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Metal/Prog Metal Interviews

The Hidden Hand

Interviewed by Mike Korn
Interview with Bruce Falkinburg of Hidden Hand from 2004
This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2004 Year Book Volume 3 at

"Divine Propaganda" was a very strong debut for the Hidden Hand. How much pressure did that put on you to equal or surpass it with "Mother-Teacher-Destroyer"?
Most of DP was written very quickly, some of it actually in the studio in the weeks previous to the invasion of Iraq, So obviously a great deal of the lyrical content was driven by the current events of the period (i.e. "Tranquility Base" and "Divine Propaganda.") We actually received a lot of heat for the so-called "political" nature of the album, when in fact only a handful of songs were blatantly so. We also received some serious criticism for the lyrics. I think it was a review in Alternative Press that said our lyrics sounded like they were straight out of 9th Grade English Lit class! That one hurt. The riffology on DP was heavy, and decent, but not fully developed. Indeed, the album was just a hint of what we were capable of. So, yes, we felt like we needed to really deliver on MTD both musically and lyrically, and as it turns out, thematically. The whole thing came together quite logically, even though at the time it seemed chaotic. We took two months prior to our scheduled studio start date and just jammed, taping everything. I would go back through the hours of recordings and pick out the best parts, making rough CDs for Dave and Wino. We would then try to develop some of these ideas, and tape them again, until literally days before J. Robbins showed up, when we were able to give him a batch of twelve ideas. We tempo mapped them, and gave them working titles, and started to really organize them in the studio. While I was cutting bass tracks, Wino would be at home with the kids scribbling lyrics, and when he was doing leads I would be at home writing my lyrics. We would pick the songs - "I want this one." "I already have some stuff for this." "Oh, really? Let's hear it." "No, no. Its not ready yet." "Ok." And so on. Both Wino and Dave expressed their doubts about our progress and what was going on, but I was confident and so was J. It was not until we had the final sequence and spacing determined that we realized something special had occurred.
MSJ: "Mother-Teacher-Destroyer" didn't sound quite as aggressive as "Divine Propaganda". Is the anger that fueled the debut still there or has it changed into something else?
It has definitely changed into something else. DP was almost a punk record in its anger and its tongue-in-cheek attitude. We were all quite honest with the music and lyrics on MTD, and put a lot of hard work into it. There were countless late-night discussions, books flying around, various photocopies of weird art, etc. I know I personally decided to write what I wanted to, instead of trying to fit a particular niche as we did a bit on DP.
MSJ: The title of the album intrigues me. Are Mother, Teacher and Destroyer all separate entities or do they represent different aspects of the same thing? I thought there was kind of a Hindu or Eastern tone to the name.
It has definitely changed into something else. DP was almost a punk record in its anger and its tongue-in-cheek attitude. We were all quite honest with the music and lyrics on MTD, and put a lot of hard work into it. There were countless late-night discussions, books flying around, various photocopies of weird art, etc. I know I personally decided to write what I wanted to, instead of trying to fit a particular niche as we did a bit on DP.
MSJ: Symbolism seems to play a big part with The Hidden Hand. What do the images on the cover mean, if anything?
It is art, done by an artist named John Baumann who has his own background and deeper reasons for creating. He drew it for us out of the blue, and we were totally impressed, enough to commission him to do two more pieces to round out the art for the whole record, including the "alchemists bottle' and the upside-down sphere. All of the images mean something. It is up to the listener to find these meanings. We know what they are, but we're not telling.
MSJ: The vocal approach on this record is a lot more diverse than what I've heard Wino do before. I liked the multi-tracked vocals on "The Crossing" and the quiet, ominous approach on "Black Ribbon". A lot of releases today have the same vocal approach through a whole album and this avoids that? How much work went into the different types of singing here?
