Interview: Hands and Knees

Hands and Knees‘ tones are somehow ghostly and warm at the same time. They’re a band that sounds like they could easily play a lively rural shindig out in the woods (Joe OK from the band tells me, “Our first H&K show was at a sleepover campout/cookout…”). As it is, their recordings conjure for me the image of a traveler who’s found some rest in a cave, falls asleep in the fire light and is serenaded in his dreams by some wistful ghosts playing their worn instruments in the shadows, out of the flickering light–it’s not a nasty cave, but one where the tones of the past become new and wash over the traveler as he rests his weary bones.

Joe OK from Hands and Knees answered some of my questions–they’ll be playing Zuzu October 8.

How’d you get into playing music?

I started writing songs and playing guitar when I was 18 or 19, which is kind of old and I was interested in doing this kind of thing long before that.  I learned by writing songs.

What would you recommend for a newbie trying to get into playing music?

Meet other people who are into the same thing.  Go out and play shows, go on tour.  Write good songs.

How do you go about writing songs?

Typically I hum stuff on the bike, or at home or walking around and work obsessively around these little nuggets ’til something comes together.  It’s something you’re working on all the time even when you[‘re] working on other things.  It’s a nice self-sustaining thing, writing music.

Can you think of any problems with song writing people usually don’t hear about?

Well, writing as a group can be good and bad.  My favorite stuff from H&K is collaborative, but it’s certainly easier if you just do it yourself ‘cause you know what you like.  But it’s not always as good.  Generally I’d say it’s a good thing if the members of a band don’t agree half the time, but bad if the band breaks up because of it.

How’d you get your band together?

Carina and I met in New Mexico and started playing little songs and open mics (which I hate).  When we were back in MA a couple years later, we started hanging out with Scott, who is an old friend of hers.  Started up from that.

If someone were trying to get into starting a band, what advice would you give them?

Write good songs, play good shows.

Did you experience anything forming up a band that was a complete surprise to you, or something that people starting a band would find surprising?

I thought we were better than most bands.  I thought we wrote better songs.  I was surprised to learn most bands thought a similar thing about themselves, so I guess we’re all full of shit.  But you’ve got to like what you’re doing, I guess, or why would you do it.  Even if it sounds terrible to other people.

What do you use for practice space?

The Soul Shop in Medford or out at Scott’s house in Shelburne Falls.

How often do you practice?

Not too much.  Mostly to work out new songs.

Any horror stories or funny things happen during practice?

Ummmmmmmmmmm, I don’t think so.  Oh wait, we saw Frank Black out in Shelburne a few weeks ago.  He was just having a pleasant afternoon strolling around town with his family, checking out the glacial potholes.  Our friend Jed went up and shook his hand, I think.  Maybe he just said hi.  Anyway, I suddenly got a little nervous playing, ‘cause it’s a small town and you know he could hear it and must be thinking, oh boy, there’s another Pixies inspired band, ooooh boy.  Maybe he likes it.

Is there anything that was a suprise to you about the experience of practicing for gigs?

Not so much.  I guess you have to test out new material at shows even if it’s well practiced.  Generally it doesn’t come together really until you’ve played it out a few times.

Any practical advice for people who are starting to practice for gigs?

I don’t have any good advice.

What was your first live show–what was it like?

Our first H&K show was at a sleepover campout/cookout in W. Mass.  There were fireflies out in the fields.  I remember singing to myself in the car over so I wouldn’t forget the words to some Leonard Cohen song we were going to cover.

Any horror stories or funny things happen up on stage?

I’ve freaked out once or twice because of bad sound or something stupid, those were horrible and funny things.  I got a bruise on my hip once that I thought was a tumor, looked like a golf ball, down in North Carolina, by jumping up a wall and crashing on Phil’s drums (our first drummer).  Mostly it’s pretty under control though.  Drinking helps, then it starts to hurt.

Is there any advice you’d give to someone who hasn’t played out yet and is trying to get over stage fright or just the overwhelmingness of playing live?

Play out a lot.  Don’t drink too much.  Have a good drummer.

Are there any experiences you’ve had playing live that people who don’t play would be completely surprised happens?

Hmmm……

How do you record?

The lastest record, Red Hot Minnow, Nick and I recorded mostly at the Soul Shop on a cassette 8-track.  The first three records Scott recorded with ProTools out in Shelburne Falls.  I think the next one we’ll probably record at a studio, not by ourselves.

Any advice for a newbie trying to get into recording his or her stuff, either professionally or as an amateur?

I personally like the lo-fi aesthetic, and grew up on cassette 4-tracks.  I never really got into digital recording, but fortunately Scott knows quite a bit about it so we recorded stuff that way too.  Ideally you have lots of money and time and go into a professional analog studio, like the Soul Shop, and work with people who know what they’re doing.  We mixed the last record with Elio at the Soul Shop, who put up with all my cassette bullshit and really fine tuned an otherwise all-over-the-place set of recordings.

Is there anything you experience when recording that you think would surprise a person who doesn’t know anything about the process?

It’s nothing like playing live.  Some people really dislike it.

Any bands you’d recommend that are from the Boston area?

I’d recommend the Happy Jawbone Family Band from VT, White Pages, Fedavees, Creaturos, The Tony the Bookie Orchestra, New England Patriots, Thick Shakes, The Double Stops, Royal Wedding.

What are your impressions of the Boston scene as you’ve experienced it?

Insulated.

Could you recommend one album by some other artist?

I’ve really been into Astral Weeks by Van Morrison, which Nick lent me recently.  Or locally, O.K. Midnight, You Win! by the Happy Jawbone Family Band was a favorite from last year, or more locally the newish 7″ by White Pages.

What do you think is the most interesting thing about your experience with music?

Writing songs.

What’s most important to you about playing music?

Writing good songs.

Anything else you’d like to share?

We’re playing a fine little show at ZUZU on Oct. 8th with White Pages, who have out that great 7″, and a band from Montreal called Leamers.  It’s free, it’s at 10pm, it’ll be great.

Finally, is there anything we can do as writers to help you out?

Write good stories.

(Photos provided by Joe OK)

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