Sitting Down with Second Hand Hand Pillow: Not Your Average Toronto-based Dream-Pop Grunge Duo...
By Harry Myles
A Message from Harry Myles:
You may know my name from the interviews and articles I’ve written for Demo Magazine on Corn Puff Records co-founders Joe Alexander and Rachel Schwarz, A Good Band (Corn Puff signee), and my short-lived viral BuzzFeed write-up on the Corn Puffians breakup, "Toronto Band Breaks Up After Explosive Argument Caught on Camera." Now, I am happy to join the Corn Puff team alongside such journalistic talent as Jojo Richard Mitten, a true Renaissance Man. For my Corn Puff Magazine debut, I interviewed new Toronto band, Second Hand Hand Pillow.
On March 11, 2020, Kirk Fontaine and Alexandria Legend arrived in Toronto from Nova Scotia ready to enter the Toronto indie scene. Unfortunately, their timing was a little off and they went straight into self-isolation. When I spoke with Legend and Fontaine via video chat, Legend was dressed in all black with John Lennon shades and a Hole CD (Live Through This) on the coffee table in front of her. Fontaine likewise wore shades (Ray-Ban Wayfarers), a cardigan straight from Kurt Cobain’s 1993 MTV Unplugged appearance, ripped jeans, and a lightning strapped electric guitar draped over his lap. Unsurprisingly, we discussed the influence of the 90s on their music and aesthetic, Fontaine and Legend’s affinity for Sloan, and the impact of COVID-19 on their creative process.
Fontaine and Legend are originally from Halifax and met at the University of King’s College music program with concentrations in Musicology and Performance. They eventually started dating, and after graduation, they decided to move to Toronto as the musical duo Second Hand Hand Pillow.
Unfortunately, their romantic relationship ended during the drive from Halifax to Toronto, but as a band, they are stronger than ever. To Second Hand Hand Pillow, no “decade is as great as the 90s and...any other decade after or before will ever be as great.” They’re simply trying to recapture the sound of this all-important period. Specifically they draw inspiration from the 90s grunge scene that came out of Seattle (i.e. Pearl Jam and Soundgarden). According to Fontaine, Halifax was once the “Seattle of Canada.” The city had a music scene similar to that of Seattle during the 90s, showcasing alt-rock bands like Sloan and Thrush Hermit. However, Halifax has gone ”downhill...music wise” in recent years and as a result, Second Hand Hand Pillow decided to bring “the sound of the 90s” once heard in their hometown to Toronto and “be the spokespeople of Generation Y.” Fontaine and Legend themselves were born in 1996.
Legend and Fontaine cited Sloan as their primary musical influence. When asked if Nirvana is likewise an inspiration, given its prominence in the 1990s Seattle scene, Fontaine claimed that they’ve “never gotten around” to listening to Cobain’s work. At a recent performance at The Venue in Toronto, fellow Corn Puff Records Staff Writer Jojo Richard Mitten said Second Hand Hand Pillow sounded as if "Nirvana and Beach House had sex and it was Jesus Christ Himself.” Both Fontaine and Legend rejected this comparison and instead said, at most, they share some comparison to the Smashing Pumpkins, but they’ve “never listened to Nirvana in [their lives].” Other musical influences include Weezer, although Fontaine prefers the band’s late 2000s albums Raditude (2009) and Hurley (2010) over their critically acclaimed 90s material The Blue Album (1994) and Pinkerton (1996). On a more abstract level, Legend explained that sonically Second Hand Hand Pillow wants “to be like a cabin on the ocean.” Specifically, Fontaine explained that they are “into the idea of seclusion, isolation...and just a higher plane of consciousness.” He described this “higher plane” as “the Third World.” When asked to elaborate on this point, Fontaine simply repeated what he said and began to improvise a new song.
Lyrically, Second Hand Hand Pillow compare themselves to Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac, the Beat poets, and Rivers Cuomo. Their musical process is collaborative with Fontaine handling guitar and both Fontaine and Legend splitting the role of songwriter and “creative visionary.” Their tracks are produced by D.J. Salingér, a fellow graduate from King’s and a “very well-read” man.
