In Charlotte’s music scene, finding a truly experimental band that’s willing to push the envelope artistically is like looking for a parking spot on campus at 11 a.m. They are there but finding one takes some looking.
Now say, “Hello,” to Hello Handshake, a six piece art collective that is based in music but likes to play with multimedia within their shows (think projection screens). The band lists its main influences as Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol, early Pink Floyd and Flaming Lips.
Handshake will play Amos’ Southend for the first time on Jan. 28th and they hope to reach some people who are tired of the same old two-step when it comes to local rock.
The lineup, like the music, is constantly growing and evolving. The band started in 2009 as French Handshake, with Evan Plante, Bobby Bellamy and Nate Proczak, who are still members. Drummer Kevin Gavagan soon realized the time constraints of playing in two bands (Broken Napoleons) and opted out of French Handshake.
The band played a farewell show with Kevin as Goodbye Handshake before moving on to their present name. “We used French Handshake as we were messing around in the studio. Then when we had to play a show we were like, ‘Oh, we have to tell people our name? Let’s change it,’” said Plante.
Further down the road in 2011, the three remaining members finally hit the studio to record what would become Sublime Machines, their debut record that was released in the fall. It’s hard to truly list band members in regards to what instruments they play, as doing so is like trying to keep up with Hollywood marriages.
Officially, Bellamy is the lead singer and plays guitars and keyboard. Plante plays guitars, drums and the theremin. Proczak plays the bass, guitar and does samples. The three of them just played what needed to be played while the album was being recorded, but that wouldn’t work at a show, said Bellamy.
Soon after the album’s release, Todd Rowland signed on as the live drummer. Prozcak left the group to tour with Phil Stacey but rejoined in 2012. Most recently, Plante’s wife has joined to help on vocals, keyboard and percussion.
The fact that their history is so hard to follow fits perfectly with the product they put out in the form of “Sublime Machines.” For the most part, the music has a very 90’s feel, which makes sense considering the album name consists of two of that era’s most popular rock bands.
Yet Hello Handshake refuses to be lumped into any sort of category, and they don’t need to tell you that in person. Anyone listening to the album will notice that the songs practice a certain brand of musical Tourette Syndrome.
Melody is often broken by a manic state of instruments clashing that hits the listener without warning and can be a bit unsettling for the average music fan. It plays better when the CD is listened to front to back, but doesn’t work as well in the average iPod shuffle.
“We understand that it’s an awful lot to ask people to listen to a concept album when indie rock is so much pop now a day,” said Evan. “It’s not just a concept album but calling it that will let people step back and see it as a whole.”
Bellamy thinks the “outbursts” also have a place within the storytelling of the song. They precede a stampede in one song and foreshadow a coming flood in another.
These sections of clamoring also go further in showing that these guys don’t take themselves too seriously and that they are all in on what Proczak calls “the joke.”
“The outbursts keep it authentic. It brings us down to Earth, we’re just kids having fun,” said Bellamy. This works well within songs that can come off as a bit dark with Bellamy’s melancholic voice.
“Aspects of it are distant, cold and alarming. I feel like we’re telling a joke but I want everyone to know that it’s a joke,” said Evan. Making audience members feel as if they are on equal footing with the band is a big part of making that happen at shows.
“If I am writing about something personal, I’m writing it as a fictional character. If I could be in the crowd and still expressing myself without being on some pedestal, or have everyone in the crowd up on stage with me, that would be the best possible scenario.”
The Amos’ show will be Susan’s first, and will prove to be an interesting challenge for such a diverse band. “There are no set roles. We all do what needs to be done as the show progresses. Sound guys hate us at these venues. They look at us like we have 10 heads,” said Evan.
It’s all worth it in order “to take a step in the right direction for the music scene here,” said Proczak. “The complex can seem simple, and for us it’s just necessary.”