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New Groove

Published: 2008/11/23

Five Eyed Hand

Once again our readers stepped up and selected our latest New Groove of the Month. This time they overwhelmingly cast their ballots for Northern California-based Five Eyed Hand. The band consists of Christopher Zanardi (Electric Guitar, Vocals, “Weird Sounds”), Derek Bodkin (Drums/Percussion, Vocals, Whistling, Acoustic Guitar, Harmonica), Mikey Henderson (Electric Violin, Mandolin, Vocals) and Jeb Taylor (Bass). Five Eyes Hand has a steady flow of gigs on the horizon, including a two night stand in December with guest Eric Levy (Garaj Mahal).

Can you talk about the development of the group?

We first started playing together at parties and clubs around the Bay Area a couple of years ago. We used a last name acronym as a band title (BTZ at first and then BHTZ when Mikey joined). We ended up at an out-of-this-world party at the Cotton Candy Castle in Oakland with our good buddy Sam Flot (performance poet). We did not have a name up until about 2 minutes before show time. Sam Flot walks up to me and said, “OK Zanardi, see this list of band names that don’t have asterisks by them? Go ahead and choose a name from the list for the band tonight.” I chose one of my favorites poems of his called “My Five Eyed Hand”. Throughout the night we were having fun calling ourselves “Five Eyed Hand”. By the time the sun came up we knew we had a keeper.

How did you meet and how did the current line-up solidify?

Chris Zanardi: Well, in the summer of 2006 Fiddler Mikey had a bachelor/bachelorette party with an open acoustic jam. I ended up playing mandolin with this great singer and acoustic guitarist, Derek Bodkin. We just had a connection right on the spot. (I had played with Mikey and Jeb in projects a couple of years prior.) Shortly after, I ran into Derek again at High Sierra Music Fest and he informed me that he was a classically trained jazz drummer. At that time I was in transition from a previous band and was looking to play with as many cats as possible. I called up Derek and Jeb and asked if they wanted to play a show. (We actually booked two shows before playing together.) The next obvious choice for a fourth was Fiddler Mikey.

It seems that the group draws on a range of styles and genres; can you talk about the diversity of the members musical education and training?

Derek Bodkin: The professional jamming and improvisational music scene is so incredibly diverse; it’s a terrific place for musicians to bring their eclectic backgrounds. With less rules put upon sticking to one sound, one look, or one genre, Five Eyed Hand is free to explore and embrace all of the ingredients that each member brings to the band. For instance, some of us have studied music extensively in a college setting, while others have been dedicated to private study. One is not better than the other and each of us brings our personal musical influences freely to the band with dedication to completely honoring each song. Some of these influences are: Classical, Musical Theater, Jazz, Rock, Bluegrass, Country, Folk, Comedy, Avante Garde, Movie Soundtracks and Baroque. What makes working in this project so special is that we embrace any sound, interpret that sound, and make it our own. Then we eagerly present it to the listener. We love the audience and want the listener to be as stoked on our music as we are. Additionally, we want the audience to be part of the show. Stalwart dedication to musical truth and passion for music is what makes each song, whatever style, the best it can be. This is Five Eyed Hand.

A least a few of you have been in other groups prior to Five Eyed Hand, how has that impacted the development of this group?

Mikey Henderson: I think it's easier to understand the commitment required and trials and rewards along the way. Communication tends to be more honest and focused with a little experience under the belt. A huge plus, of course, is that all of the contacts we have made before 5EH are in play now. Our connections are also a bit deeper with regards to booking and club recognition.

A number of notable, guest players have sat in with the group over the years. Can you talk a bit about making those connections and how all that has come about?

Jeb Taylor: We've been extremely lucky and very pleased to have heavy cats like Fareed Haque, Eric McFadden, James Whiton, Trevor Garrod, Christian Zupancic, and Sean Lehe play with us. Eric Levy from Garaj Mahal is playing two shows with us in December; yowza! These collaborations have been able to happen because we are down-to-earth people and sincere about making music. These guests are also quite kind and generous, as well as monster players!

How would you describe the vitality and support of your local California music scene?

Chris Zanardi: Oh man, I think it’s just insane right now in the Bay Area. There are so many great artists and bands in the areait’s just nuts. I personally love it; I think the better the bands and music that is going on the better it is for everyone. It gets folks stoked on good music and we love being a part of that, especially all the Five Eyed Hand fans that have really supported us over the last 2 years. (BIG thanks for the votes!!!~)

We are really lucky to have “team 5EH”. 5EH’s manager, Chris Seeger, has been handling artist relations; Bridget Haworth does promotions and publicity; and Bill Ward, a talented musician and lighting pro, has been doing amazing lights and stage hand work for us. Of course, along the way many folks have helped us in many contexts. We thank you!!!~

What is the farthest Five Eyed Hand has traveled for a gig and what is your approach to performing locally versus attempting to build a national following?

5EH Manager, Chris Seeger: 5EH has played almost exclusively in Northern California with a stop in Reno. As a somewhat fresh band on the scene, we are pleased to have made it as far Mt Shasta and Lake Tahoe and to events like High Sierra and Bobolink Music Fests in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Bay Area is a great place for an up and coming band like 5EH as there are many viable pocket markets within a few hours and many more thriving scenes within a half days drive. Currently, we are exploring short tour formats options that will bring us through the western states this winter>spring while continuing to jam locally between mini tours. Building a national following will come from many avenues. Performing at nationally recognized festivals within our geographic region has been our best bet so far. Organizations like BRO (Bay Recorders Association) and free download sites help greatly in getting word out by offering our shows to fans without any cost to the band and little (or zero) cost to listeners. This is invaluable for grass roots and national development. Nothing beats word of mouth though (web connections really) and personal sharing from enthusiastic fans. We actually have a new fan that has never seen a show, but has purchased our entire BRO catalogue (and plays the shows during the fitness classes that she teaches).
What impact if any have fluctuating gas prices had on the group?

