TalkNarc: Grubby Little Hands

If I were forced to describe our first interview victim, Philly’s Grubby Little Hands, using only bands with five letter names, I’d say they fit somewhere between the Kinks and the Books. If I weren’t using such an arbitrary measuring stick, I’d mention the ethereal quality of A Sunny Day in Glasgow and a touch of the fragility of Elliott Smith. But then their 2009 debut, Imaginary Friends [free stream at VIRB, purchase at CDBaby], has plenty of multi-instrumentalism, several songs that march to a military beat, and a clarinet-laced Dixieland finale. So I’m pretty up the creek for parallels. Let’s just say this: it’s good.

Grubby Little Hands, “Apt 4”
Grubby Little Hands, “Shoestrings”

The only thing the internet seems to know about you guys is that you met in musical theory class. Who are you, what do you all play, and who did better on the final?

We are Donnie Felton from Winston-Salem, NC, and Brian Hall from Wyomissing, PA. We both sing, play keyboard and stringed instruments, and Donnie plays clarinet. We had help on the album from our friend Pete who recorded trumpet on “Feel In My Back” and drums on a few songs. We also recently added Joseph Primavera to the line-up. He plays drums, anything with strings, and vocals. I’m not sure who did better on the final, but late night study sessions are where our first collaborative song-writing efforts came from.

We at Noise Narcs (okay, just me) pay all too much attention to where you’re from: How long have you been in Philly? What neighborhood? Why is/isn’t it the best neighborhood in Philly? What should we eat and drink there? And while we’re at it, what’s you favorite Philly venue?

B: I grew up about an hour west of here, so I’ve always loved the city and its sports teams. I moved to Philly after college, lived in West Philly for the last few years, and just moved to Manayunk. There’s nothing exceptional about the neighborhood, but Dalessandro’s is definitely the best cheese steak joint in the city. Favorite venue would probably be Johnny Brenda’s. It’s big enough to accommodate a large crowd, but small enough to still feel intimate – and they book a lot of great bands.
D: I moved to Philly in June of 2006, so about 4 years ago. I currently reside in Fishtown. It is definitely my favorite Philly neighborhood. There are great restaurants, pubs, art galleries, etc., and it also has a certain blue collar grit that I like. As for venues, I’d also have to say Johnny B’s is my favorite. They just tend to bring in more bands that I like than any other. As for local shows though, I love a good house party or DIY show.

A lot of instruments, a lot of different styles on Imaginary Friends. How do you bring it all together?

I think the most pervasive thread that ties this album together is a sort of restlessness… maybe even anxiety over having to grow up. In a way I think we use music as a way to recapture our fleeting youth. In fact I think a lot of art comes from that sort of place. That moody, restless feeling is probably why there are so many divergent sounds and ideas on this album. So many noises to make, so little time.

To avoid that aggravating “influences” question: If you had access to a time machine (hot tub or otherwise), what band would you check out in their prime? Favorite Philly-area band? Dream collaboration?

B: Well, who wouldn’t want a chance to see the Beatles? That seems like an obvious answer. Or I might even take a trip all the way back to witness the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and partake in the riots! My dream collaboration would be to rock out with Spencer of Sunset Rubdown and [the women] from Dirty Projectors.
D: Now that you mention it, I think I might have to tag along to the Rite of Spring debut. But my initial thought would have to be Talking Heads. I just can’t imagine a better live show. I’ve seen the Stop Making Sense DVD several times and it’s incredible. As a side-note, David Byrne’s interview with himself in the bonus features is also quite entertaining. Dream Collab – If we’re really fantasizing here, I would have to say Shugo Tokumaru. He has such unique sonic ideas and a really interesting melodic sense. Another would be Kevin Barnes from Of Montreal. He’s probably the most prolific, creative musician I’ve ever heard. His sensibilities are very different from mine, but I love his music. More realistically, I would love to collab with Dan Bruskewicz from TJ Kong. His voice is crazy awesome and he is full of ideas. The two of us have actually talked about collaborating, so it may happen eventually. Favorite Philly Band… That’s tough because there are so many great ones… Jubel Jenkins, The Looks of It, TJ Kong, and Sky Ship to name a few. The list could definitely go on though. I couldn’t say enough about these bands – they are all very different, and all very good at what they do.

Unlike the singing detective, my favorite word is postprandial, which you guys use on “A Girl’s Name.” Always makes me feel like a 19th century Londoner out for a stroll. Have a favorite?
B: Haha nice! That is a funny word. I think my favorite word might be “naked” – but we don’t say it anywhere on the album. Maybe on the next one.
D: My favorite word would have to “yes.” I have this word to thank for pretty much all of my most pivotal successes and failures.

Why don’t more bands end their albums with a Dixieland homage? And with both Imaginary Friends‘ and Man Man’s Six Demon Bag‘s swan song featuring a clarinet, is Philly poised for a clarinet revival?
I don’t know. It seemed so obvious to us. Clarinet was my first instrument and I grew up playing Dixieland music, so it’s definitely in my bones. I think the clarinet is finding it’s way back into the collective musical consciousness, but I don’t know if we’ll see a full-blown clarinet revival. I definitely think it’s seeing a resurgence in popularity though.

Grubby Little Hands’ Imaginary Friends is out now. They are working on their sophomore, tentatively slated for summer 2011.

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