What Hands Are For – Los Angeles
Bands are hard work. The sure energy and resources that go into holding a band together, let alone succeeding as a band, is a truly overlooked aspect of the music machine. It’s not glamorous and it’s tough to fully explain how hard it is to someone who has never actually been in a band. This might have something to due with the fact that VH1’s “Behind the Music” skims over the early years only to jump right into the juicy drug-infused years. Usually, that’s not how it is.
What Hands Are For, a quintet rock band based in Los Angeles (originally forming in the Inland Empire) knows a thing or two about keeping the chemistry gelling. For the last year, half of the band has lived in the Los Angeles borough of Echo Park, while the other half is still located in the band’s original stomping grounds. Normally, this distance might spell the end for a band, or at least a reshuffling of the lineup, but the men in What Hands Are For know that band chemistry doesn’t come out of thin air. They’ve worked hard for the last six years to get where they are today and it’s clear in speaking with them that they’ll function however they please.
After years of putting in their time playing house shows, dive bars, and tiny venues, the band was approached and signed by Los Angeles-based label Anchor 84. Since then, the band hasn’t changed much. No big egos or self-entitlement. If anything, they’re working harder than ever, intent on pushing their sound over the next threshold.
Last year’s EP, …Please Believe Me, was a surefire blast of rock ’n’ roll that had a tendency to border on the manic, anti-metal hardcore of At the Drive-In and Poison the Well. This is not meant to compare them to that sound or the bands themselves, but there’s certainly something to be said for hardcore that draws no line from the metallic, chugging riffs. There’s a consistency that runs through each of the five tracks that points to a work ethic favoring experimentation, building, and rebuilding of sound rather than rashly-written jams that are without true distinction.
Vocalist Daniel Baeza is the true definition of a front man, unafraid to throw himself out there (sometimes literally), while communicating a finger-pointing intensity that has the potential to unsettle anyone too close to the stage. To be sure, WHAF shows are not for the faint of heart.
Behind Baeza is a mighty, muscular band that sounds like nothing else going on in Los Angeles at the moment. Guitarists Kenneth Gilcrest and Faustino Baldenegro have accomplished a near-perfect interlocking of dense, drop-tuning chords and intricate lead parts (for proof checkout “Me, Myself, and My Terms”). As I said, there’s nothing metallic about WHAF’s approach, but there’s no mistaking the riffage having its roots in hardcore. The rhythm section drives with a forcefulness that is somewhat equivalent to a SWAT team breaching a bank vault. Drummer AJ Salazar isn’t simply a timepiece for the band, instead utilizing every aspect of his kit while playing to the song as opposed to acting as a distraction. It’s an awe-inspiring event to see the band live only to be completely engaged by the rhythmic patterns that Salazar plows through. There’s always the old adage that someone can be a bull in a china shop, and though the entire band has the ability, bassist Jonathan Gilcrest is perhaps the greatest personification of this I have ever witnessed. A standout in the band at close to 6’6, Gilcrest’s thickly distorted bass tones rifle through the mix, all while the man throws himself about the stage like a bucking bull trying to kick a cowboy to the dirt. I warned you, WHAF shows are not for the faint of heart.
At the moment the band is hard at work writing and demoing their next album, which should surface sometime in 2012. Bangstyle got a chance to catch up with the band.
BANGSTYLE: Though you formed in the Inland Empire, the band has since moved to Los Angeles. What distinct changes have you felt since the move? How has LA influenced the band’s sound?
WHAF: Well the writing process has certainly changed. Since we are scattered across Southern California, songs are written in a more one-on-one setting now, so the style of each member is going to come out more. Before, every song was an amalgamation.
BANGSTYLE: I know you guys are in the process of writing a new record. How is it sounding in comparison to your last EP, Please, Believe Me?
WHAF: It’s going to be better. Not more “mature,” not “darker,” not… “complex,” it is just going to be bigger and better. Jungle Riots might not even make it to the record. That song is from the Please Believe Me era. It’s probably going to be more of a stopgap than any part of the record we are going to release. Either way, I feel our approach to song writing has come a long way over the years. I am very excited for everyone to hear what we are doing.
BANGSTYLE: When the band is writing, is there a sonic theme that you strive for, or is it more wide-open, as you’re not really worried about how it sounds as long as you all like it?
WHAF: Ah, it is actually both. We have always been a band that has wanted to push ourselves past contemporary song writing. So if it sounds like something we’ve heard before, it’s probably not WHAF material. At the same time though, we stick pretty close to the standard rock band instruments: guitar drums bass singer. So we probably aren’t going to be doing any crazy sound effect blur spin circus whimsy dream pop business. But anything is possible. I’ve wanted to experiment with flatulence reverberation against different types of hard wood.
BANGSTYLE: What’s more fulfilling to you: Writing/recording an album or playing shows?
WHAF: What is with all the hard choices? If you make music, you need both to be fulfilled. We write songs because we love them, but we play them because we love them so much we want them to be heard.
BANGSTYLE: You’re exiled on a desert island. You have 5 albums to choose to take with you. What are they?
WHAF: Beethoven’s second symphony, Beatles Let It Be, Every Time I Die The Big Dirty, That M83 record that is all the rage. (kidding… Hurry up, We’re dreaming), Pavement Wowee Zowee.
BANGSTYLE: How do you think What Hands Are For fits in the grand scheme of LA’s music scene? Do you feel like sore thumbs sticking out or is it feeling like home?
WHAF: We’re not sore. But we are not quite fitting in with the standard for the current styles. Which is fine. We never have and I don’t want to. That would be boring.
BANGSTYLE: As a whole, how do you feel about the state of music? Are things headed south or is there a true Renaissance at hand?
WHAF: I don’t think there has ever been a true dead period for music. When someone tells me “Music just sucks now,” I know for a fact they aren’t listening. If you look to the standard, tired sources to tell you what is good, then you are likely to get jaded. But that has always been the case, and there has always been an underground that goes against the tide of repetitious heartless crap. Artists will always want to stand out and be interesting.
BANGSTYLE: Of all the venues you’ve played, what is the best? Why?
WHAF: If it’s not the Vibe then it for sure was the Pad, our very own home, where people were thrown through Sheetrock and we burned our kitchen table in the back yard at 5 am… because…
BANGSTYLE: Whenever I read an interview or feature about the band, I always read someone comparing you to Refused, At the Drive-In, or the Kinison. Do you think those are fair, or is it irritating to always have those references attached to you?
WHAF: We have always tried to shy away from being easily pegged, because all the bands we worship are also un-peggable. That said, it is an honor to be compared to those great acts, and we would be happy to pick up the torch where those dudes left off, if it’s possible. Even if they are reuniting and feeling so good.
BANGSTYLE: Beer or liquor? Why?
WHAF: Wild Turkey 101 because I like to get into shouting matches with bar managers.
BANGSTYLE: Who’s the greatest American author, living or dead, and why?
WHAF: I’m not sure if I am supposed to go with one of the standards or one of my favorites. I am a Raymond Carver fan. He may have died thirty years ago, but his work still resonates in our current society. I like how what is not said in his work is as important as what is actually on the page. Do I really have to pick one though? That is like asking who’s the greatest American songwriter, go. I mean…no fair man!
BANGSTYLE: What’s on tap for the band in 2012? Upcoming shows?
WHAF: We have the Viper Room on April 29th, Aladdin Jr’s on the 7th and Amplyfi on the 3rd. Other than that we are writing and touring and watching Game of Thrones.
BANGSTYLE: Thanks yous? Verbal lacerations?
WHAF: Thanks De Maio. And to everyone else…we love you.