INTERVIEW: Stage Hands’ Brandon Locher on the Importance of a Good Live Show, Art Collectives, and Valuing Your Inner Voice!

Pictured Above: Stage Hands hang out in the woods and shit.

Hailing from Johnstown, PA, Stage Hands make playful instrumental indie that balances a delightful air with tonal complexity, all as filtered through the lens of electronics and jazz. Communicating with Brandon Locher, one half of the duo, it became immediately obvious that theirs is a labor of love crafted by friends. That Locher is part of an art collective named My Idea of Fun should only further cement that zeal for creation, one tempered by an unmitigated sense of exploration and wonder. I mean, shit: it says fun in the title? What more do you want. Stage Hands are performing tomorrow night, Friday, November 14th, at the Open Gallery with fellow Johnstownian The One and Only Matt Miller, and local wizards Cher Von, Low & Lowe, and Black Falcons.

Never Nervous: How would you describe Stage Hands to people unfamiliar with the genre?

Brandon Locher: Stage Hands is an instrumental band. A lot of our music is constructed around loops with continual and slight variations of rhythms, melodies, and sonic textures until the music progresses and morphs into a similar or a new musical idea.

NN: How did Stage Hands start?

BL: Gerald Mattis and I started our band Stage Hands in late 2013 and immediately started working together on writing material for the project. In October of 2013 I released an LP called ‘It Happens Outside‘ from my ongoing project The Meets. This project featured a self-produced sound collage ensemble of over 20 live recording musicians playing freely expressive melodies and improvisational noise over an electronically created bed of sound collage tapestry. While this project was an amazing studio recording exercise for myself it wasn’t really practical to tour and take on the road with so many different members and collaborators. Gerald and I have been friends since high school, meeting at local DIY shows in Johnstown, PA in the early 2000s. Fast forward 13 years later and Gerald and I started talking about starting a new band together. From the very beginning we focused heavily on our live show and wanted to define ourselves as a really kick ass live band.

NN: What is the name about? Is there an objective meaning to be had there? What about in the music?

BL: Our self-titled track “Stage Hands” from our debut release is compositionally constructed around samples of my friend John Livingston playing the piano. Conceptually it feels like we become ventriloquists, while running the lighting rig, and meanwhile working backstage as the prop manager to make sure everything in the production is running smoothly.

NN: Relative to that, looking up info on the band revealed that there are plenty of bands with that name. How do you feel about that? Have you ever had any contact with the other stage hand bands?

BL: It’s strange you say this because when we first thought of our band name I was so amazed that when I tried looking around I couldn’t find any other bands called Stage Hands! Of course there was other “Stage Hands” groups that was involved in theatre and stuff like that, but what we are doing is worlds apart from anything like that. When we played in Wichita somebody told us that they couldn’t find us on Facebook and could only find a band called Stagehands from Canada that played broadway pop. After finding them myself it seems they haven’t been active for several years. Possible someday in the future we will meet another band called Stage Hands, but I think it will never become an issue.

NN: What pressures are there in touring? How do you deal with them?

BL: Sometimes it becomes difficult to eat healthy food and stuff like that but I deal with these slight day to day discomforts by generally being completely absorbed in our art and music that I almost completely forget and don’t worry about these things. During my late teenage/early twenties I used to tour 6+ months out of the year with a noisy rock band. I feel like after being on so many DIY tours from hell you eventually start to feel really grateful even during the worst road conditions.

NN: What are your favorite pieces of gear and why?

BL: Stage Hands is the very first musical project that I used a laptop as my primary instrument. I’m currently running Ableton Live, Maschine, and occasionally AudioMulch. Before using this gear I relied very heavily on meticulous sound collage work. Sound collage is still a very important and necessary element in the creation of my music but using these new controllers and gear has allowed me to develop complex possibilities to re-conceptualize and create something spontaneous and new with our music live.

NN: How do you two compose? Can you walk us through your process?

BL: When we started the band we started working on studio recordings and our live set simultaneously. During our first few band practices we ended up just talking and conceptualizing how we wanted our music to sound so even before we started making any noise it at least had some direction. Once we have a general idea of the type of track or live music that we are trying to create we basically just build it from the ground up. At first we seemed to focus on trying to develop a cohesive sound palette by creating sounds and samples that we find interesting. As our compositions and structures started to develop we continued self-producing studio recordings of our music. Once we got deeper inside the process we started to rearrange and augment the music for live performances.

NN: What can you tell us about My Idea of Fun? How’d that get started?

BL: My Idea of Fun is an art and music archive based out of Johnstown, PA. Around 1998-2000 when I started going to local shows there was a self motivated community of bands and musicians that developed collaborative relationships with one another while playing local shows, releasing albums, and becoming best friends. In 2007 a group of friends and I started a website called My Idea of Fun that would document the art and music that we produced in Western PA. Over the past 7 years My Idea of Fun has proudly hosted 288 releases of multimedia art from artists and musicians that have roots and history in this early Johnstown scene. My Idea of Fun currently serves as a document of these creative projects that have happened and are happening with our friends back in PA and beyond.

NN: As a native of Pennsylvania, how do you think your environment affected your music?

BL: Completely. I have become very sensitive to my surroundings and feel this sensitivity affects the way I approach making my own sounds.

NN: What sort of instrumentation do you employ? Is it different live than on recordings? What roles does the studio play in your albums?

BL: Our album is almost completely about working in the studio. On our recordings I used a few various analog synthesizers and noise makers but I am just currently using the laptop for live performances. Beyond my laptop and controllers Gerald is playing an acoustic drum set alongside an electronic drum pad.

NN: Tell us what’s worth listening to and why?

BL: I think it’s important for everybody to truly listen to themselves and value their own inner voice.