Interview: Handguns

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The life of a young, touring band.

It’s a bunch of musicians crammed inside a van. As a motorized brother or sisterhood, they travel thousands upon thousands of miles around the country in order to get their music to the masses. They spend days, weeks, months away from their loved ones in pursuit of their dream. In many ways the modern day touring bands are like the pioneers and explorers we read about in our history books as children. Sacrificing it all for potentially glorious endeavors with fame and fortune awaiting them.

For the pop punk band Handguns, touring has taken them the world over. The Baltimore-based unit, who’ll be releasing their new record Life Lessons this July, have gone from cutting their teeth in the dingy clubs of America to rocking the masses at The Warped Tour (both domestic and international versions) and opening up at major clubs from groups like All Time Low.

Earlier in the month, we spoke with Handguns’ guitarist, Brandon Pagano, who we first met back in 2011 when he was fronting the Albany, NY-based pop punk band I Was a Hero. Brandon spoke at length about being a touring band, Handguns new record and the “life lessons” he’s learned while on the road.

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Pop-Break: Handguns, at the time of this interview, is opening up for All Time Low on a nationwide tour. Let’s talk about the experience of being the opening band on a tour, where you are the first band the crowds see. Some of these people have been waiting outdoors for hours just to see the headlining band and not for you guys, no offense. So, let’s talk about how the experience of being that opening band whose trying to win these people over.

Brandon Pagano: It’s weird because we’re a band that’s used to playing in front a punk rock crowd. We’ve played a million and a half tours, we’ve traveled in the van, we play the same venues in front of a lot of the same people. People know who we are and what they’re going to get. With this tour you have the opportunity to mold the way people see you because they’ve never seen this band before. We’ve never had the opportunity to work with kids who’ve never seen the band before or win the crowd over, so to speak, in a million different ways. It was very weird at first, getting in there, saying the right things to keep people interested, not fucking up on guitar which we are able to do in front of people we know. So it’s definitely a learning curve but I feel like we got into the groove and I enjoyed the challenge of winning the crowd over.

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PB: When you’re on a tour like this one with All Time Low or are on the Warped Tour, where you’re surrounded by punk rock royalty, do you feel intimidated by these guys? Are you just awe struck by them because part of you is still a fan or do you see these guys as people you can learn from, who you want to gain as much knowledge about the music industry from?

BP: We had played a couple shows with All Time Low before, that’s how this tour came together, we hit it off well with them and they decided to take a shot on us. At the first couple of shows, we were doing a huge festival in the U.K. called Slam Dunk Fest, and we watched their set and what blew my mind was all the production that went into this band. Their crew working seamlessly together to make sure everything was going well. Their live show is incredible, they all play well. It was one of those things where we were like “Damn, this what we wanna aspire to play like.” They’re professional — looking great, sounding great. So we tried to watch them every night on the tour, really take it in, mental notes, you know? Everything they do is professional, even the way they take their gear off the stage. They way load in and load out is professional. They way they treat the venue staff is courteous and professional. It’s that kind of stuff and if and when we’re a bigger band and we’re touring and have a bus and aren’t loading our own gear, we have that notion of being courteous and how to make things sound better. We took in as much as possible so we know what we’re getting into in the future.

PB: So what’s the biggest lesson or lessons you’ve taken away from this tour as a musician, a band or just as a person?

BP: I guess…that there’s always going to be a band bigger than you. I say that because the person who drove the semi for All Time Low this tour drives for bands like Van Halen, Dropkick Murphys, you know big bands. We were talking one night and he said, “Oh this [tour] is just a little run for us.” It blew my mind. Putting it into perspective this is the biggest thing we’ve ever done and this might be the biggest thing we ever do. It’s crazy getting onstage and playing in front of this many people. I can’t imagine putting it on an even bigger scale. So there’s always someone bigger than you. We also noticed with All Time Low, they’re still just as good to as their fans as any of us are. They’re always out there meeting people, handing water to the kids, etc. So, there’s always going to be someone bigger than you, never act like you’re at your peak, because you’re never going to be at your peak. Stay honest and stay humble is my number one lesson.

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PB: Changing a gears a bit, I listened to “Sleep Deprived” the new single off your forthcoming album, Life Lessons. It’s a fantastic song and it surprised me because, myself, like a lot of people in their 30s, wrote off pop punk as being dead after the whole emo movement came to an end. So, for all us curmudgeons out there, is pop punk really still a viable musical genre?

