Between their neverending touring schedule and their just-released new album Life Lessons, 2014 is without a doubt the biggest year that Handguns have ever experienced. Having just wrapped up an extensive American run with All Time Low before the album’s release, the band is already back on the road again on the Common Vision Tour–a mixed-genre bill that includes hardcore heavyweight like Hundredth and Counterparts and fellow pop punks like Forever Came Calling. idobi managing editor Eleanor Grace caught up with guitarists Brandon Pagano and Kyle Vaught at the Toronto date to talk about the tour, the new record, the over-politicization of pop punk, and a shocking amount of discussion on 5 Seconds Of Summer and GWAR.
So you’re about halfway into the Common Vision Tour. How would you sum up what that “common vision” that all the bands on the tour share means to you personally?
Brandon: I think all these bands are – at least everyone that I’ve experienced – has been really levelheaded and cool. All these people in all these bands, there’s no like, disillusion about how big their band is and no one’s too egotistical or anything. Everybody’s cool. Everybody hangs out.
Kyle: You can tell that everybody likes to perform and everybody likes their music. Everybody’s friendly; nobody bickers with any other band, really.
Brandon: I think it’s just a really passionate tour. Everybody’s here for the right reason.
I feel like when I attend mixed genre tours, it can go either one of two ways: you’ll either have everybody vibing to every band or there will be like, a very clear split in the room between who’s enjoying what band. So how’s the reception been to the tour package so far?
Brandon: It’s been amazing. Every day we’ve been impressed with our crowd, and everybody else’s crowd has been popping off. Even the openers, who maybe less people know about, they still have great crowd reactions. People still want to come and have fun during their sets.
Kyle: The cool thing is all the bands sound good live. Everybody’s really good musicians, so even if you don’t know or have never heard them or you don’t like that type of music, you can bop your head when you’re watching them cause they all put on a good show, which is really cool. So even if we have to sit around, it’s not bad watching every band cause every band I enjoy watching live.
Brandon: Yeah, it’s not like there’s anybody that I particularly feel like walking out when they start playing [laughs]. I thoroughly enjoy watching every band on this tour.
If you could tour with any band that sounds nothing like your band, who would you pick?
Brandon: GWAR. We all like, actually like GWAR – their music and everything. I’ve seen a few GWAR shows…I feel like touring with them would be like, a whole production.
What costumes would you guys wear to be their opening band?
Brandon: Oderus Urungus. I would just dress like him.
You can’t be someone in the band! You gotta make your own costume!
Brandon: Well, he recently passed away, so I guess I could take his.
That’s bold of you, man.
Brandon: I think he’s hearing me right now. He knows how big of a fan I am. I’m a huge fan!
We are here in the Handguns van, channeling the spirits of Oderus Urungus.
Kyle: I hope so!
Brandon: I sure hope so. I hope we can do half as well as he did.
Hell yeah [laughs]. So your new record Life Lessons just dropped a couple weeks back. Congrats on that. Obviously Life Lessons is a very fitting title – it really touches on everything you guys have learned since the last record. But overall, if you had to sum up the number one life lesson that you think you put into this record, what would that be?
Brandon: I think in a lot of the songs, the theme tends to be just pushing through whatever the problem is. A lot of the songs deal with issues that we’ve all had, but at of the day, you have to push through that and you have to power through that problem. And the only way that you do it is by hard work and perseverance, continuing to power through no matter what the consequences may be. A lot of the record is about family dying when we have to be away from home and relationships starting to take a hit because you’re so far away from them. But like, you’re here for a reason, so you have to power through it and you have to make it work. And you can find ways to make it work – you just have to be determined.
Kyle: That sums it up.
Basically! When you guys are having those days, when it’s hard to stay positive through that, what are the things that you turn to?
Brandon: Yeah, food. I think one of our favourite things to do is get food. [laughs]
Kyle: Food, music…I have a pair of Ellen underwear that I wear. She keeps me levelheaded.
Brandon: That’s his lucky underwear.
Kyle: Yeah, it’s my lucky underwear. But I mean, I’m usually stressed when I’m home. When I’m on tour with these guys, that’s when I’m not stressed or anything and I’m happy. I mean, people get stressed on tour, but like, this is what helps me get through my day to day troubles and shit, so…just my friends and pushing through it. And GWAR.
GWAR gets you through everything.
Brandon: Lots of GWAR.
Right before this current run, you guys did your biggest tour to date with All Time Low. And you said you had to really perfect your live show for that tour and you feel like you got a lot tighter and really found your groove by the end of the tour.