I sing both "The Crossing" and "Black Ribbon", as well as "Sons of Kings", and most of the background vocals on Wino's tunes (where there are any.) As a studio guy, and a music fan, I understand the importance of vocal production, and the ways it can be done. J Robbins is also a master of this, and loves to mix things up. Most of the production approaches were either mine or Wino's idea, and nurtured by J in the mix. I always stack my vocals almost in a R&B kind of way - two low, and two high. Wino usually does one track, with a few doubles thrown in, or my harmonies. Some songs needed to be dry and crisp ("Travesty") others lush and psychedelic ("Currents"). It all depended on what we thought worked best for the song and the mood we were trying to create. We worked really hard on the singing, because we feel it is one of our strongest suits. I would drag the C12 $4000.00 tube mic in front of the computer in the control room and tell everyone to go home, including J, and sit there punching myself in and out until I had my vocals for that song finished. Wino would be out in the studio on the opposite side of the glass from J and I would be napping on the couch, until something good started to happen. J was excellent in coaxing a stellar performance out of Wino.
MSJ: "The Deprogramming of Tom Delay" is a pretty strange title for an instrumental. How did that come about?
We got asked to do a song for the Doom Capital comp on Crucial Blast records, along with all the other local doomsters, and we wanted to do something really different, so I suggested a weird orchestral noise jam with tons of feedback, e-bows, etc. Wino loved the idea, picked up the ball and ran with it. He wrote out these elaborate charts of what sound would happen where, for how long, etc. He started calling it "The Assassination of Tom Delay," who is the Republican House majority leader. I thought the title was too strong, so we chilled it out to "The Deprogramming of Tom Delay." Well, we wrote "Rebellion" right around this time and used that for the comp instead. "Tom Delay" made its appearance in the closing days of tracking for MTD, and was basically the fruition of Wino's plan with J's assistance and a little riffage from Dave and myself. Sounds and editing are top secret.
MSJ: Are you guys more cynical than ever before about the way things are headed in America? "Travesty As Usual" seems to sum up some pretty bleak thoughts on the current political/social scene.
Yes. Enough said. This is a whole different interview.
MSJ: Bruce, you and drummer Dave Hennessy have a great chemistry. It reminds me of Ginger Baker/Jack Bruce in Cream in some ways. Can you explain about how you guys work with each other?
I am thrilled that you have put us in the same paragraph with Baker/Bruce. It has always been my goal to perform like these guys in those days, and we still have a long way to go, but we manage to trick folks every now and then. Dave and I run hot and cold. If one of us or both are tired and dragged out, not much exciting happens, but if we are rested, and focused, then watch out. I would argue that 85% of The Hidden Hand's music is a direct product of Dave and I chasing each other around until we find the pattern and structure. We constantly try to play off each other, and count the same, etc. We argue and scream and yell, and finally suss it out until we have something we both like. Usually, it is off the cuff, a subtle pattern that grows, a change thrown in by Wino. No, that sucks. Go back. How many times do you want to do that? No, that's too many. Boring. Go down a half-step there. Try it again. And so on. This usually happens at the beginning of rehearsal, and instead of rehearsing the songs we need to perform the following week, we spend the whole rehearsal chasing some idea or two until we have a song. Some songs survive until the next rehearsal and grow legs, most die on the table. People who see us doing this, especially Wino, think we should be taping everything, but, as on the pre-production of MTD, I rather save this tool until we really need it. If the song is strong enough, it will survive regardless. I don't think there is anything really new about this approach - its what happens in every good band. Even the tunes we individually bring to the table go through this fiery entry into the world.
MSJ: A cool thing about "Mother-Teacher-Destroyer" is that each song has its own identity. Even Wino's old band The Obsessed didn't necessarily have that quality. Do you guys fit the album together very carefully like a jigsaw puzzle or does it come together a lot more intuitively?
The sequence to this album, in my opinion, really makes it work on a higher level. Why? Not quite sure. I could probably sit down and study it, but the sequence seemed natural and purposeful when we decided on it. Once we had it assembled in its final form, there was no turning back. The sequence was like the period at the end of the sentence, or the lack thereof. along the riverrun...
