Sam Reider is no stranger to Swallow Hill audiences, but when he plays Daniels Hall on Sunday, October 20, it will be the first time with his band the Human Hands.
The Brooklyn-based composer, accordionist, pianist, and singer is looking forward to his Swallow Hill return. For the uninitiated, Sam says, “We play high energy, exciting music full of surprises and improvisation.” He adds “We’re so thrilled and grateful that our friends Rapidgrass wanted to do this show with us in Denver… We’re looking forward to jamming with them at the show!”
Learn more about Sam, his take on the accordion, and his Human Hands band mates in our Q&A ahead of their concert with Rapidgrass.
What can the audience expect from Sam Reider and the Human Hands in Daniels Hall on October 20?
This is my first time playing at Swallow Hill with the Human Hands, but I’ve actually played there with different groups a couple times before. I performed at the Botanic Garden last summer with Sierra Hull, and several years ago with my old band Silver City Band.
The Swallow Hill audiences are always incredible supportive and enthusiastic, and so I am really looking forward to presenting the Human Hands. We play high energy, exciting music full of surprises and improvisation. It’s hard to describe in words but if you check out some of our videos online, you’ll get a sense of what it’s like.
Your band includes some amazing musicians, how long has this band been together? How have you evolved together?
At the concert on October 20th, we’ll have Alex Hargreaves on violin, Eddie Barbash on saxophone, Dominick Leslie on mandolin, and Roy Williams on guitar. The band got its start in New York City about five years ago. Roy had a bunch of gigs at local bars and restaurants and would call us up to come play his awesome swing tunes. It was quite serendipitous because we were two different friend groups coming together: Eddie and I have actually been playing together for close to 15 years (we met at summer camp when we were kids) and Alex and Dom have also been playing together in different bands for about as long. For a couple years we played most Tuesdays night at a venue called Rockwood Music Hall in the Lower East Side. Eventually, I decided to write my own set of original music for the same group of musicians and we recorded Too Hot To Sleep. Since that was released about a year and a half ago, we’ve been on tour playing for audiences all over.
The accordion sometimes gets overlooked when discussing American folk music, but it definitely has a place in the conversation. Where do you think the accordion fits into the contemporary folk and roots music?
The accordion was present on Bill Monroe’s first bluegrass record—but for some unknown reason quickly vanished from the bluegrass ensemble. It’s possible that people thought it was just too loud and clumsy, or perhaps the record label execs decided that it wasn’t “country” enough for the brand. Regardless, the accordion has been more or less relegated to regional styles of American folk music like zydeco, cajun, polka, norteño, etc.
I came to the instrument in college, when I was already a jazz pianist. I was just starting to fall in love with bluegrass—what felt exciting to me about it was the way in which the ensemble all trades off playing lead and supportive roles. Everybody contributes to the rhythm of the band. It reminded me a lot more of early jazz recordings. I set out to try to figure out how to incorporate the accordion into a contemporary acoustic context, and that still is what interests me. A lot of accordion music out there is performed solo, since it is possible to play many different parts simultaneously on the instrument. However what’s always interested me more was how to fit the accordion into different ensemble contexts. It’s capable of a wide range of textures and dynamics and you can play it very fast. I think there’s an enormous amount of opportunity to develop new music for the instrument that both explore new techniques and also incorporates it into existing traditional styles.
You grew up in a musical household and your music draws from a wide variety of influences, from jazz to pop to klezmer to bluegrass. That being said, who is an artist your fans might be surprised to learn has had a big influence on you?
What are you looking forward to in 2020?
In spring of 2020 we’ll be touring France and Belgium as part of the U.S. Department of State’s American Music Abroad program. This is an amazing diplomacy program that has already taken me to China, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Estonia. This will be my first time bringing the Human Hands on one of these trips and I think it’s going to be incredibly fruitful.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
We’re so thrilled and grateful that our friends Rapidgrass wanted to do this show with us in Denver. It’s a great opportunity for us to play for some new audiences and hopefully make some new fans. We’re looking forward to jamming with them at the show!