Kyle: Yeah, absolutely.
So now that you guys are back playing these smaller rooms, what do you think are the biggest things that you took from that experience – both onstage and offstage?
Brandon: One of the things that I definitely learned on that tour, because we had a lot more help – we had a lot more stagehands, we had a lot more loaders, we had a lot more people on the soundboard, things like that – I just learned to be respectful to people working, cause All Time Low’s always extremely respectful to the staff and the venue. And it doesn’t matter what venue you’re playing – these people are still here to work your show, and they work their ass off. They get here early and stay late.
Kyle: Yeah, I feel like with that tour, people who were working the venues were there a lot earlier, busting their ass. You notice it all. But still, all the other shows, there’s people doing that – I just feel like you don’t notice it as much on a smaller scale. But on the bigger scale, you see it and you’re like, “Damn, you really do a lot.”
Brandon: Yeah, you don’t know like how much work a promoter actually put into a show to promote it or anything. It’s a lot of hard work, and it’s not just on them – it’s on us too. We have to promote, and you learn like, the whole thing –
Kyle: What goes on that day besides just loading in and out and playing.
Brandon: You definitely have to respect everybody. That’s definitely one thing that I learned.
What was the coolest part of the tour for you guys?
Brandon: Probably Starland Ballroom. 2500 people sold out. It was the biggest show we’ve ever played as a band – we walked onstage and were like…
Kyle: I saw The Starting Line play there for their holiday show, and that’s one of my favourite bands. So that was cool for me to see them play it sold out and then five months later I play it sold out. I was like, “I was just here, and now I’m here playing it, doing the same thing that they were doing.” And that was bizarre.
Brandon: It was awesome.
Kyle: And Man Overboard’s really good friends of ours, so it was cool to hang out with them. [laughs] It was fun hanging out with them for a month.
Brandon: Those dudes kept it real. That [Starland show] was probably the best part – that was when I knew the scale of what we’ve been doing the past month or so. Right towards the end of the tour it hit us – we were like, “Wow, every show was like this.”
Kyle: But I am glad we’re back to this, with kids who are right in front of us. No barriers. I can grab somebody’s head; CJ can kick someone in the throat.
Really seeing the hardcore influence with you guys.
Brandon: Super Bad Luck 13.
Kyle: His foot’s not that big, though, so you don’t have to worry.
Brandon: He doesn’t wear steel-toed boots or anything like that.
Thank you for the warning.
Kyle: Be careful. Watch out. Shotgun Craig’s his name.
Obviously All Time Low are one of the most commercially successful bands of this genre – you’ve seen that firsthand. But I feel like, over the past couple years, pop punk has really experienced a surge as far as being a commercially viable genre. Even just recently, Real Friends got their first week numbers back and they sold over 10,000 units – and those guys were like, a baby band a year ago.
Brandon: I booked one of their first shows in New York less than two years ago, and there was thirty kids in the room. It was insane.
But then on the other side of the spectrum you have bands like 5 Seconds Of Summer, who are catchy in their own right, but they’re being marketed as a pop punk band only because it’s now commercially viable.
Brandon: Yeah, I’ve been hearing a lot about this 5 Seconds Of Summer band, and the only thing that I know about them is that Alex [Gaskarth], who worked on our record, worked on their record as well and said that, you know, you listen to it and you know what it is. You know what I mean? I feel like there’s no room for debate with that – they’re a pop band with kids who like Blink-182.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s interesting to see how that marketing has played out.
Brandon: It’s a very hot topic right now. It’s being discussed on like, every website.
Kyle: People are gonna hate on it. The defenders are gonna be upset –
Brandon: The defence league.
Kyle: They’re gonna be mad cause they’re calling something that’s not pop punk pop punk. And people take that very sensitively.
People are very sensitive. The sad boys get really sad about it.
Brandon: The sad boys get even more sad. The lost boys get lost.
Kyle: It’s music. People do what they wanna do. Who cares if they’re Abercrombie underwear or whatever – American Apparel. I don’t give a damn, dude. That song’s catchy.
American Apparel underwear has apparently seen a 10% increase since that song came out.
Kyle: I believe it! Since I said Ellen underwear, that’s probably up 2%.
Oh yeah. As soon as the interview goes live, I’m going to keep my eye on the stock of that – it’s gonna go through the roof.
Kyle: [laughs] It’s gonna go up. Oh yeah. I have the baby blue ones.
