Hand Cream have all the pieces in place to become your new favorite band: dual vocals ranging from throat-shredding to Raincoats-style sweetness, a spaced-out guitar tone that would make Keith Levene proud, plus a great mix of rockers and dreamy slow jams. Their output so far is slim (a split tape with Crosss and a song on the Khyber Comp Volume II) but the Montreal-via-Halifax quartet have already managed to catch the ear of JEFF The Brotherhood, who invited them along for a short tour this summer. I caught up with Hand Cream’s singer/guitarist Meghan Merrigan and sometimes-drummer Christian Simmons for a chat.
NOISEY: You guys both go back pretty far in the Halifax music scene with your old bands Gilbert Switzer, The Hold and The Burdocks. How did you meet?
Meghan: Oh god. I met Christian back when I was a snot-nosed kid and he was in class with my sister. We went to the same school and the same church. We started bands around the same time, but back then we didn’t hang out. I made fun of Christian because I was a snotty punk and he was an indie-rocker. [Laughs]
What makes so many Haligonians want to move to Montreal? Is it kind of like a musical promised land?
I think it’s just the closest city where you can actually tour reasonably. The 12-13 hour drive between Halifax and Montreal is pretty much a wasteland. Nobody wants to play New Brunswick because it sucks! It’s also relatively socially acceptable to be poor and not have a job in Montreal. It’s a nice place.
After your previous Montreal band Denial Tone/Drunk Dial broke up, Hand Cream seemed like it popped up fully formed out of nowhere. Did you have an idea of what you wanted or didn’t want for it?
I started Denial Tone with my friend Crystal. It’s actually kind of an embarrassing story how we started playing together, but I’ll share it because she’ll get a kick out of it. I was dating this guy that I moved with to Montreal, and then she totally slept with him! She didn’t know me or what was going on though, so it was okay. Instead of hating her, I decide to hate him, and then we started a band together. Denial Tone turned into Drunk Dial, and then we broke up. Hand Cream started because I’d been stuck on drums in the last band, but really wanted to play guitar all along.
How was the tour with JEFF The Brotherhood?
It was fun, and kind of ridiculous. They’re really nice guys, and really supportive. They gave us lots of alcohol and set us up with a hotel room in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. They also just played on Letterman, which is pretty crazy! They work so hard, and I really admire that. It was nice of them to ask us.
Here’s a shredding live clip:
Christian, you’re on the kit for Hand Cream now, but also play with three other bands (Each Other, Sheer Agony, and Lantern). How do you do it?
Christian: I basically haven’t had a home for three months. I’ve just been playing shows, and have only been in Montreal for three-day intervals in the last few months. Hand Cream did a little tour, then I went and recorded the Lantern record, played a few shows with them, did a few Sheer Agony shows, and then Each Other was on the road for a long time. I’ve been fairly lucky with the amount of shows with different bands I’ve been able to cram in without too much crossover. It’s a little tricky though, and Hand Cream has actually enlisted the help of my brother and my brother-from-another-mother as back-up and back-up-back-up drummer.
Meghan: Greg Napier did the most recent tour with us, and he’s really amazing too. Someone said to me, “Oh, you’ve replaced the best drummer with the other best drummer.” Greg is a manimal.
Christian: It’s been really great because we all share a space in Montreal. Greg is living there, and myself, my brother Jef, Meghan, and Jackson from Sheer Agony all play music there, so it feels like there’s a pretty strong sense of community from the five bands that all share some members. It’s a pretty proactive situation where we try to accomplish things from multiple angles at once.
It's like a mini-Halifax in Montreal.
It’s pretty embarrassing. [Laughs] Technically, some of us come from small towns in Nova Scotia, but it might as well be Halifax.
Meghan: Every now and again, I’ll be drinking a bottle of rosé or something, and it’ll come out. “Why is Christian gone with Each Other or wasting time with Sheer Agony? I need him for Hand Cream stuff right now!” [Laughs] We’re always arguing about who gets him.
There should be a reality show like The Bachelor, where all the bands are your girlfriends.
Christian: I’m trying to turn that into my real-life scenario. Get out my Rolodex…
I’m pretty obsessed with your Silver Apples cover. Did you use any special techniques did to pull it off so perfectly?
That was a pretty singular thing that happened. In the span of a week, all of the bands at our space recorded a song for that Khyber Compilation. Hand Cream’s was at the very last minute, and Meghan had the idea of doing a cover really quickly. I’d listened to that first Silver Apples album quite a bit, but not enough to know the real ins and outs of that song. Marlee and Crystal were also kind of approaching it like interpreting a song Meghan knew.
Meghan: We didn’t jam it until an hour before we recorded it.
Christian: Yeah, we basically did the entire thing in five hours. We got there, learned how we were going to play it, recorded it, and then mixed it. It felt like how things were probably done back in the old days. Each Other had also just purchased a space echo, so that was pretty essential. I made slightly over-zealous use of it on Marlee’s keyboard. The drumming on almost all of our their songs is really jazzy, so Meghan sent us the original and the Chromatics version and just said she wanted jittery drums.
Meghan: I think I’m writing a lot more songs in the poppy realm because of that cover. A little less balls-to-the-wall. Because we have Marlee singing with us now as well, we’re focusing a lot more on harmonies. I don’t really like sticking to one style, because I just get bored really easily and don’t feel inspired. It’s important to evolve.
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