In Conversation with Charlie’s Hand Movements

Influenced by Radiohead, Blur and Talk Talk, multi-instrumentalists Adam Gardner and Lance Keeble have created a unique breed of, well, it’s difficult to define them. Performing as Charlie’s Hand Movements, Lance and Adam have self-released two albums and several EPs. We speak with the duo about their track ‘Porcupine’, staying motivated and much more.

Why did you decide to enter the music industry?

Adam:  Well, we don’t know anything about the industry as such, but Lance and I bonded quickly over our mutual tastes and decided to make music together almost immediately. In fact, it’s now almost 15 years since we first met and I could count on one hand the amount of times that we’ve spoken about anything other than music – be it our own or just music in general. I think it was just understood right from the start that this was what we were going to do from that moment onwards.

I remember one of the first things we did was make each other ‘Worst of’ CDs of our own material up until the point that we met. I still have the one that Lance gave me. Funny thing was that his worst stuff was better than my best.

Can you tell us about your track ‘Porcupine’?

Adam:  ‘Porcupine’ is the opening track on our new record, Nuclear Tapes, which is a crazy 38-track triple album. It was the first song that we began for the project and was always intended as the opener. It’s very much a song that’s about the realisation that life is fragile and temporary, set to a diseased disco backbone. Interestingly, the very first sound you hear on the record is a pretty shoddy mobile phone recording of a ukelele riff, and this came directly from the original voice note we made.

Lance had come over on New Year’s Eve one year and we inevitably ended up messing around with instruments. For a long time, it was just a silly little ukelele riff until Lance made a demo that sounded something like a 1980s Rod Stewart song gone wrong. Somehow it then mutated several times into the version that ended up on the album.

What was the recording and writing process like?

Lance:  The writing for ‘Porcupine’ actually spanned over 4 years. It came from a mobile phone demo we made with a ukelele of all things – part of which can be heard at the start – then it evolved through many forms over the years. The structure was constantly changing too; the bridge originally opening the song and new parts introduced later on. When Adam came up with the counter melody (‘blistered to the touch, porcupine’) the song seemed to come together pretty quickly. I think we joked at one point that the song would have about 12 hooks throughout, then all the hooks and melody lines would play simultaneously at the conclusion creating an oversaturated mess of pop motifs.

During the sessions for Nuclear Tapes, Adam would often send me curious audio recordings from his daily life – a few of these ended up forming the basis of instrumentals on the album. One of these recordings was of his work colleague contemptuously smashing a metal bar against a hard theatre floor. This found its way into ‘Porcupine’ as a sample underneath the snare. It kind of sounds like a whip crack, befitting the song’s theme of pleasure and pain.

 

 

Does the single have any significant meaning for you?

Lance: The song’s theme lies in the realm of ‘YOLO’ I guess, with the narrator accepting the likelihood of being put through pain in his pursuit of a love interest. We intentionally obscured the chorus with vocoders so as not to sound too preachy. Vocoders are cool: you get to make it sound like the words are coming from an all-seeing extraterrestrial being rather than a human coloured by their own subjective experience.

What do you hope people take from your music?

Lance: I hope they can hear the love we put into it. We still doggedly believe in the album format, even in this age of shuffle buttons, streaming and playlists. We just want to make great records.

What is more challenging for you – melody or lyrics?

Adam: For me, personally, it’s always the lyrics that are harder. Even with my somewhat limited musical skill set, I find it easier to come up with a musical idea than to write words that mean something. The more you try to force the process, the worse the results usually are. I think that things tend to come when they’re ready or when you’re open to them. Maybe it’s one of the reasons why it takes us a long time to make something.

Working with Lance really helps though because we can throw ideas at each other and know that the other will approach it from a completely different perspective. I think that being slightly in awe of another person’s abilities is a great way to raise your game, so to speak. If Lance writes something great I’ll always feel the pressure (in a good way) to try and get somewhere near it.

How do you keep yourself motivated?

Adam: I think we just want to make something objectively great. At any given time, we’ll usually be excited by ideas that one or both of us will have. At the moment the motivation is fuelled by the reaction (very, very modest though it is) Nuclear Tapes seems to be getting, but we also have another album – Everybody Earthbound – that’s complete and ready to release before this year’s out too. We recorded it at the same time that we made Nuclear Tapes, but it’s the complete opposite.

On top of that, we’re also exchanging files via email for an album that will hopefully follow Earthbound into the world next year. If anything I think it’s the possibility of what we can do next that keeps us motivated. Maybe one day we can make a record that you could listen to after a Radiohead or a Talk Talk LP and you won’t notice a laughably huge gulf in quality.

How would you describe your sound?

Lance: Existentialist bedroom space-rock with a generous dollop of self-deprecating Englishness. But that’s just at this moment in time, we’ve never been ones to stick with a particular sound.

What do you think is the best way to discover new music?

Lance: For me, YouTube’s recommendations have always been pretty great at directing me to new music. Other than that, it’s reading interviews of your favourite artists and picking up on what they’re digging, isn’t it?

What does the future hold for you?

Adam: It’s difficult to say really. I moved to Scotland at the end of last year, so there’s now a 400-mile distance between the two of us. Playing live has always been a quandary for us, but now it seems like a physical impossibility. I just hope that we can continue to make and release music together.

Only five weeks or so ago both of us thought that we were over as a band with my moving away being the final nail in the coffin. So, I’m just overjoyed to be sitting here answering questions about what we do. I can’t wait to release the next record and then, after that, to see if we can realise the potential in the next batch of songs.

Do you have a message for our readers?

Adam:  It’s a strange time we’re living through. I guess life at the moment is just about getting through each week without imploding. I know that my wife and I are pretty much climbing the walls and really starting to feel the strain of not being able to go out or take our son to see family. We have to constantly remind ourselves that just getting by is okay right now. To be really pretentious though, there’s a great Radiohead line from a song called ‘Optimistic’ that says it really succinctly: the best you can is good enough.  That, and don’t be an idiot to people on social media. Both seem like good rules to live by – especially now.

 

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