The Grisly Hand's debut full-length, Country Singles, was one of the best local releases of 2013, with singer Lauren Krum's soaring, prairie-rich twang recalling a young Iris DeMent. Krum's voice is a little sweeter, perhaps, than DeMent's, a little less rustic — and when she's harmonizing with guitarist Jimmy Fitzner, and Mike Stover's aching slide guitar curls around the edges of their foot-tapping choruses, there's nothing better.
After that album's release, the Grisly Hand basked in an outpouring of hometown love, playing shows to proud audiences and winning new fans from all corners. Singles had a sound as close to your heart as turkey on Thanksgiving and fireworks in July, and whether the Grisly Hand was a country band at all didn't particularly matter.
By the time 2014 arrived, though, the Grisly Hand had embarked on an unofficial hiatus, at least from live performances. The band stepped offstage last November, and the difficult schedules of its members meant a lot of roadblocks in front of any new tour dates. Bassist John Nichols left in January, wanting to spend more time with family, but there was no great fight, no high drama. The remaining members, Stover says, met for regular writing sessions.
"Sometimes it's like a relationship, where you need to take a step back and get separate apartments for a minute or whatever, just so you can really get some perspective," Krum tells me over beers at a booth inside the Hi-Dive Lounge. She has a throaty chuckle, and it erupts when she recalls the hiatus. "We heard rumors about us, which I thought was really funny. Once, someone told me to my face: 'Oh, I think that band broke up,' and I was like, 'Oh, really? Cool.'"
"A breakup was never in the cards," Stover says, sitting across from Krum. "It would have worked out one way or another."
And eventually, it did work out. In April, Dan Loftus joined the Grisly Hand, replacing Nichols on bass and bringing his talents as a keyboardist. The band returned to a performance at Boulevardia in June and began to plan a late-summer tour. Loftus couldn't join them for a 10-date run planned for the first two weeks in August, but Krum says that wasn't a big deal.
"It's just a relief to be able to come back and start working on this stuff," she says. "Now, it really feels like we're definitely a real band again. It feels good."
The tour itself, Stover and Krum agree, was good medicine for the Grisly Hand. Aside from a few weekend jaunts, it was the first time that the band had hit the road and played more than two shows in a row. If there were any misgivings or nerves about this next step, the gigs themselves — which took the musicians throughout the upper Midwest and to the East Coast — were all the reassurance any of them needed.
"Going on tour is a good experience for any band, even if it's not especially lucrative or the shows don't always go the way you want them to," Stover says. "You're playing music together every night, and that makes a huge difference on what your band sounds like. The experience was phenomenal."
For Krum, a five-year veteran of the band, this was the opportunity she had been waiting for.
"It's taken us awhile, and this tour helped us to really see that we are just as good in New York or Chicago as we are in Kansas City," she says.
"Those shows felt more concrete and exciting than the time and money we spent trying to do promotional stuff, where you just send something out there and you don't know what happens with it," she adds. "There's no better way to explain music to someone than to be like, 'Listen.' And that's always been my goal with Grisly Hand. I just want people to hear it."