INTERVIEW: Handguns – Taking Life One Lesson at a Time

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Harrisburg, Pennsylvania pop-punk quintet, Handguns seem to be equally excited and relaxed the night of April 22, 2014. With an hour until doors open and two until they perform, the band sits casually in the green room of The Intersection in Grand Rapids, Michigan, just two rooms down from tour mates and evening headliners All Time Low, who sold out the daunting 1,500 capacity venue nearly two weeks before tonight. However, given the circumstances that vocalist Taylor Eby, guitarists Brandon Pagano and Kyle Vaught, bassist CJ Wilson and fill-in drummer Ryan Pyle have dealt with over the past few months, the band has undoubtedly earned the right to sit back, relax and enjoy the remaining weeks of what can easily be described as their largest tour to date.

At nearly four weeks into All Time Low’s “A Love like Tour,” the band has settled in, allowing themselves to create an intimate live atmosphere, while still generating a larger than life presence to the hundreds of thousands watching them each night. All of this preparation will come in handy this July, however, when the band releases their latest full length Life Lessons via Pure Noise Records.

To the band, the sophomore LP represents all of the struggle, heartache and education that organically come about through the music they’ve created and touring on it as a profession. Despite that it’s resulted in the loss of original members since their previous LP Angst, the band refuses to give in, coming out stronger than ever before, with Life Lessons acting as the soundtrack to their victory.

Substream recently caught up with Eby and Pagano to discuss touring, their new record Life Lessons, family support and their plans for the road ahead.

Substream Magazine: You guys are currently out on tour supporting All Time Low with Man Overboard. How has the tour been so far?

Taylor Eby: It’s been great! It’s definitely a step up from the tours we’re used to doing because we’ve been playing super big rooms. We’re playing The Intersection tonight here in Grand Rapids and it’s fucking ginormous. For the first couple of days, I had to really wrap my mind around the whole thing, just zoning out on stage thinking, “Jesus Christ, this room holds so many people! Like, what do I do?”

Brandon Pagano: There was definitely a learning curve for the first week, where we were thinking, “What the hell do we say on stage to this sea of 14-year-old girls?” I mean, it’s not all 14-year-old girls, but still we would look out wondering what to say, knowing our old banter just wasn’t going to work here. Now though, I think we’ve got a good set down and into a groove that works.

TE: We’ve really molded ourselves into what we needed to be for this tour.

BP: We adjusted, trying to cater to everybody.

TE: Yeah, I’ve had to do the generic shit, where I’m just screaming, “IS EVERYBODY HAVING A GOOD TIME?!” to get everybody stoked, but I don’t feel like such an asshole for saying it. [Laughs].

SS: Like you said, this is definitely one of the biggest tours Handguns has been on so far. How has it been adapting your live show to both a different audience and to larger venues?

BP: We had to tighten up a LOT. When you’re playing at a club, you’re playing through shit speakers and half the time the sound guy doesn’t give a shit either, so usually we don’t have to play extremely well – we just have to be energetic and do the whole Handguns routine.

TE: With these clubs, though, they have really nice sound systems where you’re going to be able to hear everything.

BP: If I fuck up, you’re going to know.

TE: We made it a point to practice a while beforehand to make sure everything was tightened down. Plus we get a sound check every single day, which we’re not used to. We’re playing a new song on this tour (“Heart vs. Head”), so we have a chance every day to run through it, which has been great to do.

SS: Your next record Life Lessons comes out July 8 on Pure Noise Records. First off, how did you come up with the title?

TE: I guess you could say that it’s a themed record. I viewed each song as a part of something I’ve learned within this band and the experiences we’ve had through member changes and the trials/tribulations we’ve gone through. I looked at it in the way that you can learn something through each song, which is where I took that name from.

SS: Going into this new record, how exactly did you want to progress as a band both musically and lyrically?

TE: With lyrics, I definitely wanted it to be a step up from the last record. With [Angst], we wrote the record with practically an entirely different band. On my end, I wanted everything to sound as tight as possible, but in the end, I just wanted it to sound like a band. The production I love and it’s cool, I get it – Alex from All Time Low actually helped with vocal production on it – but mainly, I just wanted it to sound like a fucking band. I want to be able to play the songs on stage and have people hear what we put into it.

BP: Musically, we went in and wrote a faster, more aggressive record. I don’t think we meant to, but with what was going on at the time, we felt like that’s what we needed to do. It’s definitely a lot faster and little bit harder than the last record. It’s got heavier parts, faster parts – it’s definitely more upbeat.

SS: In addition to Paul Leavitt producing and engineering the record, like you said, Alex from All Time Low came in to help with vocal production. What was it like having him in the mix?

