A standard drum kit isn't built from wicker baskets and loose change, but a non-drummer learns to improvise. "You think of some crazy stuff when you're by yourself for a week," says Kirk Ramsay, AKA Giant Hand. He's talking about the instrumentation for his first album, recorded in 2009 by himself at home. "I didn't really know what I was doing, and I didn't want to bother anybody, so I just decided I'd sit down and try to record a full-length album by myself." When the guitarist needed other instruments, he used what he had available, like the basket.
An Ottawa native, Ramsay picked up the guitar just a couple of years ago, opened for Vancouver's Immaculate Machine weeks later and opened a Toronto show for Daniel Johnston a year-and-a-half after he began playing. He had taken a couple lessons years earlier, but "didn't want to practice or learn." It took viewing the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, on Johnston's rise from outsider artist to fame, to incite Ramsay to teach himself.
Rather than feeling inferior, Ramsay revels in the freedom that a lack of professional training or time to hone his skills in private has given him. He talks about learning how to make his ideas work "without just getting an instrument" in recording his first album. "I always appreciate it when someone invents an instrument," he says.
"Not having any knowledge gives me the opportunity to not have to sound like anything...I feel like it's a lot more honest and natural when I do it that way." With no sense of regret, he says, "Everyone who plays music, I find, is---better than me."
Giant Hand's new album, recorded over the latter part of last year, is due out in March. The recording was done in a studio this time, with other musicians contributing cello, drums and other instruments, including friends from Ottawa's The Acorn. "No homemade instruments," he laughs. "There was kind of a junk Korg organ made out of wood."
The songs on the record are about "trying to figure out the reason for life. I wish I got an answer out of it, but I didn't."
Giant Hand w/Winchester Warm, Monday, January 17, 8:30pm, The Company House, 2202 Gottingen Street, $7