Hans the Double
It was a chilly Saturday afternoon and I found myself in the company of Philadelphia-based band Hans the Double. The quartet, comprised of Justin Lerner (vocals, guitar), Gina Fontana (guitar), Mike DiEva (bass, vocals) and Nick Biscardi (drums), is relatively new, having been together for a year now. However, within the short time, they’ve managed to build one of the best bonds I’ve seen between bandmates, release a ten-track LP and manage to still have an amazing time.
I sat in through their band practice, listening to them rehearse. The band played tracks from their debut release, Dossier, as well as several new songs. As they tweaked the set, adding and re-working bits here and there, I took notice of them. Justin, the lead guitarist, belted out the lyrics as he stared at the ceiling (he’s quiet by nature); Gina would lean against the piano, intently gazing at her guitar. Mike wandered around the living room, refusing to stand still as he played. Nick pounded away on the drums, his movements smooth, yet powerful.
After two and a half hours of listening to them practice, I was able to divert their attention to some questions.
What other names did you contemplate?
Nick: One Hundred Yellow.
Mike: Well, most of them were reference to either The Simpsons…
Nick: Eddie Izzard or The Princess Bride…
Hans the Double came from….
Mike: It involves Paul Reubens… [The name actually comes from the 1988 movie, Pee-Wee Herman’s Christmas Special, which starred Paul Reubens -BS].
So why be secretive about the meaning behind the name?
Justin: Because we’re just lazy [laughs]
Mike: Why don’t we explain it? I don’t know. Because honestly, when we came up with the name, the three of us (Justin wasn’t in the band just yet) just like decided to not tell anyone what it means because it will be really funny to us that way. Like there’s not logic behind it; we just thought it would be really funny to not tell anybody. Now that you’ve ruined that for us [laughs].
Are you guys afraid that one day there might be another Hans?
Mike: It’s intensely unlikely. [laughs] I will personally leg-wrestle for it.
Nick: We have our own Wikipedia page so that means it’s ours forever.
You have your own Wikipedia page?
Nick: It’s what happens when you get bored at 4 in the morning. [band laughs].
Mike: I actually went back the other day and categorized it.
Let’s talk about the band’s formation. So Gina knew Mike…
Mike: Actually, she found me on a Craigslist ad.
Gina I had just lost my job and just wanted to play music. He was the first one to respond.
Mike: I was the only one to show up so I was in the band by default.
Gina: He was at my house that day before me.
Nick, how did you join?
Nick: I posted a Craigslist ad saying that I wanted to drum with somebody. I forget who sent one first, but they (Mike and Gina) both ended up replying, not knowing that the other had replied. I finally put two and two together and was like “Wait a minute…”
How long did you guys go without Justin?
Nick: A month.
Mike: There was a gaping hole in my heart. [band laughs]
Justin, how did you meet the band?
Justin: Oh should I tell it? Well, it was a fine summer day and I had just gotten an ice cream from Baskin Robbins. I had eaten my ice cream and went home. I looked on Craigslist and found this crazy band, Hans the Double. I thought it was pretty cool that…I don’t know where this is going. They all seemed like normal people because I had met some of them that weren’t so normal.
Mike: Musicians aren’t normal. [laughs] We’re not the least flaky species. We just showed Justin a few of the songs and he started to play.
What songs did you have by then? Anything that made it onto Dossier?
Nick: Everything we had written had made it onto Dossier.
Why name the CD Dossier?
Gina: It’s a file.
Nick: I thought it was a cool word. So I was like “why not name it Dossier?”
Mike: It makes sense. A dossier is a file you give to somebody that doesn’t know anything about you and they can read that and find out everything there is to know. Listening to that record, you can know everything there is to know about us.
Justin: I wrote all the [lyrics] on Dossier, so they all kind of describe me. The lyrics reflect stuff that I’ve done.
Mike: This is a song about something that happened once, right? I made out to “Two Weeks in a Month” once.
Justin: Are you serious? I don’t know how I feel about that.
Would you guys — everyone but Mike — make out to your own songs?
Nick: You mean if we’re listening to music and it comes on shuffle, am I going to turn it off? No.
Gina: I don’t announce my make-outs.
Back to Dossier. Why include several instrumentals on there?
Mike: I was pushing on that for the whole ‘variation on a theme’ type thing.
Describe the music scene here in Philly for people who may not be familiar with it.
Mike: I believe Hunter S. Thompson had it exactly right when he said that “the music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.” Very little of it exists. I know I don’t speak for the entire band, but Philly is probably one of the most difficult cities that you can play original music in.
Gina: The bars around here only want to hear cover bands.
Mike: Every bar wants cover bands or bands that sound like cover bands. You’ve got a few people in West Philly doing their own thing, but it’s really…
Mike: There’s a bunch of good hip-hop and rap shit coming out of Philly, but I mean, as far as original rock music… there’s very little.
Tell me more about the Philly Sound Clash that you guys are entered in.
Mike: It was an online battle of the bands sponsored by Philly Car Share. You put up a few songs online, a short bio. People sign up for the website and they vote for you.