TE: That dude has such a good ear for music. For instance, we had a few melodies that just weren’t there yet and Alex brought them to the level where they needed to be – he stepped them up and always gave us new things to try. I would always think, “Why the fuck did I not think of that?!” [Laughs]. He has a great ear and just so excellent at singing. It was a blessing to have him in the studio working with us on the vocal parts.

BP: It was really nice. At first, we really loved the songs the way that they were, and he made it to the point where we thought, “This is the record. This is the one we wanted to hear back.” Taylor and I worked with him for a week straight almost every single day. It was awesome because he’s worked with a lot really big name producers, co-written with Hoppus and he’s at the point where he knows his way around it. When he starts producing records it’s going to be a cool thing because he’s already got it down.

SS: On this new record, are there any songs you’re particularly happy with the way they turned out?

TE: Personally, I love every song on the record. I know it’s cliché to say that, but each track has its own sound to it and adds to the record as a whole, and I’m super proud of all of them. There weren’t any songs where we thought, “Man, we shouldn’t put that on the record.”

BP: It’s cool too because the record’s ten songs, which is kind of short for a full length, but I think we’re all 100% sure that every song on the record is there because we want it to be. There’s no filler and we worked very hard on all of them. I guess my favorite song on the record would be “The Loved Ones Who Hate Us,” which is cool because it was also the last song we wrote and was done in the studio as a last minute thing. All we had were parts for rhythm guitar and drums, and we built the song from there. It turned out really awesome!

SS: Now Brandon, I know your parents have done a lot of work with the music scene in your area of New York by having sleepovers with the bands and promoting the music scene in the area. How is it having parents that are so involved and supportive with everything you do?

BP: It’s awesome! They really go above and beyond, but it’s safe to say that all of our parents are really cool with the whole “band” thing. Taylor’s dad’s a musician, and both his mom and step mom are both super supportive. Everybody’s very, very cool about it. My parents, specifically though, I love that I can meet a band for the first time and they can tell me, “I met your parents before I met you and they’re sick!” I’ve actually had people tell me that they like my dad more than they like me! Which is cool – I think it’s super funny. At first, I think people thought it was sort of weird, but I’m glad that people can understand they’re not freaky or strange. They know how to use the internet and they’re pretty street smart. I can have a conversation with them about certain bands putting out a record, and my dad can contribute to the conversation and have it be a real thing. It’s great to have somebody at the home base that I can talk to about stuff like that.

SS: Yeah, your dad is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. I talk to him and Karen sometimes and they’re the coolest.

BP: It’s the internet, man! That’s really sweet.

SS: Once the record is out, what are your immediate plans for touring and promoting it?

TE: We’re grinding, dude. We’ve got a tour lined up for the summer, which is going to get announced pretty soon, and we’ve got a tour in the fall.

BP: There’s a viral campaign going on for the tour that we’re doing right now, and if people look out for it, they might be able to figure it out. It’s a really cool concept; the tour was built by cool people that wanted to do a really cool tour with a lot of cool bands that you might not necessarily see on a tour together. It’s a really cool line up, and I’m very excited to do it.

TE: It’s definitely a different setting than we’re used to.

BP: It’s cool for us because we get to pick up newer types of fans in a completely different arena. And the tour we have lined up in the fall is just incredible. It will blow minds – I can’t see it not going over well with everybody. I really wish I could just say it right now, but once it gets announced, people are going to lose it.
The summer tour that the pair hinted at was officially announced recently – Handguns will be supporting Hundreth from July 17th through August 15th with Counterparts, Being as an Ocean, Capsize and My Iron Lung also on the bill, with a special guest soon to be announced. Tickets are now available.

Handguns’ latest full length Life Lessons comes out July 8th via Pure Noise Records.

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Tour Dates:

July

17 – Fort Worth, TX – Tomcats West
18 – Austin, TX – Red 7
19 – Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s Basement
21 – Orlando, FL – Blackbooth
22 – Tampa, FL – Epic Problem
23 – Atlanta, GA – The Loft at Center Stage
24 – Durham, NC – Motorco Music Hall
25 – Springfield, VA – Empire
26 – Philadelphia, PA – Voltage Lounge
27 – Amityville, NY – Revolution Bar & Music Hall
28 – Worcester, MA – The Palladium
30 – Montreal, QC – La Tulipe
31 – Toronto, ON – Hard Luck Bar

August

01 – Cleveland, OH – Grog Shop
02 – Pontiac, MI – Crofoot Ballroom
03 – Chicago, IL – Reggie’s
04 – Burnsville, MN – The Garage
06 – St. Louis, MO – The Firebird
07 – Lawrence, KS – The Granada
08 – Denver, CO – The Marquis Theater
09 – Salt Lake City, UT – The Murray Theater
11 – Oakland, CA – Oakland Metro Opera House
12 – Fresno, CA – Strummer’s
13 – Canoga Park, CA – Cobalt Café
14 – San Diego, CA – Soma
15 – Anaheim, CA – Chain Reaction