Random Hand

By paul

October 2008

A HEAVY rain beats down on a decommissioned Royal Mail van. It’s Monday night in Brighton, only the inclement weather doesn’t make it feel much like your typical postcard town. Last night Yorkshire ska-metal crew, Random Hand, played the figurehead London show on a 30 date tour that takes in just about every grisly corner of the UK. Tonight it’s a rather quieter affair.

Punktastic has squeezed into the band’s van (resourcefully modified to include a set of bunk beds, perfect for that band far away from home) to find out about the follow up to 2007’s debut album, ‘Change Of Plan’.

In two short weeks, craftily shoehorned between tours, the Keighley quartet heads in to the studio to record ‘Inhale/Exhale’. Right now frontman Robin Leitch and bass player Joe Tilston are hunkered inside the van ready to offer us the low-down.

PT: What can we expect from album number two?

JT: More of everything. I think we’ve gotten better at doing the ska, we’ve gotten better at doing riffs and the more metal stuff, and we’ve got a few more solid influences in there that weren’t involved in the first album.

PT: Is it a different Random Hand?

JT: I think it’s the same dynamic, the same four people making the same compromises to their tastes to make a song. At the end of the day we have to make a song that the four of us are happy to play live and happy enough to record, so there is a great deal of compromise. It’s never one person’s vision. Even if a song is solidly written by one person, it doesn’t end up being anything like that once it leaves the machine.

PT: Random Hand has a reputation for being a live band. How does this impact the record?

RL: We’re always going to be a better live band. We’re never going to get a record that sounds better than we do live. We’re a band that thrives off energy more than anything else.

JT: I find when doing a recording it’s always that little bit ahead of where we are live, but within a couple of months we surpass it. When we first recorded ‘Change of Plan’, I thought it sounded better than us, the same with the E.P. [‘On The March’, 2005]. I thought both sounded better but then within a very short period of time we surpassed it. I think that’s why we’re always going to be a better live band. We’re not afraid to develop from the record.

RL: You don’t get put out on a media pedestal. You can make videos all you like, but at the end of the day you take the music to the people. They see what you can do live, and they get into you. It’s that simple. It’s getting to the point now that there’s a little bit of buzz, so that people might buy the album first, see what the sound is and then they might come and see us on the back of that. At the end of the day it’s always going to be about playing live and to an extent recording albums is just a means to go back out on tour.

PT: Tell us about the title: ‘Inhale/Exhale’.

JT: [Laughs] To be honest, everything about this band involves compromise, the name especially. ‘Change of Plan’ seemed to make sense to everybody because it was a big change of plan [the first attempt at the album was shelved before a second stab with a new producer]. That made sense. The fact that we got something we all agreed on was a miracle, but with this one…

PT: Robin doesn’t like it?

RL: No. We had a song called ‘Inhale/Exhale’. I really, really didn’t want to name an album after a song. I like albums to be separate, and I don’t like any songs to be prominent. You take any album in history and for the most part everyone has a different favourite song. I don’t like the idea of making one seem more prominent. So we had a song title and people seemed to think it worked more as an album title, so it became the album.

JT: In fairness, if we’d had another six months to work on the album we might have found something everybody liked. We just had to move on these things. At the end of the day it’s not about the name of the album, it’s about what’s on it. We’re more than happy with changing the name of the song. We were completely in agreement with Robin not wanting to name the album after a song.

PT: You mention lack of time. What are some of the constraints caused by this?

JT: We only have a short period of time so we have to record the album next month. And we had to write it last month. If we hadn’t done it then and there we’d have to wait another eight months at which point everything would get stagnant. We’ve toured the last album enough already. When we set about writing we wanted to get 18-20 songs down so we could be a bit pickier. It started getting a lot more cut to the point where it was writing the minimum rather than the maximum.

PT: A case of quality over quantity?

JT: Yeah. I would have liked to have got more done, but it’s just the way it’s gone. I’m not unhappy about any of it. I think all of our playing is a lot better. Everyone’s got better at what they do. Whether it’s a better album or not we’ll have to wait and see.

November 2008

JOE DIMUANTES is upbeat. It’s a week into the recording process and the drummer has been hard at work. “Being a beast, I finished days ago,” he beams.

The band is encamped at Holne Bridge Studios in Dartmoor, home to Peter Miles, the producer of choice for the entire UK underground punk scene it seems. The list of bands he’s worked with is a who’s who of the scene. When asked what Miles brings to the table Dimuantes is very clear: “He knows how to get the best out of us without being pushy.”

PT: Easing you through it rather than leading with whip in hand?

JD: Yeah. It’s the best way, and also since we still want some sort of looseness to the recording, it’s good to let things through the net intentionally. We’ve gone for more of a polish this time, more refined. So Pete’s been able to provide a nice middle ground for us and make the album sound how we want. He’s also better at harmonies than we are.

Band mate Matt Crosher agrees: “That guy’s a legend. He knows exactly what to say to motivate people and what’s really good is when he does a recording you can’t say “That’s a Pete Miles recording” because he individually tailors it to each band. He’s worked really well with us.”

