Monday, May 02, 2016

Indie Talking With Danielle Whalebone (Animal Hands)

Indievotion publishes today the fourth interview from a series of in-depth talks with musicians/bands that we deeply cherish, acknowledge their talent, creativity, resilience and envision them as groundbreaking acts away from the inane mainstream numbness. 

The present interview is courtesy of Danielle Whalebone, the bright, brilliant and beautiful redhead front woman of Melbournian 4-piece indie rockers, Animal Hands. Formed back in 2011, Animal Hands have already received much international acclaim following the release of their self-titled EP with lots of highly praising reviews, earning them airplay from Australia to USA, UK, Germany and all around Europe.

Their indie, garage, grunge sonicscape filled the airwaves of college and community radio stations from Melbourne to Seattle KGRG. Animal Hands are recording their debut album at Birdland studios and directly working with prestigious Australian producer/musician Lindsay Gravina and aim to release their first single off the debut album by the end of 2016. One final and grateful word to Danielle Whalebone for her prompt, generosity and cooperation without which this amazing interview would not have been possible. Enjoy!

Animal Hands formed back in 2011. How did it happen and in which way did your cultural and musical background contribute to forming a band?

When I was very young my mother used to buy me blank tapes and I would spend hours recording songs and stories making my own sound effects. When I got older I became a part of the tape sharing culture. We would compete to be the first to discover and share new indie bands music, most of the people I hung around with were like myself from broken homes. We would hang out at skate parks, smoke weed, trawl op shops looking for cheap vintage clothes and go to underage gigs. I always admired female rock artists, they were not ‘princess’ types but were still very stylish, they had a strength that I wished to possess. They didn't care about what people thought of them and I wished, as a teenage girl to be like them. Starting my band seemed a natural conclusion, it is the culture I grew up in.

Is there any particular meaning for the name of the band or is it merely a name with no further “metaphysical” explanation?

It was my intention to give my band a name that has no singular way that it can be interpreted. In essence it is a blend of the Australian films Animal Kingdom and Two Hands both of these films possess a female character that was very underestimated, it is my homage to Janine and Helen. It also refers to human nature, art is an important domain of inquiry into human nature and into the question of what it is to be human.

You are not a full time musician. How do you see the artist’s challenge of balancing life and art and to what extent does it interfere with your creative process, rehearsal logistics and recording process?

It is a constant source of frustration for me, I feel that I have so much more that I could achieve artistically if I just had the time. I have not stopped for a break in five years even after an operation last year and feel that I have achieved little of my actual potential as an artist and performer. I have a Dip in Child Psychology and I’m currently studying for a Dip in Case Management. Recently I’ve been offered a position caring for children who have suffered from trauma and abuse, for the past few years I have been caring for people with disabilities that have extremely high physical needs. My work is very stressful but extremely rewarding, as is raising my family and being the head of a band. I have spent the past year saving to record at Birdland, to me it is like skydiving it is exhilarating knowing that I can't afford to make mistakes, it is a break from reality for me. I have one night a week to rehearse with the band and spend every spare minute I have studying, working on music, writing, editing etc. The balance is nearly impossible and I feel that due to prioritising, music comes last, it really is a privilege to pursue.

Animal Hands are frequently defined as a post - grunge band. Do you feel comfortable with this labelling of the band or do you consider that this labelling is somehow short sighted?

I do feel comfortable with the label because I am influenced by the music of the late eighties and nineties that was labeled ‘grunge’ the word itself to me has a certain stigma but it is one I can certainly live with. The only time I have travelled out of Australia was to go to Seattle to pay my respects. Seattle is like a sister city to Melbourne I loved it there, I even had the good fortune of catching Sonic Youth at the Moore Theatre, it was amazing. A few years later I meet Courtney Love, Eric Erlandson and Melissa Auf der Maur when Hole was on tour, that era in music defined who I am today. I hope not to be an artist that is perceived as simply trying to mimic or rehash this era in music. I believe I have other influences that also play a part in my songwriting.

Taking into account your previous answer how would you then define Animal Hands sound and what is your musical comfort zone if you think there is one?

