"Because it was just two of us, it allowed for a different kind of songwriting," explains Jeffrey Howard, guitarist of Orlando duo Hot Hands. Along with drummer "Machine Gun Kristin" Howard, the duo craft concise, direct rock & roll: a blend of power-pop, fuzzy noise, raucous garage and raw power, always with a keen ear for a hook or a hummable chorus.
"I had to take the music in my head, strip everything down to just one instrument and super simple arrangements," Howard continues. "[We] filled it out with volume, volume and more volume. Kristin just pounds away and it's great." The moniker "Machine Gun Kristin" is more than deserved, originally coined by bandmates in a different project, Garbo's Daughter.
"Before we started practicing, Mandy and Jaime came out to a Hot Hands show and said my drumming sounded like a machine gun," she says. "I just made my drumming style as frantic and weird as possible." Her style imbues Hot Hands' music with a refreshing chaos often lost in the postured style of much rock & roll.
Since the early '00s the pair have been hugely active in the local arts and music community. Together and apart they've played in over a dozen bands in the Orlando punk and rock scenes. As Hot Hands, they've self-released three albums, all available digitally on their Bandcamp page, with some physical represses still available. Prolific documenters of their work, they've uploaded a wealth of live performances and recordings to YouTube. Their releases display the pair's sharp sense of aesthetics – bright colors, glam outfits and clever collages, all executed with youthful excitement.
Kristin reminisces, "We started probably 10 or 11 years ago now. It was a joke band at first. It was a Rock Fight band." (Rock Fight is a Rich Evans-produced punk battle of the bands.) Their first project together was Courtneys in 2004. "I was in this band with this girl Hannah when I just moved up here. She knew of Jeffrey from his website, Kickbright," remembers Kristin. "And he used to have his home address on his website. I thought he was insane putting his street address online. We just showed up one day." And from that fateful meeting ... they were soon enough off and running.
In 2013, Hot Hands went all in, embarking on an extensive national tour. It began initially as a response to the economic downturn: "'We don't have any money. We don't have enough work here. Let's try to book a week's worth of shows and see if that happens. All right, it worked. Let's book two weeks.' Two weeks became three weeks and then it became a month and a half of shows. We put in our notices."
They add, laughing, "The start of our tour was on our anniversary. We never went on a honeymoon so it was our honeymoon tour."
Beyond Hot Hands, the Howards are currently best known for Kickbright. Jeffrey initially launched it in '96 as a comic zine. "That was in the like, I don't know, Golden Age of Zines. I had a comic zine, but then the internet started to take off ... I had these comic drawings, but it doesn't translate on the internet really," remembers Jeffrey. "So I started writing about music and that's when I really started going to shows." The entirety of the Kickbright zine is still hosted online, offering valuable documentation of 20-something years of underground music. In the meantime, Kickbright has grown into a benevolent DIY brand.
In summer of 2015, the duo opened Kickbright Vintage shop at the now-defunct Artegon Marketplace. Kristin explains the small world of vintage retail: "We would sell stuff online here and there, mostly because we thrift all the time and would find cool stuff that wouldn't fit us ... I noticed buyers from vintage shops coming by and thought, I might as well cut out the middle man." The duo ran the storefront until Artegon was abruptly bought out, and vendors were evicted with no advance warning. In response to this chaos, the pair persevere, regrouping the business into a brightly-hued moveable feast of pop-culture buttons and badges and vintage clothing that can be found regularly at Orlando pop-up events.
The twosome are a treasure of the Orlando underground, and Hot Hands' return show next week is their first live outing in years. Be there or be unforgivably square.