Empty Stations: The Hundred In The Hands

"We’re not really sure how to deal with it yet..."

The break up record is one of pop’s little clichés. Littering the pantheon of songwriting lore, The Hundred In The Hands managed to avoid the pitfalls presented to them by actually staying together. Enduring a rough patch, the New York duo – romantically linked, still – allowed this to fuel their new album, ‘Red Night’.

“This one is definitely more personal” admits Eleanore Everdell, her voice faltering over the phone. “We were kind of going through some shit and we had some things that we had to work through this year so it was a little cathartic. Writing things and admitting them to ourselves”.

As honest in this interview as they are on record, Jason Friedman quickly agrees with his partner. “It was almost more like the catharsis was the memory of what we had gone through in the first half of the year” he says. “The first song we wrote was ‘Empty Stations’ which was partially inspired by the passing of Trish from Broadcast and Gerard from TV On The Radio. He and I used to busk in the same subway station, and right after he passed away I wrote something on our website called ‘Empty Stations’. Pining for the memories of walking down the steps and hearing his guitar playing – he was such a beautiful guitar player. The idea that memories and people you’re close to are still reverberating around that tunnel”.

Continuing, Friedman hints at something a little more difficult to open up about. “Eleanor and I were going through this dysfunction and there was a different kind of loss going on there” the guitarist admits. “At that point there was something going on that we didn’t know how to talk about but once we got through that the first song which came out was ‘Lead In The Light’. The other side of it. Bridging that was getting from ‘Empty Stations’ to ‘Lead In The Light’ was the arc we worked from. It was like a long night trying to get back to the one you love”.

At heart an electronic group – they are signed to Warp, after all – the new album from The Hundred In The Hands is steeped in rock music. Jason Friedman used his guitar as the source of unusual and unexpected sounds, which would then be filtered through his banks of synths. The story arc too, points to rock lore, but don’t go expecting some ‘Quadrophenia’ style rock opera. “I mean, it’s not a concept record but there is that arc just because the last song is the first one where it talks about it not being night. It’s the whole idea of going out into the city, through tunnels” he says. “We did this on the last record too – once we built up songs we would pull lines out and fit them into other songs, figure out how to echo them. Themes which we re-wrote and pulled into it”.

Partially informed by the dense, urban environment of New York the new album also reflects the ennui and alienation the band experienced on tour. “Part of the whole thing of being in a band is that you’re in cities the whole time” muses Eleanore Everdell. “Moving in trains, playing big cities. We were driving around in London today, Paris yesterday and it feels that we’ve been around those cities so many times that this urban space has become one. But it isn’t – they’re all different places but they all blur into one another”.

‘Red Night’ finds The Hundred In The Hands exploring personal – often quite painful – episodes, but this is matched by an ever increasing keenness to advance into new sonic territories. A trained visual artist, Jason Friedman approaches music in a quite unique fashion. “Our studio is just this small, little dark box. There are no windows and when you’re working on a record obviously you’re listening to that. Then the roof leaked on our stereo so we didn’t have music to come home and listen to!” he laughs. “I think on this record it really was more influenced by films we were watching. It’s not something that you’re trying to make musical versions of.. The kind of mantra when I was studying visual arts is that learning how to be an artist now is more about learning how to think like an artist rather than learning the technique of one medium. Those lessons obviously stayed with me”.

By way of contrast, Eleanore Everdell is a classically trained musician. Spending years rebelling against her schooling, the vocalist recently came to terms with her ingrained knowledge of the musical background. “Initially, I spent years when I first moved to New York just blocking it out” she sighs. “Just trying to forget that it had ever happened because there are so many things that if you’re creating something that’s not that then you’re still reacting to those rules. So I think just getting away from that language entirely was a big part of first moving to New York. Now I actually find that there are certain skills that came from the early education that I had which were really helpful. Being able to hear and re-create, transcribe. Music is a language it has its own alphabet and if you can communicate well within that format..”

Out now, ‘Red Night’ is a remarkably personal document to offer the watching world. Now sitting down in front of hacks across the land, The Hundred In The Hands find themselves forced to justify an album which threatened their relationship. “We definitely talked about it” admits the guitarist “It’s like – how much should we say? Should we even acknowledge that it is that? Once you open that box the questions are just going to keep coming. The important thing for us about the record, and what we want people to know, is that it’s just a real place. We kind of bared ourselves a little more with this one. Which is something we wanted to do so I guess we’ll just have to deal with the questions.

Stumbling, Jason Friedman does point to one – admittedly self-deprecating – fault. “We could definitely get better from talking about it, though” he chuckles. “You can hear us kind of mumbling through this conversation right now! We’re not really sure how to deal with it yet”.

– – –

‘Red Night’ is out now.

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.