BP: I think the genre itself is still on the up. There’s some great bands doing great things like Knuckle Puck, Real Friends who are not that much older or younger than us and they are killing it, writing cool songs, songs that people are connecting to. I think it’s an age thing where you grow out of this genre at a certain point but there’s still kids that are going to carry that torch, that are still going to make the genre seem interesting to the younger crowd. I think with this genre people want honesty, they don’t want smoke blown up their ass, they don’t want dumb, cheesy stuff. It’s the honesty that make people want to invest your songs that’s the key to keep people interested. We work really hard to have our heart on our sleeve at all times.

PB: You joined the band nearly two years ago, how do you feel since you joined the band that Handguns evolved?

BP: I toured with the band a little bit before I decided if I was going to become a member of the band. There was a big line-up change right around the time I considered myself a member of the band — we lost the bass player, we lost the guitar player. The band had never had a second guitar player and that was me…I was switching in and out with other people. So when I joined, the band was in this really wild state of rebuilding. Now we have a really solid line-up and we decided to take this thing full time and seriously. In my honest opinion, I think this band plays tighter live — faster, more aggressive. We’re a little more well-rounded. I think this is the Handguns that Handguns is supposed to be. Writing music is really easy with these guys. I think this record is the perfect description of Handguns and its really sounds like what Handguns was supposed to be in the first place.

PB: Life Lessons comes out on July 8th on Pure Noise Records. This is your first-time recording an album in a professional studio with a legit producer. Can you talk about the experience of actually cutting a record for the firs time?

BP: It was intimidating. I went into the studio not knowing what to expect and wanting to soak everything I could…learning about the recording experience, the studio, the producing, everything I could. I think that put me in a high point of stress. We were recording in Baltimore, where the band is from, and I decided I was going to live in the studio in the bunk room. I was in the studio all day, every day, trying to work on songs. It was great. We worked with Paul Leavitt (All Time Low, The Dangerous Summer) and we sharing the studio with Brian McTiernan who produced some of my all-time favorite records, like all The Movie Life records, the two most recent Fireworks records, stuff I’m very into. He was in the room helping us out, showing us different song structures. I had never gone into the studio to record with a producer before so it was a huge learning curve for me. But, I think we grasped it really well and used what everyone told us to realize the full potential of this record. Recording the first full length was fun, it was stressful, but fun.

PB: You guys are a machine when it comes to touring. It seems like you guys come off the road and are right back on in no time flat. You guys are still super young and are living the dream, but does the constant touring ever grind on you?

BP: Yeah, absolutely. People will yell at you and chastise you for saying that because you’re living the dream. People will always find a reason to yell you. It does get stressful out there. One day you’ll have a mental breakdown and the next day you’ll be fine. You realize you have a very cool job but there are days when you miss your girlfriend or you miss your dogs or you miss your family and it sucks. You want to go home. You want to sleep in a bed. (Laughs). But you take it all for what its worth and in the end those people [who yelled at you] were kinda right, you have a cool job. We’re not going to give it up right now because we had a bad day. It’s not a high stress job but the constant grind will put you in a bad mood or bad place.

Brandon Pagano of Handguns performing on the Kevin Says Stage at The Warped Tour 2013 in Holmdel, NJ. Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Deadbolt Photos/Pop-Break.com
Brandon Pagano of Handguns performing on the Kevin Says Stage at The Warped Tour 2013 in Holmdel, NJ. Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Deadbolt Photos/Pop-Break.com

PB: What’s your favorite part about being in Handguns?

BP: What I really love about being in a full-time touring band, that people taking seriously, is all the lessons that you learn and can apply to your life. It can be anything. I 100% believe I can go open a business by the time I’m 22 years old and run it properly. There’s so much going on with this band — there’s merch, ticket sales, royalty checks, all these things you have to learn. If you want to take all this in about being in a band you learn the business side, how marketing works…that’s the stuff I think is a helpful tool. If this band were to break up tomorrow, I would be able to be successful in this world because I learned how to work hard.

PB: Last question, what are you most excited for in 2014?

BP: All the of the touring we’re doing. The release of the record will be great. Hopefully people will enjoy it. We’ll be on tour all year, we don’t plan on stopping. We have a great tour lined up in the fall which’ll be announced later and I’m very excited about. That’s what I’m looking forward to most. Also, playing new songs from the album on the road.

Handguns new album, Life Lessons, comes out on July 8th. Click here to pre-order.

Related Articles:

Interview: I Was a Hero (Joe Zorzi)

Pop-Break Live: Warped Part 1: Handguns and A Need for Reason (Keeyahtay Lewis)

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast.┬áHe is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites