Allow me to set the scene: It’s a Monday night at The Glove, a new venue and speakeasy in Bed Stuy, and I’m talking to Cloud Becomes Your Hand’s bassist Simon Hanes. As he peels a banana and eats it with a white plastic fork, we talk choral music of the Italian renaissance. A more recent addition to the now-sextet, Simon is the latest tweak to an art-rock project that’s constantly in flux. Led by guitarist and composer Stephe Cooper, CBYH is as much a medium for Cooper’s compositions as it is a meeting of seasoned musicians from a variety of backgrounds. Outside the venue, I rounded up the members of Cloud Becomes Your Hand to talk avant-garde influences, the joys of friendship, and the collaborative process that culminated their new record, Rest In Fleas, their second LP for Northern Spy.
“Sometimes [the song] is totally written out. Sometimes it’s like ‘Here’s how it goes. What do you want to play?’” Stephe said. “It’s cool to do that. That way everyone gets to add more and it becomes more collaborative, but it also takes longer.” Originally a recording project, the ensemble is has evolved since its 2010 inception, fleshed out by a roster of players that are notable in their own right: Hunter Jack, Weston Minissali (Erica Eso), Sam Sowyrda, Booker Stardrum, and Simon Hanes (ex-Guerilla Toss, Tredicci Bacci).
With the exception of Simon, the band has been playing together for more than six years. Over numerous recordings, rehearsals, and tours, the band has bonded in a way that lets them transcend the usual rehearsal clichés. “We should mention that– Hunter spearheads this but– the band sometimes occupies a strictly metaphorical compositional technique.” Weston said.
“I like using birds.” Hunter quipped to the giggling posse.
Working out the arrangements, the band sometimes relies on imagery to communicate what they want to play. For Cloud Becomes Your Hand, the writing process is more than communicating a set pitches or rhythms, but finding colorful gestures outside the everyday licks that evoke the comedy and eccentricity central to their ethos.
“Things like ‘a falcon is swooping by’ or ‘you’re holding something and the falcon it snatches it real fast’.” Weston said.
“In ‘Aye Aye’, there’s a weasel.” Simon said. “When Sam takes his solo I think the direction was ‘a sneaking weasel peeking over a fence’.”
“Seriously, there is that type of language.” Stephe said, the laughter dying down.
I asked the band about their relationship to avant-garde concert music. Stephe works at Roulette, a non-profit venue dedicated to experimental music and the other members have participated in concert music projects in some way, shape, or form. Hunter Jack was concertmaster of his high school orchestra and Simon Hanes’ Tredicci Bacci project is a small orchestra that operates in an alternative universe of 1970’s Italian cinema fandom. When I asked if Cloud Becomes Your Hand saw themselves in any tradition with artists who blend concert music with rock, Zappa, the titan, was inevitably brought up.
Simon was first to answer. “I’ve had a pretty tense relationship with Frank Zappa’s music over the years. I just watched this new Zappa documentary. It’s just interviews, only a little playing. Hearing him talk was one of the most inspiring things ever. He’s not trite at all, and he’s very clear in pointing out the ways he’s exploring these different kinds of music while giving each one the same amount of respect as any other.”
“Right.” Sam added. “I think stylistic diversity is a tradition.”
“Most of us studied at a conservatory. At least in my experience, when you’re at a conservatory, studying avant-garde classical music, there is music that is basically legitimate or illegitimate. That’s the rhetoric that happens.” Weston said. “I think joining this band, and joining these people– I think we maintain an atmosphere where we give real respect to not only classical music, but also outsider artists, people that would never fit in. Like Moondog or Shooby Taylor, taking stuff that could never be talked about in a school and giving it the same kind of validity even if there’s no theorem behind why it’s great.”
Cloud Becomes Your Hand revels in the absurd and the overblown. The name for the title-track of Rest In Fleas comes from a tabloid headline about a cemetery that became the first in New York State to allow pets to be buried with their owners. In their music, there’s a desire to take illogical everyday experiences and transport them into the realm of the fantastic. While the thought of orchestrating the emotions of a dog longing to be buried with its owner is funny, the group still maintain a desire to create work that’s new and interesting. Balancing the push and pull of the big musical personalities in the band would be a challenge for other groups, but because of their friendship, CBYH pull it off. “We all get along very well and that partly leads to the success of the music. It also leads to the music being pushed and pulled in different directions because of everyone’s needs, wants, tastes, personalities etc.” Sam said. “There’s a tension in the music that’s not necessarily visible from the outside, but certainly visible from within.”
“I think the band’s sound is really representative of the combination the people involved.” Weston said. “Our jokes, our song topics… When we’re on tour, we carry an interpersonal dynamic that represents the music in a way. If you have us sleep on your floor after a show, you might get a taste of that. When we’re going crazy, slinging jokes back and forth, you’ll know what a ‘whispering duck-slurp’ solo sounds like.”
Rest In Fleas is out now on Northern Spy. Cloud Becomes Your Hand Is Touring In July.
7/16 — Boston, MA @ the Record Company w/ Jobs, Family Planning
7/17 — Montreal, QC @ Brasserie Beaubien w/ Soft Opening, YlangYlang/Cosi e Cosi duo, Platitudes
7/19 — Toronto, ON @ Double Double Land w/ Bile Sister, Fake Humans, Mr. Joy
7/20 — Ypsilanti, MI @ TBA
7/21 — Chicago, IL @ the Hideout w/ Wei Zhongle
7/22 — Minneapolis, MN @ White Page w/ Wei Zhongle, Gem Jones, Controversial New Skinny Pill, Which Sister?
7/23 — Madison, WI @ Mickey’s w/ Wei Zhongle
7/24 — Chicago, IL @ Archer Beach Haus w/ Wei Zhongle, Health & Beauty, Jeremiah Fisher
7/25 — Cincinnati, OH @ the Comet w/ Wei Zhongle
7/26 — Pittsburgh, PA @ Pgh Art House w/ Wei Zhongle
7/27 — Ithaca, NY @ Sacred Root Kava Lounge & Tea Bar w/ Wei Zhongle, Brian!, Fa
7/28 — Brooklyn, NY @ Alphaville w/ Wei Zhongle, Ryan Power, Reina Terror