Barely Eagle bandmates Ricky Thompson and Tom Butler get quieter but maintain the darkness in Suffering, Praying Hands
Suffering, Praying Hands' debut full-length is a black, sunless affair, filled with references to strangulation, the hangman's noose and darkness eclipsing light. Indeed, even when the musicians sing of the heart on “These Hands,” it's merely to describe it as a vulnerable organ that can be broken, bruised and betrayed.
“We were both going through some heartache, and at one point I was listening to one of the [instrumentals] Ricky [Thompson] didn't have lyrics for, and I was like, 'Can I write some words for that?'” said bandmate Tom Butler, who joined singer/multi-instrumentalist Thompson for a mid-March interview in the Brewery District. “We just got in this mode where — as corny as it sounds — writing those songs was how we were trying to find our way out of that heartache and depression...”
“...instead of locking ourselves in our rooms all the time and sleeping,” Thompson said, finishing the thought.
That Thompson and Butler can occasionally complete one another's sentences shouldn't surprise. In addition to being longtime friends, roommates and label co-founders (Suffering, Praying Hands' debut will be released on the pair's cassette-only concern, Kvltvre Klvb), the two have played together in a number of bands, including now-defunct Church of the Red Museum and still-active projects like Barely Eagle and Muscle Puzzle. “Instead of playing in one band for 20 years we've played in 20 bands over 20 years,” Butler joked.
But while other projects generally prize volume (Muscle Puzzle tracks, for one, can mirror field recordings taken at one of the “Saw” horror houses), Suffering, Praying Hands songs are quieter and more ominous, colored in musical saw, cello, acoustic guitar and Thompson's sing-speak baritone — a far cry from the throat-blistering yowls he's employed in the past.
“When we started doing this … we would come home from Muscle Puzzle practice and I would start recording, and my voice was just destroyed from screaming and I had this crazy baritone I didn't even know was possible,” Thompson said.
Working with friends — nine musicians ended up contributing to the recording — Thompson and Butler fleshed out the cinematic songs, which were informed, in part, by John Carpenter film scores and the classic spaghetti western soundtracks of Ennio Morricone. These influences even bled over into the songwriting, with Butler approaching his work like a would-be screenwriter, developing a running storyline the two now view playing out in a trilogy of albums.
“We're both fans of '70s cinema, and we wanted to incorporate some elements of that into [the music] so it unfolds sort of like a movie,” Butler said.
At the start of recording, which ran off-and-on for three months beginning last July, Thompson and Butler envisioned Suffering, Praying Hands solely as a studio project. Upon completing the album, however, the two opted to adapt the songs for the stage, beginning with a cassette-release show at Big Room Bar on Friday, March 24.
“There are five people, generally, live. It's pretty scaled down,” said Thompson. “I learned a lot being in the [avant-noise] band Drose. Even though it's a completely different genre of music, it taught me when it was important for an instrument to show itself. So there are times when all of us are playing, but for the most part an instrument kind of peeks out, does its thing and then goes back into hiding.”