How fighting in bars and two subdural hematomas led to the Angry Hand of God
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.
Garrett McGaugh: I was getting back into snowboarding, and he said, "We go up every weekend." It was something different. I kind of came from the beginning of the alt-rock stuff, like At the Drive-In; midwest post-hardcore and whatever you want to call it. That's when we played down in Tucson with a band called Seven Story Swan Dive. That was a cool band. We went out and played melodic metal or whatever you want to call it with big chords with lots of distortion and smashed your equipment at the end. So I was into the emotional side of the show. Playing loud and playing hard.
I have a degree in percussion performance, so I had the classical background. When I met these guys, I was playing for the Denver Philharmonic. Excellent orchestra. All volunteers with people who just want to play. So I was doing that and also playing in this "stoner rock" or "southern metal" band. I don't know what you want to call it, but I had never played that style before, the heavy shuffle, the heavy triplet feel. I acted like I knew who all these bands were -- Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss...I just went home and did my homework and listened to a bunch of that stuff.
It was cool to approach it maybe as wrong as possible and kind of do things your own way. I was at the point in my playing career where I was like, "I don't care. I'm going to play well, but I'm just going to do whatever sounds good," and these guys were totally into it. They liked my little musical decisions. So that was cool and, yeah, we haven't looked back.
How did you get started playing drums?
GM: I have a musical family as well. My mom teaches and plays piano in Colorado Springs. She plays for a band called High Wheeler, which is kind of a bluegrass kind of band. Killer little band. She was actually one of the founding members of Shakedown Street, Charlotte McGaugh and Ted Galloway and those guys. I grew up going to bars, watching my mom play. Instead of having a babysitter, I sat at the bar and helped her move her big keyboard in the '80s and '90s. I started taking drum lessons in fifth or sixth grade. I grew up in Colorado Springs.
When I met these guys, the music was great, but the vocals weren't great. It wasn't the strong point of the band. So we were looking for a vocalist. Meanwhile, Brian and Pat were kind of taking over and singing as much as they could. It was fine but it wasn't as good as it could have been. I don't know how we met Ezana Negash.
Ezana Negash: I found you guys on Craigslist and listened to it on MySpace. I was unsure about it. I'd never done anything like it. I graduated in '92, the same year as Brian. So I was in a band that sounded like Red Hot Chili Peppers. I loved Fishbone, and I was raised on reggae, and my dad had the odd Crystal Gayle record in there. My mother was a musical theater person.
It's funny Mark mentioned Jesus Christ Superstar because that's one of my earliest musical memories, too. "Judas' Song," whatever, epic. So I lived back and forth between here and South Carolina. My dad is a professor in Aiken, South Carolina at the University. I went to high school with Strom Thurmond's kids, but the school was predominantly black.
When I lived down there, I started getting into music and going up to Augusta to see punk shows. This would have been around '91. The band that was really memorable was called Flinghammer from Jackson, Mississippi. It was kind of a Chilis thing with kind of a southern bite to it. Not so much metal, because down there, in general, the metalheads were mostly kind of redneck-y, country characters. So I got really into punk, and I had friends in hardcore bands, and I go to shows down there.
I'd come to Boulder for the summers, and I moved back here for my senior year and went to Fairview and met some kids there who I started playing with. That was my first kind of band band that we recorded together and played shows. We were called the Tribe, and I think our first show was at Narayan's. It was a kind of half-Nepalese restaurant, half-bar in the basement. I'd go back and forth to South Carolina in the summers and see music down there and music here in Colorado. I never got into jam band music but I got into punk, blues and reggae.
I went to college in Durango and was in a couple of bands. I was in one called Ghetto Hash, as in resin. We played a lot of garage parties for the kind of freaky snowboard crowd. Then Super Bee. It was an isolated area, and when we would have shows in the Four Corners area. A lot of people would come out. The Super Bees from Denver came about a couple of years after Super Bee broke up. I was off for three years and did Americorps and worked for a company that put books online. Three of us are teachers in this band: Mark, Garrett and I. I've been in Aurora for the last seven years at South Middle School.
While going to grad school to become a teacher I was in Captain Dirk, and after that a band called the Compulsions and then Fever Dream. We used to play with the Skivies. Fever Dream broke up, and I was looking for a musical outlet again because the catharsis is important. I'd never done metal before, so I did pretty much what Garrett did. I had to study up and download all kinds of music.
I looked up "stoner rock" and downloaded about fifty bands: Dozer, Red Fang, Electric Wizard and Orange Goblin and Kyuss. Queens of the Stone Age I already knew. I liked blues already, and it's blues based with just bigger guitar. That was it. I was slow to come up with the lyrics but I'm proud of the way we've meshed.
MP: Everything's kind of like that. Everyone has had the free reign to just bring in what they bring in. We've made it work.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.