How fighting in bars and two subdural hematomas led to the Angry Hand of God
Jessica McGaugh Garrett McGaugh (from left), Ezana Negash, Mark Pilloud and Brian Kennedy are Angry Hand of God.
Angry Hand of God started in 2008 as a band inspired by the kind of slow, crushing, psychedelic metal that ran through most of the stoner rock bands at the time. Only this band has really strong riffs that have propelled it from the dark sludge of doom into more melodic territory, as heard on its latest album, Revelations from Rock Bottom, which is a sonic monolith and a potent synthesis of melody and heaviness more akin to bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. We recently sat down and spoke with the band about its disparate backgrounds and influences and how fighting in bars led to a craniotomy and ultimately into the Angry Hand of God.
Westword: When did you start this band?
Mark Pilloud: I think it was 2006. I'd just moved her from Phoenix and was looking for people to jam with and stuff new in town. I was putting my energy back in music. I think I went to StonerRock.com. I found Pat Dixon, another guitarist, and we decided to see what would happen. We got together and started jamming and these songs just came. Then we met Brian.
What brought you here from Phoenix?
MP: That's a whole big bag kind of thing. My wife's family lives here, and I couldn't do what I was doing in Phoenix. When I was in high school, I was in bands, but I stopped for a while. I was into competing, and I couldn't do that anymore. We started the mixed martial arts in Arizona, but I had a lot of injuries to my head, so I couldn't do this thing anymore. So I took a lot of time off of music, and I was putting my time into that, and I did that for about ten years. I started off as a kenpo guy. This was the mid '90s and it was style against style then. It wasn't mixed martial arts. It was no holds barred. We would fight in bars and things like that.
You fought in bars? Seriously? Did you set up a ring or something?
MP: Seriously. We would put up rings in bars. It started off in schools, and we graduated to bars, and then the whole cage thing came along. But I got head injuries. My brain blew up, so that stopped the fighting. I had two subdural hematomas. So I went into emergency brain surgery and had a craniotomy. That stopped my career in fighting. I did that after high school and I loved it, but I couldn't do that anymore and needed an outlet so I got back into my music a little bit in Arizona. But when we came here, that's what I put all my energy back into.
In high school, I played heavy rock. During that time it was the heyday of the '80s, you know, hair bands and all of that. I was there for beginning of Metallica. There were stores called Shirts & Things, and they had all the imports. We would take off from high school during our lunch hour and go pick up of things like the first S.O.D. album when it came out. So we were into all that stuff and that's what we used to play. Also the NWOBHM like Priest and Maiden.
David Bowie was huge to my parents, so he was huge to me too. The first album that I really remember was Jesus Christ Superstar with Ian Gillan. That totally blew me away, and I'm just this little kid, and my mom was blaring that out and singing along. My musical tastes for rock were cut from those sorts of things. My tastes evolved and spread out to a little more extreme kind of stuff.
I hooked up with Pat, and he was way into Isis and Neurosis and Pelican. He brought that kind of more ambient thing, and I'm more riff-driven. So we tried to put these things together. I would write a riff-driven thing, and he would put a more ambient touch on it and make things spacey and noisy and stuff like that. We had a drummer named JJ, and it was just the three of us doing instrumental things and Brian saw us.
Brian: I saw them on Myspace, and I think I got a response or something like that looking for a bass player on a Myspace ad and I called them up. I went to one of their practices and the first thing, Pat pulled me aside and said, "You know we're a Christian rock band, right?" I said, "Yeah, it's cool." And thought I'd just jam with them once. But he said, "Oh, I'm just fucking with you." They had great riffs and it was really easy to bring some technical riffs to what Mark and Pat created.
Before this I started playing at eleven and jazz band in high school. My dad pulled me aside and he was like, "Pick an instrument." He was a musician who played guitar and bass. I thought Sting looked pretty cool with a bass. Throughout high school I was living in Naples, Florida. I went to college in Gainsville. Great music scene there: Hot Water Music, Less Than Jake, Tom Petty. Moved up to Gainsville with my grunge band. Then I got into punk, metal, country punk. My grunge band was called Paradox Green. I don't know if you'd call them grunge, but just rock. I started playing guitar for a little bit and joined a glam rock band called the Future Legends, which was the last band I was in before moving here. One day, our singer decided to shave his eyebrows and wrap himself in Saran Wrap for a show. We did a Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars tribute. It fit the tribute to say the least.
Here, I joined a punk band on hiatus right now called the Proud Fallen. I moved here in 2003 and I love it here. My ex-wife and I sold our house in Gainsville and got some money and it was either here or Montreal. We decided to go here. No friends, we just wanted a change of scenery. And haven't regretted it ever since. I love it here.
What was the story behind the name you hinted at earlier, Mark?
Mark: I was in Denver then and the scene was taking off at the time. I think I was banging out riffs and watching a South Park episode and it was the one where Cartman gets scared by the "angry hand of god." Really it was sort of jokey. I presented it to the guys and they were like, "Yeah, that's cool."
How did you end up in this band, Garrett?
Garrett McGaugh: I think it was a Myspace or Craigslist ad that I saw. My wife and I moved here from Syracuse, New York where she completed her graduate degree. Before that we had lived in Tucson, Arizona. I didn't know Mark even though it was probably around the same time he was in Phoenix.
So we moved here in 2008. I was similar to Brian's story and we just kind of almost threw a dart at a map and said, "Let's move there." We moved here sight unseen into an apartment that my mom found in Arvada, kind of right underneath I-70, literally. I ended up meeting these guys that first year, maybe 2009. We would practice at my house or Mark's place. This is the first band I ever met on Craigslist or Myspace that wasn't a bunch of really weird characters and sketchy individuals. I had tried and I "auditioned" a lot of bands. These guys were super cool and it was Pat, Brian and Mark.
Brian Kennedy: We bonded over snowboarding.