How are you guys doing in that?
Justin: We haven’t checked it in awhile.
Mike: Yet another shitty bar rock band without an imagination is going to win and get thousands of dollars and all this recognition. And that’s the way it’s going to happen. Philadelphia will perpetuate in mediocrity once again and all the good musicians will move to New York because they’re sick of it. That’s my rant for today. [group laughs]
You guys also entered the Break Contest for a spot on Bamboozle. Tell me about that.
Mike: Number one: it’s an opportunity to play in front of people and Philly. Number two: it’s an opportunity to play in front of a lot of fucking people and a lot of bands. It’s such a huge festival and there are so many bands on the line-up that — I can guarantee — there is a minimum of three bands you could find that you were into. A minimum.
Nick: Actually my friend sent me the link and said “Dude, I think you might be interested in this. It looks kinda cool.”
So how come Justin doesn’t get to talk a lot?
Justin: [laughs] Oh I get to talk. I just choose not to.
Mike: Give him a pint of Guiness and he’ll be fine.
Back to shows… is it awkward when you bring people you know to shows?
Justin: I was nervous at the North Star show because a lot of people from work showed up that had never seen us play before.
Mike: My parents — who have been divorced since I was two — came to the same show. To have them both in the same room — that was interesting.
Nick: That was a great show. It was only two bands at the 1619 house–usually they have three or four bands at a time. It’s us and a band from Ohio called This is Exploding. Their stage banter is fucking incredible. (to Mike) TAKE NOTES. TAKE NOTES. [Mike is usually the one to speak on stage in between songs -BS] They gave us props–they were like “Credit to Hans the Double for putting ‘the’ in their band name and not having it start the name.”
Mike: They were good dudes and really great musicians.
Nick: They even used one of our song names when talking about us. We went on after them and they were like “Is Hans the Double getting restless? Do they want to play?
How would you describe your band in 5 words or less?
Nick: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and stuff.”
Tell me about your fans.
Mike: Our fans are… I don’t know.
Nick: When you’re 15 and there are people bigger than you — like just even size wise —
I’m 5’1″ (and 20) and I’m not scared of Justin or Mike.
Nick: When you’re that young, you’re probably under 5’5″ and they’re over 6’0″… well, I don’t know. People that young are shyer.
Are you saying you have a younger fan base then?
Mike: No, not really. The fans that we have that weren’t our friends beforehand — like, I don’t know why, but they don’t want to come up and introduce themselves to us. We get like a Myspace message and then no other communication whatsoever. It’s cool that people are on the Internet and listening to us, but at the same time, we want to meet them
Gina: We’re real people.
Mike: The Internet is a very sort of anonymous thing. We just want to put a face with the numbers. Like 1,500 Myspace friends — what does that mean if you can’t put a face to any of them other than pictures you see on a screen?
Tell me about your last show in Pitman.
Nick: Speaking of shy fans, you (referring to Mike) were like “Oh, we have CDs, stickers and pins for sale, but hugs are always free.” I had everything together — we had packed up the equipment and were getting ready to get a picture and this little girl comes up to me and goes, “Can I have a hug?”
Mike: That’s what I was getting at earlier. Things like that are what make this worthwhile. If we ever make money off of this or something — that’s cool. But the fact that some random person wants to give us a hug after a show — that’s why we do this.
Justin: I noticed a bunch of random girls taking pictures of us.
You guys have a pretty tight relationship — ever get sick of one another?
Mike: We [Nick and Mike] might actually move in together. We could always leave for a day and then come back…
Nick: “Dude, take the trash out.” NO. “I’ll ‘guitar hero’ you for it.” DEAL. (laughs).
Mike: All house arguments WILL be solved that way.
You have a song entitled “Another Rushmore Reference,” which was derived from the movie, Rushmore and a song entitled, “Cult Classic.” What is your favorite cult classic movie?
Mike: Plan 9 From Outer Space. Has anyone seen Bubba Ho-Tep? Anything with Bruce Campbell.
Nick: Eraserhead or Killer Klowns From Outer Space [the rest of the band laughs and agrees].
Okay and finally, what’s the best band joke you’ve heard?
Nick: What did the drummer get on his SATs? Drool Or, how do you get a drummer off your porch? Pay for the pizza
Mike: I have one. How many lead guitarists does it take to screw in a light bulb? 10 — 1 to do it and 9 to talk about how much better they could have done it!
The band went back to tweaking their new instrumental, “When the Moors Conquered Sicily,” a song that is, simply put, epic in sound. After several tries, they decided to pack up. As I got on the EL with Mike, he said to me, “Like I said earlier. This isn’t about the numbers — it’s more than that. Numbers don’t mean anything.”
This is a band that isn’t about the business — they’re about the music. Plain and simple. You can tell, if you ever get to see them live, that they have a passion for the music and are willing to play at any venue for people.
If you want more information on the band, visit their website (designed by Justin himself) and their myspace page Hans the Double .
Keep their name in mind. You may just be hearing a lot more about them in the next year.
Hans The Double: www.hansthedouble.com