Carbon Handshake Grow Up on New EP

Like coming out of a dream, leaving your teenage years behind to embrace adulthood changes you gradually at first until one day you are suddenly a grownup. On their latest album, Carbon Handshake have assembled their growing pains into a tight little EP titled Pulp Life. The record is a comforting leap into the past and hovers in a newly defined spot between indie-rock with a splash of sing-along pop.

Before their album release on Wednesday night at the Triple Rock, the band shared with Gimme Noise the social stigmas of being in a band and what it's like to have a "quarter-life crisis."

Band Members: Joe McNeill, Andy Dean, Mack Scott, Clancy Brady, Eric Cafferty

Gimme Noise: Your early 20s are such an evolving time in your life. How do you feel you all have transitioned in the last few years to become what Carbon Handshake currently is? How do you see the next few years playing out?

Joe McNeill: Now that we are all out of school, I feel like all of us sense a kind of social stigma attached to being in a band -- specifically during a time when you're supposed to be defining your career, or honing your "marketable" skills, or whatever. Maybe that is just my perception. Regardless, now has to be the time where we either go all-in, or relegate this to a part-time, hobbyist thing.

Andy Dean: We all took different paths out of high school, but the band has always remained the one thing that we've held consistently since our teenage years. At this point, perhaps too much of an identity has been built around it. Stopping now would feel somewhat like never touching a piano again.

Joe McNeill: I truly can't imagine slowing down or stopping; almost every Sunday afternoon for the last ten years has been "band practice" day. I'm not sure what I would do with myself if I gave that up. Either way, we definitely have a newfound sense of focus this year.

When we released a full-length LP in 2013, it was a bit of a false start. I think we naively believed that once it was out, the material could speak for itself and things would just happen all by themselves. As an artist, that's the ideal. The reality is invariably more complicated and necessitates -- a kind of self-promotion that often makes us uncomfortable. It's part of the deal though. With Pulp Life, I can say that we are extremely proud of the record and are aiming to properly support it. We'll see how things go from there.

Andy Dean: It was, for several years, unstated among us just how far we truly wanted this to go. While playing music was something we obviously wished we could do professionally, it wasn't until the last few years that it became a serious conversation. Working together while being conscious of each other's aspirations put new focus on what we were doing and why we were still playing together. Plenty of groups start with that goal in mind, but having been childhood friends and growing into that decision has had its own set of challenges and rewards. It's hard to break that kind of bond.

How do you think your varied musical backgrounds have influenced what you currently do musically?

Joe McNeill: We definitely did not form around a set of common musical influences. In fact, I think it's safe to say that initially we actively hated each other's tastes. In our current iteration, I have really come to appreciate it, honestly. Even as our tastes continue to diverge, rather than begrudge anyone for coming at our songs with a different mindset, I really embrace the fact that not everyone is coming from the same place musically. I think it would be a totally different band if everyone grew up listening to the same records that I did. That sounds a bit dull anyway.

Andy Dean: When we first started out as a bunch of 12-year-olds, forming a band, for me, was about having an outlet to learn and play guitar. Also, having been classically trained, I wasn't very exposed to different styles of music, so I felt like I was a bit behind, and wanted to explore new territory. In our first years, it seemed like I was always too analytical in my approach to playing and creating music, which meant constant adaptation. Nowadays, I feel that I've grown into appreciating my background, and try to steer our music in some interesting directions.

Your EP has captured the anxieties and inner struggles on being a young adult. Do you feel you were successful in doing so? Why write about it?

Joe McNeill: It has been termed the "quarter-life" crisis by other authors, which makes it sound kind of trivial. Or just another condition of over-sensitive millennials...and maybe it is, but it's reflective of my experience at this moment in time. I'm not sure what else I could be writing about.

Tell me about the title track "Pulp Life." 

Joe McNeill: "Pulp Life" was the starting point for the EP. It seems like when we find our footing with that first completed song, it necessarily becomes the focal point for everything that follows. After the band listened through all of the finished mixes for the first time, we agreed almost immediately that Pulp Life would be the title of the EP. It suits the overall sensibilities and content of the record pretty well, I think.

In terms of literally what "Pulp Life" is getting at: I thought of "pulp" in-respect to being a mode of mass-market communication. You could say "Pulp Life" is that idea in the digital age. The proliferation of writing, and just sheer volume of produced text itself is astounding. It's equally astounding how much of it is junk. I mean, I think about how much text I produce in a day--yeah, it's a lot. But I wouldn't qualify it as decent communication, let alone "writing." It is ultimately unremarkable, and perhaps even worse, it lacks any genuine sentiment or care. It can be frustrating when you spend entire days/weeks engaging with a partner or a friend in that way. It raises all kinds of questions and doubts. Hopefully, that's not too obtuse of an answer.

Any other standout tracks you like? 

Andy Dean: Playing music live, while visiting new places and meeting different people has always been my favorite part of being in a band. With that said, sometimes too much predictability and routine can make things feel overdone. I love that the new songs involve risk and an amount of uncertainty. A track like "Mantras," for example, utilizes a fairly strict tempo lock between the synthesizers and the drums, so small mistakes are capable of throwing off the song quickly. Maybe it's not the smartest way to go about it, but it's definitely more exciting, and feels more organic.

Joe McNeill: Exactly. That is why all of these new tracks continue to be terrifying to play live. There are so many instances of arpeggiated /tempo-locked synthesizers on the record, most of which don't show up until part way through a song. We are not having our drummer play to a click, or use any computer-aided trickery; we decided to forgo all safety nets in that respect. So like Andy said, there is an element of danger to them--you trade-in consistency for a more dynamic performance. I like to think that anything you can do in a live performance to take yourself out of autopilot mode--to make you present--is to the benefit of the performances. It might just be stupidity too. It has worked out so far, [fingers-crossed]

What can we expect to see at the album release show?

Andy Dean: A decent amount of synthesizers. And a good amount of pedals.

Joe McNeill: We'll be performing that night alongside a couple of other great artists in the area. The fantastic Danny O'Brien, who is going solo for this one, will kick things off. We played with him last month and his set was awesome! Plus, he is a super nice guy. Moon & Pollution will be there, and while I haven't seen them live yet, I'm really excited to see how their record translates. Once we come on, you will hear all of the new Pulp Life EP tunes, and of course, some older ones will fill out the set. You'll probably see a lot of people on stage (six total for this show) trying hard not to trip over each other. There will be smiles all around, I'm sure.

Carbon Handshake will release 'Pulp Life' at the Triple Rock Social Club on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 with Moon & Pollution and Danny O'Brien.
18+, $6 adv, $8 door, 8 p.m.
Purchase tickets here.

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