The Hand That Wields It is the brain-child of New York native Brian Byrne. Determined to find and explore his own voice and talents, after the dissolution of his previous band Envy On The Coast, he’s since gone on to create the music he’s passionate about – music with a layered, nuanced sound. Blending electronic elements with alt-folk soundscapes, his music is a welcome breath of fresh air. As he prepares for the release of his EP at the end of this month, Byrne kindly agreed to this interview to chat influences, performing and plans for the future.
PW: Please introduce yourself.
Brian Byrne: My name is Brian Byrne, I’m 31 years old from Long Island, New York. I’ve never been convicted of a major felony and I have a birth mark on the INSIDE of my belly button. It looks like it’s getting sucked into a black hole.
PW: How would you sum up yourself and your music up in a couple of sentences?
BB: I’m sort of a sarcastic prick and my music is my underhanded way of taking the piss out of people that are important to me.
PW: Which bands and artists did you grow up listening to and how did they influence you? Have such influences changed over the years?
BB: I grew up in the suburbs with no older siblings so I mostly listened to whatever my parents put on and what MTV put in front of me in the 90s/early aughts. As a guitar player, I’ve been most influenced by Kevin Cadogan, Third Eye Blind’s original guitarist. He sort of presented pop rock guitar playing as something interesting and harmonically dense, I wasn’t sure why I was so drawn to his style until I studied it a bit more and found out he was doing some very weird stuff that just perked my ears. I still reference it to this day.
PW: When did you first realise you wanted to be a performer? Was there an album you listened to or concert you attended that made you think 'yeah, I want to do that'?
BB: Weirdly enough, I’m pretty sure it was a Grammy performance featuring Hootie and The Blowfish and I remember watching with my mom being like “These dudes look like they’re having so much fucking fun. I wanna be in Hootie and The Blowfish.” I’ve since changed my stance on that, but that was my moment. Hootie.
PW: Is there a band or artist out there today who you might say you sound at all similar to or do you make a determined effort to just be yourself?
PW: I do my best to avoid comparison to other artists because I don’t like there to be any pre-conceived notion of what I sound like. I think it’s a pretty eclectic amalgam of where I come from and what I find interesting about current music.
PW: Tell me about your latest single "Receive Much". Is there a story behind it?
BB: No real story with a definitive narrative. My whole EP originated from a place of being in between two very different relationships and the trappings that come with that situation. It was sort of this frustrating thing where nobody was getting what they needed, including myself, and it sort of highlighted my inadequacies as an adult, man, boyfriend, whatever. Maybe it was my selfish way of saying that.
PW: How easy/hard do you find the song-writing process and who/what most inspires you?
BB: The song-writing process to me is still as mysterious and strange as the first time you realized you wrote a song. Inspiration comes from nowhere, leaves when it feels like, and gives no warnings. As I get older I try to be better at being present for it and making sure I’m doing what I can do to facilitate it.
PW: Which song, in your opinion, is the greatest ever written and why?
BB: Probably a Tom Petty or an Oasis song.
PW: "Receive Much" is taken from your upcoming EP. Without giving too much away, what can you tell me about it?
BB: I played everything you hear on the EP. Soup to nuts. With the exception of a feature by friend Ryan Hunter - aka 1st Vows. Not really intentionally, I just was in this super introverted place in my life and really needed to explore the depths of what it was I sounded like, since I’ve always been a guitarist in a band. It came out really mellow and subdued for the amount of frustration and difficulty I was dealing with when I wrote it, which I find to be interesting. It’s sort of my reaction to crisis anyway, to be the calm one. I don’t know why.
PW: Do you have a favourite track on the collection and if so, which is it and why?
BB: This tune called “Post Part Depression” holds a special place because I think it sits far outside of the verse/chorus paradigm and I like that. I have had problems in the past being too verbose with my songs and I think there’s only like 20 words in the entire song. Plus, I sampled my dog and made a pad out of it that gives the song a weird vibe.
PW: If you could play one venue anywhere in the world, which would it be and why?
BB: I’d want to play Roseland Ballroom but it doesn’t exist anymore. That place was always so haunting and old New York. It’s being turned into condominiums, which is very new New York. I’m sure the yuppies that move in to them will tell share the story over foie gras tacos or whatever.
PW: If you could share a stage with four other bands or artists, who can be living or dead, who would they be and why?
BB: Portishead, 90s Third Eye Blind, Pantera, and late 80s U2. Portishead simply because their “Live From Roseland” record is indescribably beautiful and I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall at the fif, let alone on stage. 90s Third Eye Blind because I love their first two records more than anything. Pantera because they could’ve taught me how to drink and shred. Late 80s U2 because “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”.
PW: What are your touring/performance plans for the rest of the year? Will you be playing any festivals this summer or just focusing more on your own shows and getting your name out there?
BB: For the time being, I’m focusing on playing some shows with a reincarnation of my old band ‘Envy On The Coast’ which will take me through the summer. I’m going to be writing for my next release and debuting this material live in the late fall of 2016.
PW: Are there any plans for you to head overseas and play in Europe?
BB: Are there any promoters willing to take a chance on a guy with four songs and a beard? I eat light (I don't).
PW: What are your thoughts on social media and do you agree that it's necessary for bands and artists today or, like most things, do you feel it's a bit of a double edged sword?
BB: There is this oft-referenced “freedom” people talk about when they discuss releasing music in this day and age and personally, I have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about. It is completely mind numbing to consider all of the potential social media outlets and avenues, let alone maintain and provide content for them while creating music. Maybe I’m just too old? To make a living making music today, those aforementioned freedoms are usually co-opted by a corporation in exchange for a pay day that was once the unknowing consumer’s responsibility. Personally, I think there’s less freedom and more distraction.
PW: What does the rest of the year have in store for you?
BB: I have no idea. I'll probably grab some food later.
PW: Finally then, what's your ultimate ambition as an artist and with that in mind, whose career would you most like to emulate and why?
BB: My ambition as an artist is to make something meaningful and cutting. As far as a career trajectory, I’d like to emulate the Catholic Church, for tax purposes.