Holy hell – I actually interviewed a one-hit wonder band! This is the equivalent of interviewing the Born to Be Alive guy; or the Disco Duck. For those that don’t remember, The Phenomenal Handclap Band were everywhere (read: everywhere) at the end of the 2000s with their roller-disco earworm 15 to 20. I won’t recite any of the lyrics here, dare I awaken the hellbeast that is the song’s catchiness.
All things considered, this was a pretty cool interview. The guy was polite and insightful enough, and I can start to see myself finding my own voice in my features. Let’s dance.
– DJY, April 2014
The name Phenomenal Handclap Band might not mean much to you, the name Daniel Collas even less. Break into a disco beat with continuous counting in fives, however, and you’re bound to get some kind of reaction. After all, it’s the Phenomenal Handclap Band themselves – of which Collas is a founding member – that are behind one of the year’s biggest radio hits in 15 to 20.
If you were unfamiliar with the rest of the band’s work, you might suspect that the rest of the band’s sound revolves around a similar formula – hooky, slightly derivative and cheaply catchy. You may be surprised to know, then, just how incorrect this presumption is.
“It’s an anomaly,” Collas states from his New York residency – which he claims is currently “colder than anywhere in Europe” – when quizzed on 15 to 20’s success. “So much so,” he continues, “that I kind of didn’t want to include it on the album. There was back and forth talk about its inclusion, given it was so different to all the other songs.”
Despite Collas’ weariness, he’s still satisfied with the acclaim the song itself has received. His goal is to convert passing interest via the song into something more genuine. “I think it would be really neat for someone to hear that song,” he says (never once referring to the track by its title), “and check out the rest of the record, or come to a show, and see how different it all is to that one song.”
This is a trait that Daniel himself has adhered to in the past, noting that he has a self-described “weird history” of following bands with one distinctive hit that none of their other work has topped – at least, in commercial terms.
“You can tell from that song that there’s a good chance their other songs are going to be pretty cool, too,” he notes, using the example of Swedish band The Cardigans. “Back when they had that song Lovefool, I was already familiar with them, but that song was a really big hit. You can tell by the way that song is recorded and produced and written that their other stuff must have an inkling of something ‘cool’ in there.”
So with 15 to 20 labelled an anomaly, where then does that leave the rest of the work of the Handclap Band? The unique, retro boogie found in their tracks on their self-titled debut record can be traced back to a period of Collas’ very interesting listening experiences when moving back into creating music, after having spent time working as a DJ.
“The stuff I’d been listening to at the time that was really inspiring to me was kind of proto-techno stuff… early eighties dance music that was making heavy use of synthesisers and set sequences,” Collas explains. “I don’t know what it was about it, but it really flicked my switch for me. At the same time, I was also getting into groups like Dungen, and a lot of older bands that they were obviously influenced by – that kind of pastoral, psychedelic rock element.
“I found that those were the only two styles that I wanted to listen to. I had a background in soul music that I predominantly listened to, but at this point all I was really into was either this robotic dance music or this kind of psychedelic rock.”
It’s once Daniel himself explains this bipolar listening habit that the influences behind PHCB’s music begin to make a little more sense and connectivity. “The fact I was into these two styles at either end of the spectrum was really inspiring to me. It even started influencing my DJ sets – I was playing these long, blended sets of Contra or Jo Jo Moroder and people like that, and then I’d put on some Rare Earth or Wool; that kind of thing.”
The seven-piece live band that Collas has been working with have had a huge year of touring, including several European dates and shows with names like Friendly Fires and Franz Ferdinand. Despite the fact that a multitude of New York musicians are credited as having worked on the record – including former Blues Explosion man Jon Spencer and TV on the Radio drummer Jaleel Bunton – Collas maintains that getting the band together for the live aspect of the project wasn’t nearly as difficult as it could have been.
“It didn’t end up being that difficult, as a lot of the key players involved with the record were available to being involved with the live project,” Daniel explains. “We were kind of going the auditioning route to find the singers, because obviously everyone on the record has their own careers to think of. But instead of that, we just had enough people that were willing to do it, and it kind of took shape that way.”
The Phenomenal Handclap Band will see in 2010 with a visit to Australia. Not only is Collas looking forward to experiencing his first visit to our shores – “the natural phenomenon and the wildlife we’re all really looking forward to checking out” – he’s also anticipating the tour dates with fellow New Yorkers, Chairlift. Despite being in similar scenes, the two bands are complete strangers.
“We have some friends in common, but we have never even met them before,” Daniel confesses with a laugh. “It’s funny, because we’ve never played in Australia and we’ve never played with Chairlift, even though they live like a mile away – so we’re not going to meet until we get all the way down to Australia!”
Sure, it’s an odd way of going about things, but with their powers combined, we’ll be sure to be experiencing some very enjoyable shows in the coming weeks.