Welcome back, Marc. Since the last time we interviewed you much has happened with HAND. Could you begin by telling us how the band reunited?
Well, it was truly unexpected, a dream that came true and has exceeded all my expectations. In April of 2013, I was approached by two of my students and one faculty member of Hamden Hall, the Connecticut school where I teach, to join them in singing three of my songs for a school Coffee House musical event. They were aware of my music through the Golden Pavilion reissue of HAND’s 1972 LP “Everybody’s Own”, which a number of students had purchased and downloaded onto their iPods. Joining three more young musicians on stage, along with my old friend Nick Zoullas, the superb harmonica player on the first record, we played a barely rehearsed three song set that should have been a train wreck, yet was a thing of ragged, authentic beauty that stunned us and an enthused audience of about a hundred. It led Nick and me to thinking that perhaps our music days were not over after all, and might be only beginning.
How did you follow up on this initial success, and take the next step forward?
I had something of an epiphany, and decided to do take a leap into an improbable scenario: I would send the recording of the rough edged Coffee House set to Antonio Barreiros of Golden Pavilion, and propose that he agree to release a new HAND album. The band would include several teenagers, highly gifted musicians all, my colleague and friend Arnie Sabatelli whose guitar virtuosity was a core strength of our new sound, and we would all meet in June of 2013 for a week of intense rehearsals, immediately followed by a three day recording session at Firehouse 12 studio in New Haven, Ct. Coordinating such a project should have been near impossible in such a short time, yet it all fell into place with relative ease, as though it had been preordained. In ten days, with my songs at the center of our efforts, we forged a real band, and the new HAND album “the other side of the world” was released in January of 2014. I still pinch myself at the fact that it has all come to pass.
Could you tell us a bit about the new line- up of HAND? How much have they helped to evolve the new sound?
I cannot over emphasize the importance of this line-up to HAND’s current sound. We have added one new player to the line-up since the record was released. Each musician has contributed their talent and ideas, and they are as responsible as Nick and I are for the quality of HAND’s new music. They are, in no hierarchical order at all:
Nate Hill, 17 years old, a fluid, deeply talented bass player with music coursing through his veins;
Franklin Van Nes, 18 years old, a versatile drummer comfortable in genres as varied as ballads, bossa nova and hard rock;
Mariel Yaghsizian, 19 years old, whose soft sandpaper and dark honey voice stopped me in my tracks when I first heard it, such was its impact, as if it had come from my very own imagination;
Arnie Sabatelli, my fellow educator whose virtuosic and eclectic guitar playing helps to bring a textured sound to the songs;
Klemens Gowin, our 18 year old pianist, classically trained and a composer in his own right, who has entered the world of progressive folk / rock with natural ease;
And Nick Zoullas, whose harmonica helped to define HAND’s sound, and still does so today with unerring originality.
Our newest member is 18 year old violinist Libai Jordan, a classical musician whose gifts are prodigious, and who brings a new dimension to our music, particularly as his instrument melds with Nick’s harmonica.
My contribution has remained that of principal singer, rhythm guitarist and composer. My greatest joy, however, is the recently developed collaboration with Mariel, who has proven to be a splendid lyricist. We have co-written four new songs thus far which will be on our next album, with more on the way, and they are among the best music I have ever been associated with. She descends from an illustrious musical lineage: her grandfather was jazz giant Dave Brubeck, her grandmother Iola Brubeck was a noted lyricist, and her uncles are brilliant musicians leading their own bands and musical careers.
I must also mention that, in the absence of Klemens who is at college, we have been graced with the talents of Waylon Chang, a 15 year old pianist of great skill and sensitivity who has been our concert and rehearsal pianist throughout this school year and without whom we could not have progressed as we have.
As I list the credentials of the musicians of the new HAND for you, I am more conscious than ever of my own good fortune to be associated with such a group.
Could you talk a bit about the unique aspect of several generations playing in the same band? How has that aspect manifested itself in your musical and personal relationships?
When we play music together, we are united in our passion and quite oblivious of age differences. We have all formed friendships, and we interact socially with a comfort and ease that you rarely see between generations. It takes a particular moment, an unexpected comment perhaps, to remind us of the years that separate us. For the most part, I have ceased to be subservient to the chronology of time, and all of us move together in time’s vast ocean.
