The new album by Handguns, appropriately named Life Lessons, is a fan favorite because it could have been written about any one of us. From Maryland and New York, Taylor Eby (vocals), Brandon Pagano (guitar/vocals), Kyle Vaught (guitar/vocals), CJ Wilson (bass) and Ryan Pyle (drums) gathered what they have learned so far and set it to music. The tracklist reads like a journal of life on the road as a touring musician, rendering the music as fascinating as an epic novel.
Life Lesson #1: The rockstar life is not all glitter and glamour. A top pick from the album, “The Loved Ones Who Hate Us” outlines that the reality of a musician’s life is not what people back home think it is. “Broken down stages and no hourly wages/A sunburn for weeks/And all our loved ones still hate us” is a stark vision of what happens to many bands on tour. The family may think they are partying all night, working for 35 minutes a day and sleeping till noon, but in reality most musicians must deal with dive bars, insufficient funding, and guilt at not being home to help out.
Life Lesson # 2: Every night is a new adventure. Playing the same songs night after night never gets old for Eby. He said, “You play in a different city every night. You don’t know what’s going to happen during (any given) song. I think there is always room for something new.” Fan reactions vary and energy from the audience makes each performance unique. Eby pointed out that the ever-present opportunity for things to go wrong also keeps them on their toes.
Life Lesson #3: Social media made music a whole new ballgame. Eby admits that the internet brought essential tools to musicians. It is a fast and comfortable way to get your band started with name recognition and original songs. However, to be successful an artist still has to pay his dues, which takes dedication, sacrifice, and hard work. He explained, “I didn’t write a song, put it on Tumblr, and the next thing is- this band is huge. I got in a van, I ate (when I could), we got robbed (of our instruments, equipment, and personal possessions), and panhandled down the coast. It was the best time of my life.” To a musician, sacrifices and hardship are bearable, because amidst the chaos they are still following their dream.
Life Lesson #4: Explain (again) why you do not have a real job. Strangely enough, the most relatable song on the album is titled “I Can’t Relate” and can be applied to anyone with a non-traditional career. Strong sentiments in the lyrics, “I don’t think that we’ll ever change/Don’t want to be put in my place/I don’t belong there” depict the frustration at having to explain their non-conformity. The song builds close to hostility by saying, “I can’t relate to your routines or your student loans/I grasped the things that I know all on my own.” Not everyone needs a degree or a nine-to-five job to contribute to society. And though life skills are essential to success, it is not necessary to learn them in a classroom. The most poignant statement comes at the end of the song, “Never needed much/Lived my life for me” which illustrates that true happiness cannot be measured in material goods.
Life Lesson #5: Follow your heart. The overall theme of Life Lessons is to do what you know is right for you. The stage performance by Handguns is stunning in its sincerity. Eby’s passionate vocals combine with solid rhythms and a punk rock beat that instantly inspires every person in the room to get up and dance. Their show is like being caught up in an enthralling movie, and the audience (myself included) literally followed each song to discover the next story. Eby is a young man with a poet’s soul that translates into songs that tug at your heart strings. His eyes light up when he speaks of his music, he is quick to smile, and makes no apologies for the life he is living. I walked away with a whole new appreciation of what it takes to bring the music of Handguns to the small stage at the Grog Shop in Cleveland. To be honest, I bought the CD and listened to it all the way home, because this is music that I want to hear more than once.