Talking traditional metal and more with Idle Hands
by Interviews

In November Punknews writer Jason Baygood caught up with Gabriel Franco of Portland's Idle Hands at their Chicago stop while on tour with the legendary King Diamond. In the interview they talk about Franco's past, Idle Hand's present and future, as well as what is happening with the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal (NWOTHM).

PN: I know other members and you have history in previous bands which no longer exist. Tell me then. Why did Idle Hands form?

The band formed because I had a void inside of me, basically. My last band failed, and I started to feel like my musical dreams have failed. I was 26 and felt depressed after putting 7 years of my life into the project. It amounted to what I thought was nothing. I was lost and thought maybe I should go back to school but realized that I really hate school. I am now surrounded though by really great people who are on my level. Everyone is pushing themselves to be the best they can be. Idle Hands is moving forward because of it.

PN: For those who may not be familiar, you are speaking of Spellcaster as your previous project?

Spellcaster was the first band, yea. I was in a melodic black metal Cradle of Filth wanna- be band back in high school called Seventh Gate. I played bass and did vocals for that. We put out 2 Eps which are on Bandcamp. I learned a lot about exploring melodies from our hippie guitarist. At that time, I just wanted to thrash. When I joined Spellcaster, I learned how to be tighter as a player. I tried to be creative while also trying to be heavy.

PN: One thing I thought was great when Spellcaster was that you guys did your own label, correct?

Yeah, we did Lon Fir Records. We had a self-titled Spellcaster release. I still get messages from bands wanting to be on the label. I must reply though that the label is just me.

PN: I have always personally been very diverse musically. When I first heard Spellcaster I could tell that you were musically diverse as well. I also could tell you embraced the DIY ethics and weren’t trying to put out a super polished album just to get signed. Its genuine and its real. This is what also attracted me first to Idle Hands. The first Idle Hands EP was released on Lon Fir Records, your label, correct?

Yes, it was first released on Lon Fir Records. Then another German Label did a pressing. There was also a limited cassette release. It was then ultimately pressed on Eisenwald and has now been pressed twice on that label. There are now four vinyl pressings of that record, two tape pressings, and three different CD pressings.

PN: That’s great the demand is there then. In the current trend of vinyl resurgence, how important do you feel the physical product is to market a band?

I think it’s extremely important. People still want to have something tangible. If you have that physical product you paid for you are more likely to listen to it. If someone hands you a free cd, you are more likely to throw it into a pile. These days though, it is 20% physical and 80% digital. A good marketing campaign online is worth 100 shows. Our first big exposure was when Metal Injection posted that we sound like Ghost. While I didn’t 100% agree with that, it did get people clicking.

PN: As a collector myself, it is extremely important to have the physical product. I see it myself from many labels across many genres, especially in recent years. They market a new release by offering pre-orders for limited pressings of that release on different color vinyl. You previously mentioned that your debut EP has now been released on four different labels. I guarantee there are collectors that must have them all right?

Yes! There’s many out there. Our roadie Casey has one of each vinyl pressing that we have put out.

PN: Are you the type of guy that must have a copy of every pressing of every release you have ever put out?

I have them all. Every pressing of every release, even with Spellcaster.

PN: You guys have a great logo. When I think of great bands with great logos, King Diamond comes to mind. I couldn’t imagine hearing King Diamond without ever having an album that has that logo on it.

What’s funny about that is the first logo draft we got basically looked like a King Diamond logo. It has the bats and everything. It was cool, but looked way too much like King Diamond. Our one we use today is really unique.

PN: I want to go back to the comparison you mentioned that Metal Injection made of Idle Hands to Ghost. What I always tell people about Idle Hands is to imagine if Robert Smith from the Cure and Dave Vanian from the Damned formed a metal band together. Does that comparison sit well with you?

I honestly didn’t listen to those bands until “Mana” was written. I had only heard Sisters of Mercy and one or two Cure hits. I had listened to “Phantasmagoria” by the Damned too. Though I would not call those influential records when I was starting the band. Now I have been listening to a lot more music like that. I thought I was doing something original.

PN: It is definitely original in the current metal scene. It excites me as a fan that folks will hear Idle Hands and possibly dig deeper into other bands and other genres of music, like the Cure or Damned. It sounds like you yourself were surprised to hear what fans hear in your music.

People ask me why I sing so low. That’s is because I can’t really sing high. I am first and foremost a heavy metal fan but as time goes on I have developed an appreciation for goth rock as well. After we did “Blade and the Will” I asked the guys in the band what they felt it sounded like. They said it kind of sounds like Iron Maiden mixed with Sisters of Mercy. I was like “Cool, let’s go with that.” PN: What that really says to me is that music really is timeless. Everything comes full circle eventually. As you stated previously, you have heard only a couple Cure tracks, yet it somehow still crept into your music and writing. I think that happens for a lot of bands.

