On a recent Thursday night in midtown, a bearded and bespectacled Jimmy Fitzner sits down in a creaky wooden chair with his guitar. The 27-year-old is the last to arrive but the first to get down to business, if you can even call it that.
"I'm pretty sure that this is not a song, but it might be a song," he says.
The table of his bandmate, Lauren Krum, is stocked with beer, tequila and pizza rolls. What could have been a standard practice (albeit not in their usual practice space) turns into a veritable dining-room hootenanny for the Grisly Hand.
After a few attempts at fiddling with the possibly new song, the band decides for the moment to move on to "Losin' You," which is most definitely a song — one that beautifully blends country with classic funk.
Drummer Charles "Chaz" Snyder, beating on an impromptu drum set (a tambourine, the table, his leg — really, anything in reach but the pizza rolls), knocks over a beer, cleans it up and has a good laugh, all without missing a beat.
"That's what happens when you don't get enough drums in Chaz' hands," Fitzner says as the song ends. "He thinks, 'What else can I beat on?'"
As she removes the battery from her cell phone in hopes of averting beer damage, lead singer Krum chimes in, "I'm constantly like, 'How did I luck into this?'"
"You stole the band From Before," says Fitzner.
And she sort of did.
Though the Grisly Hand in its current form is only about a year old, the members sound like they've been rocking out together to Americana beats for years. Some of them have.
Krum, now 25, has always admired her bandmates. Three of them — Snyder, Fitzner and John Nichols, who plays bass and provides backup vocals — also play in a local band called From Before, which Nichols describes as "funky and Led Zeppelin-ish."
In 2006, Krum had the pleasure of playing one show at the Brick with Fitzner and Nichols. That was right before she moved to Chicago for school. But that collaboration solidified her desire to perform, and while she was in Chicago, she put together the Strumpettes, a soul-inspired group featuring four female singers and a four-piece band. When the Strumpettes dismantled in 2008 and her life in Chicago started to fall apart, Krum decided to move back to Kansas City. She immediately began singing with From Before.
"It was kind of the perfect storm, and I was just ready to come home," she says. "And that [the band] was the good part of coming home." Good for her and even better for the Kansas City music scene.
Within a few months, Krum, Fitzner, Nichols and Snyder were performing as a new group. They had brought on Andy Davis to play mandolin and were keeping a long — if somewhat ridiculous — list of potential band names. Krum had put "the Grisly Hand" in the running after coming across it in the poem "Webster Ford" from Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology.
A great name for a great band, even if it is grossly misleading. The Grisly Hand is anything but grisly.
Krum and the others jokingly refer to their sound as "American sing-ish." It's possible that there is no better label because describing it accurately would require too many hyphens. It's sort of a country-funk-soul-blues-rock-and-pop sound, in that order, with emphasis on the country.
The mishmash of genres is no surprise, though, considering that the Grisly Hand's influences are all over the place: Patsy Cline, the Band and Bruce Springsteen, just to name a few.
During a Grisly Hand gig at the Crossroads Music Festival in September, Krum joked to the audience at the Brick that their song "Paris of the Plains" — which rhymes Branson with white people dancin' and is about coming home to Kansas City — was a Neil Diamond number. She even fooled a few folks who'd had a few too many drinks, until admitting afterward that it was written by Fitzner, who plays lead guitar and whose tenor voice is the perfect accompaniment to Krum's sultry, spunky alto.
Not all of the band's lyrics are as peppy, but even songs such as "The Good Wife" (about being the exact opposite of a good wife) and "The Cherry Mash Waltz" (about the impossibility of getting over someone) somehow manage to be fun and funky.
Much of that can be credited to Fitzner, the Grisly Hand's primary songwriter, who counts Marty Robbins and Leadbelly among his influences and says his dad listened to a lot of Duane Eddy when he was growing up. And Krum, who writes many of the lyrics, admits that she and Davis (who jumps from mandolin to guitar to keyboard, depending on the song) first bonded over a mutual love of Black Sabbath.
Whatever their genre, it's good. It's damn good. As Krum explains, "When you hear people tell their friends, it's just like, 'You'll like it.'"
That's an understatement. You'll freakin' love it.
Currently, the Grisly Hand is working on an EP that the band hopes to have out by the end of the year, with a full-length coming in late spring.
And while not everyone can have the pleasure of hanging out in the dining room of one of the band members, it's not inconceivable that you could have the band in yours. They all agree that house parties are their favorite venues.