If nothing else, Dead Fish Handshake’s story is one of practice, perseverance and figuring out what is really important in life and in music. Guitarist Rob Ferreira and singer Matt Paul started Dead Fish Handshake as an acoustic side project, something different that would provide relief from the local grind.

“I was in a metal band at the time up here in Rhode Island and Rob had Downshallow going,” Matt recalls. “We hooked up with some shows, so our fans kind of got to know each other and I always wanted to do some side-project stuff because I was a fan of his guitar playing. And I wanted to do something that was a little more rock-oriented.”

Eventually, as the songs got better and their respective bands dissolved, they upped the ante with electric guitar, and then added Darren Furman on bass and Matt Biehl drums (who recently left the band to be replaced by Jordan Kugler). The result, Across State Lines, is a polished six-song EP of swaggering, grunge-influenced rock tunes and poignant ballads that leaves you wanting more.

Sure, the band still hopes for an opportunity at mainstream triumph but after years of playing in bands, they believe there are more important things to music than ‘making it’ in the business. “I don’t think you get into music at any point other than because you love it and you want to be successful at it,” Matt says. “If a label came along, yeah, we’d want to sit down with them right away. But I want this band to be the voice of a lot of people and have them connect with it. To me, that’s success.”

Being in Dead Fish Handshake has been far from convenient for Matt. He lives and works in Rhode Island and faces a four-hour drive in order to come to band practice in New Jersey, where the rest of the band lives. “For the last 10 years of my life, all I’ve ever wanted to do was be in a successful band,” relates Matt. “We all go through the same thing; members don’t stick around, maybe you don’t get along with some people, or maybe money’s an issue or whatever. None of those things were really as important to me as the end all goal was, which was to be in a band that you were proud to be in.”

The distance between Matt and the rest of the band certainly raises a host of logistical problems. The band often write and rehearse instrumentally and email demos to Matt so he can come prepared to practice once or twice a month. “It’s not the most conventional way a band works, but because the drive and the desire is there, and because we’re all proud of what we do, it makes it work.” Rob declares. “We’re gonna make it work because it means that much to us. To cap it all off, that’s why we called the record Across State Lines, because that’s how it all started and that was the perfect blueprint for what we’re trying to do.”

The band has as professional a sound as any band in the local Jersey scene. They know how to write a song, and they know when it sounds good enough to put it in front of an audience. “The experience of just kind of having time, respectively, in different bands and coming together and knowing what we want, and putting in the time and effort when we go onstage that we have the set and the songs put together well enough that they’re going to carry over well in the live format,” says Rob.

Furthermore, there is no slouching allowed on the musicianship end of things. Rob is an accomplished guitarist who is right at home with a Les Paul in his hands and a Marshall behind him. His fiery southpaw riffing at times channels Kim Thayil or Dean DeLeo and adds a welcome strut to the harder rocking tunes. His solo on the EP’s second track, “Safe Place,” is a worthy pentatonic flourish that squeals, slides and shrieks, all while avoiding the recyclable and clichéd blues licks we’ve heard over and over again. “One of the things that I’ve always been a fan of has been the more memorable or the melodic solos, something that you can turn around and hum or whistle,” he explains. “When I approach a solo, I think about what the song needs or how it makes me feel, in terms of what approach to go with it. I want to do something that conveys a mood.”

Rob knows how to step up but unlike a lot of ‘lead’ guitarists he also knows when to tone it down and let Matt’s sturdy baritone lead the song. “I’ve had the same voice since I was 14, and I’ll be the first to tell you,” Matt laughs. “I was able to work with some really great vocal coaches in New England. I was a ‘90s guy. Eddie Vedder was a big thing to me, Chris Cornell, Scott Weiland, but I was also influenced by a lot of soul music, and even a lot of the crooners.”

Their loyalty to the rock heroes of the grunge-era is one of the most initially perceptible aspects of their sound. And they don’t see it as a negative stigma either. “I take it as an ultimate compliment,” Matt explains. “I feel like that decade of music was some of the better times in rock. I never thought of it as grunge. To me, a lot of those rock songs were just timeless rock. I don’t care what you call it as long as it resonates with you and as long as you feel connected to it.”

Connectivity and optimism remain paramount to the continued success of Dead Fish Handshake. Even with their lead singer living two states away, they see it as a positive. “One of the benefits of having Matt up there and us down here is the reaching out, being able to extend some gigs and some shows out and about,” Rob explains. “Everyone carries their weight and we’re able to stretch it out a little more. That’s something that we wanted to do on the outset. Not just play the same five-block radius every week.”

“The communication is key, and we’re not on top of each other, arguing every couple seconds. And like any relationship, when you’re far away, absence makes the heart grow fonder,” laughs Matt. “And once that’s all there, it’s bonded by a dead fish handshake and we keep going.

 

Dead Fish Handshake will be playing an acoustic show at The Cup in Linden, NJ, on Friday, July, 15. For more info, go to deadfishhandshake.com or facebook.com/deadfishhandshake.

 

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