With their album Boys Need Jazz picking up great reviews, Brighton 4-piece Actress Hands have been busy, touring the UK in their own right in support of the release as well as alongside The Walkmen, British Sea Power, Dinosaur Jr, The Pipettes and The Electric Soft Parade. Al Souter caught up with the band…
How did you meet and when did the band form?
Phil was in a band from Leeds called Hoovis, he moved to Brighton to join me in Actress Hands which was just me at the time, Johny liked what we were up to and jumped in and Joel we pinched off The Tenderfoot while they were on hiatus. We formed in 2002.
Actress Hands is a peculiar band name – Any inspiration behind it?
You’re right, it is peculiar. There is a story behind it, but really it just implies dexterity.
Your new album, ‘Boys Need Jazz’ has just come out and you recorded it with Alex White (ESP). Can you tell me a bit about the recording process, what it was like recording with Alex, did it all come together quickly, was it fun or a proper hard slog!?
Alex really wanted to produce the album and persuaded us to go up to Truck Studio in Oxford for a couple of weeks. He’s a perfectionist and has perfect pitch so it was great for us to work with someone like that ‘cos none of us in the band are perfectionists and neither do we have perfect pitch. We do, however, have perfect bodies.
My favourite song on the record is ‘Loggerhorns’. Have you got any personal favourites on the record?
‘Loggerhorns’ is weird. Phil had basically written a song which basically consisted of this relentless, ascending bass-line and had no lyrics but did have an outline story (about a policeman who has to travel to the far east to apprehend his ex-girlfriend). We just kind of hammered it in the studio till it became this crazily arranged rock beast. I think I remember Alex muttering something about recording the guitars Jeff Lynne-style. It’s a lot of people’s favourite on the album. We now always end our live shows with it.
A lot of your reviews compare you to Teenage Fanclub, Big Star etc…What bands or artists, specifically, are you influenced by?
These days our influences really stem from who we’re around, what records we buy, what gigs we go to etc. Just being in amongst it all. You’ve got to try and take it all in. It’s great. For us at this present moment it’s Yo La Tengo, Dion, Laura Nyro, The National, David Thomas Broughton, Euros Childs, Jimmy Webb, Sinead O’Connor, Nada… If we could make our next album do to other people what ‘Born To Be With You’ by Dion and ‘A Tramp Shining’ by Richard Harris do to us at the moment, we’d be happy.
You’ve toured with or supported the likes of The Pipettes, The Walkmen, Dinosaur Jnr, Le Reno Amps and The Electric Soft Parade. Any specific highlights?
Playing in a venue in Leeds called Dr Wu’s in the summer was definitely a highlight. Can’t tell you everything about it – just that the planets aligned for us that day – we were on tour, having a ball, playing with the absolute most perfect touring partners… it was just a magic, happy day.
I believe you all have other projects on the go, solo or other bands, how do you find the time to fit it all in? …and is there ever a conflict of interest between whether a song you write should be an Actress Hands song or a Matt Eaton solo song or Thirty Pounds of Bone song etc…?
It’s never a problem. We have lots of different versions of Actress Hands for our varying moods. For example when we play rockabilly we’re Kansas Hands and when we play fantasy metal we become Dragon Hands. I should point out, we only ever do this behind closed doors – it’s theraputic.
What can someone who has never seen you before, but might want to go along to see you play, expect?
The most common thing anyone ever says to us is ‘you’re so much better live than on record’. Which is annoying, but its basically true! Lots of chord changes, a few four-part harmonies, bit of chit chat, some of the old tension and release. That’s what we want when we go out, so if thats your ‘bag’ too….
Lastly, what’s next for Actress Hands?
We’re starting the recording of our next album (which has the working title of ‘Survivors Guilt’) at the end of next month. We’re playing one of the tunes live already, its called ‘Swingin Mary’ which is a song about my favourite gate.