A while ago, I reviewed the final album from Alex’s Hand, Hungarian Spa. I wrote it less as a review, more as a eulogy, and it flowed out from me on the day the break-up of that band was announced (although it was published sometime later, as obviously it joined the publication queue, in the orderly way those in the UK have always done so well, and the rest of the world are learning to do in these times of self-isolation). Rising from the ashes of that glorious finale, like a blazing phoenix, comes the demo EP for Alex’s Hand main man Kellen Mills’s new project, Tryon. In a time when there’s often not much to do but waste time, it’s appropriately called Wasting Time and is ‘Name Your Price’ on Bandcamp right now.
As you will find out, if you read on, Kellen describes Wasted Time as a dystopian nightmare. Well, if that’s the case, it’s one I’m happy to inhabit – and it’s the happiest damn nightmare I’ve ever experienced. But as far as dreams of any description go, this one is rich, complex, deeply detailed, and overall, fun. It delightfully unfolds and cycles through ever-evolving patterns, as dreams are wont to do. While there are still hints of Zappa, they are more subtle and eloquent than in Alex’s Hand. This is Zappa if he were an English public school alumni, and the music is almost more akin to, say, Gentle Giant or even Yes than it is Zappa-esque. If you liked the avant-pop of last year’s Lost Crowns album, I’d find it difficult to believe you won’t like this too. It has that same sense of structured anarchy, although it is far, for lack of a better word, prettier. My favourite track is the second, Saving Till The End, which (though it really has very little in common) I find strangely reminiscent of Sky Architect. My only gripe with the EP is how quickly it’s over! Is it selfish of me to wish this break-up was longer and more protracted? And speaking of break-ups…
I took the opportunity to ask Kellen Mills a couple of questions, which he magnanimously agreed to answer. Especially so, given I went straight for the jugular, by approaching the reasons behind the break-up of Alex’s Hand:
TPA: I take it something went wrong between you and Nic, and that’s why the band broke up?
KM: We disagreed on the direction I think ultimately. I’ve become more controlling in most regards, which in many ways leads to a broken group dynamic.
TPA: I did wonder that. I didn’t like to speculate too much in my review, but I did make the observation that you were the only listed member on the Bandcamp page, from which I inferred you were likely all that was keeping the band going.
KM: It became a situation where I became the dictator…
TPA: A not so benevolent dictator?
KM: I’m sort of a perfectionist, and as I started taking more of a role of supreme dictator for the last two albums, it just became a thing. I wanted to go in a different direction as well – shifting between short melodic stuff and long-form, or doing dissonance in a different way, and the writing process changed because of that. We had become interested in different things and I think it just reached a head. It was clear that it wasn’t going to work anymore.
TPA: The last two albums are the best, in my opinion, if that’s any consolation. I particularly like the Spa album, so it is a pretty awesome swan song.
KM: Thanks. Yeah, it’s a good capper. It’s interesting as we were playing the Spa material for almost four years. But I’m happy to be moving on from it – I have a lot of new material to release!
TPA: Wasted Time seems a definite sign of intent. You call it a demo EP, but it’s easily the most impressive demo I’ve ever heard. If you didn’t call it a demo, I doubt anyone would consider it that way. Why do you call it a demo?
KM: Thanks for that! As I said before I’m a hardcore perfectionist. Although I am happy with how it sounds in some ways I’m underwhelmed by other aspects. As it was mainly recorded “DIY” I think it has that sort of sound. I call it a demo as I feel like the music still needs to be fleshed out a bit and perfected before an album release. It’s just an example of where I’m at songwriting wise and perhaps where I’m headed. Not necessarily the ultimate form of what will be. Also working with new people creates a different dynamic.
TPA: I’m pretty sure I saw at some point you describing it as “a break-up EP for break-up times”, or words to that effect. I take it that this is a reference to disregarding all that’s come before and being finally free to do what you want, rather than stating the songs themselves are about the breakup?
KM: In certain ways that’s true. Around the same time that the group collapsed, a long-term relationship between my girlfriend and I also fell apart. As soon as both of these things happened I started writing new material like a madman, subsequently throwing out the new Alex’s Hand pieces at the same time. So it’s all informed by a collapse of identity. As in my opinion being a part of something, whether it’s a relationship or band, goes towards forming how you view yourself and who you are. Once these things are stripped away you don’t know who you are anymore. Or at least you must become something new. These sorts of feelings inform the material, whether I’m conscious of it or not. On the other hand, it is freeing to create something new, disregarding the past and going towards writing without making sacrifices (which is often what you do when you collaborate). So it’s a feeling of fun and also of depressing shit. A good combo.
TPA: Well, I can’t say I heard anything too depressing, so it must be well hidden! The one thing I really noticed is the feeling of fun. The EP really is fun to listen to, and it seems quite obvious how much fun it was to make, too. The video and photos posted on the Tryon Facebook page show a sense of fun that is obviously not just for the camera. You guys were really enjoying yourselves, and it comes across in the recordings, too. Nothing sounds forced, or false. It is all very free and very fun.
KM: That’s great! For sure the material was fun to write, and it was great moving towards this direction of making the decisions in a good environment. I like working with my new drummer (for Tryon ) Diego Caetano Guerra as he’s really done a great job adding his own personality to the drum parts and bringing in his own vision; as well as working with past Alex’s Hand crew: Erik Leuthäuser who sings like a champion, Ruben Bernges who’s my much-tortured guitarist, Omri Abramov who played tenor sax for AH on a past tour and for some festivals, Giba Ferraz who played on the last Hungarian Spa tour, newbie Agustin Pardo who’s friends with Diego and provided flute and Scott Flynn who played trombone on Hungarian Spa. It’s a great team and it really helps give this sort of kicking ass vibe.
TPA: Fun is definitely important at the moment. Again to quote from memory from your Facebook page, you said it’s “crazy music for crazy times”. It’s definitely been a hard year for all musicians at the moment. And promoters, and roadies, and…
KM: Yeah, tell me about it. It’s screwed – no income. Before Alex’s Hand broke up we were planning a tour of Japan, and some other fun things. But it’s all cancelled now. I think this year’s out…
TPA: It must have been a hard decision to decide whether or not to make the EP ‘Name Your Price’ on Bandcamp?
KM: I thought about charging for it but ultimately decided that, especially because of the times we’re living in, making it free was a better decision. People need music in their lives anyway. Although for a full-fledged album I will definitely need to charge for it so I can make some money back to pay everyone that will play on it.
TPA: Before I describe the EP, how would you describe it?
KM: A dystopian nightmare of humanity stuck in collective rooms and having bad relationships or being bad at organising themselves. Music for you to break up to.
01. Wasted Time (2:59)
02. Saving Till The End (4:03)
03. Solitude By Numbers (4:13)
Total Time – 11:15
Kellen Mills – Bass, Synth
Diego Caetano Guerra – Drums, Additional Guitars
Erik Leuthäuser – Vocals
Ruben Bernges – Electric Guitar
Omri Abramov – Synth, Ewi, Tenor Sax
Scott Flynn – Trombone
Agustin Pardo – Flute
Giba Ferraz – Piano, Synth
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Germany
Date of Release: 25th March 2020