Vocals, Guitar: Justin Isham
Drums, Bkg Vocals: Paxton Pryor
Bass: Michael Anastasi
Guitar: Sean Woods
Open Hand's new album, You And Me, is an epic guitar rock masterpiece. An ambitious record of thrilling contradictions: crushingly powerful yet beautiful; impossibly complex yet accessible; classic yet wildly futuristic. A bold, genre-destroying album that in just 41 minutes manages to obliterate the boundaries between indie rock, metal, stoner rock, hardcore, prog and garage rock.
The only thing more remarkable than the music, however, is the fact that You And Me exists at all. Only a year ago, it looked as if the band may never make another album.
The summer of 2003 was a dark time for Open Hand. Following a European tour with Poison The Well in support of its acclaimed debut The Dream, the band's bassist and guitarist abruptly quit, forcing guitarist/vocalist Justin Isham and drummer Alex Rodriguez to put Open Hand on hiatus. "For awhile we were just sitting around doing nothing," Isham says. "Just trying to figure out what to do next". With the band's future uncertain, Rodriguez soon left to tour with the more active Saosin.
Alone after Rodriguez' departure, Isham retreated to his home studio in Los Angeles, determined to reinvent Open Hand. "I was devastated that the band was falling apart at the time," he says. "But (the experience) just motivated me. It forced me to focus, work harder and try to put everything back together."
Isham quickly reconnected with drummer Paxton Pryor, a longtime friend who was then playing in the LA garage band The Vacation. Pryor proved to be the secret weapon that Open Hand was missing - a versatile, deep pocket drummer able to shift on a dime from frantic metal blasts to Bonham-esque power grooves, to anything in between. And he could sing. Pryor soon left The Vacation to focus on Open Hand full-time.
Isham and Pryor spent the summer of 2004 recording at The Blasting Room in Ft. Collins, CO with producer (and former Shiner bassist) Paul Malinowski. The result: You And Me - a bombastic 14-track masterwork on which Open Hand cover more musical ground than most artists do in their entire careers. Isham's brilliant guitar work and effortless vocals (Kerrang says he has "voice of pure velvet") and Pryor's deft beats are the album's constants as the band segue seamlessly from crushing, Sabbath-inspired metal ("Hard Night", "Pure Concentrated Evil"), to druggy, Jane's/Pumpkins space rock (title track, "Jaded"), to beautiful ballads ("Trench Warfare"). "Crooked Crown" suggests what a Failure/Tears For Fears collaboration might sound like. There are even a couple of rhythm-driven pieces: the stony, Fender Rhodes & conga-heavy "Her Song" and the trancelike "Newspeak".
"Tough Guy" and "Tough Girl" are standout tracks. The songs share more than similar titles - they both carry a sexy rock n' roll swagger, feature soulful backing vocals from Pryor, and are the catchiest songs on the album. "Tough Girl" is also one of three duets on You And Me (along with "Take No Action" and "Waiting For Katy") that pair Isham with guest female vocalists. Think Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell by way of Kurt & Courtney. "I've always wanted to have other people sing on our records - especially strong, empowered women. It's so boring to just hear a dude singing all the time about the kind of stuff that dudes sing about. It's refreshing to get a female perspective", laughs Isham. "What's really cool about it on these songs is that the girls' voices are so much harder and more raw than mine. I sing the pretty parts. It's awesome."
The future again looks bright for Open Hand. The band has made an album that seems poised to unite the world's hipsters, metalheads, stoners, record freaks, guitar geeks, rockers and emo kids. Since the completion of the album, Open Hand has reteamed with original bassist Michael Anastasi and onetime guitarist Sean Woods to complete the most solid lineup in the band's five-year history. Videos for "Tough Guy" and "Tough Girl" are in the works and extensive touring is planned for 2005, including return trips to Europe.