After forming in Essex after meeting on a Fine Art degree, multi-instrumentalists Lance Keeble and Adam Gardner aka Charlie's Hand Movements have spent the last few years building a reputation for vibrant and diverse offerings, and now return with their latest delight 'Porcupine'.
Following in the zany and excitable footsteps of acts like Glass Animals and LA Priest, 'Porcupine' is the perfect introduction to these psych-pop wizards. Having already attracted praise from the likes of Radio 1's Huw Stephens and 6Music's Tom Robinson, this new belter showcases exactly why so many have been turning onto them of late.
So with their new single firmly rattling our ears for days, we sat down with both of them to find out more about their earliest beginnings and what has inspired them over the years.
What were the first instruments you fell in love with?
Adam: I just wanted to play the guitar. Like every other kid, I can remember having two or three keyboard lessons but I can't remember ever wanting to play it. It just seemed like a lot of hard work. Plus the piano was the thing that got wheeled out for assembly at school and nobody liked that. The guitar was different though; the guitar was Buddy Holly, John Lee Hooker and Johnny Cash. It was John and George, black and white Rickenbacker in hands, shaking their heads and singing Twist and Shout. Infinitely cooler than Mrs Colvin bashing out Sing Hosanna on a Monday morning.
Lance: I tried to learn the drums when I was a child, but I was quite terrible at them. I didn't seem to have the balance, coordination or conviction to be any good. I started playing guitar a little later on mostly out of convenience, as my Dad played blues and would leave them lying around, but it wasn't until I picked up an upright piano from a charity shop that I'd found my instrument. I found I could write quickly and hear the arrangement possibilities much more easily on a piano. My piano technique I would assume is quite unorthodox but occasionally I sound like I know what I'm doing. And the piano can be very cool too, if a little impractical - look at the late Mark Hollis bashing away at a piano in the woods in the video for Talk Talk's Life's What You Make It. Very cool - and very impractical.
What has been the most prominent inspiration behind your music so far?
Lance: When we first started making records I was very reluctant to sing lead vocals on any songs as I was kind of into the idea that our sound should be quite specific and unified. But as I started to gain more confidence in my voice I think we started to see the advantages of using both our voices in a lead context. We both got into Grizzly Bear at around the same time and were blown away by their effortless musicality. Their records have this great sense of atmosphere, but a kind of live spontaneity always trickling through. It struck us that they had two distinctly different voices in the band but found a way of making this work, so this liberated us to try something similar. We have no hang-ups about singing each other's written parts either; it's very much a case of which voice works best for the lyric and texture of the song.
Adam: Meeting Lance changed everything for me. I was in my bedroom making spectacularly rubbish music, but then all of a sudden there was this other person that was not only doing the same thing (albeit with better results), but who was also into Radiohead and loads of other great stuff. We started making music together straight away, and although almost all of the stuff we did for the first five years or so hasn't fared well, we eventually started getting somewhere. When I think about it, a lot of the music that's shaped me has come from my relationship with Lance. Wilco, Grizzly Bear, SFA, Mansun…
What kind of music did you love as teenagers?
Adam: It's hugely embarrassing for me now, but I was absolutely obsessed with Oasis as a teenager. Unhealthily so. Me and my pal used to collect anything and everything with Oasis written on it: all the singles across different formats, posters, interview discs, books, those boxsets for Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory that looked like big cigarette boxes. Crazy. I remember going to see them at the old Wembley stadium in 2000, when they were touring an album called Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. It was a huge deal for us, and Liam was absolutely hammered. Couldn't sing at all. He was just stumbling around the stage in a denim jacket, drunk and occasionally shouting something into the mic. I remember the big screen showing a woman in the crowd up on somebody's shoulders and he had her take her top off. It was just a horrible experience all round, and that was where Oasis ended for me.
Lance: Super Furry Animals were a big thing for me. Around the early 2000s it seemed like a lot of alternative rock bands were getting to make these big budget, blow-out records. It was a great alternative to what was happening in mainstream pop at the time, with subversive lyrics and outrageous sonic ideas. They had a knack of turning the mundane into cosmic tapestries of sound. Prior to that it would have been britpop bands like Blur, Oasis and Pulp. Though a lot of that was about the spectacle of it all I think - some of it hasn't aged so well. Graham Coxon's guitar parts are timeless though, like little songs in and of themselves.
