Music elicits physical and psychological reactions. Your body moves, and your mood changes in response to the ebb and flow of a song. It’s one of the few singular forces that can seamlessly speak to both our tangible and intangible nature.
Canterbury, UK band Broken Hands stimulate both halves with a two-prong style fueled by half-time gutter groove rock ‘n’ roll and ethereal flights of cerebral sonic exploration. This duality initially powered the group’s 2015 full-length debut, Turbulence. Produced by Tom Dalgety [Royal Blood, Pixies, Ghost], it walked a fine line between arena ambition and alternative adventurousness. Moreover, the record announced the boys—brothers Dale [lead vocals] and Callum Norton [drums, backing vocals], Jamie Darby [lead guitar], Thomas Ford [bass], and David Hardstone [rhythm guitar, keys]—as a critical favorite with acclaim from NME, The Independent, BBC Music Introducing, and more. Simultaneously, they developed a reputation for raucous live shows, performing alongside the likes of The Kills, Catfish and the Bottlemen, The Cult and Deaf Havana in addition to gracing the stage of the world-famous Reading & Leeds festivals.
Along the way, they landed a deal with Atlantic Records stateside and plotted their sophomore effort. Just prior to entering the studio, the pace slowed when Dale endured the sort of nightmare most musicians don’t dare dream about: intensive ear surgery that left him unable to sing or play music for nearly two months.
“I had to have this dissection to basically open up the pathways,” he explains. “I couldn’t do anything after for what felt like forever. I’m probably hearing music completely different from how I did. The upside was I came into this record with a fresh palette.”
Embracing this fresh palette, the band opted to work with producer Julian Emery [Nothing But Thieves, Lower Than Atlantic] on new music with long-term collaborator Dalgety moving to the mixer’s chair. Nodding to American influences as diverse as Nine Inch Nails, Big Brother and The Holding Company, and My Morning Jacket, Broken Hands adopted a “half-time” rhythm. As a result, the guitars, drums, bass, and vocals hit harder as they seesaw back and forth.
“For a British rock guitar band, it’s all about fast, four-to-the-floor singles,” says Dale. “We went slower and heavier. We loved doing the slow vibe. It was a big lightbulb moment.”
Case in point, hulking distortion and sinewy riffing propel the 2018 single “Split In Two” forward at a confident strut before giving way to Dale’s hypnotic hook.
“We literally felt split in two,” says the frontman. “Touring as much as we have, you’re divided from the ones you love and spend the rest of your life. In a psychological sense, you can also feel divided between two things. You’re stuck in a corridor. The idea extends to the sonics. One minute, I want to write a screaming heavy record. In the next, I want to write something tranquil. It’s a push-and-pull.”
Another standout “Friends House” tempers moments of introspection with a bombastic sense of dread siphoned through sparse percussion and a paranoid wail. It draws on a moment when Dale found himself threatened at gunpoint in the midst of the band’s first U.S. tour.
“It’s quite a dark song,” he admits. “You think you’re happy and you think you’re safe, but actually you couldn’t be any further from safety. When you get very intoxicated, you’re happy and comfortable, but it’s actually the most dangerous position to be in. When we first went to the States, I got held up at a bar at 4AM. I was drunk, British, and not familiar with this sort of situation. That could happen anywhere. It’s the illusion of safety.”
In the end, Broken Hands translate duality into definitive anthems. “It’s okay to be divided,” Dale leaves off. “You don’t have to feel like you’ve got to be one thing all of the time physically, psychologically, or musically. Too often in life, people try to tell you to be one thing. We reached a new level by clinging to both sides.”