MSJ: All of you guys in the Hidden Hand have been in the music scene for quite a while now. How would you characterize the market for heavy music these days?
I would like to think that the over-produced grid-rock* we have been force-fed for the past five years will leave the listening audience hungry for something more organic, and hopefully, we might be just the ticket. I would also like to think that heavy music with this organic vibe and strong melodic vocals will assert itself. I use Queens or Audioslave as popular examples. The trick is to also be able to perform the material and sing it live as well if not better than on tape. We can do that. (*hyper-produced, auto tuned, super-edited, computer based recordings - see POD or whatever happens to be playing on the local alternative rock station as an example.-Bruce)
MSJ: Bruce, you did a great job producing the Shepherd album. Do you have any more production assignments coming up?
Not really. I never really thought of myself as a producer, like J Robbins, or Brian McTirnan, or Matt Squire. I don't have the patience for it. Give me a good band with good songs and a great drummer, and I will give you a great recording, no doubt. Sure, I always have ideas, but I have always seen myself, like Albini, as a "recordist." This may sound cheesy, but I view a recording as a document, like a photograph, of a slice in time. Sure, there are ways to mess with the photograph to make it more interesting or pleasing to a broader audience, but I prefer to let the band do its thing, unless they are totally sucking, then I send them home to practice. I prefer to record classical music and jazz for this reason - pure recording, no tricks. Can I make a great record if someone wants me to with all the bells and whistles? Absolutely. I also prefer to work with younger or newer bands. I like to be the guy who gives a good band its first really good recording.
MSJ: Are there any touring plans for the Hidden Hand?
We are just a studio band, like Steely Dan. No, not true. Sorry. Big tours are hard to do when you are over 30 (or 40!) and you have significant others, children, jobs, and regular business to attend to. Not very sexy, but true. Its easier to do when you are 20 and don't mind living in a cargo van with five other dudes for six weeks at a stretch. We are trying, and successfully so far, to do monthly or periodic jaunts of three to ten days where we go and hit a portion of the world, like the West Coast. We intend to continue this pattern. Of course, if Grohl called and said he wanted us to go out with the Foo Fighters for a year, then we would figure it out and do it. There are rumors floating around of us doing some epic jaunt with Mastodon in the spring of '05.
MSJ: What was the last CD you listened to for your own enjoyment?
Mother Teacher Destroyer, The Hidden Hand. Heh. No, actually it was Roxy Music "For Your Pleasure." Go figure.
MSJ: What was the last show you checked out for your own enjoyment?
Probably Medic, Flowers In the Attic, and Baroness at the Warehouse Next Door in DC back in early Oct. I think. Awesome hardcore with a great crowd.
MSJ: What's the most memorable "Spinal Tap" moment you've experienced in your career?
Playing with Wino is like being IN Spinal Tap. Let's see. One quick tale from the edge. We are finishing our set on some deserted island in the Baltic Sea, and we all go backstage with the crowd screaming for more. Dave and I grab fresh towels and beers, and start to share a cigarette. Wino comes charging in. "All right. Let's go. You ready?" "Yeah, we're ready. Give us a minute." "Alright. I'm going," says Wino and charges back up the stairs onto the stage. Dave hands me the cigarette, and before I can take a quick drag Wino is back and he is furious. "What the f@#$? What the hell are you guys doing? Don't let me go up there by myself and leave me hanging? Are we going to play or what?" "Whoa, dude. It's only been like 30 seconds. We're coming." "Well, lets go, what the f@#$?" "Calm down, we're coming." "Calm down? Are we gong to play or not?" Wino is furious at this point. "Alright, alright, you grumpy f@#$." I was so pissed that I played the encore with my back to Wino for the duration. Afterwards, we are each on our separate sides of the stage angrily and noisily throwing our cables into our boxes when Wino comes charging across the stage and gets right in my face. Yelling. Screaming. Uh oh. I'm going to get hit, I was thinking. Then it was over, and we decided to be nice to each other for the rest of the tour regardless of the circumstances.
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