Phenomenal Handclap Band is a seven-piece touring band and the purveyors of dance music one might be tempted to call groovy. Their self-titled album came out in June on Friendly Fire. PopMatters met up with the band at the start of their recent tour, specifically in their van behind the 930 Club in Washington D.C.
PopMatters: So, NPR called you guys the “perfect mix of everything from the last 40 years of popular music.” How do you respond?
Phenomenal Handclap Band: [in unison] Thank you!
PM: Eight is a lot of people. How does that go?
Daniel Collas: Well now, as far as touring band, it’s seven. This is the first time we’re going to try this. My production partner—who we produced and wrote the record with—he’s going to stay home a lot more and do more of the day to day stuff, like at the studio, at the headquarters. So now it’s seven, on the road. He’s with us in New York and in spirit. It’s a lot of people, a lot of personalities to wrangle, but really the only problem I ever find with this many people in a group is getting people’s schedules together for rehearsal. Mundane things like that. We get along really well though.
PM: How do you guys feel about file sharing, MP3s, that whole thing?
DC: It’s kinda great—so much music is available, especially older music. I don’t feel bad about getting stuff like older music because that stuff has already been out there. But obviously it’s kind of a drag because when we first put out the record, before it was even released it was up on all these blogs. It makes you aware of what that really means—file sharing. You don’t think of it as a big deal unless you’re directly related to the outcome, to the line of fire. People would blog about us and the entire album, and it’s like, why would you do this?
PM: You’ve played here a few times recently. How do you find D.C.?
DC: Yeah, we were here in the summer and in September. In the Summer, at DC9, we loved it. That gig was really good. This place really takes care of you well too, so it’s great. D.C. has been one of our first major “outside of New York City” cities.
PM: How do you find D.C. people compared to NYC people?
DC: Definitely different. It seems more collegiate for some reason.
Laura Marin: I lived here for a year before I moved to New York, and there’s a really good music scene. You have Adams Morgan, with all those live bands. And the Black Cat has great local bands too.
PM: So… “Witch Doctor?”
DC: Ha, yeah. Some antiquated nickname I got. The first record Sean and I made was in Brazil. We consulted this spiritual guy, kind of a witch doctor himself or a medicine man. There was this divining process he did and he told me, “You are the witch doctor.” This kinda white magic thing we consulted down there.
Joan Tick: It was actually black magic, but he’s editing it.
PM: Joan, you write fiction?
JT: I do. I write short stories and some non-fiction as well.
PM: Do you find that your musical experience informs that?
JT: I do! I think writing fiction is really musical. Structurally, and how you use language, I feel like it’s such a musical process. I’ve also written some short stories that correlate to songs. In a lot of ways you’re utilizing the same tools.