Hands & Feet's New Kiki Features Stephen Favazza's Most Sprawling Music Yet

Stephen Favazza’s set-up can be, let’s say, all-encompassing.
Stephen Favazza’s set-up can be, let’s say, all-encompassing. ADAM NEWSHAM

Hands and Feet Album Release

8 p.m. Friday, April 13. The Heavy Anchor, 5226 Gravois Avenue. $5. 314-352-5226.

The music that Stephen Favazza creates under the name Hands & Feet is often densely, murkily layered. His songs' structures can begin with ambient electronic underpinnings and mutate into fraying guitar excursions. The vocals, if present at all, will often serve as a composition's sub-floor instead of its centerpiece. Things melt and mutate; the tones refuse to sit neatly in the stereo field.

So it is fitting, then, that Favazza's motivation for pressing Hands & Feet's latest, Kiki, on vinyl was not for the format's supposed crystalline audio quality. He wanted that extra hum to be part of the experience.

"I like the sound of it," Favazza says of vinyl. "I like the extra noise that comes with it. It adds more to all the other noise that's going on in the recording and whatnot. It's like an extra musician playing along with you — an extra fuzz sound."

As a child of the '80s, Favazza has a fondness for physical artifacts; this is his second vinyl release after 2014's Sour Times, and his most recent release was a two-song cassette single.

"I like having stuff released on tapes and vinyl more than CDs, mainly because I grew up with that kind of stuff," he says. "I was maybe fifteen or sixteen when CDs came out, so I was still listening to tapes and records. So it's that nostalgic thing too, for sure."

His desire for a tactile experience to complement his music was borne out in a varied recording process. For Kiki, Favazza used a few techniques — an analog four-track machine, a digital 24-track and his phone all helped capture these songs. He used his computer as well, but tried to avoid using purely computer-based recording as a crutch.

"It's really easy to do that," Favazza says of digital recording, "but I wanted to make it difficult for myself and challenge myself a little more."

One challenge for Hands & Feet has been Favazza's increasingly sprawling compositions, which are becoming more difficult to perform live in his one-man set up. But rather than limit his writing with the ultimate goal of recreating songs for live performance, Kiki benefits from a broader palette.

"I treated this record as one of those things where I could just write and just record, and not worry about how to play it live, and just focus more on the recording and the sounds and the textures rather than try to strip it down so I could play it live," he says. "I think if I had another person, maybe two other people, I'd be able to pull it off. But it's always one of those things, too, where I wanted to play everything I wrote live, until I started working on this."

While Favazza has long collaborated with other acts such as CaveofswordS and Golden Curls, he's happy to keep Hands & Feet as a solo project, even though it was never intended to be a one-man show.

"I'm surprised that this has lasted as long as it has," Favazza says. "There's always been moments where I've been, 'Oh, I'll stop doing it and join another full band.' The reason I started it was because I was trying to find a full band and writing songs to send to people who might be interested in playing with me. I couldn't really find anybody at all."

He handles all the instrumental duties on the album, but Favazza considers himself a guitarist first and foremost, and he shows the range of what moods his guitar can summon across Kiki. The delicate minor-key waltz that frames "New Feathers" feels both intimate and cinematic, like a bedroom song-sketch that could nonetheless serve as the soundtrack to a misty late-night drive. Later on the album, another instrumental, "Pieces," is awash in a shoegaze slurry of distortion while a bulbous synth bass keeps time in the background.

"All that goes back to being in high school again — learning how to play music and going through my metal phase into my punk phase into my new wave phase," Favazza says of the album's flirtations with several genres. "It was just finding what I like, and what still sticks with me and influences me."

One constant presence throughout his solo-artist sojourn gives its name to Kiki – Favazza's cat, Cigarettes, who passed away last year. Her death clarified some threads in what had been a rocky few years for Favazza.

"She was with me through everything over the last eighteen years," Favazza says. "She was there through house fires and relationships, through moving around from city to city. Her passing away was a big influence on writing some of the songs. I had a bunch of family members pass away within a month, and it made me think a lot about where I'm at in my life, and life in general. It's definitely a more darker type thing, but there's definitely light in it too."

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