Can you remember the first song that made you want to pursue a life in music?
Lance: Airbag by Radiohead - I just remember being amazed by all the wonderful different sounds in it, and how it gave me goosebumps every time I heard it. It's got sleigh bells, mellotron choirs, tremolo-picked guitars and distorted drums all set to this sporadic dub-inspired bassline. I didn't know what any of those sounds were at the time, but I set about finding out immediately.
Adam: The first album I bought with my own money was the Beatles' Anthology 2. I must've been about 11 or 12 and for years I couldn't understand why the Beatles songs I'd hear on the radio and TV didn't have the talking, laughing and the bits where the songs would just fall apart. The Anthology tracks were the definitive versions for me and it was mind-blowing when I discovered that something like I Am the Walrus wasn't just electric piano and a crazy John Lennon vocal. I mean it was just about the best thing I'd ever heard, and then when I was older I discovered the finished version with George Martin's strings and all the sound effects and it was a whole new level of brilliance. I remember buying the blue album in my early teens too because it had the electric version Revolution on it (in those pre-internet days your options were either this or Past Masters Vol. 2), but pretty much any of the music they made from Rubber Soul onwards is still awe-inspiring.
When you wake up in the morning, what kind of music do you like to listen to?
Adam: Ha. My mornings usually start between 2 and 5 AM with a grumpy baby, so the days of listening to music in the morning are long gone now. We do have the radio on throughout the night though, usually on Radio 4 or 5 Live. I just like to listen to talking really - old women calling in to complain to Dotun Adebayo about self-service checkouts and Brexit, before the inevitable hour of watching nursery rhymes on YouTube. Down by the Bay, Apples and Bananas, Wheels on the Bus etc. Somebody has made a lot of money from those songs.
Lance: I have an obsession with the songs of Thom Bell, the legendary Philadelphia Soul songwriter. I'll often fill the room with tunes of The Stylistics, The Delfonics and just bask in those gorgeous, celestial melodies. I really got into The Stylistics when I had food poisoning from some bad raw oysters. I threw on a 'Best of' and lay there in this intense fever, starting to hallucinate a bit while being lullabied by the ghostly falsetto of Russell Thompkins Jr. It was quite something - and I think those sorts of contexts can really colour your experience of an artist's music, probably for the rest of your life. But yeah, that music really appeals to some dormant old romantic inside me. Or I'll put on something that nourishes the eternal optimist in me, like a Prefab Sprout record or my favourite 80's synth pop band, China Crisis.
How many of your songs have you written about people in your life?
Adam: I think that because we work on projects over a long period of time, and often piece songs together in fits and starts, that it's more a case that our personal situations and relationships seep into them kind of organically. Usually there are lines here or there that are specifically about something, but the trick is to try and keep the song open enough to interpretation. Somebody like Jeff Tweedy is a real master of this… kind of wrapping these direct lines up in metaphor and surreal imagery. I like the idea of these little fragments of truth or whatever being in the songs, but you don't want them weighing it down.
Lance: Most. You've got to have your muses haven't you? Mine are invariably of the unrequited nature but that's where my writing energy comes from. Any interaction can lead to some sort of lyric manifesting itself. That's the thing, writing songs puts you in a state of reflection; all experiences become potential fodder for a song - it's just piecing them together to form something coherent. I haven't got the coherent part down yet. Adam has though. I hope that's what makes our music interesting - Adam is the grounded realist element, while I'm off floating, head in the nebulae. Though Adam writes some mean astrally derived allegories himself, to be fair. Maybe it's time for me to get real… Nah.
What have been the most memorable moments in your career so far?
Lance: Probably the recording sessions for Nuclear Tapes. It was a long process, with bouts of joy, despair, mania, and an overwhelming feeling of what-the-fuck-are-we-doing? But that's how I like it. It was the opposite of what we should have been doing, I expect. In fact after finishing our second album and an EP, we were keen to work on standalone singles for a year - you know, the sensible approach. But this quite suddenly turned into 'let's make a genre-hopping triple album about cultural decay and an imagined (or not?) impending apocalypse'. Of course. Adam scoured car boot sales for strange toy keyboards and we gradually assembled an armoury of quite pathetic-looking instruments. Then we bought boiler suits. Mine was too big for me - the shop assistant chose the size and I didn't want to cause a fuss. We wrote and recorded in these boiler suits, it gave us a kind of military aggression we had not exploited up to this point, so naturally out came the fuzz pedals and dirty riffs. A lot of these riffs didn't even end up on the record, I think we're much too polite for all that.