100% Many ask what our main influence is. I always say, “Have you ever played Diablo 2?” Listen to the instrumentation on there. There is some creepy acoustics on there. In general, I do whatever I want. Whatever comes in my head.

PN: I agree as well. Idle Hands are not afraid to explore. You are not your average New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal Band. Spellcaster fits into that scene. I love all of those bands as well, though you are definitely set apart.

I love those bands as well. Though when I started this band, I wanted it to be a career. I am not going to make a career for myself writing music that has already been written. All the biggest bands were innovators and were the best in their genre. If I write a song like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, people will think its cool. Though guess who does it better? Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. I just focus on being myself. If I can bring out what’s unique about me, and can put it into the music authentically, then it will authentically be us. I don’t conform to what we’re supposed to be.

PN: Many of the new bands are bringing back the classic metal sound to a larger audience. It is bringing to light bands like Omen and Manilla Road who have been able to have careers again. It all comes full circle. It’s fantastic that Idle Hands is bringing new elements into heavy metal. Some might even call it goth metal. What is your take on that?

I would avoid calling us goth metal. When you say that, people think of bands like Nightwish. If anything, I would say we are more goth rock. I don’t even like saying goth because then people tend to think we are super emotional or super sad. I think Idle Hands music in my personal opinion is more apathetic. Ultimately nothing matters. The opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy. If you hate someone, you still care.

PN: How did the King Diamond tour come to be?

I hit it hard. I worked my ass off to make sure everything we have done was presented well. Once we had MANA in hand, I approached the one agent I wanted (Nick Storch). His name came coming up from working with bands like Ghost, Tribulation, Uncle Acid, and King Diamond. I messaged him and he was always very nice. He always asked to send more when I had more. Once I sent him MANA, I said I wanted to tour heavily on the album. He wrote back and said that he wanted to be our agent. Eventually he asked if I wanted to be on the King Diamond tour. I replied, “Do you even have to ask?” He submitted us to management and King Diamond’s management took us on. We have a lot of cool stuff coming up as well.

PN: Is this your first tour?

This is our first full North American tour. We did a West Coast tour with Haunt for eleven days in January. That was a small club tour. Eleven shows up and down the coast. We did one sixteen day tour in Europe with Tribulation. Then we did another tour by ourselves right after that for 34 shows. So we did about 50 shows total in Europe. Now 23 shows with King Diamond, at 44 days on the road with one solo show in Toronto. That will end out our year. We are at about 80 shows for the year. Next year there will be more.

PN: It sounds like next year we can look forward to more touring then, with more details to come?

We will be doing American again in Spring which will be announced very soon once this tour is over. Right after that we have a little time off before we go to China for ten shows which are still in the works. After that we will lay down some drum tracking for the next album. Europe will be in August before finishing album #2 in the fall. 2021 is when we plan to put ourselves onto the world stage. We want to get mainstream exposure in 2021.

PN: I can really see that happening. I really respect the efforts you put into this band. So many bands expect to play big festivals after having some internet hype. These bands don’t have things planned out. It seems like you guys have a good road map to success.

That is right, though the timeline always changes. Right now, I was supposed to be doing a club tour right now. So, one year from now, who knows? If King Diamond can happen in the first year of our existence, then who knows what could happen in the second. I’m aiming high though. It’s not about the money, power or fame. I merely want the resources to put on the best show we can and write the best music we can. My goal is more artistic with this project. I want to write a song that lasts longer than I do.

PN: Anything else you want to let folks know before we close out?

Stay tuned. We will be in a town near you. Tell your friends.

Mana in May of this year, and will be on the road again next March for the Decibel Magazine Tour 2020 in support of Mayhem and Abbath. You can check out those dates below.

Mar 13Denver, COThe Ogden Theatre
Mar 14Salt Lake City, UTThe Complex
Mar 16Portland, ORRoseland Ballroom
Mar 17Seattle, WAShowbox Market
Mar 18Vancouver, BCThe Imperial
Mar 20San Francisco, CAThe Regency Ballroom
Mar 21Santa Ana, CAThe Observatory
Mar 22San Diego, CAThe Observatory NP
Mar 24Phoenix, AZThe Pressroom
Mar 25Albuquerque, NMSunshine Theater
Mar 27Austin, TXEmpire Garage
Mar 28Dallas, TXGas Monkey Live
Mar 29Houston, TXWhite Oak Music Hall
Mar 31Tampa, FLThe Ritz
Apr 01Atlanta, GAMasquerade
Apr 02Charlotte, NCThe Underground
Apr 03Philadelphia, PAThe Fillmore
Apr 04New York, NYWebster Hall
Apr 06Boston, MAThe Paradise
Apr 07Montreal, QCCorona Theater
Apr 08Toronto, ONDanforth Music Hall
Apr 09Pittsburgh, PAMr. Smalls
Apr 10Chicago, ILThe Metro