It’s doomy, fuzz laden, dirty guitar with nearly new wave influences coming through at times, especially with my style of songwriting. There are moments where it gets really psychedelic with the drone of my SG played with the cello bow, it is a sound that I have been playing around with during the recording of the album. As I have gone through the recording process I have learned allot about how I have been ‘thinking’ about music, I tend to fill in the space more than I need to. It is all about the space and the artists who are manipulating the sound waves. I am very rarely comfortable; I am constantly trying to overcome my feelings of insecurity as a musician. Having no formal education I lack the ability to converse in musical terms and feel that I am often on a back foot when working with other musicians. Although due to my lack of formal education I find that I am free to explore music without the formulas that can stifle creativity.

You’re often compared to Adalita Srsen from Magic Dirt. How does it feel and how do you cope with such honorable comparison?

It is overwhelming, obviously Adalita has had an extreme influence on me as an artist, she is an enduring source of inspiration, as are all the members of Magic Dirt. They personify the strength that is required to endure as artists having suffered such as they have. It is such an honorable comparison and I hope it is because I am perceived as having the same kind of integrity as an artist, but I would never consider it to be anything more than that.

Australia is some gold mine of talented musicians and bands. As a Melbourne based musician how would you describe the Australian indie/alternative music scene and in particular the Melbourne one?

Cut throat and cliquey, but the cream definitely rises to the top. Unfortunately with the closing of venues and people's inclination to socialise on the web it is a shame that new independent bands don't get the same opportunities as they would have in the past. I feel the climate is similar to that of the nineties with a reemergence of the ‘cock rockers’ and the more understated ‘grunge’ crowd. It’s an Axl Rose Vs Kurt thing going on with the up and coming bands. I can appreciate the musicianship but that misogynist scene really irks me. My band recently played a festival with a bunch of those bands and it wasn't a good vibe for a woman backstage.

Which bands and/or musicians did influence you most and why and to which extent they still contribute to your creative imagination?

There are too many to name, I feel uncomfortable putting them in any order but there are particular artists whose music has a transcendent quality and who's lyrics speak of the human condition, they are my constant inspiration for creativity. Rowland S Howard and Patti Smith always come to mind.

Animal Hands did as far as we know a cover version The The’s “This is The Day”. Why a Matt Johnson song and is doing covers something you really like to do and considering future ones?

I first picked up a guitar with the sole intention of writing my own songs; I learned chords and started to write. I thought that learning other people's songs would pollute my own writing, to quote Iggy Pop ‘its like having dirty water come down the pipes’. Having said this I really dig clever covers, I listen to New Wave music allot and I thought “This is the day” has an irony that would add a bit of humor to Animal Hands quite melancholy debut EP. We are also recording a cover for the upcoming album another New Wave track by the Split Enz, when I was very young I thought this song was about having nightmares which was really cool to me.

Can it be objectively said that Animal Hands creative process is somewhat influenced by their urban environment or are there any other variables?

Yes, my songwriting is definitely influenced by my environment the neighbors tolerate my loud music, so when I'm inspired to play I can go for it with very few noise complaints lol. Also we have some great local venues that have touring bands coming through all the time it creates a buzz that can be felt in the street, the music culture in the hills is really prevalent.

Animal Hands had some lineup changes since 2011 particularly with the rhythmic section. You were looking for a bass player very recently after the last endured less than a year with the band. What are the main reasons related with this non lineup stability and how does it influences/delays dynamics, sound redefinition and working process of the band?

The delays due to the constant changes in the lineup make me miserable, it has been extraordinarily difficult to keep going with so many setbacks both financially and emotionally. The primary reason I believe is that I push myself really hard and set a standard that is intense, majority of the musicians I have worked with believe that they are up to coping with the level of stress with performing and recording and find that they are unable to, they begin to be destructive towards each other or self-sabotage. Also there is not a lot of incentive to keep going when the pay is so low and the commitment is so high, you have to really enjoy the culture of being in a band. Another reason is gender based; I have had a few members become physically and emotionally abusive towards me. I believe they saw me as a gimmick that can be used to make them money or someone that they can push around and bend to their will. It is my creative vision, I found it and I do a great deal of work keeping it going. I won't tolerate people trying to push me aside and take over, I treat everyone in the band with respect and I expect the same in return. I have had opportunities pass by and that is really disappointing, it is like having a broken go kart and watching all the racers go past. It really is about the principal, I want to know I achieved this goal because of my hard work and commitment not because someone did it for me. It’s very difficult finding people with the same influences musically therefore the sound is constantly being redefined, but it is important to surround myself with people who get satisfaction out of the experience of being in a working band.

