Michael Cox and Craig Dutra, half of Albany indie rock quartet Hand Habits, know from past experience that touring doesn’t always go smoothly.
Hand Habits at Sammyfest
With: Skeletons in the Piano, William Hale, Kite Persons, Neutron Rats and Eternal Crimes
When: 8:30 tonight
Where: Putnam Den, 63A Putnam St., Saratoga Springs
How Much: $10 donation
More Info: 584-8066, www.putnamden.com
Prior to joining up with guitarist and vocalist Meagan Duffy and drummer Stan Francois to form Hand Habits earlier this year, bassist Cox played with local punk group Caleb Lionheart, while guitarist and keyboardist Dutra played in the now defunct Aficionado. Both those bands toured nationally — and in Aficionado’s case, internationally.
Dutra’s connections through Aficionado’s touring and record label No Sleep allowed Hand Habits to hit the road this summer, immediately after the release of its first full-band EP, “Nameless Lust.” The two-week tour, which saw the band travel as far west as Chicago, was a rousing success — quite a feat for a band that hasn’t even been around for a year.
“People were really receptive,” Cox said, before a recent band practice in Albany with Duffy and Francois. “I’d been on tour before, and so has Craig, and not every tour is like that, where every show is good. We got to open for Polyphonic Spree in Columbus [Ohio].”
The reaction was even more surprising given the situations the band was playing in, often house shows with louder metal and punk acts. This was Duffy and Francois’ first major tour, and at times the juxtaposition of styles on some of the bills could be intimidating.
“The other bands were carrying in these eight-by-10 cabs,” Duffy said. “And I’m like, I’m about to sing about being sad, really quietly.”
In the end, Hand Habits’ atmospheric indie rock helped them stand out from the rest of the bands at most of the shows.
“In Philadelphia we had two of my friends there watching us, but by the second song everyone was watching,” Cox said. “At first they were ignoring us, because we played this twinkly-sounding music.”
The band’s sound has caught plenty of local attention as well, and they’ve become regulars at venues such as Valentine’s and the Putnam Den. Tonight, the band is part of the lineup for “Sammyfest” at Putnam Den, also featuring Skeletons in the Piano, William Hale, Kite Persons, Neutron Rats and Eternal Crimes. The event is a benefit for local musician Samuel Yager, who records electronic music under the name Birthdays, and is still in the hospital in a coma from a bicycle accident in July.
“Sam came on the short tour with us,” Duffy said. “He’s been a really good friend of mine in Saratoga Springs. When Sammy got in the accident and I found out, I thought, oh my God. So any benefit, a show or benefit for Sam and his family to help offset the cost of his medical bills — we all agreed to do it, because he’s our dude. I think it’s really important when something this tragic happens within the community, people in the community need to come together to support each other.”
Duffy had been active in the local music scene for a number of years as a solo artist and backing guitarist for singer-songwriters such as Olivia Quillio and MaryLeigh Roohan before she started Hand Habits initially as a solo project. The five-song “Pinky Demos,” released as the first Hand Habits EP in July of last year, is essentially a solo Duffy release. She began putting the band together soon after.
“I don’t want to be a solo musician anymore,” Duffy said. “This isn’t really my band — at this point we all our together in this. I just wanted to be working with people on a level that wasn’t like — here’s the parts I wrote, you play them — that kind of thing.”
Cox and Francois, formerly of Life Among the Trees, came on board at the beginning of this year; the last piece of the puzzle came with Dutra’s addition in February. Soon after forming and playing its first shows, the quartet headed to Brooklyn to record basic rhythm tracks for the four-song “Nameless Lust” EP with engineer Richard Levengood; Dutra produced the rest of the record at his home, which is also where the band rehearses.
The band is currently composing songs for a full-length album, which they hope to begin recording later in the year. With the quartet now firmly established, songwriting has become a more collaborative affair, with the band drawing on influences ranging from classic rock like Pink Floyd, to indie groups such as Modest Mouse.
“As of recently, we’ve been trying to write together and . . . be as experimental as possible and see what happens,” Duffy said. “Well just jam on a riff and try to come up with a song from it.”