It was around 10 p.m. on Dec. 2 and Boise band Red Hands Black Feet was hard at work preparing for the biggest moment of its career--if drinking PBRs and goofing around at the band's cluttered Bomb Shelter Two practice space can be considered hard at work.
"There's a lot of bands that want to play that show with us, so we better talk about that," drummer Jessica Johnson eventually said, veering the young band back on course.
The show in question is the release party for the group's long-anticipated debut album, These Things Are Important, which is on Thursday, Dec. 20, at Red Room. And the reason it has been long-anticipated is that the band hoped to have the album out in time for Treefort Music Fest, back in March. Clearly, that did not happen. And there were serious questions about whether the band would have it ready in time for Treefort 2013.
Asked why it took so long, guitarist Eric Larson simply said, "Life."
In addition to numerous overdubs as part of a nearly self-destructive quest to get it perfect, "life" includes the fact that Larson fronted most of the $2,000-plus in recording costs himself with his late night job slinging pizza at Pie Hole.
Over the year the band has been recording, and the two and half years that preceded it, Red Hands Black Feet built a fierce local following for its sprawling post-rock dissections of time and space.
And that's why so many local bands want to be in on the show.
"You guys just want to get drunk, make a chart of band names and point?" Johnson asked.
The decision was eventually put on hold so the band can get back to practicing for the big show. But before it started a single song, a can of PBR was spilled onto guitarist Jake Myers' amp, which promptly stopped working and ended practice for the evening.
"So, this is band practice," Johnson joked on the way out the door.
None of the band members were concerned about the aborted practice. Larson said the band has been playing its songs long enough that the difference between a good show and a bad show has more to do with what he ate that day than how much he practices.
Strangely enough, this devil-may-care approach is about par for the course. Talented as its members may be on stage, Red Hands Black Feet doesn't do much to keep pace with the Internet age offstage.
The band's music is written using a sort of line-graph that Larson and bassist Joey Myers employ to illustrate the desired peaks and valleys of dramatic tension. The resulting songs routinely run 10 minutes or longer, using blazing guitar work and solid drum beats to create expansive atmospheric intros that lead to song-length crescendos as layered as a feature film. Whereas some bands use music to paint a picture, Red Hands Black Feet paints a mural--likely the kind you'd see on the side of a mid-'70s van, with barbarians challenging the heavens to a fistfight.
Myers described the group's first tour, a Northwest loop performed in the summer of 2012, as something the band "kind of fucked its way through." There were three-day gaps between dates, nights spent sleeping upright in Walmart parking lots and shows that the band booked the day of by walking around towns asking if there was anywhere to play.
Larson says the band hopes to repeat that route in 2013 but with more shows and better planning. He also thinks the album's release will help better secure shows.
But the problem with all those big plans is the band took so long recording its debut that it's already focusing on the follow-up: a concept album about space travel called Hail Sagan. Larson even said that as much as he is looking forward to it, he also kind of just wants the album release over with.
"I don't want to say I'm tired of [the songs on These Things Are Important], I'm just really looking forward to new songs," he said.
But Larson also admits that work on the album took so long that he started to lose perspective.
"Sometimes I forget what it sounds like when I'm playing it, and then I listen back, it's like, 'Fuck, yeah, that's cool,'" Larson said.
Another thing keeping the band hooked is that These Things are Important will be the first album release for everyone involved in Red Hands Black Feet, which is hardly an everyday moment.
The release is especially big for Johnson, who said her parents are less-than thrilled about her ambitions. Though her time spent playing in a marching band made her stick work in Red Hands Black Feet the envy of many of Boise's young drummers, she said her family would have preferred that she pursued piano.
"I finally have something to show for my almost 13 years of playing drums," she jokes.
Even though local interest in the album is high, These Things Are Important isn't likely to shoot to the top of the charts or allow Larson to step down from Pie Hole anytime soon. But he and the rest of the band all said that getting the album out, finally, is enough for now.
"If I can look back on it in a few years and not be embarrassed by it, and say, 'Oh, this lead us somewhere,'" Larson said. "That's success."[ Video is no longer available. ]