The Phenomenal Handclap Band started as an idea, grew into a record and morphed into a band. Daniel Collás and Sean Marquand met while DJ’ing in their home city of New York. Keen to move beyond the DJ scene and to create their own music, Collás and Marquand surveyed the vibrant New York music scene, and beyond, and pulled together a federation of musicians capable of giving musical life to the duo’s embryonic vision of 60s psychedelia, 70s funk and Latin American rhythms. The initial product of Collás and Marquand’s efforts came with the Phenomenal Handclap Band album; within a short period Collás, Marquand and a tribe of supporting actors had taken to the stage. And there’s no indication the journey has finished just yet.
“I first met Sean in about 1999”, explains Daniel Collás, on the phone from his native New York City. “We started DJ’ing together. We had a couple of successful DJ nights – I used to get other people to do guest spots, and Sean was one of the guys who guested with me”, Collás says. Excusing himself for the obvious pun, Collás says Marquand “was in the mix” as Collás started to ponder the possibility of creating new music, rather than playing other people’s. “Sean would play really crazy records from Brazil that I really liked”, Collás says. Marquand’s fascination with obscure Brazilian music would prove to be a significant element in the Phenomenal Handclap Band. “The nature of Brazilian music is that it knocks you out”, Collás says. “They’re trying to emulate American music to an extent, but it’s also completely unique”.
In 2005 Collás and Marquand journeyed to the Brazilian capital of Sao Paulo to collaborate on the production of a record. “After that we decided to tee up together and produce records”, Collás says. It may not have been their original intention, but the production idea quickly evolved into the desire to create an entire record from scratch. “We decided to do a record”, Collás says. “We thought why not get together other people that we knew from producing, playing and watching”, Collás says.
The result, Collás says, was “a who’s who of the scenes that we liked”, including Patrick Wood, Nicholas Movshon, Luke O’Malley, Laura Marin, Bing Ji Ling, Joan Tick and Pier Pappalardo. “These were people who I knew from being around”, Collás says. Collás and Marquand also set about identifying musicians to guest on the record, eventually dragging Jon Spencer, Jaleel Bunton (TV On the Radio) and Lady Tigra into the studio to help out.
Collás and Marquand settled on Phenomenal Handclap Band as the title of their new creation. “Early on it was more about making a record than forming a band”, Collás says. “We knew we needed a name, so we came up with Phenomenal Handclap Band. I thought it was a witty name”, Collás laughs. “So after we settled on that, it became the name of the record more so than the band itself”, he says.
The Phenomenal Handclap Band comes across as a spirited ride through the 60s and 70s, a journey overflowing with hip grinding funk, lush pop melodies and progressive psychedelic wigouts. “The stuff we were going to put on the record was mainly late 60s and early 70s”, Collás says. “We really like Dungen – Swedish psychedelia, also East German prog”. The original intention, Collás says, was to have a record comprising two sides of complimentary music. “On one side was going to be psychedelic stuff, and the other side disco stuff”, Collás says. “We wanted to have obscure, abstract disco, with prog and psych on the other side. When we were mixing the record we tried to mix the same type of stuff. We loved the dichotomy and disparate sounds, and we really wanted to bring those sounds together in the songs”, Collás says.
Notwithstanding the record’s separate aspects, Collás says he and Marquand did see a consistent theme running through the album – and that unifying theme was about having a ‘natural’ sound. “We were making a record that we hadn’t made before”, Collás says. “Sean had a set of influences, and so did I. So we decided to split the album between the two of us. The golden thread is that the record needed to sound natural. There was other stuff that we liked, but it didn’t work on this record”. Collás says. “This was more like a concept album that you can play from start to finish”, he says.
The next step in the Phenomenal Handclap Band journey was to take the record into the live performance setting. Initially, Collás says, it was about performing the record; subsequently it’s been about the makeshift band evolving into a ‘real’ band. “Nowadays we’ve become a band that play once a month”, Collás says. “The first time it was just playing the album. Now we’re playing songs”, he says. “And now that we’ve become a band, it’s a much different vibe. Originally we just had guest vocalists coming up and helping out with the songs, but now we’re more of a rock band”, Collás says.
Asked to summarise the vibe that the Phenomenal Handclap Band has created, Collás suggests a religious element. “With this record – and a lot of people don’t catch this – Sean and I would look at each other and say ‘we’ve created a Christian album’”, Collás laughs. “We didn’t mean that to happen, even though we were both brought up Catholic”, he says. Collás segues into describing an obscure record from the early 1970s recorded by some “hip young priests” which endeavoured to replicate the musical styles of the time. “The religious feel we observed had come up in terms of the textures and sounds of the record”, Collás says. “But we hadn’t realised it until when we were producing and mixing the record”.
Pursuing this theme, Collás suggests the religious aspect has helping in shaping the band’s live guise. “There is a spiritual presence on the record, and that went a long way to influencing our live sound”, Collás says. “We’re not out there smiling and clapping hands – but being a snarling grungey band didn’t appeal to us. We were into this idea of unity. We’re all close friends, and we’re really into presenting ourselves in that way”.
Catch The Phenomenal Handclap Band at Field Day Sydney, January 1st 2010! http://www.fuzzy.com.au