As a band that has come up over the past few years and been able to be a part of this wave of the resurgence of pop punk, if you will, what’s your take on the climate? I mean, it’s crazy that the genre is big enough that a pop band from Australia is being marketed as pop punk.
Brandon: It’s weird. Bands like Paramore and bands like Fall Out Boy, who have 100% broken into the mainstream, have now – they’re being played in like, football arenas during halftime and just crazy shit like that. I mean, those bands had to tweak their sound a little bit to get to that commercial success, obviously – you can hear the difference in records – but they still started out the same way we did, you know what I mean? So there is hope for bands like us, if we ever wanted to see that commercial success and play that kind of music, we could do it and start from the same basements. And it’s just weird. It’s interesting, though – it’s cool to see it put to work and actually happen.
Do you think that you guys would need to change your sound in order to have that level of success?
Brandon: For us to play arenas? Absolutely. But we like playing the music we do – that’s why we do it, you know what I mean?
Kyle: I can definitely say I have a feel that within the next few years, a lot of those quote unquote “pop punk” bands will start coming out and being like, really poppy and radio-friendly.
We saw the same thing in the mid-2000s.
Brandon: Yeah, absolutely. There was like, that neon revival of bands that were doing really well at the time.
Kyle: There’s even some of our friends that are doing stuff who like – we can’t say but some of our friends are recording stuff right now and it’s poppy as shit. And even some friends of ours who aren’t necessarily pop punk but they are starting to do more mainstream stuff. And it’s bands that people wouldn’t expect to – like, “What? You guys?” But like, they would kill and it would be better than anything.
Brandon: People are so touchy with the word “poppy”. And it’s like…I like pop music, you know what I mean? I like the structure; I like the catchiness. I love everything – it’s everything I like about music put together. There’s nothing wrong with citing influence.
Kyle: Kids are just hardheaded and afraid of change. They like their four favourite bands; they like the bands that they think are pop punk. They don’t even know the bands that influenced us to write pop punk or influenced The Wonder Years or influenced Man Overboard or influenced Real Friends. They don’t know the bands who influenced that.
Brandon: They just know what they see now. But I feel like as people get older they learn that it’s not so binary. But they can think whatever they want.
How do you guys feel about the over-politicization of these genres where people get so up in arms over how things are classified?
Brandon: The elitist thing, like I said, you see a lot of younger kids talking about it – I’m pretty young myself, but you know like fifteen, sixteen year old kids are the ones on the message boards going, “I hate this, this is nonsense.” And like, I get that, cause I was the same exact way about all my favourite bands – if anybody called my favourite band any other genre than it was, I was the first one to correct them. You know, it’s that sense of belonging to a community and then having somebody who doesn’t necessarily fall into your guidelines for the genre pool that you associate with, you feel like you’re being invaded by somebody. But as you get older you realize everybody’s the same. It’s just music.
Kyle: It’s funny cause like you said, it’s their territory, that pop punk name. And what’s funny is that it’s the kids who are mad about it. And you never – you won’t go up to anybody in a band and be like – most people that I know love that song and love 5 Seconds Of Summer.
Brandon: Yeah, they all vibe out.
Kyle: It’s catchy as shit. And all these people who are these kids’ favourite bands, kids who are attacking 5 Seconds Of Summer, these bands love em! There’s nothing wrong with it – it’s catchy ass music. The dudes put on a good show. [sings the hook from “She Looks So Perfect”] So good. It’s so good. People are just touchy.
Brandon: Touchy about genres. And it’ll be like that forever, just cause it comes with that feeling of belonging, that feeling of being included.
On the less political side, the other thing that always comes along with a genre getting more commercial success is you start to see a lot more bands adopting the same sound. Given that, who do you guys think are the most exciting bands?
Kyle: Like, newer bands or bands that have been around for a minute?
Brandon: Okay, so there’s bands like The Wonder Years and Fireworks who push their sonic limits a lot and they try to really think outside the box when they’re writing records. And they don’t just put some songs together and put them on a record and call it that – there’s a process to it. They think about themes; they think about how the guitar work’s gonna work with so and so. It’s a very big long process. And then there are like, bands that don’t have to do that in order to put out good records too, so there’s a whole different spectrum of music. There’s some younger bands, like this band called Sudden Suspension that we just brought on tour, this band called Seasons Change that just signed to No Sleep, a band called Molly’s Worst Enemy from Minnesota – these are all bands that we’ve met touring that started off the same way this band did. And I think that they’re all doing really important things too and I think in time they’re gonna be some of the forefronters of this genre. So those are some bands that I really enjoy playing with and seeing all the time. Oh, this band called Head Injuries from Denver –
Kyle: Fort Collins, actually.
