Hands Tied were another one of those bands i clung on to as soon as i heard them towards the end of the 90’s.
So in this Part Tim focuses on his second band, Hands Tied.
DR: So when did Hands Tied start up? And who was in HT?
TM: So like I said previously, the idea of Hands Tied was originally spawned on the 1995 Mouthpiece summer tour. I remember one specific show on the tour, we were playing out in Pennsylvania somewhere, Me, Matt and our roadie Ed went out and sat on a curb and Matt started playing this total Uniform Choice “Screaming For Change” style riff on his unplugged guitar, coincidently, that riff turned into the Hands Tied song, “What Lies Ahead”. We talked about how when this tour was over, us three should start a new band and we should try to convince Ryan Murphy from Undertow to play drums for us. The idea and conversation seemed to build over the tour, but once the tour was over and Matt ended up moving to Kentucky, the idea of Hands Tied started to fade away. In 1996, Mouthpiece did that one last west coast tour with Matt playing with us, then once Matt moved, Mouthpiece continued playing into the summer and eventually called it quits by August.
I remember Ed and I continuously talking about trying to make Hands Tied a reality, but with Matt out of the picture, we desperately needed a guitarist. We had talked to Ryan Murphy a couple times about him playing drums with us, but nothing ever materialized with that. It was all starting to look pretty bleak, then out of no where I get this call from Mouthpiece bass player, Sean McGrath. Sean told me that he had been jamming with this local skater, Patrick Guidotti, who played drums. Sean was playing guitar and he and Pat were writing some heavily Dag Nasty inspired songs. Sean wanted to play me a practice tape and see if I was interested in singing for the project, so we met up and listened to the tape in my car, sitting in a Princeton mall parking lot. Quite honestly, I didn’t really have high expectations because Sean’s involvement in Mouthpiece was fairly minimal when it came to writing music. Sean basically came into Mouthpiece practices, worked out the bass lines to whatever new songs we were writing, but didn’t really contribute much more than that. That wasn’t a knock on Sean, that was just the roll he sort of played in Mouthpiece. I don’t think I ever even heard him play a guitar while in Mouthpiece, it was always the bass. So when I heard this practice of him and Pat playing these songs together, I was blown away. The songs were really well written and well played, Pat was one hell of a drummer and Sean turned out to be an impressive guitarist and song writer. Like I said, the music was heavily Dag Nasty inspired and very melodic, which I liked, but it wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned playing at the time. That said, I was still super impressed with what Sean and Pat were able to put together and I definitely saw a lot of potential. I told Sean that I really liked the tape and told him about how Ed and I had been trying to put this new band together. Sean and Pat needed a singer and a bass player and that’s exactly what Ed and I were. I asked Sean if he was interested in doing something with more of a New York Hardcore type sound, a heavy Youth Of Today sound and feel to be more specific. Sean was into it and told me that he thought Pat would be into it as well. The plans started flowing, we both kept getting each other more and more psyched about the idea of this new band. I told Sean about the name Hands Tied, we talked about recording a demo, playing shows, all the possibilities. Once I left the meeting with Sean, I got home and called Ed and filled him in on what had just gone down, Ed was psyched. Finally after months and months of talk and planning, this band idea was about to become a reality.
Now, there were a couple technicalities we needed to figure out. Ed and I of course wanted to do a full on Straight Edge band, Sean was Straight Edge and Pat didn’t drink, smoke or do drugs, but didn’t really call himself Straight Edge. You’d regularly see Pat skating in YOT – Youth Crew 88 shirts, Smorgasbord shirts and various other hardcore shirts and he was into hardcore, but he was first and foremost, a skateboarder. Pat went to the occasional show, actually saw Youth Of Today in 1988, as well as plenty of other great bands, but he wasn’t really into the scene like the rest of us were. His focus was always on skateboarding and I guess because he wasn’t apart of the hardcore scene, he didn’t feel natural calling himself Straight Edge. I think we all respected how Pat felt, but ultimately felt like if we were going to do this band together, we had to be unified and all in agreement on the Straight Edge issue. We basically told Pat, “Look, if you don’t want to X up because you don’t feel comfortable with it, that’s fine, but the bottom line is, you don’t drink, smoke or do drugs, you like Youth Of Today and you’re now playing drums in a Straight Edge band… you’re essentially Straight Edge”. Next thing I know, I’m at work designing a Hands Tied logo and sticker that said HANDS TIED with NEW JERSEY STRAIGHT EDGE underneath it and we never looked back.