Jeb Taylor: Recently, gas prices have dropped quite a bit. Things looked scary this past summer when gas was heading towards five dollars a gallon! Our long-term goal is cost-efficient, environmentally-friendly travel. Bands like Hot Buttered Rum and Blue Turtle Seduction have proven that this is possible with bio-diesel buses. Hopefully not too long from now, there will be even more possibilities for fuel efficient road-tripping, whether it's bio-diesel, newer hybrid technology, electric vehicles, or something else altogether. We can't wait for the day when a hybrid or electric bus is feasible, and affordable! We'd like to say we have a team of eco-scientists diligently working on newfangled transportation just for ushybrid hovercrafts, for example. However, if we said that, it wouldn't be true and it would sound silly.

Who writes the band’s music? How it is typically presented to the group and how does it then come together?

Derek Bodkin: We all write songs and bring them to the band. This may happen in the form of a complete song or a groove idea. Sometimes songs are automatically ready, requiring only minor fine tuning, and other times we work out a “musical roadmap” as a team. Some of the most rewarding experiences are when one of us brings a musical idea or melodic motif to the proverbial band table.’ We all play with it, thus writing a tune together. Sometimes these ideas spring up during breaks in rehearsal when playing with random notes and ideas suddenly a new song is born. Right out of thin air, Five Eyed Hand sculpts a musical creation equally. These collaborations are my favorite songs. (Ex – “TTIS” and “Rumpshaker”)

How do you approach its original songs in the live setting?

Seeger: The bands original songs are living art forms. It has been interesting and pleasurable to hear songs develop over time. They always seem to get better so attending shows is continually impressive for me. After a half a year of 5EH gigs I am still enthusiastic about seeing what they come up with next. Without fail, every show has someone commenting on how much better or tighter the band has become.

What about covers, can you talk about what songs you toss in from time to time? Who selects them?

Derek Bodkin: I’ve always viewed cover tunes as a terrific way to identify with the audience, to show the listener our influences and (in some cases) our sense of humor. It’s a great feeling to see the listener react to a tune that really makes them smile or might have been a favorite of theirs long ago and stored in the backs of their mind, which we may bring to life again. No single member has final say on a cover tune, but instead we all agree on bringing it to the stage. We’ll try almost anything as long it comes from a place of positive stoke. I’m sure most people know what I mean if you are listening to some recording or radio tune and a song strikes you with that “I love this song” excitement why not play it? This is why one might come to a Five Eyed Hand show and hear a Frank Sinatra big band swing tune in the same set as an ethereal song by George Harrison. With any cover tune we generally like to give it a little Five Eyed Hand flavor of our own. The “Hand Stamp”, if you will.

In terms of cover tunes can you talk about any spectacular successes and failures?

Derek Bodkin: We don’t really have any “failures” per-say, but there are some cover tunes that only stick for a little while. Often times some of our most successful cover tunes involve guest artists joining us. One of our most successful covers was Miles Davis’ “Jean Pierre” with Fareed Haque at 12 Galaxies. There is incredible energy from every player on stage. This video and mp3 are available on our website.

How often do you rehearse?

Chris Zanardi: We have our own small studio/practice space that has been the best thing for us. Everything is set up. Space is tight and we are literally right on top of each other so it really makes us listen to each other and soak up the music. What’s great about this band is we will go and play 3 shows in a row then come back and rehearse in-between gigs for 2 days. Then go back out and play some more shows.

What do you focus on when you get together for rehearsal?

Jeb Taylor: Generally, we like to polish old tunes and learn new ones. Specifically, working on songs can take the form of changing or finalizing arrangements, working out individual parts, adjusting tempos, rhythms or feels, adding subtle details, or playing through a brand new tune for the first time. We also work on how we play together as a group and improvise, so we might do an exercise just to listen to each other or focus on a style, time signature, mood, or chord sequence.

Can you talk about some of your performance highlights thus far. Is there a gig (or gigs) that stand out? Why?

Mikey Henderson:

High Sierra Music Festival 2008 We had three scheduled performances and multiple improvisational opportunities.

Cotton Candy Castle – The home of some great friends who host bands like they are family members. This is the birthplace of the band.a very intimate space where there is little separation between the band and the audience which makes for a very interactive experience.

Garaj Mahal run in Fall of 2007 – We had an amazing opportunity to open up for Garaj Mahal in SF and Santa Cruz, 2 nights back-to-back.

What about a studio or live release, where do things stand there?

Chris Zanardi: I’m very pleased to say that since our High Sierra appearance in July we have had and incredible sound engineer, Iain Haworth, multi-tracking most of our shows. So right now we are working on the final mix of our live CD due to release at the end of the year. I’m even more stoked that 5EH has some studio time booked in early 2009 to start the studio album due out before the spring of 2009. We have released at least three live EP, demo-type discs over the last few years, but these next releases will be the real deal (available on iTunes and our website). We do support audience taping and file sharing is encouraged. Churn it!~

Any final thoughts to folks across the country who may be hearing about you for the first time from this piece?

Mikey Henderson: We would love for you to grab all our free tracks and video available on our website and connect to us on your social networking medium of choice: Facebook, Myspace, email whatever. We want to know that we’ve touched you and that you want the Five Eyed Hand experience to come to your town. We will do our best to bring it to you.

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