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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Heavy Hand Get Crass on ‘Northwoods Knives’

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While all the players in Heavy Hand do time in other acts, it would be selling the band short to dismiss the Milwaukee-based band as a “side project.” In fact, the group’s latest LP, Northwoods Knives (out Aug. 26 on Latest Flame Records), is one of the most fun—and funniest—records to come out of Milwaukee in 2014. It’s a good thing that the album is coming out during the warm, often carefree month of August: Band members Tony Weber (vocals/guitar), Isa Carini (bass) and Chris Roberts (drums) have put together nine songs that could be an indie rock fan’s summer soundtrack.

Part of the appeal of Northwoods Knives is that it sounds familiar—in a good way. Opening track “David Bowie Wants to Steal Your Baby” sets the tone right of the gate. The track is to-the-point, guitar-driven indie rock: catchy, but not annoyingly catchy; noisy, but not unnecessarily noisy. The band wouldn’t have been out of place opening up for the likes of Superchunk and Archers of Loaf at the Cat’s Cradle in the mid-1990s.

“I think we’re trying to pay homage to the music we grew up listening to without ripping it off,” explains Carini, who also plays tuba in The Scarring Party. Weber, who performs with Like Like The The The Death, makes this point a bit more colorfully: “I try to relate what we’re doing to Oedipus. Kill your father and do the sex thing with your mother.”

Weber’s comical allusion to Greek mythology highlights Heavy Hand’s secret weapon: a well-honed sense of humor. Track titles like “I Freed All Four Wizards,” “Milwaukee Cum Dumpster” and “Mother Fucking Bobcat” make it clear that the band doesn’t take itself too seriously. At the same time, Weber’s yelping, high-pitched vocal delivery only serves to make such tracks all the more off-kilter. Yet the band is far from a novelty act. A great deal of thought has been put into the group’s overall aesthetic. In explaining his decision to not include a lyric sheet for Northwoods Knives, Weber notes that “I like when people are forced to listen to the lyrics and sometimes mishear the words. I also like to not project the idea that anything we play is carved into stone just because we recorded it a certain way. Songs have a life of their own once it’s released into the world.”

Northwoods Knives takes its name from a store located in the Upper Peninsula. “I’ve spent quite a bit of time in northern Wisconsin,” explains Weber, “and a lot of the songs are about that magical place.” Yet Weber also notes that he is “fascinated by the idea that, to a lot of people from the Northwoods, I’m considered to be from the big city, while to the rest of world I may as well be from the Northwoods. This idea is pretty central to the theme of the album.” This feeling of being an outsider definitely informs Northwoods Knives. It’s not a “cool” record. It’s crass, at times inappropriate, and it doesn’t really sound like much coming out of the city at the moment. In other words, it’s a record you shouldn’t sleep on.

Heavy Hand plays the Cactus Club on Friday, July 18, with Body Futures and The Cell Phones. The show starts at 9 p.m.