On a musical level, we all influence each other, listen to one another, and bring our musical knowledge to bear whenever we work on our music, particularly when structuring the new songs slated for the next record, to be made in Italy this coming July.
Before hearing more about the coming album to be recorded in Florence this summer, could you give us a brief track- by -track commentary on the eight songs that form HAND’s new CD and LP “the other side of the world”?
I will try…
Track 1: Down The Road
This song was written in the 70’s. It tells a surreal tale of farmers leaving their ploughs to find freedom from the drudgery of their endless work, as they search for greater meaning “down the road” where “life is different”. This track has remained a favorite of those who have known it since its beginning, and it retains its poetic verve. The driving lyrics narrate the story at a fast pace, and the violin and harmonica seduce us onward from verse to verse.
Track 2. I Don’t Forget (so soon)
I wrote this one when I was still in high school. It has a particularly evocative and nostalgic quality imparted by Nick’s harmonica and Mariel’s haunting harmony on the chorus. It has layers of personal memory that still resonate for me from my days growing up in Switzerland.
Track 3. St. Ives
Written in the mid 70’s, it was an impressionistic recreation of the Cornish seaside town of St. Ives, mingled with my passion for my then girlfriend Marcia (we have been married since 1978), for whom this song was composed. The band’s contribution to changing this tune from a slower ballad to a kick ass anthem has helped to make it a particular favorite.
Track 4. Don’t Cross That Line
This song was written in the late 80’s and is built around a dialog between lovers whose battles have wounded them both, but have not yet left them without hope for redemption. Mariel and I trade verses and barbs, harmonizing on the chorus and bridge, trying to help redeem the sad fools in the story. If it evokes a Tammy Wynette / George Jones duet, sung in their fighting and forgiving mode, I will be pleased.
Track 5. Feather In The Wind
This song is dedicated to my daughter Ali. It was written before she was born, and it is clearly a loving foreshadowing of the path she has traveled as a teenager and a young woman, “traveling light, wherever the wind may glide, like a feather in the wind”.
Musically, it is an unconventional bossa nova, and highlights include Franklin’s percussive turn on the “cajon”, Nick’s wondrous harmonica, Nate’s swinging acoustic bass, Arnie’s Spanish guitar, and Mariel’s echoing voice channeling Astrud Gilberto.
Track 6. The Other Side of the World
This is a song about love lost, disappointment met with determination to recover one’s independence “instead of living in my thoughts of you”. I did not write it for Mariel to sing, but she sings it as if she had been born to bring it to life. Her subtle and powerful performance is greater and deeper than her chronological years should allow, and helps to underline how little we care in this band about chronological time: experience can be gained in an instant, understanding can be reached in a flash. It quickly became the title track to our new release.
Track 7. Since You’ve Gone
This one was written in Spain, and it is a nostalgic song about deeply missing someone to the point that “I whistle to hide the pain inside, it does me good.” Listen for Nick’s harmonica to play that whistling tune, and for Klemens’ reflective, dreamy coda on piano.
Track 8. The Hard Way
There are some people who do things “the hard way”, no matter what. This song is an ode to such tortured, sweet souls. The melody is patterned in part on Pachelbel’s Canon, but transformed quite utterly by the lyrical content, the chosen instruments, and the arrangement. Arnie’s wrenching electric guitar riff which drives the closing movement still makes the hair stand on the back of my neck.
Tell us about the next album, to be recorded in Florence, Italy this summer.
It is still a bit of a dream to me that the next record will be recorded in a city where I lived, between the ages of 5 and 7, while my art dealer father was studying Renaissance art at Bernard Berenson’s famed Villa I Tatti. We have been hard at work, arranging the new songs being written by Mariel and me, and the band is poised to make a creative leap in a new direction, while still remaining anchored in the classic sounds of American rock and folk. I couldn’t be more pleased with the new material, with the vitality of our motley band, and with the continued support of Antonio Barreiros and Golden Pavilion. We’re into new musical territory, but it feels familiar all the same. HAND was born in the heart of Europe, and it seems appropriate that our new music will be recorded once again in the old continent.
CDs and LPs are available for sale at hand-band.org
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2014
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