The Black Hand About

Destiny can be a rapidly shifting target. If anyone knows this, it’s Chris Hughes, singer of up-and-coming SoCal electro-metal outfit The Black Hand, whose current creative endeavors represent a new life for the frontman, after a devastating injury.

Hughes was in the midst of an eight-year career as a professional BMX rider with Dave Mirra’s namesake Mirraco team when a poorly constructed mega-ramp nearly took his life during a competition in France. Hughes was hospitalized with damage to his lung and pancreas, and the time spent recovering afforded him the opportunity to reconsider his future path in life. That was the end of his pro BMX career and the beginning of Hughes’ journey as a musician.

“Once riding becomes your job, after a while it just starts to wear on your brain, because you know that potentially you’re going to get seriously hurt,” explains Hughes. “Then it happened—I got hurt really, really bad—so I started thinking, ‘Well, I can continue to do this and be left with nothing at an older age, or I could chase music, my other true passion. That’s where it really began.”

Hughes soon gathered a group of like-minded players, which grew and morphed into the current The Black Hand lineup: In addition to Hughes on vocals, the group also includes guitarist Mayauel Garavito, drummer Rob McDonald, bassist Allix Johnson and keyboardist/supporting vocalist Jeremy Grasso. The group originally dubbed itself For the Old-Fashioned, and under that name released a six-song EP called Grateful, which is now being re-released under The Black Hand moniker. Since that time, the band has been honing its live show into an adrenaline-inducing sonic assault, focusing primarily on performances in the Southern California area, while working out of their studio HQ in Santa Ana, Calif.

And they haven’t been hunkered down in the studio alone. A key alliance the still-growing band has formed is with esteemed engineer and producer Chris Rakestraw (Megadeth, Danzig, Motörhead), who has guided The Black Hand’s evolution to date, first engineering Grateful, and more recently contributing to the overall production and engineering of the band’s new self-titled album. Hughes credits Rakestraw with having a huge impact on the group’s development into the tight, professional outfit heard on the latest recordings.

“He taught us a whole bunch of stuff. We had battles with him, because his style’s a little bit different than ours, but finding that happy medium is kind of where we found our sound,” he says. “He helped us get through a bullshit phase. Without him, I feel like we’d be five years behind where we are right now.”

The band’s innovative fusion of hardcore metal, hip-hop and electronic music reflects the tastes of key songwriters Hughes and Grasso, who craft the foundations of most The Black Hand material. Hughes says he and Grasso each gravitate toward different sounds than the other and then feed off one another’s various influences, in order to create something new and inspiring.

“Jeremy’s and my influences are kind of on two opposite spectrums, so we have to meet somewhere in the middle, which I think is a good thing,” Hughes says. “On our latest record, a lot of it was hip-hop influenced. I’d listen to a lot of Eminem and look at how he’d work with words, and utilize that influence to write. I try to keep the balance by holding a contrast of different dynamic voices, and there are a lot of different voices that I used on this record.”

Synonymous with the band’s pummeling sound, the lyrical imagery on The Black Hand’s self-titled debut rumbles with brooding anger and inner torment. Hughes explains the songs on the album contain a mix of autobiographical and fictional topics, with a central fixation on the darker aspects of life.

“A lot of the record is about death and losing people because I’ve had a lot of that in my life,” says Hughes. “For example, ‘The Thickening’ is about a drug overdose, from the drug addict’s perspective. So it’s a person losing control, overdosing and realizing that they’ve fucked up and don’t want to die, but they’re dying anyway. I’ve had two friends overdose and die, so I wrote that from a personal perspective.”

On another standout track, “Daydreamer,” Hughes tackles an incredibly difficult personal subject: the 2016 suicide of BMX legend Dave Mirra, Hughes’ close friend and former BMX team head. The singer says he free-styled most of the vocals for that track in the studio, allowing the emotion from the song to overtake him.

“Dave was my hero, my mentor, and he shot himself last year,” says Hughes. “I wanted it to be real, based on the fact that the song was super personal to me, so I turned out the lights and just looped sections and vented until something came out. The first verse was at the beginning of the session, and by the time we got to the second verse, I’d been screaming so many times that my voice had this wear to it, so it was naturally worn for the second section. There’s a little bit of grit in there instead of being perfectly tuned or smooth.”

The band isn’t afraid to stir controversy, either. Hughes readily admits the track “The American Pastime”—which speaks from the first-person perspective of a school shooter—isn’t for the easily offended. It’s an unflinching exploration of the thought process behind unspeakable tragedies.

“That’s one song that’s probably going to get us a handful of shit,” says Hughes. “There’s a whole section that kind of paints a movie of someone going to the school, walking down the hall, opening the door and then shooting everyone. At one point there’s a girl begging for her life, and a dude shooting her. That song’s really dark and super fucked up.”

With their powerful new full-length debut released, the band is now hard at work rehearsing for upcoming shows and potential tours, while videos for “Disappear” and “Where Are You Now?” continue to push the band’s music into exciting visual territory. For now, Hughes says the band is satisfied just seeing the daily transformation of their musical dreams into reality.

“We’re trying to give people the same feeling that we got from artists we cared about when we were coming up; when you go to a show and you get super psyched on seeing one of your favorite bands and connecting with a song,” says Hughes. “That’s a really good feeling, so we just want to gift that to the world the same way it was gifted to us.”

The Black Hand Albums