On November 4, Hand Grenade Job (HGJ) performs at our Fall Luce Unplugged Community Showcase in the Luce Foundation Center. We teamed up with Washington City Paper to present this experimental post-Americana duo from the D.C. DIY punk scene. With Beck Levy playing guitar and Erin McCarley on percussion, both women are vocalists and multi-instrumentalists. We chatted with Beck and Erin to hear how Hand Grenade Job takes a multidisciplinary approach to making music and creates dynamic performances using visual and performance art.
Eye Level: You define your band as post-Americana. How would you describe this type of music?
Beck Levy: We describe ourselves as "post-Americana" for a few reasons. I'm inspired by classic Americana like John Fahey, with whom we share a fondness for D.C. area waterways. I'm inspired by contemporary musicians like Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss, and Lucinda Williams. Our music is a departure from the instrumentation and style of those folks though, hence the "post." We're also fervently post-America in a futurist sense, in style, and in spirit. Utopias exist only in our hearts and in the future.
EL: Who are your musical icons? Where do you seek inspiration?
Erin McCarley: My inspiration lately has come from thinking about detachment and alienation from the natural world in modern life and how the distancing of our bodies, from a connection with the earth, impacts our human experience. Our senses are entrenched in a manufactured, industrial world our biological bodies cannot possibly have evolved to accommodate. What does it mean and how does it impact us to hear sirens, helicopters, airplanes, engines, and industrial sounds every day? The assault on our senses by chemicals, pesticides, and detergents; and the amount of manipulative advertising data we process in a day, passively or actively. We are adaptable, but what is the cost? This informs how I approach and think about HGJ as a post-Americana creative entity.
EL: Your live performances include elements of visual and performance art. Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process when preparing for a show?
BL: We spend as much time talking about what mood we want to evoke as we do practicing. We construct a different habitat for ourselves for almost every show. There are live samples we've only used once. There are entire sets we have only played once, and entire songs that we only wrote or learned for a particular show.
EL: How has your music evolved since you both started playing together in 2012?
EM: It continues to grow as a creative partnership that encourages and makes use of a multidisciplinary approach.
BL: We played a show on the first night of Passover one year; it also happened to be the anniversary of the Iraq War. So we composed an entire anti-occupation set. It was the loudest we ever played. We also had the honor of a third companion for a few performances: Carrie Mumah. Carrie has a unique energy I love. Her focus and restraint is palpable and felt very compatible with what we try to do. During that anti-occupation set, she marked a piece of handmade paper with wine, carefully and thoroughly. During a Valentine's Day set, Carrie knitted a white textile into a bowl of red water on her lap. And for another show, she sanctified the stage of the Black Cat with vetiver (you're welcome, everyone who plays there) and sat facing us, doing reiki on us.
EL: What is your advice to aspiring musicians in D.C.?
BL: Ignore other people's reactions and opinions of your music. Focus exclusively on your work for its own sake. Play exclusively for yourself and for your bandmates. If you don't like any of the scenes that are available to you, create your own, even if it's an anachronistic little bubble in the midst of another scene.
EL: How can fans access your music and are you releasing any upcoming albums?
BL: In January, we recorded our first full length album, Devotionals. We recorded it in a cabin in western Maryland between two blizzards. The album definitely evokes the setting in which it was created. Some songs are really minimal, vocals only. In others, we use every single instrument we hauled out there: guitar, accordion, autoharp, cello, marimba, timpani, and field recordings too. Immediately after recording, I took up an unconventional artist's residency at the National Institutes of Health. For 7 months I participated in research on the psychological effects of Ketamine. So, in a way, Devotionals is an album book-ended by snowstorms and psychedelics—and it sounds like one, too. We can't wait for you to hear Devotionals. Sister Polygon Records will be releasing it in early 2017. You can listen to our current music online here.
Hear Hand Grenade Job play Friday, Nov. 4, from 6-8 p.m. following a performance by K A G. The concert, presented in collaboration with Washington City Paper, will include free tastings from Bold Rock Hard Cider as well as a cash bar with additional drinks and snacks. Check out more details on Luce's Facebook page. See you Friday!