PT: So, give us a quick update on where you are in the recording session?

JD: We’re well on, pretty much all the songs are generally finished apart from some vocals and a bit of horn. Then we’ve got a chunk of mixing and mastering and general finishing off to be getting on with.

PT: How does it sound?

JD: Beastly. Heavy and loud. More polished than the last album. We’ve put more into making this sound right. Hopefully we haven’t lost the ‘sound’. It’s also a lot more dynamic. We’ve got our lightest songs yet mixing with our heaviest songs ever. Hopefully it works.

PT: You say a lot heavier. The stuff I’ve heard seems to be more horn orientated. Is the other stuff the balls-out type of stuff then?

JD: Yeah, there are two tracks that are full on balls-out punk rockery minus horns. A rocking ska/dub track. There’s a full on nu-metal/Ad Seven/No Comply-esque rap metal funk track.

PT: Now that sounds intriguing.

JD: It’s possibly the most barebones, influences-on-our-sleeves song to date but we love how it’s turned out. There’s more metal, more riffs, so I guess that’s our Limp Bizkit days showing through, and there’s also the usual Random Hand fare.

PT: Unlike ‘Change Of Plan’ you went in with ‘new’ songs that you weren’t attached to. Are you attached to them now?

JD: Yeah. That’s one thing that’s been striking about this particular recording experience. It’s been much more intense, much more effort has gone in and we’ve heard the songs a lot but I guess not having that attachment has meant we can grow with the songs in the studio, and let them evolve. They sound new each time we come back to them.

PT: It all leads to a much more natural growth?

JD: Yeah, and we’re often surprised by how much more we get into them because they’ve been well produced and we can hear them as they ‘should’ sound instead of them being marred by years of playing.

December 2008

TUCKED INTO the dingy equipment nook at the Camden Underworld, Punktastic finds itself at the business end of Random Hand’s close-of-year tour with US ska-punkers Streetlight Manifesto. Tonight’s set features an airing of new material which goes down well with the crowd.

Guitarist Matt Crosher is positively buoyant, not bad considering just a few weeks ago he was exhausted with music. “When you record an album,” he reveals, “you think about music more as a science and it was hard to turn off that mode when listening to general music. I’m all better now.”

PT: After nearly three weeks recording how do you feel about it?

MC: Unbelievably impressed. I mean it’s been great to get a documentation of how we’ve progressed as musicians.

PT: How does it differ from previous offerings?

MC: Well, definitely the reggae, the ska and the metal have been turned up to 11. The punk remains the same. The heavier bits have got a lot heavier. The reggae bits have got a lot more reggae. We’ve got a couple of songs with additional musicians. Nick Smeaton [of the now defunct No Cigar] playing the Hammond organ brought a lot of the classic reggae/ska stylings into it. For us it added depth to songs that otherwise might have lacked.

PT: Was it a test to come up with new ideas?

MC: Writing new songs is really hard because you’re thinking should I write something more in the vein of X popular song from previous album to see if people like it, but at the end of the day you get the ideas you get when you get them. Because it’s a very organic process it evolves naturally and what we come out with at the end of it, like it or lump it, that’s what we’ve become. We weren’t afraid to try out new ideas. It’s a second album so we didn’t really want to play it safe by doing the same things. We thought, let’s try and overdrive everything. Let’s not necessarily stick to the same key per song and just try and mix it up a bit and thanks to Pete [adopts mythical voiceover accent], that dream became a reality.

PT: What stands out influence wise?

MC: I think the influences have gone from bands we unbelievably admire to bands we’ve toured with lots, and in some cases this has been the same thing. You know, like playing with Streetlight and the Voodoo Glow Skulls. Watching these bands live, they’ve been around a lot longer than we have so it’s just been really good to see.

These influences can be seen in the choice of label. The band will release ‘Inhale/Exhale’ on Rebel Alliance Recordings, a fledgling independent label set up by Sonic Boom Six, a band Random Hand has shared the stage with often. Voodoo Glow Skulls themselves have voiced an interest in putting the album out in the US after taking the band across the pond last spring. Tilston laughs: “Four blokes from Yorkshire releasing an album on California Street Music. That amuses me a lot.”

The far-from-California January weather heralds yet another UK jaunt for Random Hand. Not a bad distraction from those last few weeks until the record drops. It’s been a busy few months to cap off a busy year but soon the fruits of labour will be there to be plucked.

Joe Dimuantes sums it up: “I’m very proud of what we’re doing now. I love the new songs and think the album will go down a treat. I think we’ve managed to move on as a band and mature, without the new songs sounding totally different or taking a new direction. It’s very much Random Hand, while being something that we as a band can be more happy about, something befitting of the long gap since the writing of the first batch of songs.”

Words: Alex Hambleton

‘Inhale/Exhale’ is released on 9 February 2009 through Rebel Alliance Recordings. Random Hand is currently on a mammoth trek of the UK before heading out with Reel Big Fish in February.


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