Interview: Band Without Hands on bands without hands, music to make out to, and video games
Originally, the near-lifelong buddies more-or-less imagined crafting something in the vein of ambient dance-pop under the nomenclature Akisma. But once drummer Nick Martinelle and guitarist John McKusick entered the picture, a mutual appreciation for the harsher vibes of Trent Reznor and his contemporaries led to something quite a bit more, well, rawk. Observe the quartet’s debut EP, Epochalypse — in which massive guitars battle murky synths, until they decide fighting is stupid, call it a tie, and become pals.
Also, Akisma changed their name to Band Without Hands, because no one could figure out how to pronounce Akisma. To plug their show tonight at T.T.’s, we met up at Bronwyn in Union Square, where the jukebox played quite a lot of Sade and I ate a purple deviled egg.
[hr] Barry Thompson: You guys call yourselves Band Without Hands now. You all clearly have hands. What the fuck?
Jess Jacobs: Um, well, okay, there’s a couple of different ways you could look at it. Brien works with his hands tearing apart computers and shit like that all the time, and I’m fucking around with woodstoves ‘n shit at my house. So, basically, we end up injuring our hands. I fried my thumb doing something idiotic on a cast-iron pan, and he cut his hand wide open cutting…plastic?
Brien Sweet: Probably metal. Probably a circuit board or something.
Jess Jacobs: So we were like, “Oh shit! Guitarist’s hands are fucked!” So we went, “Oh, Band Without Hands, that’s actually kind of catchy.” I’d like to think, symbolically, it represents hands being tied. There’s only so much you can do about any given situation — emotional, political, whatever — and that’s a lot of the topics we write about, so it was kind of serendipitous.
Brien Sweet: Overcoming adversity. That’s our thing. Or something.
I feel like some bands will throw music snobby acts like Fugazi or Sonic Youth on their list of influences largely to advertise their own supposed music snobbery. You guys have no problem including Deftones on there. Deftones aren’t music snobby.
Brien Sweet: I read in some interview once that back in the nu-metal days, Deftones were the Miss Congeniality band. They were never going to be KoRn, they were never going to be the biggest of those bands, but everybody likes them. It’s not a bad place to be. They’re not associated with that scene, and they’re making way better albums now.
Jess Jacobs: Good side projects. Crosses.
Nick Martinelle: I only got into the Deftones through these guys.
Brien Sweet: You’re my first drummer who’s not obsessed with Deftones, ever.
Nick Martinelle: I was obsessed with KoRn back in the day, and Neil Peart all the time.
Brien Sweet: How many drummers play the title track to Around the Fur? Boom. Boom boom boom chicka boom boom. It’s just a simple dumb beat. It’s like how “Higher Ground” is for bass players .
Nick Martinelle: I can play it if you want me to.
Brien Sweet: Once you hear it, you’ll love it, and you’ll become that guy, too.
In my high school, if you were going to make out in the drama department closet, you had to be listening to Deftones throughout.
Brien Sweet: I felt the opposite spectrum when I was a teenager loving the Deftones.
Jess Jacobs: I thought about breaking shit and murdering people.
Nick Martinelle: People who wanted to murder each other would make out.
Jess Jacobs: And then murder each other.
Do you feel Band Without Hands is continuing the Deftones tradition of music for people who want to murder each other to make out to?
Jess Jacobs: Not intentionally. I think our sound is pretty hard right now, pretty aggressive. It’s not only a reflection of where some of us have been personally over the last couple of years, but when you’re starting as a new band, you want to figure out how far you can push a show, and then figure out the more subtle details. So maybe that’s why we’ve kind of gone that way. Also, we ended up being a little more metal and hard than the initial concept… we never made a conscious decision and said “We’re not going to do this in an electronic way.” It just started coming through when we started playing with a full band.
It was like, “Hey, I’ve been making electronic music by myself for six years now, and I’m kinda fucking sick of it… I mean, when I first learned to play, I was playing mostly Smashing Pumpkins and Alice In Chains or whatever, and I never got the chance to explore that more, ‘cause I was always doing solo shit and that’s not really conducive to (playing solo). So once that started happening I was like, “Wow, cool, let’s go in this direction! Fuck what we had!”
You do a song called “Hello Despair,” which seems to be about breaking up with an abstract concept. If you can break up with an abstract concept, you can also, y’know, do it with an abstract concept. So which abstract concept would you guys most like to bang?
Jess Jacobs: Actually, it would also be despair, I think.
Nick Martinelle: I don’t know. Paranoia, I guess. I’d say happiness, but… Is paranoia an abstract concept?….Are you sure?
Happiness would be boring.
Nick Martinelle: Yeah, I’m sort of already happy. I’d want to fuck with something kind of weird. Plus I’m paranoid way too often. I should be able to break up with it. No Black Sabbath references, please.
Jess Jacobs: Maybe loneliness. I’m trying to look at it through the lens of a guilty pleasure emotional indulgence I find myself hanging out with a lot. Otherwise, it seems to easy. Happiness or lust or something like that — yeah, sure, but that’s already in the definition of those things that they’re things you want. I guess I’m a weirdo for spending so much time with emotions I don’t like.
Brien Sweet: I’m going to pick vanity.
Nick Martinelle: You probably think this interview is about you, don’t you?
Jess Jacobs: Starfucker!
If Epochalypse was a video game soundtrack, what kind of video game would it be for?
Jess Jacobs: It’s pretty aggressive, except for “Solace.” It’s aggressive with tenderness. Final Fantasy, maybe?
Nick Martinelle: RPG First-person shooter Donkey Kong. It describes our music, ‘cause we can’t focus.
Brien Sweet: I’d be choosing a Mario Kart 64 level. I’d say probably, like, Mario Raceway, ‘cause it’s all pretty on the outside, but there are dangerous turns and annoying bastards and plants that will come out and eat you at every turn. It’s a fast track. I’d say Bowser’s Castle but it’s too evil.
Jess Jacobs: I totally grew up playing Final Fantasy — every one — and RPGs of various stripes and structures. As a result, I got exposed to some of the best video game music. Nobuo Uematsu, I totally grew up listening to that dude and all his Final Fantasy themes and grandiosity and things like that. It works its way in.
ROCKPALAST PRESENTS BAND WITHOUT HANDS + LADYMOB + DJ RORY STARK :: Monday, April 28 @ T.T. The Bear’s Place, 10 Brookline St., Cambridge :: 8:30 p.m., 18-plus, $8 :: Facebook event page