Adam: Ha, I completely agree with Lance on this one. We actually made a second record alongside this one too, called Everybody Earthbound - which should be out in a few months - and it was a really creatively fulfilling time. In terms of what other people might see as 'success' though, we've been really lucky to have a lot of radio play in the past from the BBC Introducing team - especially in Essex (we're from Southend-on-Sea) - and through them we ended up as a tip of the week a few years ago on Huw Stephens' Radio 1 show. That was quite surreal... We also got played a couple of times on 6 Music too, which was a bit of a dream for us. There's a guy called Ollie Winniberg at the BBC in Essex, who's a real champion of the local scene and works tirelessly to give a platform to artists, and he's been super supportive of our stuff over the years. Ha, if there's one thing we've definitely never got close to though, it's anything approaching a career!
Outside of music, what are your biggest passions?
Adam: Art and mediocre American sitcoms. King of Queens, Rules of Engagement, Just Shoot Me. Usually David Spade is involved. I would love to have been a painter though, someone like John Hoyand, but I was awful at it. I keep telling myself that I'm going to go out into the shed and start working on some large abstract paintings with gloss, but it never happens. Funnily enough, we met on an art course. Lance could actually paint, but I'm sure we were both there primarily to meet somebody to start a band with.
Lance: I'm into nutritional biochemistry. I'm interested in the mechanisms of modern disease, and how dietary interventions can help. I've always used myself as a guinea pig for trialing dietary protocols and such, to sometimes disastrous results - the oyster incident for example. I'm an advocate for experimental learning; maybe I just don't trust anyone. I really have to experience something for myself to know if it could be beneficial or not. My other passion is to take long walks in the woods, sometimes in the dead of night. I like jellyfish and mollusks too.
If you weren’t musicians, what other path do you think you might have taken?
Adam: This is an interesting question. Personally, I'd never call myself a musician. I think we would have loved the opportunity to spend all day every day making music but the reality, like for 95% of people who create anything, is that you need to pay the rent and keep the lights on. The way that I've done that is by working as an art teacher. Just being around people who are interested in and excited about stuff - whether it's a painting, a film or a piece of music - is important. I think that creating is key to staying sane, and I feel it more intensely the older that I get. I don't understand people that turn their noses up at art, or that think that it can't change things.
Lance: I don't think we see ourselves as musicians. We'd love to be. I work at a food store by day, pretending to be an adult, then I get back to my home studio and become a kid again. I can make silly noises and croon like a poor man's Scott Walker, throw some chords down and boom! We've got something vaguely resembling music. It's the mixing part I struggle with, for it requires conviction and decisions must be made. These things don't come naturally to me. Nuclear Tapes was very nearly canned entirely were it not for Adam's undying belief in the project. We sort of realised that the record had fermented into the exact product we had always intended it to be - a fictitiously 'lost' album, a sort of vault of bizarre pop studies by a musically sub-competent duo.
And what advice would you give to those looking to start a career in music?
Lance: Don't have too many expectations. Music is a gift to all who choose to create it... it gives back what you put in. I have no advice pertaining to the career-oriented end of things. It's never been about that for me. It's about reaching different states of consciousness, different energy states. Music solves problems for me. If something's confusing me, troubling me, disturbing me - I write. Confusion no more. Until the next bout of confusion.
Adam: Yeah, I honestly wouldn't know either. I think that Lance and I have done everything wrong in terms of finding what others might deem success. It seems to us - and it always has - that there are a lot of people that do everything except look to develop as musicians, artists or whatever. We want people to hear what we're doing - and we put a lot of time, effort and emotional investment into it - but ultimately we just want to keep moving forward. Other than the love of making art with my best mate, the only thing that interests me is having a body of work for my son to discover when he's older. So I guess that's my advice: make work you're proud of. But then what do we know? We have 71 followers on Instagram.
Charlie's Hand Movements' new single 'Porcupine' is available to stream and download now. Have a listen to it in the player below.