Band Bio

The Firm Handshake are an anomaly, they stick out – though not like the customary sore thumb, with all of its negative connotative baggage. They are more like the emergence of opposable thumbs onto the clawing paws of ancestral primates – they are mutants; they represent an evolutionary step forward. Yet in something of a paradoxical turn, their novelty is inexorably rooted in the past: what makes them seem fresh is their knowledge of traditions, a hard-earned knowledge garnered over the course of their 200-plus live performances and via their immersion, nay, apprenticeship in Calgary’s communal-cum-competitive blues scene. During this time, the Handshake has become fluent in the idioms of the blues, rock and funk, and have gained the confidence to experiment with any other genre. Fortunately, the band has been able to subsume all of the styles and forms that they’ve encountered during the course of their five years together into an original sound. They are bricoleurs, recombining existing elements in creative ways to produce something new and exciting. This approach imbues their original songs with an uncanny familiarity even upon first listen, an effect that is redoubled in concert by the visual of such young men playing such storied music.

Having already established themselves as a superior live act, The Firm Handshake have just unleashed their first studio offering, an independently released six-song self-titled EP. The band, however, is not just sitting back and watching the accolades pile-up, they are already busy at work writing new songs for forthcoming albums. The band’s original material highlights another way in which they stand out: their dual commitment to both musical ability and song-crafting. More and more, it seems as though their contemporaries are electing to focus on one of these elements while sacrificing the other, leading to a scene where skills and songs stand in diametric opposition. The Handshake thus represent the Hegelian synthesis of a rock and roll dialectic, proving that there is no either/or dynamic forcing anyone to pick sides between prog-metal wanks and faux-introspective poet charlatans. So, while singer John Groenen is blessed with the kind of voice that could evocatively sing the table of contents from an algebra text book, he nevertheless chooses to meticulously pore over his lyrics, making sure that they are a prosodic pleasure while remaining semantically stimulating; while twin lead-guitarists Stephen Rozitis and Kurtis Downs share a mental library containing enough licks to get to the centre of a whole truckload of tootsie-pops, they opt instead to play tastefully – sometimes economically, other times remorselessly, but always complementarily; while drummer Jon Kutney has the ability to dissect time more minutely than the proverbial million-dollar watch, he elects instead to let his thunderous backbeat drive the songs, accenting them with smart and tight fills only when his ear tells him that it is appropriate embellishment; while bassist Jae Cho (a seasoned pro whose recent addition to the Handshake line-up is the equivalent of revealing the ringer in your bullpen when your team already has a five-run lead) is capable of slapping his instrument (and the audience along with it) into submission, he does so only when it is befitting, proving himself equally comfortable riding chunky grooves or weaving lines smoother than those that flow from the mouths of silkworms.

Each individual’s contribution coalesces into the band’s overall sound characterized by a broad appeal that inevitably causes spontaneous rump-shaking for some, and cerebral poetic and chordal analyses for others. Live or on record, this music represents the thinking-man’s groove; a real anomaly.

-Craig Stensrud

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