Idle Hands – Not Wasting Any Time

Friday, 21st September 2018

Things seemed to be on the up and up for the Portland-based Spellcaster. They had signed with Prosthetic Records, and they had put out an album with them in 2016 (their third overall). But not soon after (2017), it was announced that the band had called it quits. So Gabriel Franco decided to start anew, and enlisted the help of a few former bandmates. Hence Idle Hands was born. An act that seamlessly combines some traditional heavy metal influences with that of gothic, new wave, and even occult rock. It’s a strong, and unique combination. We talked with Franco to discuss the band’s recent EP, as well as Spellcaster’s breakup, learning from previous mistakes, and more.

Dead Rhetoric: Given Spellcaster’s demise, what brought you in the direction of Idle Hands?

Gabriel Franco: After Spellcaster ended, it was really the rest of the band members because our singer stormed out and said “I quit.” He was our second singer, our original guitarist Cory [Boyd] had quit a few months before. So you had me, Bryce [Vanhoosen], and Colin [Vranizan]. I was the only original member left. Then there was Sebastian [Silva], the new guy. We were faced with the prospect of having to get a new singer and we were barely Spellcaster at that point [laughs]. So we decided to hang up the band.

So we started to develop the band that is now Silver Talon. But Bryce and I were clashing – I would come with riffs and they wouldn’t like it, or Bryce would have a riff and I didn’t really like it. One day he said something, to our drummer I think, that it was more or less, “my way or the highway” and I decided it was not the type of band I wanted to be in. Don’t get me wrong, Bryce is an awesome guy but we just weren’t working together well, songwriting-wise. We both needed our freedom to do whatever we wanted. So that’s how Idle Hands started. I told him that Silver Talon was his thing now. He’s the business guy and everything else, and I would just play bass.

Now Idle Hands has got so much going that I am not playing with Silver Talon anymore. I’m doing a few live shows with them until they find a new guy. We are still super friendly, but it’s a conflict of interest when you are in two bands, and they share the same drummer and guitarist and I’m the booking agent for both bands. Let’s say a sweet tour comes along, and I say, “Who am I going to put on this? Hmmm, my band or Bryce’s band?” I had to remove myself from that.

Dead Rhetoric: How did you go about assembling the rest of the group at that point?

Franco: There wasn’t originally much interest from anybody. I asked Sebastian as I needed a second guitarist. I wanted two guitars as I wanted a lot of layering and harmonies going on. He was in the band, but we didn’t have a bassist or drummer. I just wanted to record one song and push it professionally to some labels to see what they thought. I asked Colin to play, but he was way too busy. But he agreed to do session drums for the one song.

So I sent the promo out and I sent it to a few labels, but the response was “Ehh, whatever.” It was “Blade and the Will,” and they said the vocals were kind of flat and it was okay overall. I was a little discouraged, but it was just step one. I do agree with the label’s sentiment as it was literally the first time I’ve ever sang [laughs]. I’ve been working on it since.

Dead Rhetoric: Is there any meaning behind the name, Idle Hands?

Franco: Yeah, it’s kind of what you would expect. A devil’s plaything kind of vibe. I chose it because it was basically what was going on. The more I found myself sitting around doing nothing around town, the more bullshit I would get into. I was wasting my time away. I found the best way to progress was to keep myself busy. It’s kind of a subtle warning, like the EP title, Don’t Waste Your Time. People can interpret how they want, but I feel they go hand-in-hand: idle hands – don’t waste your time.

Dead Rhetoric: Did you take anything you learned in Spellcaster, for better or worse, in designing Idle Hands?

Franco: Tons in fact. Every single thing I did with Spellcaster created what this band is at this point. I’ve learned that it’s good to be friends with your bandmates, but not too friendly at times. In terms of Spellcaster, we were young and in our early 20s and we would party a lot and get into trouble together. We became such close friends that it became hard to honestly express business stuff, opinions, and things without feelings getting hurt. It resulted in a lot of complacency and people getting too comfortable with their position, thinking they would never be kicked out. That’s how it was – everyone who was in the band was in the band. The result was people showing up late to practice or not showing up at all, and making excuses.

I remember at one point, one of our guitarists didn’t show up for practice for like 3 months. We started keeping a tally. Every week I would write it down and ask the excuse. Laundry’s not done, okay. That’s how crazy it got. Any other band, you’d say they weren’t interested and kick them out. We just didn’t operate like that. So I learned a sense of professionalism, or how not to do things for sure. I learned a lot of about songwriting. It was more of a trial by fire, or trial by error process. So that’s what went into Idle Hands. I said I was going to do it right, from day one.

Dead Rhetoric: Well at least it gives you that perspective to look back on, and see how to not repeat your mistakes.

Franco: On top of that, I was basically running the band. I was managing everything, I was handling tour logistics, I was writing songs, even on the last two Spellcaster records, I wrote about half the material. I don’t want to credit myself too much, but I was doing all this stuff and I was just the bass player standing in the back. At the end of the day, not that I wanted the glory of being a singer or something like that, but I didn’t have any control over the final product. It was up to the guitarists and the singer to do what they wanted.

You come in with a song and then it gets butchered and destroyed, and the lyrics get altered. It’s like that old Rush lyric, “Glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity” [“The Spirit of Radio”]. The compromising turned our product and our art into something that people couldn’t identify with. Some did, but I couldn’t really. Half the time I had to convince myself to like the final product.

Dead Rhetoric: I can see that from the way you describe it. Do you feel the sky is the limit in terms of your sound – there’s a lot of varied influences to take in?

Franco: 100%. The sky is the limit and I aim high in everything that we do. I’m writing the best possible music that I can, and pushing it to the highest limits that it can go. I’m not just going to get one thing going start chilling on the status quo. I need to be busy and I need to have goals, and once I reach those goals I have this slight moment of elation that lasts 20 minutes. Then I’m like, shit, what can I do to make the band bigger and get right back to work. It’s a lot of work but it’s fun pushing myself to the limit to see what I can do with this band.

Dead Rhetoric: You started with an EP. Was that done so that you could just present something as Idle Hands?

Franco: Yeah, the EP wasn’t supposed to be an EP. It was supposed to be a full-length album. I started recording “Blade and the Will” in November 2017. It got an alright response so I made another track, which was “By Way of Kingdom,” which I sent to the labels again and it got an alright response. I decided I couldn’t keep spending $600 per song to keep throwing things at the wall and not being able to release it. So I wanted to use them to get a full-length going, but without label interest I had this epiphany of recording three more tracks.

I actually had 7 that could have gone on the EP, but I just did 5. So there are two extra drum tracks but there’s nothing over them. I had 5 tracks, and I just needed to put us out there for the world to see because I was not going to have anyone putting anything behind me without public interest. So I just put it out there and said, “Look at it.” Once you have a release out, it’s so much easier for people to care about your band. So it wasn’t going to be an EP, it just came out that way [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: You are working on a full-length now, correct?

Franco: I have about 8 songs done right now, and about 20 song ideas. If something doesn’t stick, I just move on. I don’t really spend a lot of time jamming squares into a round hole. I used to do it, and it wastes so much energy and time, and usually doesn’t come out that great. A prime example is that you have two great riffs. You want them in the same song. But they don’t together and you just fucked up two great riffs [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: Are you actively trying to be signed by a label at this point?

Franco: We are – we currently have four labels interested at the moment. Basically, the plan is to have the LP out by April of next year, as that is when we will leave for our European tour. I want to get drums tracks done in October/November/December, and then record in December/January and have the final ready in early 2019. Next year is tour year, we are going to hit the road.

[Note: The band has now signed with Eisenwald]

Dead Rhetoric: I saw you had a European tour going for next year already, it seems to be representative that you are doing something right.

Franco: I got this thing up my ass where I wanted to do a European tour, and I didn’t really know anybody, so I emailed my friends who had been to Europe and asked them. I went through all these avenues, and surprisingly enough I just made a Facebook post asking about European booking agents and my booking agent, Bruno, hit me up. It was perfect timing – I can’t announce it yet because he can’t announce it yet, but he got into a big agency right as we started working with him so we are on a big European agency. So I couldn’t be happier. He’s great and I’ve been talking to some European labels. I think we have a larger following in Germany right now than the US, but we will see.

Dead Rhetoric: Sad as it is, I would imagine you’d be much more successful in Europe than the US.

Franco: That’s what people tell me, and I’m inclined to believe. I see the festivals over there and how crazy people are. Spellcaster went over to Germany in 2015. We weren’t expecting it to be as crazy as it was. We left Portland and we didn’t know how many vinyls to take, so we took 35. We were used to selling a vinyl a show, even if there was 100 people. They all sold out in 5 minutes, so we were bummed that we didn’t bring the rest. So I’m not making that mistake again. That’s another thing Spellcaster taught me.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you think about the crossover potential of the band? There’s that ‘80s/gothic feel in addition the more traditional heavy metal feel.

Franco: I don’t know, from a fan perspective, maybe. I would be happy if there was that appeal. For songwriting, the sky is the limit – we will play whatever as long as it sounds good, it doesn’t matter. We aren’t here to conform to a certain sound. The whole point was to not give a crap about what anyone thinks about our music. As cliché as that sounds, that’s the only way to put out something original. If you are worried about what people are going to think, you are going to put out the same old crap. It might be good, but it will be the same. And it will stress you out more. Relying on external approval is not a good path to go down. I’ve been there, and it sucks [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: Earlier you mentioned that the first recording was your first time doing vocals. In the span of time from then to now, do you feel that you have been improving in performance?

Franco: I started practicing every day I could, until I realized that it was blowing my voice out. I needed to practice properly. There’s this weird, crazy balance that I am trying to get into. I don’t like the fact that I can’t just do it every day and get better. You have to do it right to get better. When you play guitar and bass, you play every day to get better. I feel like I am improving, and I will have different tricks and vocal styles that weren’t on the EP.

Dead Rhetoric: So also mentioned goals earlier. What are some of your goals for Idle Hands that you wish to achieve?

Franco: Right now, it’s secure the label. There’s a bunch of personal stuff. One guitarist came to the US when we was really young, so for him to get out of the country, it’s a legal nightmare. We are working on that – it’s a big thing. The goals are straight-forward, and they are almost wrapped up for next year: label, agents, and tours. Then getting on big festivals and exposing our music to more people. I found some sweet blog that seems to have a lot of followers, so I’m going to email him. I never email and say, “Hey, put us on your blog.” It’s always, “Listen to our EP and let me know what you think.” If you like it, obviously you are going to want to do something with it.

It’s an on-the-spot type of question. It’s a dog chasing it’s own tail type thing. I’m pretty sporadic when it comes to this stuff. My goals right now, personally, are to play the 2000 capacity venue in my own home town, not necessarily as a headliner but an opening act. Playing in Bergen, Norway – I just like the town. I went there years ago and my goal has been to play there. I also have a silly idea for a music video that would require filming across the US. I’m still working on that one.

Dead Rhetoric: If you go on tour…

Franco: Yeah, I have a plan for it. The problem is finding a cinematographer to come on tour with me for a month, who is also compatible with everyone’s personalities and isn’t going to cause chaos on the road. I have a guy in mind, but I’m still in the convincing process.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the challenges you face in getting Idle Hands in front of a potential fanbase?

Franco: The biggest obstacle is time. Working a day job while doing this, plus I’m married, so the amount of time I’m allowed to spend in front of my computer is extremely limited. I rely on using my phone and stuff. Sending it out, I generally get positive responses. I’ve never been in a band like this, where people are as interested in the music as they are right now, it’s really cool. I’m grateful for that. It’s not a huge obstacle – once it’s out, people are pretty open to doing something with it: listening to it, sharing it on Facebook, or giving us a show. It’s just the amount of work that one person can do that’s most limiting. Hence why I need a label. I’ve got a cool PR guy, so I have some help for sure.

Dead Rhetoric: With the more unique sound you have, what bands do you feel that you would mesh well with?

Franco: I’m glad you asked that, because my booking agent already asked that. I had to think long and hard about it. I think there’s quite a bit of bands that I’d like to tour with. I wish In Solitude was still around – they would be awesome. I really like Tribulation, and even though they have harsh vocals, I feel it would be a great fit. The pipe dream would be Ghost; that would be awesome, I think we would fit there, but that’s some huge stuff there. Probably not any time soon. I like Baroness, and I think we would do well there too. Their latest album, Purple, was really nice. I’ve listened to it a bunch. I like Khemmis too. There’s a lot of really cool bands doing things that I think we could mesh with. Basically, any band that is focused on singing/songwriting and clean vocals most of the time.

Dead Rhetoric: We’ve covered some of these already but just to wrap up, what plans does Idle Hands have for the rest of 2018 and into next year?

Franco: The rest of this year will be spent finishing up writing the album and laying the foundation for it’s release next year. Next year you can expect a US tour, and a couple of European tours. We’d like to get over to Canada and Mexico, we’ll see how that pans out. Basically get that first album out and a few music videos and hope the reception goes well. At the end of the day, you can have all the press in the world, but it’s the music that has to speak for you.

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