Other times, Second Hand Hand Pillow employs a lyric generator to make their songs. This occurred on their latest single “Doh-Doh Island '' in which one verse was written by a Cranberries (the Irish rock band, not the fruit)-themed online lyric creator. However, Fontaine dismissed any criticism of this technique, claiming he “wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Slyvia Plath used a poetry generator back in the day.” He continued, explaining that all of the artists in Plath’s time “hung out” together. Who are we to say Plath wasn’t with someone like Allen Ginsberg one time and asked him to give her a bunch of lines for one of her poems? To Fontaine, it’s the same thing as using a lyric generator. Fontaine could provide no evidence to back up these claims about Plath and I have since been unable to substantiate any of his comments.
For Fontaine, the songs come to him from multiple points of inspiration. Sometimes, he’ll transcribe Plath’s poetry and think of rhymes to her words; he’ll use these rhymes to make lyrics and then improvise an accompanying guitar riff. Other times, he’ll simply be talking and a song will pop into his head. As Fontaine explained, he “thinks in poetry, rhymes, metaphors, similes, and acronyms” and sometimes he’ll “just get ideas.” I witnessed this first hand during several points in our conversation when Fontaine grabbed his guitar and started strumming to something he had just said.
Other times, Second Hand Hand Pillow employs a lyric generator to make their songs. This occurred on their latest single “Doh-Doh Island '' in which one verse was written by a Cranberries (the Irish rock band, not the fruit)-themed online lyric creator. However, Fontaine dismissed any criticism of this technique, claiming he “wouldn’t be surprised to
find out that Sylvia Plath used a poetry
generator back in the day.” He continued, explaining that all of the artists in Plath’s time “hung out” together. Who are we to say Plath wasn’t with someone like Allen Ginsberg one time and asked him to give her a bunch of lines for one of her poems? To Fontaine, it’s the same thing as using a lyric generator. Fontaine could provide no evidence to back up these claims about Plath and I have since been unable to substantiate any of his comments.
Fontaine explained that their songs are about them and they often draw inspiration from their personal challenges. In this sense, “Doh-Doh Island” is an attempt to both cope with the imposed quarantine of COVID-19 and work through the artists’ relationship.
According to Legend, “Doh-Doh Island” is a mix of the Doh-Doh Island film and “raw human emotion.” Apparently, in the early 2000s, Hasbro released a movie about stop-motion Play-Doh creatures living on a tropical island called Doh-Doh.
Fontaine and Legend grew up watching the VHS and would often revisit the movie together while they were dating. You might think being quarantined with your ex during a global pandemic is not an ideal situation. But as Fontaine explained “relationships are like eggs. You can break the shell but you never want to break the yolk. And sure, we broke the shell. We broke up. But our art, our music is the yolk and that has not broken yet.” Legend added that by being in quarantine, they’ve had the chance to move “through all of the stages of a breakup so much more quickly.” Over the past few weeks, they’ve gone through much healing, and creating “Doh-Doh Island'' was a part of this process. When they arrived in Toronto and began self-isolation, they often thought back to when they once watched Doh-Doh Island together, and using the theme of seclusion prevalent in the children’s show, they decided to write the song.
Looking towards the future, Fontaine and Legend were less clear about their next moves. For Fontaine, he’s so “caught up in the gloom and despair of this quarantine” that he can’t even think about the Toronto music scene. Both Fontaine and Legend were non-committal about any upcoming album although they did mention that they might do a live-stream quarantine show. In terms of any potential label interest, Second Hand Hand Pillow is a self-proclaimed DIY project and they “don’t adhere to labels.” They are “unlabel-able” and have no interest in being “put in a box” by record executives. For right now, Fontaine and Legend simply want to make music and continue to capture the essence of the 90s, “the greatest decade in music.”
The first track from Second Hand Hand Pillow, Doh Doh Island, is now available on all major streaming platforms!
Disclaimer: This interview has been edited and condensed for publication.