The Shaky Hands Nurse Multiple Hangovers, Shun Cell Phones, and Roll Their Own Smokes

Critics have called the band “pre–Animal Collective nature rock,” “the Shins pushing Bob Dylan on a swing,” and “Blur from Omaha.”

The average member of Portland's the Shaky Hands is 26.2 years old, has been playing music for 13.4 years, grew up in California's Mendocino County, and is somehow employed by the construction industry (with brief excursions into booking bands at a local venue, selling house paint, or working at Wild Oats). The average Shaky Hand wears a snap plaid shirt purchased at a thrift store in Phoenix, dons old jeans with visible mud splatters, and hasn't shaved in at least a week. None of them owns a cell phone. You might call them hippies. Most of the Shaky Hands are content to sit on a porch in northeast Portland for hours, playing soul compilations and swinging on a hammock on a half-sunny, half-cloudy day.

The band's song "Summer's Life" earned a spot on Spin's list of "Songs You Need to Download Now!" in April. Since the Britt Daniel sighting at their CD-release show, they've opened for his band, Spoon. But they're still happy to play a basement show at a house party. Granted, the average Shaky Hand might not remember agreeing to play the show.

"When is that?" asks bassist Mayhaw Hoons.

"Next Saturday. I asked everyone weeks ago," replies drummer Colin Anderson.

"Huh." Hoons takes a swig of Coke. "I'm taking a break from drinking. My birthday was last night....I've got two days of hangovers right now." (Number of hangovers the average Shaky Hand can nurse: more than one.)

Asking for a description of the Shaky Hands' sound will result in an amusing recitation of what critics have said: "Pre–Animal Collective nature rock." "The Shins pushing Bob Dylan on a swing." "Blur from Omaha." "Nick's voice always, always gets Conor Oberst." "I've heard Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but I've never really heard them." "People call us a '60s band, but I'd like to think we're doing more than that." Recording for their second album (slated for release in early 2008), an entirely live feat, is already well underway; they all scoff at the thought of recording the songs piecemeal: "How can you replicate the energy of everyone together?" "You just don't play the same without everyone else there."

Reviews of their live show—a boisterous and infectiously happy production that does justice to their songs—attest to this, and may be the most accurate description of the band's sound yet: "We've been called the sweatiest band in Portland." See, the average Shaky Hand loves playing out: "Playing like that works well if I'm really bummed out or really excited—either way, it's about getting out that energy." "For years, we played basements—which is really good because we had to capture that energy and throw it back at them."

The average Shaky Hand has played in the band for less than three and a half years. The initial group—which included drummer Anderson and Nick Delffs, who has always been its main songsmith—started playing four years ago. They played frequently with Mondo Hollywood (a band that boasted members Hoons and Jeff Lehman), and then annexed that pair after the Shaky Hands' original bassist moved to San Francisco. After a few years of this quartet (Hoons on bass, Lehman on second guitar), Nick's older brother Nathan joined last year, playing pedal steel and the occasional third guitar. Last year's rise, including spots playing MusicfestNW and PDX Pop Now!, was capped with the group receiving the honor of Best New Band of 2007 from Portland's alt-weekly, Willamette Week.

Asking for the name of the most recent album they've each fallen in love with, they rattle off Deep Cuts by the Knife, Led Zeppelin IV, Double Nickels on the Dime by the Minutemen, a random Count Basie album, and a compilation called Love Is Love ("It's just all of these different soul artists"). They all also fell in love with a Turkish psychedelic compilation, which illustrates their shared love of all things aural and a love of viewing music as a sort of communal medicine: "I'm into music where the person who's making it is sad but is trying to transcend that sadness. But I'm not into music where the person is sad and whining about it." "Do something about it." "Yeah, just go outside." "Even something like the Talking Heads—a lot of David Byrne's lyrics are representing this sense of not feeling in your place with the world around you, this kind of dissatisfaction. But at the same time, it's trying to break through that."

With four of the Hands craving cigarettes but none of them carrying any, quarters and dollars are summoned until enough is collected for a new pouch of tobacco. Delffs, mastermind of the perfectly crafted feel-good pop song, throws on his gray, fuzzy hat and hops on a bike. Soon, it's revealed that the average Shaky Hand can roll his own cigarette. The sun breaks through, and the Shaky Hands go downstairs to practice.

kstarr@seattleweekly.com Courtesy of holocene Haven for the unshaven. Music

 
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