We practiced a lot with Hands Tied, pretty much every weekend, sometimes during the week as well and the practices seemed to go on for hours. It was much more practicing than I was use to with Mouthpiece. Like I mentioned earlier, Sean and Patrick had written a few Dag Nasty style songs, but when Ed and I got involved, we started sculpting the sound into something more in tune with Youth Of Today. We ended up taking that “What Lies Ahead” riff that Matt had written while jamming on the Mouthpiece 95 summer tour and turning it into a complete song. We also wrote the song, “Signed Off”. After those two songs were complete with lyrics, we decided to go to a local studio and record a demo. We had about 3 of those Dag Nasty type melodic songs that Sean and Pat had originally written, then the 2 new songs that we all wrote together. I never wrote lyrics to the melodic songs, even though I thought they were good songs, I knew they weren’t the direction we were ultimately going to take this band in, so I didn’t want to waste time writing lyrics for them and putting a whole lot of effort into them. Sean, Pat and Ed thought it would still be a good idea to to record those songs, so we hit the studio and recorded all 5 songs. I put vocals to “Signed Off” and “What Lies Ahead”, but the engineer at the studio was pretty clueless on how to record someone singing/yelling for a hardcore song and never really adjusted the mic properly, which in turn resulted in a blasted out mic sound with my vocals. I remember going for take after take on the same two songs and the guy just had problem after problem on how he should set the mic up. After so many takes, my voice was starting the get blown out and what I recall us ending up with was blown out vocals on a improperly set up microphone.
Although we called the recording a demo, it was never meant to be an official demo that we were going to sell or go public with. We took “Signed Off” and “What Lies Ahead”, made a demo cover and dubbed a handful of cassettes to send out to labels. I typed up letters and sent demos to Equal Vision Records, Ambassador Records, Revelation Records, New Age Records and Victory Records. Within days I heard back from Ryan Hoffman and Steve Hertz at Ambassador. They were way into Hands Tied and very interested in doing something with us. We all loved Chain Of Strength, so the idea of doing something with Ambassador seemed like a good fit. I also heard back from Steve Reddy at Equal Vision pretty quickly as well. Both labels were still fairly young, Ambassador being younger than Equal Vision, but neither were all that big of labels at the time. I think initially because Ambassador had hit us up first, we were thinking of going with them. They had Ryan with the Chain Of Strength connection, plus they had exclusive distribution with Revelation, both of which seemed ideal. The only problem I recall with Ambassador is that they didn’t have much money at all to work with. We weren’t looking for a big budget recording or anything like that, but Ambassador’s budget felt like it might be hard to make work. We went back and forth with both labels, even talking about the possibilities of releasing a different 7” for each label, but in the end, working with Steve and Equal Vision just made the most sense. I had known Steve for awhile and I knew he was a great guy, I also knew that he put a lot into the bands on his label, he was very dedicated. It’s not like the Ambassador guys weren’t good guys and weren’t as dedicated, but their label just wasn’t around long enough to give us an accurate feel. I also loved the idea that Equal Vision was based on the east coast. With Ambassador based in California, I knew how it complicated things because of the experiences I had dealt with New Age when I was doing Mouthpiece. So we went with Equal Vision and ultimately I think it was the best decision. Steve and Equal Vision treated us great, we recorded where we wanted to record and didn’t have to worry about the budget, we were able to jump in a car and drive to New York and meet with Steve, layout our record, etc.
