In time with the re-release of its most recent EP, The Sixes, a bold, hearty breath of polished rock and roll, Dead Fish Handshake are taking their act on tour for the first time. The release marks the beginning of a new chapter in the band’s life, while simultaneously nodding to their origin as an acoustic duo made up of guitarist Rob Ferreira and singer Matt Paul.
With bassist Darren Furman in tow and original drummer Matt Biehl back on board after being out of the band for over a year, the group of NJ and New England rock stalwarts is poised to make the biggest moves of its career.
Two (well, sort of three) releases into their career, the band had a good thing going to start but has showed supreme improvement to this point; something Rob credits in large part to Sevendust guitarist Clint Lowery, whose keen insight into composition proved invaluable during the production of The Sixes. Rob’s insightful chord layering, crafty riff writing and superior Les Paul tone have always led the way for Dead Fish Handshake, but on The Sixes, with the help of Clint, the rest of the group rose to meet him.
On the way back home from a trip to Vintage Vinyl, Rob took a call from The Aquarian to talk about the constant development of Dead Fish Handshake, the genesis of the band’s summer tour and putting together guitar tracks in the studio.
How often do you turn on WSOU and hear Dead Fish Handshake?
Well, I’ve definitely heard it a few times. I listen to WSOU at work online and whenever I get a chance in the car. I’ve heard it a couple times for sure. Every once in a while, I’ll get a text from a buddy of mine saying they’ve heard it. It’s definitely an awesome feeling to hear your song on the radio. That never gets old for me.
What’s the longest tour the band has done?
The most the band has ever done is a three or four-day weekend type of thing.
One of the things that’s real special about what we have in Dead Fish Handshake is that we’ve all been in bands for years. In a few years that we’ve been together, we’ve been able to do a lot of things that we’ve never done in previous bands. That’s a really cool feeling, and it feels good to do it with your friends.
We’re going as far west as Texas. We’re starting Florida. We have a couple dates there. Then we’re running through Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. That’s as far west as we’re going, but then we shoot up north, through the Dakotas and then back east through Illinois and Ohio. It’s like a big C until we have the homecoming in late July.
What’s the status of your next release? You mentioned to me a while ago that you might re-release The Sixes with bonus tracks.
Right. We’re actually in the process of tracking acoustic versions of the songs. One thing that people don’t know—or that people who have caught on recently wouldn’t know—is that [the band] started initially with [singer Matt Paul] and me acoustic. We’ve done a couple shows like that.
We did a show at Bergen PAC with just Matt and me acoustic, opening up for Ed Kowalczyk. We weren’t sure at first how the songs were going to translate in an acoustic setting and it ended up being great. So we thought it’d be awesome to do an acoustic EP type of thing. But I didn’t really want to do an acoustic EP and suddenly make The Sixes an old thing, like the “old record.” So we thought we’ll just do a couple songs off the record acoustic and then do a digital re-release.
I’m not a big fan of re-releases in general. They kind of feel sometimes like they’re a cash grab. But in this day of iTunes, you don’t necessarily have to do an album-only thing. But people who already have the record and want the new songs, they can just go and get those songs. That’s the beauty of the digital age.
So we’re looking to do that. We’re going to release some new tracks with The Sixes to coincide with the tour. We have that Kickstarter thing going and one of the things we’re planning is that we’ll do a covers EP, just acoustic covers. And we’re looking to do that when we get back. We’ve been writing too, so then we’ll think about pre-production for the new record.
How many songs did you end up writing for The Sixes? You strike me as a guy who has tons of riffs and songs lying around just waiting to be completed.
Yeah, we had a bunch of stuff. We probably had anywhere between nine or 12 songs that we wrote strictly for The Sixes. We had some old songs lying around too.
When we did the first record [Across State Lines, 2010], it was more of a collaboration between Matt and me. Then as the full band started playing together, we started coming up with ideas as a group. So we didn’t want to grab those old ideas [from Matt and me] and redo them. We had this writing period where we weren’t really playing out, but we were focusing on writing. Then we started demoing that material and giving it to [producer Clint Lowery].
There were some ideas that he thought needed a little bit more tender love and care, and then others where he had some ideas. So I would say, from nine or 12 songs, we narrowed it down to [the six tracks] that ended up being on The Sixes.
Do you think any of those songs will show up on a future record?
I would say there’s a lot of stuff there that I love, but working with Clint, we learned a lot. We took, in my opinion, a really big step creatively for us. We’re not reinventing the wheel or anything, but what Clint was able to pull out of us I’ll never forget.
Even the new stuff that we’ve been writing feels different. We’re using those learning experiences and those hints and things we learned from Clint, from just talking and working with him, on the new material.
So I’m not sure that the stuff we wrote before doing The Sixes would make a new record because that seems like the record that would have fallen in between The Sixes and Across State Lines. We don’t want to take that step back; we want to keep pushing ourselves creatively. We want to outdo the last record. It would be silly to go back at this moment.
Why did you name the tour after the song “Leave The Light On?”
We talked about hitting all these different areas we’ve never been. This is our first tour and we want to make an impression on the people that we do encounter on the road. “Leave The Light On” was kind of a metaphor for leaving an impression on who it is that we meet out on the road and who it is that we play in front of. Hopefully it means the same to the people we meet along the way.
Is there one moment at those Architekt sessions with Clint that comes to mind as a paradigm shifting moment for you or the band?
I think it was just being in the room and the times when Clint was in the room with us. There were a couple times he strapped on a guitar. It was like, “Wow, Clint Lowery is jamming on our songs with us.” That was a holy crap moment.
I’ve had the feeling before when listening to songs by other bands where something about it gives you goose bumps. I always said I don’t think I’ll ever feel that way about a song that I wrote because I watched it grow. By the time a song I wrote is done, I’ve seen all the imperfections along the way.
But when I heard The Sixes after [engineer Mike Ferretti] mixed it and gave it to us, it was that feeling. That was very special personally.
One thing I noticed recently when listening to the two records is that there aren’t really any guitar solos on The Sixes. What was the reason for that?
I’ve never been a shredder. My favorite guitar players are people like David Gilmour from Pink Floyd and The Edge from U2, who use a lot of different chord phrasing or layering. So I think I kind of took a little from them. I was just focused more on layering of guitars and how [multiple tracks] play off one another. There’s a brief solo at the end of “Turning A Blind Eye.” On “Leave The Light On” there was a solo, but we were changing some vocals around and we ended up putting a quasi-last chorus over the lead guitar track, so it sounds like I’m noodling a little beneath Matt’s vocal. I play that solo live; we do an extended version of that song.
Were you also thinking about what you can do live?
I’ve had countless conversations where people have said, “If you can’t do it live, don’t do it in the studio.” And I completely disagree. Imagine all the incredible music we’d be missing if all the four-piece bands in history only recorded one guitar track. I think there’s a time and place for everything, and in the studio I’m totally okay with any instrument being layered to that extent.
When we’re writing a song, at the very primitive stage, we’re doing it in a room with three or four guys. It’s working in that way. It’s working as a three or four-piece. So I know that later on, when you play it live, you can find a way to get that song across without all the extra ear candy that might be on record.
I’ve seen it done over the years. And sometimes people might want to go to the show and hear things exactly how they are on record, and I appreciate that, but I also think that if you’re going to go and basically just hear a louder version of what’s on record, it’s not as special.
If doing it live means the challenge of trying to make it work, we’ll make it work.
Dead Fish Handshake’s latest EP, The Sixes, is available on iTunes and through the band’s website. They play Architekt Music in Butler, NJ, on July 27. For more information, go to deadfishhandshake.com.