In Search of Handsome Jack
Following my expulsion from school at the tender age of twelve, my father sent me to Swansea for the summer to learn the craft of carpentry from my Uncle Jack. Dad said if I wasn’t going to get a proper education then I at least needed some practical skills. Over the next few months it became clear to me that the man was neither a carpenter nor my uncle, and the only practical skills I had by the time I returned home were how to mix a good Tom Collins and the three best methods to catch a seagull.
The locals knew my uncle as Handsome Jack, on account of his peculiar profile. It warms my cockles to think back upon that summer living in his strange old house in Sketty, and if I close my eyes I can still picture his piano-key grin, still hear his whooping cough, still smell the comforting waft of freshly roasted seagull. I haven’t seen Jack since, as he and my father would later have a rather dramatic falling out over a copyright dispute. I recently got to thinking of Jack, and wondered if an internet search might yield results. Imagine my surprise, upon entering his name into the Google online search engine, to discover a rock and roll band of the same name. Better yet, they actually really rock. I decide to head down and catch them at a show. Maybe they have news of my uncle.
On a humid Saturday night in a dark and clamorous venue, the trio unassumingly take the stage, looking a little like an unpublished Robert Crumb cartoon. Cutting through the chatter, the first riff instantly stuns the cretinous crowd into silence. By the time the chorus comes into play, everyone is won over. Frontman Jamison Passuite sings with a raw, soulful roar so powerfully intense I wonder if he isn’t in fact channeling Wilson Pickett via seance. His teammates, meanwhile, juxtapose his gravelly growls with sweet, euphoric harmonies. It’s a phenomenal thing to witness, with every element of the sound balanced in perfect accord. The music has such a magnificent mojo I’m somewhat concerned that halfway through their set their sperm worms may actually burst forth from their trousers. One drum fill in particular has me worried. Fortunately, they manage to keep their sound on the right side of sexy throughout the show. Reminiscent of ancient greats like Al Green, CCR & Howlin’ Wolf, it all feels incredibly and unmistakably American, especially to a Welshman. Based primarily in a place called Buffalo, New York, I wonder if this sonic patriotism is something they’re aware of.
“I figured out pretty quickly that all of the influences that really moved me could be traced back to blues music.” Jamison tells me after the show. “America has such a deep and incredible music history, being the birthplace of blues and jazz. I fell in love with the music, as well as the history and culture that surrounds it.” There’s something undeniably timeless about Handsome Jack’s sound, with both their music and aesthetic paying reference to classic roots rock, but they somehow manage to make it feel more nostalgic and familiar than tired and derivative. “We’re super into old blues and soul music,” He explains, “whether it’s Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, or Otis Redding. I think we’re probably drawing on the same well of influences as a lot of classic bands from the 60’s and 70’s.”
Far from flogging a dead horse, Handsome Jack effortlessly and energetically bolster their timeless sound with heavier elements of psych and garage rock. On top of that, the songs themselves are flawlessly structured, with infectious hooks and intricate guitar parts. The whole thing is so damn exciting. Without these special subtleties, wearing sleeves of such clear influences can leave a band feeling a bit like a pointless movie reboot. Did you see the one where they brought Tom Cruise out of his fluid chamber and propped him up to fight a Mummy? Tom’s performance didn’t hold nearly an ounce of the nuanced charisma that Brendan Fraser originally brought to the role. It was so awful that my companion Deirdre literally vomited in the cinema. She does have a severe drinking problem, though, so sometimes it can be hard to work out exactly what’s making her vomit.
“It seems like most movies nowadays are a reboot of some sort,” Jamison says “but I loved the new Mad Max Fury Road reboot.
And he’s right, of course. That was one hell of a good movie. But imagine if Handsome Jack had done the soundtrack. Just imagine. As it happens, there’s a few parallels between that high-octane action film and some of Jack’s grittier tracks. Bad Blood, for instance, narrates a brutal armed robbery. Aside from its unbelievably catchy call-and-response chorus, it’s somewhat frightening. An armed robbery? Is that what things have come to for modern musicians? I wonder how honest their songwriting really is. “They are all honest in some sense.” Jamison explains. “Some more literally than others. We aren’t violent guys and, no, we’ve never committed an armed robbery. To me, Bad Blood is more about dealing with the disconnect and frustration of living in modern times.”
Whilst I’d agree that modern times can be trying, do Handsome Jack really think they could survive in a savage dystopian future, aka Mad Max? What would that look like?
“If played loud enough through proper speakers,” He tells me, “our music could be an effective sonic weapon, literally melting brains.”
Amen to that, boys.
by Jethro Jeffries.