Wednesday, August 19, 2009

TVD First Date with | The Phenomenal Handclap Band

The Liberation Dance Party returns to DC9 this Friday night with a special live performance from NYC-based (Lower East Side, to be exact) The Phenomenal Handclap Band whose tracks we’ve been grooving to all week here at ol’ TVD HQ.

We chatted with Joan Tick from PHB earlier in the week, and she’s supplied us with perhaps the best and certainly the longest, First Date on record. (And we all know that if a first date goes long, that’s a damn good thing indeed.)

"I grew up in Las Vegas with a former musician for a father. Shortly after I was born, he quit touring, sold his bass guitar and amp, and took an entry-level job cooking at a casino in order to keep his family afloat. The only vestige to his former musical life remained in a slim stack of records neatly shelved inside his 1960s console stereo, and that hefty monster was further buried inside a closet. For years, this stack and the immaculate record player inside the console went untouched.

In the summer between sixth and seventh grade, however, my best friend and I saw the beginnings of our teenaged shenanigans. This included raiding our Parents’ belongings. Maybe it was in search of old clothes, trinkets, prizes, secrets, proof that they weren’t really what they said they were, and by default we weren’t either. This certainly included sifting through the old stereo and its records in my house.

We were amused, confused, and impressed by the covers of dozens of Beatles albums, The Doors, James Brown, Frank Zappa, The Carpenters, The Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, and Bread. These are the ones I remember clearly. The stumbling upon a parent’s small music canon, his vinyl files of an era gone by, is undoubtedly a common first glimpse into music for a kid, but it was in these songs, specifically that of Karen Carpenter and Mama Cass’s voice that I realized I could actually sing, that singing or dreaming up a melody of your own could invoke something more complex than joy or sadness.

Right away we memorized lyrics and began showing off the records to our friends as if we were the first two people on earth to discover The Beatles on original vinyl. On Friday and Saturday nights before we went to bed, we smoked cigarettes and drank Dr. Pepper in the dark to Side A of Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence. From those lullabies of longing, we began to pursue lesser known music--the natural progression into the underground being punk and post-punk music--and by the end of junior high school we had acquired a preliminary collection ranging from The Jam, The Birthday Party, and Bad Brains to Bauhaus, The Cure, and The Cocteau Twins. The older and harder to find records were a lucky inheritance from a former punk rock uncle who was trying to clean up his act. His music was the first to go. Again, my friend and I were sifting through someone else’s abandoned vinyl treasures, but at least this time we knew what we had on our hands.

It was just after ninth grade at age 15, when my mother decided to move from Las Vegas to rural North Idaho. I recall throwing an absolute fit when they tried to sell his console stereo at a moving sale. It was, after all, really big, heavy as hell, and an absolute oak and mustard green eye sore to both of them. But my pleas triumphed. It took three people to load it into the moving van and three more to carry it into our new house and up the stairs into my room.

The stereo took up the entire width of the closet. At night, the bulbous knobs glowed yellow, red, and white while I thought about the bleakness of life along with its vast possibilities. In my early days of living in the rural Northwest, music was the easiest thing to focus on and I soon discovered Maximum Rocknroll and a few other zines that led me to a small record store in Spokane, WA called 4000 Holes. I would make the 45- minute drive from Idaho to Washington at least once a week with friends. The Northwest was still reeling from the start of grunge in Seattle and a lot of punk bands were coming through the smaller surrounding cities and playing in abandoned churches and all-ages shacks. The Dickies, Jawbreaker, The Dead Milkmen, among many other memorable and unmemorable hardcore bands played. If you couldn’t find a show listed somewhere, someone knew about something happening at an abandoned rec center in the woods and you¹d spend all night trying to find it.

I was probably 17 when the skinheads moved into the scene. I already lived half a mile from the Aryan Nation compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho and had avoided seeing any white supremacists in person (that I knew of). But there they were, muscle-bodied and a lot older than us punching girls in the face, knocking them unconscious, ending the shows.

I think that may have been the early start and early end to my love affair with hording vinyl for a while. Not for any other reason than it was time for something else. Over the better part of the decade, I became increasingly more intrigued by new music and fell in love with quieter bands like Yo La Tengo, and Low-- traces of which, along with those very first record findings, you can hear in my songwriting.

In New York City, I worked at a bar with a DJ named Greg Caz, who would keep me at the bar until 6am playing folk and punk favorites from my teenage years, but also a whole host of Brazilian and African music that I had never listened to. Caz can speak French, Portuguese, and Spanish--all learned from his beloved records--and he would translate lyrics from his favorite artists, many of which lived very short lives in relative obscurity across the world. The one who stole my heart was Tuca. The Brazilian songwriter’s gothic lyrics rested against an otherwise uplifting beat. She seemed painfully aware of her own mortality, the love she might not attain before perishing, and indeed she died in her twenties.

Greg was, of course, close friends with Sean and Daniel of The Phenomenal Handclap Band, which at that time had not yet taken its current shape, but was already being talked about. We all eventually met when they began looking for new members. I was intrigued by the wide-ranging songs, by how ambitious their concept was. Since his late teens, Daniel had been living in Manhattan DJing gigs, forming bands, and attending music school. Along the way he began DJing obscure soul records with Sean. Together they began producing some of their favorite music heroes like Joe Bataan and Unaio Black. Between the two of them, they had acquired a group of some of the cities best musicians (their friends) to work alongside them.

The first Phenomenal Handclap Band record was released this summer along with a limited edition 7-inch featuring "Testimony" and "15-20" through Pure Groove, a boutique record store in London. A full-length double vinyl is in the works."

The Phenomenal Handclap Band - You'll Disappear (Mp3)
The Phenomenal Handclap Band - 15 to 20 (Mp3)
The Phenomenal Handclap Band - 15 to 20 (David E Sugar 5 10 Replay Remix) (Mp3)

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Wonderful and touching and honest and real -- like Joan herself, and the music of The Phenomenal Handclap Band. Have a great tour! See you the 26th in San Francisco!