I have had the privilege of living with and playing music with the members of Hand Grenade Job at different points in my life. This band is more than a band – they are a living, breathing collaboration and relationship made public. They are a multi-media experience. They are a break for a weary heart and soul. They are sonic salve.
Hand Grenade Job’s two newest singles are ready for debut, and we’ve got them right here for your listening pleasure. The first track, titled “Threat Assessment,” is a vocal endeavor that requires no back tracking. Beck and Erin’s voices fill the empty space, giving off an almost eery vibe. The words reverberate slightly, the raw recording making a lasting impression.
The second track, titled “Driven By Suffering,” is a much darker song. It begins with a recording of the sound of many birds, which immediately inflicts a sense of fear drawn on by movies like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. The next layer of the track is a bass drum. To top off the other two, Beck and Erin’s voices enter–in exact unison, as in “Threat Assessment”– to discuss suffering and pain. “Every single choice I must make, driven by suffering” is poignant, but important to note.
As someone in a duet myself (and I’ve learned that’s more than a duo!), I appreciate a two-person musical endeavor. I took some time to speak with Beck and Erin about the bicoastal fever dream that is Hand Grenade Job.
Tell us a little about these two songs.
“Driven by Suffering” is a Hatebreed cover. “Threat Assessment” is a meditation on February 2013, with implications for months since and months future. Both songs rely primarily on the voice as instrument. That’s not totally representative of the rest of the songs from that session, which favor minimalism but include a range of other sounds.
What’s up with your forthcoming record?
Beck: We recorded it in January, between blizzards, in a cabin in western Maryland. I had just moved all my stuff into storage in Oakland. The building I had been living in there got condemned. I drove across the country, we recorded these songs. Then just a few weeks later I entered into a long-term inpatient medical study. I’ve been hospitalized for over three months so far, and participating in research on using ketamine for treatment-resistant depression. The process of recording was this peaceful, surreal reprieve after all the chaos of moving. A beautiful generative break before this big step into the unknown that I was about to take. We’re hoping to find a home for this record soon, and have it out by the end of this year.
Performance and mood are so essential to the experience I have had watching your band. Do you consider what you are doing a kind of performance art in any way?
Erin: As HGJ evolves I approach it less like a band and more as a guided meditation.
Beck: We are just two people using minimal instrumentation, so every single element has to count, including ourselves, our appearances, our movements. The habitats we’ve constructed to perform inside, they change from show to show. They’re as elaborate as they need to be – an entire living room scene – or as simple as a lectern and an ironing board. The habitats make us comfortable, and signal to audiences that a shift is taking place. For people to shush for our performance we’ve had to change the environment of a punk house or basement or alley or wherever. I guess it’s performance art if the art is persuasion; it’s experimental music if the experiment is survival.
I’ve heard a few people joyfully note that your band has a “witchy” feel – and they have clearly meant this as the highest kind of compliment. You also have a song “Witchcraft.” The concept of a witch has always felt very gendered to me – gendered, and potent. Could you speak to this a little?
Beck: To me, in addition to personal ritualistic practice, witchcraft is about identifying with legacies of rebellious, resourceful, resilient women. It’s about harnessing deviant knowledge and counter power to transform yourself and your world. Historically, per Silvia Federici, persecution of women, sex workers, and people engaged in reproductive or caring labor coincides with moments of economic transition…like the transition out of feudalism, or the transition from public to private land ownership. It serves to channel suspicion and hate, and impose control on these populations instead of where it belongs–onto the ruling class. Classic misdirection.
You both have been in a lot of bands I love that have impacted people. These include Delta Dart, Pygmy Lush, The Gift, and Turboslut. Are you involved in any other projects?
Erin: Right now in addition to playing with HGJ and Pygmy Lush, I am also playing in a dark pop band called Governess. We all met through our organizing efforts to start a DIY cooperative preschool in our neighborhood. Neither of the other women had played in bands before. As we got to know each other and share the dark parts of our transition into motherhood, I thought about how little those conversations were represented in music. I convinced them to start a band. It is really badass to be willing to pick up and learn a new instrument in one’s 40’s, and to write songs about things that are scary and real, and then get up onstage and share it with people. Writing songs together as Governess is a document of how we are trying to cope as women and mothers in a world that trivializes both, as well as devalues the domestic labor that makes up the majority of our days.
Beck: It is an entire band of Vi Subversas (RIP), playing dreamy, catchy, creepy music.
The name is both brilliant and daunting. Do you want to say anything about that?
Erin: Pretty sure the potential reading of HGJ as a goregrind name helped us land a spot on a Goatwhore show one time.