How would you describe Animal Hands songwriting and composing process as well as the main trends of your lyrics? Do they come to mind naturally or do you revise them over a period of time before getting ready to studio?

To date I have written the songs and taken them to the band where they contribute their parts. I very rarely write lyrics for a song from beginning to end, I am always writing phrases or lines in my journal that are usually quite introspective. I also have melodies playing in my head and I write the chord structures down, often they will come with a phrase that may be a verse or a chorus and I will begin to construct the song from there. Often flipping through my journals for the right lines that work to express the emotion of the song. Very rarely will a story come out in its entirety or I have an outpouring of sequential thoughts. When it does happen I find it difficult to put a melody to the words, I am hoping with the improvising that the band has been doing lately that this form of writing will be useful. Generally in the interest of time saving in the studio we try to have the songs pretty set in stone, time is money in there and I don't like to waste it.

Animal Hands are about to finish their debut LP recording process. Your fan base is rather looking forward to it. What can you tell them about how things are going up to now and for when are you scheduling the album’s release?

Recording is my favorite aspect of being in a band, it is good stress and Birdland is a wonderful space to hang out in. Lindsay has taught me so much, I am so pleased that I initially worked with him on our EP. He gave me a crash course on how to manage studio time, add layers and work on arrangements. If I had never worked with him I wouldn’t have had the confidence to take on the task of recording our first album. As always it is a matter of finance and I have to wait until I have the money to re-record the bass lines and lead lines. I aim to release the first single off the album later this year.

When in comparison with previous material and particularly with Animal Hands EP and later with Roaring Girlie and Edge of The World singles released in 2014, what can we sonically expect from this album?

I think it is a really well balanced album, it has texture and energy. Some of the songs are more in your face with heavy distortion and others verge on ballads, yet I feel that they all interlink with each other well. They are more in the vain of ‘Roaring Girle’ I was wanting to maintain that edge, my intention was to bring the raw elements of performing them live into the studio, I think so far we have achieved that goal.

Considering that Animal Hands have always adopted a fully DIY approach to music industry how do you see the actual state of corporate music business in Australia right now?

From what I understand the best way for an independent band without artist representation or a distribution deal to attain exposure and financial gain is through the multimedia primarily through having music film clips on YouTube and social networks. Due to piracy and those damn people sharing tapes, I mean mp3’s there is not allot of revenue collected through digital sales of music for bands starting out. The best way to sell music is if you have a great recording press it to vinyl, sales of records are rising. Invest the money made at gigs into the band, advertise and have merchandise to sell. Design your own posters and shirts, make your own film clips and if you want to be completely DIY recording yourself is the best way to keep overheads down. Network and support independent radio stations, play with bands that aren’t trying to ladder climb, work with ones who are trying to create a scene that supports each other. As for the corporate music business in Australia, I would have no idea. All I know is allot of talented artists are waiting for the guy in the suit carrying a bag full of money but chances are he is not coming. So the best plan is to get to work do your own PR, even create your own indie label.

Are there any plans concerning touring Australia and if not Europe in a near future to promote the debut album? What would be the costs and logistics associated to touring the main Australian coastal cities from Perth to Brisbane?

No definite plans as yet, we have discussed Adelaide, Sydney and perhaps Brisbane. We have bands approaching us offering to support us if we travel up the coast but it is all a matter of finance.

If you had to describe the past five years in the band’s life in no less than 50 words how would they be like?

Trial by fire, it has tested our ability to perform under pressure, it has challenged our strength, endurance and commitment. We have had to sacrifice our ego’s and attempt to maintain our dignity, it is a constant challenge.