Embracing a traditional country sound but not without some humorous perspectives, the Handsome Devils ingratiated themselves into the Hamilton scene some five years ago. This weekend they release their newest collection of songs, Nose to the Rhinestone, that offers some of that light hearted flair and a mission statement for their determination. Born into an air force family, Jon Goold’s early years saw him travel through Trenton, Pembroke and the Ottawa Valley where he’d begin making music with his brother Nathaniel. But while the music of the Ottawa Valley would be a lifelong inspiration it wasn’t until he went to the University of Guelph and later Taiwan, that his musical aspirations would take shape. The Handsome Devils would officially begin in Toronto but they’ve making a name for themselves since they relocated to Hamilton.
“The Ottawa Valley has a big connection to country, folk and fiddle music so it was big in Pembroke where we grew up in the early ’90s,” recalls Goold. “Early ’90s modern country is lame but the older generations played cool classic country and we picked it up there. There was a time that it was uncool to like country music and new country is kind of cheesy. We’d play other stuff but we’d always come back to a classic country sound and now, that’s all we’re doing.”
Studying English and theatre at the University of Guelph, Goold would meet Danielle Hodges (vocals, harmonica) as well as future Devils bassist Kurt Wicklund.
“Kurt was dating Danielle’s sister and I was dating Danielle so my brother Nathaniel (drums) and I expanded this thing into a bigger and bigger family band,” says Goold. “Country bands are better big. We’ve had a fiddle player, a piano player and more. Eventually, Glen Hodges was on guitar but he’s on a hiatus with the birth of his two babies. Emily Andrews is joining us now (backup vocals) as well as Alan Judson (pedal steel, Dobro) of course is like our adopted brother. Dave Klote (banjo) is playing with us for our upcoming CD release party.
“We’re not alt–country — as much as we fool around a bit we try as much as we can to stay true to the form in terms of outlaw country or otherwise,” adds Goold. “I like to say the Handsome Devils are old timey all the timey. I’m a purist because if I could sound like George Jones, I would. We try to put as much pedal steel as we can. Even if we cover a song, we try to make it sound as if it’s on an old record. We don’t want to reinvent a style — we want to keep it the way it is. We do a lot of traditional gospel tunes and people started calling me Reverend Jon. When we were in Toronto, for a time, we were Jon and the Baptists so the costumes came from that although the costumes don’t come out as often these days but we don’t take ourselves very seriously. We’re nice friendly people that are having fun together and hope that everyone listening is joining in the fun. In a true country style, a lot of the music is meant to be enjoyed and not necessarily meant to put you in a deep, introspective nightmare.” Song fodder is oft mined from heartbreak and the drowning of those sorrows although the prime goal of the music is to have fun. The new Handsome Devils disc Nose to the Rhinestone was produced at one of Hamilton’s premiere sound studios but in a decidedly old school way to underscore the vibe of the music. The Handsome Devils are the real deal — a real family band like you’d read about old country bands and one that is just pure fun on stage. Whatever music you like, if you’re looking for a country barn dance in the heart of the city, you’ll want to be at the Handsome Devils’ CD release this weekend.
“We did this album with Bob Doidge at Grant Avenue Studio — all of the tracks are done live off the floor in a take or two,” says Goold. “We all sat in a circle and did the whole thing like that and the only overdubs are some backing vocals so the whole thing is pretty much live, which I think is awesome. If we want to get that traditional country sound, we have to do it the old way. “Al came up with the album title and he’s quite the clever man,” adds Goold. “We’re working hard and trying to keep this kind of music going so it’s the perfect name for the album. My mantra is: Everybody knows the tunes and likes the tunes; they just haven’t heard them in a while. People forget they like it but when we play a lot of them suddenly remember. Everyone is welcome to come to our show but if you come we encourage you wear your cowboy boots and hats and your western shirts — it’d be good if we all came decked up — I got a new angelic white suit for the show so I’m going to be ready. At our shows you can typically expect people dancing, singing, drinking and hooting and hollering and that’s what it’s all about for us.”
The Handsome Devils play this Saturday March 30 at the Casbah with the Golden Horseshoe Revival. Music starts at 7pm with an after-party in the Lounge at 9:30pm. Your $10 cover charge includes the CD. Click on facebook.com/thehandsomedevilshamilton