As for the line ups of Hands Tied, we ended up going through a couple of them. Originally it was me (Tim McMahon) – vocals, Ed McKirdy – Bass, Sean McGrath – Guitar and Patrick Guidotti – Drums. We recorded the Equal Vision 7” with that line up and probably played a year’s worth of shows with that line up. Ideally it would have been great if we could have kept this original line up together, but Sean and I started getting into petty arguments and butting heads over things that I look back on now, as being pretty silly. I think we both had a couple of minimal difference in regards to how we wanted to do things with the band and at the time, neither of us were willing to budge and everything seemed magnified. I remember one specific incident where a guy had called me to book us on a show in NYC. Every date the guy had given me conflicted with my work schedule, so I turned him down. A few weeks later, the same guy ended up contacting Sean and asking him if we could play one of the dates that I had already said no to, but this time around, Sean said yes. When Sean called me to tell me that he confirmed us on the bill, I told him that I had already shot that offer down due to my work schedule. Sean told me that we could not turn down shows and told me that if I couldn’t play, maybe they’d think about asking our friend Steve Lucuski to sing for that show. This proposed idea, whether it was serious or not, infuriated and insulted me and our conversation ended abruptly. Again, in retrospect, we both let the incident get out of hand and take on a life of it’s own, we probably should have crushed it within a couple of days, but we didn’t and both of our egos got the best of us. I ended up telling Sean that he had to leave the band, he played two more shows with us and that was it. I didn’t intend on having Patrick leave, but Sean was really Pat’s main connection, so when Sean was out, Pat decided he was out as well. Looking back, it was all handled so poorly on both sides, but it was what it was and that’s the way the original line up came to an end. Unfortunately, Sean and I didn’t talk for a few years after everything that went down. It wasn’t until about 2003, when Sean was diagnosed with cancer that we both pushed our differences aside and left the past in the past. I realized that life was way too short to hold a grudge and Sean needed friends and I wanted to be there for him. Sean and I got to hang out a handful of times over the year and it wasn’t like we even needed to iron out our differences, because there really weren’t any. We picked up right where we left off before all of the band drama from years prior. Sean passed away during the summer of 2004.
After the split up of the original line up of Hands Tied, Ed and I recruited three new members. First we got our friend Espen Follestad from Norway to play guitar, then our long time friend Geoff D’Agostino to play drums and then we added Matt Smith from Rain On The Parade on second guitar. We strategically put this specific second line up together because we felt like these other three guys were just as fired up about hardcore as we were. We felt like we were assembling an army of die hards and that this band would now be unbreakable and a force to reckon with. We were all Straight Edge, we all loved hardcore and I think we thought that was all we needed… but it wasn’t. We practiced a lot with this new line up, but apparently not enough, because when it came to playing live, the sound was lacking a bit. We kept pushing forward, kept practicing, but were dealt a major blow when Espen’s visa ran out and he had to move back to Norway to try and sort things out. When Espen left, Geoff brought in another long time friend, ex-Ressurection / Mouthpiece guitarist, Dan Hornecker. Dan was a great addition to Hands Tied and things seemed to be looking up, but there was a noticeable issue between Dan and Matt. We were also in the process of putting together a full European tour, where Espen would again join us, but with Dan, Espen and Matt all playing guitar, someone had to go and Matt was the one that took the hit.
Hands Tied went on to do that European tour with Ten Yard Fight and One King Down, over the winter of 1997 into 1998. We played with the line up of Me (Tim McMahon) – Vocals, Ed McKirdy – Bass, Geoff D’Agostino – Drums, Dan Hornecker – Guitar and Espen Follestad – Guitar. The tour went just about as good as it could, we played a ton of shows over a three week span. Some of the greatest shows I ever played, were played on that tour and it seemed like we had finally fully recovered from the split up of the original line and we had now caught our stride. Unfortunately, the feeling of content was short lived. Once we came back from that European tour, we played a show in Philadelphia, that didn’t go to well and then the band started falling apart. Dan Hornecker quit the band and Espen was still stuck in Norway, unable to come back to America for an extended amount of time. We spent a handful of months trying to find a replacement guitarist, but nothing seemed to pan out, so Hands Tied fizzled to an end in 1998.
Ed and I did resurrect Hands Tied in 2010 with our friend Brian “Gordo” Jordan on drums and Mike Clarke from Mindset on guitar. We played a bunch of shows, recorded and released a 7” with two new songs on Livewire Records, but even that line up couldn’t stay together for much more than a year. It’s still a possibility that we bring Hands Tied back again, but there’s no plans right now. With all the Mouthpiece activity that came about in 2011, Hands Tied activity seemed to take the back seat.
DR: How long were HT around for?
TM: Our first go around was from 1996 to 1998. We did play a few random shows post 1998 with varying line ups and then there was the 2010 to 2011 line up.