Not many bands can undertake a major European tour with just one EP under their belts. Idle Hands, though, are a mould-breaking outfit in more ways than one. Rich Holmes caught up with vocalist and chief songwriter Gabriel Franco during the American act’s recent UK stint – and got the story on their rapid rise…
“After Spellcaster broke up I was lost. Even though I was 26 at the time, I felt that I was getting too old to do it, I thought maybe I needed to go back to school or something.”
For Gabriel Franco, the end of Spellcaster – the Oregon metal band he’d played bass in for seven years – meant a great deal of soul searching. A time when he questioned persevering in a scene that he’d already dedicated so much of his life to. “I spent seven years on it and it went nowhere,” he says. “Did I really have the energy to start from scratch again?”
The answer, thankfully, was ‘yes’.
And now we have Idle Hands, an act whose enthralling fusion of NWOBHM, slick, classic US metal and seductive British Goth rock is propelling Franco and his bandmates into the international spotlight.
Just one year after Spellcaster split, Idle Hands – with Franco now taking centre stage as vocalist – released the stunning Don’t Waste Your Time EP in 2018 and followed it with their debut full length, Mana, back in May. The band, who also include Spellcaster alumni Sebastian Silva, Colin Vranizan and Cory Boyd in their ranks, have since embarked on a European tour, including an appearance at German’s trad metal bastion Keep It True. The momentum is still building. And the praise for Mana keeps coming in.
From the depths of despair to fronting one of the most exciting prospects in metal, it’s certainly been one hell of a ride for Franco.
He emerged from the fallout of Spellcaster’s 2017 demise realising he “had no option” but to carry on, especially after already doing eight years in the “school of hard knocks”.
“I said, OK today I am writing a song and I sat down and wrote Blade And The Will,” he recalls. That track, with its surging chorus, adrenalized guitars and dark, gothic slivers, became the blueprint for Idle Hands’ unique sound.
It could have been different…
“I initially started wanting black metal with clean vocals, like catchy black metal,” recalls Idle Hands’ frontman. “But it morphed into this. I made a point to not take into consideration what anyone else was going to think about what I was doing.
“I definitely knew I didn’t want to be a ‘true’ heavy metal band, because I had already done that, I had no interest. I was like, ‘if I’m doing anything, it has to be original, it has to be unique, otherwise what is the fucking point, I’m going to spin my wheels for another seven years’.
“So, I asked the hardest question you can ask yourself, which is ‘how do I make a unique band?’”
Franco’s deep vocals – which soak songs like A Single Solemn Rose and Nightfall in a sultry melancholy – have drawn comparisons with the likes of Robert Smith, Andrew Eldritch and Wayne Hussey. However, the singer admits that as a lifelong metalhead, his journey into British rock’s more miserable realms was made later in life…
“My guitarist showed me Sisters of Mercy’s First and Last and Always record five or six years ago and the second I heard it, I thought this is absolutely amazing, this is one of the best records I have ever heard! I had listened to nothing but metal up to that point. I didn’t know who The Cure were and I didn’t know who any of these bands were.
“People have been making comparisons between my voice and Robert Smith of The Cure. I didn’t really start listening to them until afterwards. It was like, ‘you kind of sound like Robert Smith’. And I’m like, ‘who’s that?’ I swear I am not lying. He is an iconic singer though, it’s awesome!”
Franco’s vocal talent? It’s almost come to him by default…
“I sing low because I can’t sing high,” he says. “I am very powerful when I sing low.”
The comparisons, he reveals, have led him to explore goth’s sonic tapestry further, and unearth bands like Spain’s Héroes del Silencio. But metal is Franco’s first love. He’s been “jamming and partying” to the likes of Iron Maiden and Motörhead for years. And that isn’t going to change.
“The goth aspect is just part of it,” he explains. “I was never, ‘I want it to be a goth band’.”
But however Idle Hands are perceived, whatever labels the quintet attract, there’s no doubt that Franco and his cohorts have hit on something special, a style that resonates with generations of rock and metal fans.
The band’s recent European tour kicked off before Mana was even released, but the reaction has been “absolutely crazy” according to Franco. He says: “We have people who are super dedicated and are waiting on every track, every show on the tour has been rock solid, every crowd has been great and everything has been better than we expected.
“I knew we ‘had something’ with the online response and stuff, but after playing these shows I have kind of gone, ‘wow, ok maybe we do actually have something’.
“We played Keep It True and we filled the room. A lot of people were saying it is going to be half full – it was full front to back! So that was really cool and I think we broke some merch records, I couldn’t believe it!”
He admits that there have been some keyboard-tapping ‘naysayers’ who question Idle Hands’ place at Keep It True. But it doesn’t exactly fill Franco with dread.
“I’m like ‘whatever’,” he says with a grin. “Who said I was trying to be a true metal band? You know what, the founder of this festival, who is supposed to be the most ‘true of you all’ likes it, so whatever man!”
With Mana barely out of its sleeve, you’d think that Idle Hands would be content to bask in its glory, rather than setting to work on its follow-up. But Franco says he works pretty ‘far out’. That he’s mapped out the next two years for Idle Hands. That the band could even have another album out next year if he really “hits the grindstone”.
Indeed, the writing process has already started for Idle Hands’ sophomore full-length. The ideas are already gestating in Franco’s mind…
“I want to have keys on it, more orchestral stuff,” he replies, when asked what direction a new opus might take. “I am really into ‘war sounds’. I want to have at least one song with massive kettle drums and marching, war horns, some massive assault of music. Imagine a movie soundtrack but heavy metal.
“I want to have an acoustic song, some piano, maybe even some saxophone. But largely I am going to stick to the template of what I do, to try to say as much as I can in as little as time as possible.
“That’s why all the songs are short and to the point, verse chorus, verse chorus, bridge chorus… trying to tell a story. A good song is like a good movie, in that if you can make three and a half minutes feel like seven and a half minutes, you have got a good song.”
It’s clearly a formula that has served Franco well…
“I think we can make big things happen,” he asserts. “I just have to keep writing good music and keep everyone focused and together.”
Mana is out now on Eisenwald Records.