Music: 'Hannah' vs. Montana for Vampire Hands


Vampire Hands releases its third record, but loses a member.

Alex Rose, left, Chris Bierden, Colin Johnston and Chris Rose of Vampire Hands.

Typical Minnesota band: Right when it lands a deal with a reputable indie label and starts working with an experienced manager, Vampire Hands suddenly hangs in limbo now as co-vocalist Colin Johnson plans to move to Montana.

Fortunately, nothing else about Vampire Hands is typical. The quartet's innovative sound is built on pulsating, hypnotic rhythms, reverb-drenched guitar and eerie yet beautiful vocals and tribal-like chants -- equal parts Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, experimental bands like Can and influential punk acts ranging from the Stooges to Wire.

Johnson's relocation is being seen as a chance to spark a whole new creative phase. The band might start recording via the Internet. It might meet up with Johnson on the road. It probably will play shows as a three-piece. No one knows for sure how things will play out. Which is perfect.

"The excitement in this band has always stemmed from constant challenge," said Johnson. "We enjoy any challenge, and in fact we thrive off it. There's never been a fear of, 'What's it's going to sound like?' It's always, 'Let's dive in and not worry about what we are or aren't able to do.'"

Vampire Hands plays one last gig under Johnson's local residency Friday night at the Turf Club. The show is a release party for its third and best album, "Hannah in the Mansion." The new record will be sold as a limited vinyl release on indie label Secretly Canadian's vinyl-geek imprint, St. Ives. All 300 copies feature unique artwork handcrafted by the band. It's also available on iTunes, but the guys don't seem as interested in promoting it that way.

"We shoot ourselves in the foot with these sort of things all the time," Johnson said two weeks ago, sitting with his bandmates in a semicircle in his apartment.

The other three members of the band -- bassist/singer Chris Bierden, guitarist Chris Rose and drummer Alex Rose (Chris' younger brother) -- didn't seem to mind Johnson doing most of the talking. They also let him eat up most of the spotlight onstage, where he excitedly bounces between a stand-up drum kit and keyboards. It's astonishing, then, to hear that: a) Johnson suffers from stage fright and won't mind bowing out of gigs while in Montana; and b) the other band members believe they can keep performing as Vampire Hands without him.

Said Chris Rose, "I feel like it's better than us stagnating and recycling the same thing over and over."

The Roses and Johnson played in bands together around high school. Bierden and Chris Rose bonded over music when they were away at school in Milwaukee. Vampire Hands formed upon their return in November 2005. In less than a year, the quartet became one of the must-see acts in Twin Cities indie-rock clubs, somewhat to its surprise.

"When we started the band," Alex Rose said, "I think we wanted to be a noise-rock band. But we slowly came to the realization we're all basically classic-rock dorks."

Named after a night the band stayed at an abandoned old-folks home on tour in Kansas City, "Hannah in the Mansion" finally bottles the lightning of Vampire Hands' hair-raising, nerve-tingling live sets. It's the first album the group has recorded together in one room. They hammered out the tracks mostly with one long dusk-to-dawn session in January at their rehearsal space.

"We never had the technology or the space to do it this way until now," Johnson said. "As soon as we started, we were all like, 'This is how it has to be!'

"We had an indefinite amount of time to make this record. There was no deadline. But we were like, 'Nope. It has to be done by this time. It has to be done this way.'"