ish sound, there’s stuff that sounds almost Smiths-y. So, it’s harder to narrow us down for this one…”
Whatever genre, whether they start going off into avant-garde “Revolution # 9” trips, Tom stresses that Harmony will always be important. “When we write songs, we’ll work out the harmonies before the structure is even finished. And now, we’re older, so we’re just writing better songs now.”
Yes, still young…But five, six, seven years of writing together (for the Pawleski brothers, they were both singing and playing with their Dad as kindegardners), they’re definitely old souls when it comes to their songwriter-side.
And after a three year whirlwind of getting drunk on the talents and unique styles and ideas of their fellow bands in the scene, they’re pushing themselves into new territories as well. The guitars getting more fire, more grit to the bass, the drums speed up and slam down. And, yes, though its been said five times already in this article, we’ll stress again – the kids can sing. The men, rather, the guys…what-have-you…
And so it’s off to SXSW – the largest music festival inNorth America. Nick, Tom and Joby have been fixing up a used Camper that they recently bought, after hours at their work (the trio works together at Lakeshore Utility Trailer in Romulous).
As Nick sums up their anticipation for SXSW – “We’re planning on having the best time of our lives…but…we’re trying to be smart about it,” he may as well be applying it to their hopes for 2012.
Because when the Beatles are the bar you aim for, you better be doing it right.