With a little help from Morgan Fisher of Mott The Hoople, the Chicago band delivers their best work yet on Burn the Rails
The Handcuffs had just finished recording Burn the Rails, their fourth album, when the COVID lockdown stopped everything.
“We started the album before the pandemic and recorded the last overdub two days before lockdown,” said Chloe Orwell, the band’s lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and co-leader. They finished mixing and mastering during the shutdown. “Before we started recording, we had a specific sonic goal in mind. We’d been listening to a lot of music from the early 1970s – glam and rock & roll – T. Rex, Led Zeppelin, Mott The Hoople, Roxy Music, The Patti Smith Group, Joe Cocker.”
“We love the warmth and vibe of those analog albums. The songs and the production, but we wanted it to sound like The Handcuffs, filtering all that golden age of rock & roll mystique through a modern lens,” added drummer and co-leader Brad Elvis.
Elvis and Orwell originally formed The Handcuffs as a duo, after leaving their former band Big Hello. That prior group released three albums and played shows from coast to coast. They started The Handcuffs with specific musical goals in mind, one of which was how they wanted to explore in the studio.
“After we wrote and recorded Model for a Revolution, our first album, we realized that we missed the live band component of making music,” said Elvis. “At that point, we decided to put a band together to become The Handcuffs. So here we are now, with a really solid lineup.”
In between the first record and Burn The Rails, The Handcuffs released two more albums: Electroluv and Waiting for The Robot. The current lineup includes Emily Togni on bass and backing vocals, Alison Hinderliter on keyboards and Jeffrey Kmieciak on lead guitar and backing vocals. They all contributed to the sessions that resulted in Burn the Rails.
“We don’t normally produce demos of the songs prior to recording an album,” said Elvis, who is the main songwriter with Orwell. “We’ll present the songs to the band during a rehearsal and it all just comes together.”
“Then the rest of the band adds their own magic,” Orwell added. “It sounds remarkably carefree and it usually is.”
Some tracks were cut live with the band playing together, some were layered up, with parts recorded during different sessions.
“The working sessions and production depended on the song, the time and day, and lots of factors,” Orwell said. “I don’t even remember some of the specifics, since time and space has been a bit of a mind fuck the past couple of years. I do know the whole band is really happy with the result, so it must have worked.”
Burn the Rails unfolds like a live set, moving between rockers, bright pop tunes and free form psychedelic jams, like “Tobogganing,” the instrumental that closes the album. “Pretty Pretty” is a strutting rocker, with a subtext of female empowerment and a killer hook. Orwell’s assertive vocal is supported by Kmieciak’s guitar shredding and Hinderliter’s organ fills. “Big Fat Mouth Shut” rides a mid-tempo groove that opens with an intro inspired by Mott The Hoople and includes a sly quote from “All the Young Dudes.” Kmieciak’s guitar kicks things into overdrive with Hinderliter’s piano holding down the bedrock rhythm. Elvis embroiders the rhythm with his creative drumming. Orwell purrs her way through “Let’s Name Our Children,” a mellow love song that expresses the joys of infatuation. Hinderliter’s R&B flavored piano adds depth to the song’s dreams of a long, happy life. All the songs are marked by the great feel between drummer Elvis and bassist Togni.
The set also includes the carefree lilt of “I’m Happy Just To Dream With You” and “She Ain’t No Fluffer,” a bright up-tempo rocker. They feature piano and synthesizer work supplied by the band’s special guest, Morgan Fisher, from Mott The Hoople.
The band met Fisher after Orwell wrote a rave review of the Mott The Hoople reunion tour in 2019. “It went viral and then The Rock & Roll Globe republished it and mentioned the name of my band with my byline,” Orwell said. “Morgan saw it, looked up our band and contacted me on Facebook. We became fast friends and realized that we all had a lot in common.”
“Like great taste in music and a good sense of humor,” added Elvis.
When they told Fisher they were working on a new album, he wrote back. “If you need any extra keyboard work on the record, let me know.” They decided to take him up on that.
“When you meet your heroes, sometimes great things happen.” said Orwell. “He lives in Japan, so we sent him the tracks via e-mail and he sent his parts back. It was perfect. It was kismet. Now that the album is finished, we spend a lot of time hanging out with him on Zoom. He’s become one our best friends. Kind of like a favorite uncle.”
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