MEB writer Sarah McGonagle recently sat down with Handguns to chat about their new album, their biggest tour yet, Warped Tour, writing, and the respect you get when touring in only a van and trailer.
Let’s begin by having you state your name and your position in the band.
Taylor Eby: I’m Taylor, and I sing.
CJ Wilson: I’m CJ and I play the bass.
You’re releasing your new album, Life Lessons, in July on Pure Noise Records. What can you tell me about that?
Taylor: We recorded it in January, pretty much the whole month of January with a guy named Paul Leavitt. There’s ten songs on the record, and we had Alex [Gaskarth] from All Time Low come in and help out with some vocal production. The whole process was really cool, we all took our time to think out the songs and filter out what made us go, “well, should we really put this here?”, or “should we add this?”, or “will this make it sound cooler?”It was our first time really doing any sort of real pre-production, so we sent Paul our demos, and he rearranged so much of it. It was like, “wow, why didn’t we ever think of that?” It was really cool, the recording process was awesome.
What sets this new album apart from your previous album, Angst?
Taylor: I just think it’s an overall better record. It sounds like… well, it sounds like there are actually people playing the instruments. (Laughs) I just think we did it bigger and better this time around. It’s a lot more thought out. I don’t want to say it’s more mature or anything, it’s just bigger and better, and we’re all super proud of it. I love the way it turned out, I love Paul, and I’m proud that he could come out and help me out with some stuff.
How did you go about the writing process for this new release?
Taylor: Me and Kyle [Vaught, guitar], he was living at my house for a bit, and we would get to jamming out to some songs in my garage, and dealt from that. Next thing you know we had the skeletons for about ten songs. We ended up doing demos at this place called The Monster House, with this dude Mike Bridges. And we just kind of went from there. It was our first time really demoing and, like I said, really picking apart the song. For the most part, it was like any other writing process. Because, you know, you build from a drum part, you build from a guitar part, you build from lyrics, and you build from melodies. It was kind of all over the place. Brandon [Pagano, guitar] was sending demos back and forth guitar-wise, and we’d all come up with ideas, lyrics, and all that shit. I don’t want to say “generic”, ‘cause that sounds stupid. But it was, you know, a bunch of friends who wanted to write some songs and make a record. And that’s what we did, we made songs that we liked.
Are there any tracks on Life Lessons that you are, personally, particularly proud of?
CJ: I would say all of them.
Taylor: Yeah, I was gonna say that. Because all of them as a whole, I think we’re all super, super proud of what came out on the record. I wrote a song for my grandmother, who passed away last year. That was the first time, for me, that I’ve ever lyrically handled anything about death in my family. It was the first death in my immediate family that had ever happened, and Alex from All Time Low actually helped me out with the lyrics a bit, and really helped me get down what I was trying to say. I’m so proud of that song, I really like the way it came out. Like I said earlier, the record as a whole, we’re all super proud of it. We can’t wait for people to hear it. It’s a step up from the last album, for sure.
CJ: It’s so hard for me to choose. They’re all my favorites. They’re all so new, and I’m so proud of them.
You played Warped Tour for the first time this past summer, how does touring with a festival differentiate from touring with only a few other bands?
CJ: It was more hard work, a lot more hard work. I mean, waking up every day and having to be at the stage a certain time, long drives that last from 8:00 pm, and last sixteen hours, getting at the venue at 6 am or even later – it was really crazy. But, it was fun. I had fun.
Taylor: I did too.
CJ: But it’s so much harder, I feel.
Taylor: It’s definitely a lot harder. The sound is different. What’s cool about Warped Tour is that you have the same sound guy every day, so they kind of get a feel for you as a band. As a singer, there are some conditions that you’ve got to keep in mind. Like, we played these dusty-ass places, fucking dirt parks and it all ends up crawling into your throat. Ten minutes later, you’re on stage wheezing.
Touring with such a large crew and such a large group of people in general, how do you feel you made yourselves as a band stand out from the other acts?
Taylor: We did it in a van and trailer, which a lot of bands don’t do. We’re one of the few bands that did the whole thing in a van and trailer. People would be like, “I can’t believe you did the whole thing in a van!” and I’m like, “Really?”
CJ: We got mad respect just from that. Just from being in an old van and trailer.
Taylor: That sort of separated us from the typical Warped Tour idea of being on a bandwagon or bus, as opposed to how we literally just took a van and trailer out. And it wasn’t even that bad! I’m not knocking bandwagons or buses or anything, but we weren’t just sitting in our buses all the time, watching TV, because we didn’t have room to. We were walking around experiencing shit. I’m happy we did it in a van.
CJ: If we had to do it in a van again, I probably wouldn’t care as much. I might just say, “Fuck it, let’s do it.”
What were your personal highlights from Warped Tour?
Taylor: I always say one of the barbecues. I like the barbecues a lot! (Laughs)
CJ: The barbecues were really cool. We’d go to our trailer, put up a tent, and just chill. Play dice games, hang out, drink.
Taylor: I guess one of the highlights, though, was playing Philly on the tour was crazy. There were a shit ton of people watching us. We had two days like that, the other in California, and it was fucking unreal. Like, “Holy shit, we’re playing Warped Tour, and there’s all these people here to see us.” I used to watch to watch, like, New Found Glory play Warped Tour and think, “Goddamn, I wish that was me.”
CJ: My parents actually got to see me for the first time with Handguns at Warped Tour in Maryland. That was sick.
You’re finishing up a tour with All Time Low and Man Overboard. How was that?
Taylor: It’s definitely one of the biggest tours we’ve ever done. All Time Low’s got a pretty big production, and we’re used to it now, I think. We’ve learned to play for these bigger clubs and play these bigger theaters. At first it was pretty intimidating. I was forgetting words. I’d look out and see people singing some other song and then all of a sudden it’s like, “wow, did I just do that?” and I have to catch up. We’ve known Man Overboard forever, too, so it’s been awesome touring with those guys. They’re funny as shit. But playing these big-ass rooms, and obviously we’re coming to the tail end, I feel we’ve really established our live sound and just become a tighter band through playing these rooms. Having an actual sound check before doors every night, it helps. Our dude Mark, he’s been doing a couple nights front of house, and he’s been giving us great feedback. It’s been really cool getting our live sound down and being sure that, a) we’re sounding our best, and b) we’re playing our hardest. And it’s a wild thing to perfect. You could be the shittiest band, going hard as hell onstage, and people are still going to say “Well, their live performance was good but their music sucked.” And I think on this tour we really got it down.
CJ: This tour is awesome, but it’s also been like a learning experience. I guess you don’t really realize how much they put into a show like this, with production, lighting, sound, and everything they have. It’s just a total learning experience.
Taylor: Yeah, All Time Low especially.
CJ: All Time Low and even Man Overboard! It makes us feel like we’re so unorganized. Now we know what we should do and what we shouldn’t do, stuff like that.
What’s coming up for Handguns in the second half of 2014?
Taylor: There’s a new tour that’s getting announced for the summer, we have a tour in the fall, the record comes out July 8th – we’re busy! We’re going to be busy again, it’s what we do. We stay on the grind until the holidays, so our year’s booked. We will definitely be seeing people soon, and we’re definitely super stoked with all the tours that are going on, and I think kids will be stoked, too.