Leeds’ Dog Hand String Band are a dark and curious folk-punk collaboration from members of Jake & The Jellyfish, Bootscraper, China Shop Bull, Bad Knaves and, er, a hip hop DJ. In January 2018 they brough Tooth and Nail – a six-track EP recorded as live session, that succeeds in being as moody and mysterious as it is lively.
We spoke to shouty man and banjo twanger Cassius Langhorne to learn more about this DIY supergroup.
Hey! Dog Hand String Band is a relatively new collaboration. How would you sum up the band for someone who’s just discovering you?
That’s a hard one to be honest! We’re basically a rowdy punk folk band with a load of distorted guitars and big man choir backing vocals over the top. We do drinking songs and just about anything else that can be done with a banjo and shouting.
Tell me a bit about how Dog Hand String Band came to be – how did you meet?
Me and Jake used to work on the bar together and admired each other longingly for years before making it official and being in a band together. Electric Sam and I were in a stoner rock band that I had to leave because of my crumbling liver. They’re now called Bad Knaves though and they’re ace.
I was jamming out some stuff with the bassist Pete, Acoustic and Electric Sam for a bit and we decided we needed loads more instruments, to make it really impractical and impossible to organise.
I got our drummer Billy from when we were both working on stage, rigging for an epic Aled Jones performance and he was all like, “Yeah, I’ll drum for you man.” Then he did drum for us, which it turned out was amazing. Oh, and Derek is just in every band now, so he kinda just turned up one day and we didn’t have the heart to call the police.
I heard that the band name originated from someone getting bitten by a dog? Tell us the tale!
Yeah, that’s a true story. I thought it would be a great idea to get involved in a dog fight as they were about to rip each other’s throats off. Instead of putting my finger up the dogs bottom as advised, I thought it would be much wiser to stick my hand in a fully grown alsatian’s mouth, when it was at peak ‘kill everything’ mode. It basically bit my thumb off and swallowed the inside of my hand. Which looked like a zombie movie, which was cool, but wasn’t very conducive to playing banjo.
To cheer me up while my thumb grew back the band decided that calling ourselves Dog Hand String Band would help me come to terms with my newly deformed stump. And also so that it could be a constant painful reminder of my own stupidity.
Dog Hand String Band have a pretty dark, mysterious and wonderful sound. What’s the creative process in the band, and what inspires you to bring these sounds together?
The creative process is an arduous one as I can only communicate in grunts, whistles and nods. Usually I’ll come up with a mystery chord, that can only be played in a weird banjo tuning and then those guys try to play along. Then they come up with a better idea so we do that instead, and then we all shout a lot and decide it’s actually all rubbish. Billy gets frustrated and throws things and goes to Switzerland for a week. Then we have a song.
I think we wanted to have a different warped sound while still maintaining a folk roots approach and just see how nasty we could make it sound. We’ve all got quite disparate tastes in music so it’s a big mix of playing styles that somehow came together.
You’re all involved in or have been involved in other bands – what are you other musical / creative projects?
Electric Sam is in Bad Knaves, Jake is in Jake & The Jellyfish, he’s a celebrity now. Billy is also the drummer for the most excellent rave punk future band China Shop Bull. Derek kinda sofa surfs his way around France picking up any bands that play Django Reinhardt music. Big acoustic man Sam is in Pete Greenwood’s band. Pete our bassist is, bizarrely, a hip hop DJ. I was in Bootscraper as the shouty man and also Tosserlad as the guy that plays exactly what the guitarist plays, but lower.
How does Dog Hand String Band different from your previous endeavours?
It’s a lot darker, stompier and a more psychedelic. It’s quite varied hence the difficulty in pigeon-holing what we do. I think it’s generally a bit more experimental as it’s got so many styles of bands together, so everyone brings something a bit different to it. And Billy. We’ve got Billy. Just look at him.
How do you find it balancing Dog Hand String Band with your other projects?
Nothing short of a bloody nightmare! Why did we get so many members? It was a bad idea.
What’s inspired you most musically when writing for Dog Hand String Band?
Jay Munly, death and Mississippi blues. There’s a hell of a lot of awesome music coming from America on the dark country wave, and a load of awesome punk and rock noises around Europe from the TNS family and further afield too. So we kinda wanted to bridge the gap, basically.
You’re planning a full-length release later this year. Can you tell us what you’ve got in the works? Will it be similar to Tooth n Nail?
It’s going to be pretty damn loud. It still has the Tooth n Nail lineup apart from Billy on drums. It’s going to be a lot noisier, heavier and more aggressive than the first EP. It’s still got a definite Dog Hand sound but goes all over the place musically. It features true stories, such as our grandma getting eaten by a pack of dogs, our gradual descent into madness, how we’re all going to hell, war famine and witches. It’s basically all a bit stoner rock, but we’re a folk band, so we’ll let you figure how that comes out!
What do you like to do when you’re not playing music?
I like making instruments and burning myself on soldering irons. Derek likes sofas and being suave. Sam enjoys buying fuzz pedals and reverb units, breaking them and selling them at a loss. The other Sam likes speaking in a very low voice and covering his face in photographs. Billy likes throwing things and going to Switzerland. Jake likes comic books and being famous and Pete just likes listening to vinyl and being quite angry. We’re all partial to drinking.
What are your ambitions for the band in the future?
To put out as much horrible music as possible before we die. To get to Greece because apparently Greek people like it more than English do, for Derek to finally settle down and just for once to actually break even at some point!