Brandon: They’re also really good. We play with them all the time when we’re in Denver. I really like finding that special local band.
Kyle: There was a band we played with the other day in Jacksonville – Detached. It was their first show, and they were sick.
Brandon: I’m pretty sure they just posted their EP online, and they were awesome. They were like, sixteen, seventeen year old kids, and they were up there just killing it. So good.
Other than the bands you just name checked, what are some of the other artists you guys have been jamming lately?
Brandon: Recently? I’ve been jamming that new Every Time I Die record [From Parts Unknown]. I like that ’68 record In Humour and Sadness, The Menzingers’ record Rented World, and Fireworks’ Oh Common Life – I think we’re about to get arrested. This cop’s laughing at us for some reason. I don’t understand why. [a police officer starts talking to the other band members in the front seat]
And live during this interview, we are getting a ticket.
Brandon: Here’s the thing – I’m gonna tell you guys a secret. When we’re in Canada and you give us a ticket…right now we are currently in a rental van, so…we’re not gonna pay that ticket.
CJ [bassist]: We’re out of province. We don’t have to pay it.
Brandon: Oh, tight!
Kyle: So records I’ve been jamming…[laughs] honestly, if I’m in the van and it’s my turn to drive, I usually put on like, a 90s playlist on Pandora or Backstreet Boys Pandora. I love Backstreet Boys. Or standup comedy, like Mitch Hedberg and shit. I’m not really into new music – like, when Brandon will put stuff on, I’ll be like, “This is tight.” But the new music I listen to is like…I don’t even know the newest thing I listen to.
Brandon: Four Year Strong?
Kyle: Oh yeah, there we go – the new Four Year Strong EP is sick. My Iron Lung just put a new record out – it’s sick.
Brandon: And that Brigades EP.
Counterparts actually used to be called Brigade for like a minute when they first started. There’s something you probably never knew about them.
Brandon: Really? That’s funny.
Kyle: Pure Noise has been killing it lately with everything. Vanna put a new record out.
Brandon: Yeah, we see a lot of the Pure Noise releases before they get released. So we get to check those out and I think a lot of those releases are great.
Kyle: To The Wind’s new shit is really tight.
Anything that’s coming out in the next few months that you think people should have on their radar?
Kyle: Forever Came Calling’s new stuff. Since we’re with them, they’ve been showing us their new songs and they’re so good.
Brandon: We’ve also heard the Capsize – another band on the tour – we’ve heard a little bit of their new record that’s coming out on Equal Vision Records and it’s also gonna be sick.
Kyle: Set It Off’s new stuff is gonna be cool.
Brandon: We love those guys.
Kyle: Those are our best friends, and that stuff, I’ve only heard one – it wasn’t even like a real recorded thing, Dan [Clermont] had sent me a little teaser thing and it was sick. I like that band Knuckle Puck. And…that’s about it. GWAR. It always comes back to GWAR.
As far as I’m concerned, I think you guys only listen to GWAR and you’re just naming these other bands that you’re like, “I think pop punk kids like these bands? But we really just listen to GWAR.”
Kyle: Our new TM Rich – or Richard, or Ricky, or Tricky Dick, or Alex – he puts a lot of like, weird like jazzy synth pop stuff on, and it’s cool. Or like a lot of funk stuff that would be on Soul Train but it wasn’t recorded in the 60’s – it was recorded like, two years ago, which is tight. So that’s really cool.
What’s up next on the to do list for you guys?
Brandon: We’re gonna hit the road in October. The announcement will be right after this tour – you’ll see what the cool tour is. It’s gonna be awesome; we’re very excited. It’s a cool lineup – we can’t say anything about it yet, but if you keep a close eye on the internet you’re gonna start seeing hints towards it.
I don’t really go on the internet…what is that?
Brandon: Yeah, nobody uses the internet anymore, I know, but like, if you happen to have internet, you can check it out.
Alright, I’ll go to the library or something.
Kyle: Next year’s looking cool too, from rumors that are floating around the Handguns base.
Brandon: Yeah, I mean, we’re submitting for stuff and trying to stay on the road as much as possible to promote this new record. So we’re gonna be on the road pretty much most of the year; we’re gonna try to go overseas and try to stay busy.