Hug or Handshake: Alumni Band Discuss New Song Blaze of Sorry, Awkwardness and Growing Up
Who knew that boys get older too? Turns out that not only do they get older, but they are also up to some remarkable things. AUBG alumni Anton Georgiev (’15) and Petar Trifonov (’13), known together as the indie rock band hug or handshake, have just released their second song. And while neither hugs nor handshakes are recommended at the moment, a few listens to Blaze of Sorry will definitely lighten up your lockdown mood.
Even the name of the band itself is a reference to those painfully socially awkward moments that we are all a little too familiar with. “There are moments in life when even the smoothest, most sophisticated individuals can end up in an awkward situation,” Anton said. “We think the ‘hug or handshake’ is one of those situations – when you go for a hug, but the opposite side reaches out their hand instead. I get haunted on a daily basis by such memories. It was Pepi’s idea, I guess he must suffer from this too. He had already thought [the name] up before our first meeting, there never really was anything else on the table (except beer) when we formed the band.”
The alumni duo first met on the AUBG campus but never spoke to each other. “I’d seen Toni around campus, but we didn’t know each other back then,” Petar said. “He was often carrying a guitar so I was definitely intrigued about him, but we never really got to talk. Turns out we were both equally awkward and unsociable.”
It wasn’t until years after graduation that a common acquaintance sent one of Anton’s songs to Petar, who has already made a name on the Sofia music scene, as part of bands like Bears and Hunters, Dead man’s hat and Homeovox.
“I was really impressed, especially by his voice and the stylistic choices he’d made,” Petar said. “I could tell we had a common taste for music, which is often a sign of other shared values as well. Luckily, this turned out to be the case. We got in touch and started sharing demos soon afterwards.”
It was six months after hearing Anton’s song that Petar messaged him about “going out for beers and talking about music,” Anton said. “A couple of meetings later he sent me this instrumental which he had called ‘Molten Dreams’. I added some vocals, he liked them, and we pretty much started the band on the following day. Then we decided to approach Monyx (Simeon Lozanov, our producer) because we really liked what he had done on YVA’s debut album Fish Tears. And this was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. Monyx has sort of become the third member of hug or handshake. We have learned so much from him, I can’t even imagine how our songs would have sounded if not for him.”
It seems that the work of the two alumni is the result of a natural symbiosis rather than a formal process. Both of them offer their talents and creativity, and while Petar came up with the name of the band and does some of the video editing, Anton is the person behind the lyrics of both songs.
“I have always suspected that Pepi is quite the lyricist himself but he hasn’t dared to prove or disprove it so far,” Anton said. “I don’t usually draw from personal experiences when I write the lyrics. I try to come up with imaginary characters and scenarios, which I haven’t met or experienced necessarily, but I wonder what they might be like. I also don’t think much about the meaning of the words while I’m writing them. It’s usually not until the end of the writing process that I stop to think about an actual meaning. Inevitably, you find bits and pieces of yourself when you sit back and read the lyrics. But it’s more rewarding when someone tells you they read something else into a line, something you hadn’t noticed. Sometimes I’ll get an idea while I’m at work or having dinner somewhere and I’ll quickly write it down on my phone before it escapes me. I have hundreds and hundreds of voice recordings and scribbles on my phone and 90% of them will probably never make it into a song. I think the sooner you make peace with the fact that 90% of everything you write is shit, the better.”
“What I love the most about the [lyrics] is that they’re not too specific but not too vague as well,” Petar said. “This makes them open for interpretation and more relatable, as it helps the listener project his personal circumstances and feelings.”
The same could be said about the video of Blaze of Sorry -- directed and shot by the talented Nicola Atanasov -- which features Petar and Anton wandering around against the backdrop of some magnificent Bulgarian mountain views.
“Our main interpretation of the video is that it depicts two young men struggling to accept that they‘re no longer kids,” Petar said. “And so, they’re wandering around trying to rekindle that feeling, but start realizing that it’s not going to happen. However, I think music videos and music in general should be about conveying a feeling, not a specific message. It’s better if the listeners and viewers decide for themselves and make the experience their own.”
“It’s again one of those things where you have some ideas for shots and scenes you want to make and you don’t necessarily think about what it is that you want to convey with them,” Anton added. “Once the final cut started to take shape, I guess I realized it was about acting careless and childish in a way. In that sense, the moment where my character cuts and burns his hair must be some form of coming of age for him. In reality, I just couldn’t wait to get rid of my hair. It was too much work. The video was just an excuse.”
With the creative industry in Sofia densely populated by AUBGers, it comes as no surprise that there are other alumni involved with the art process of hug or handshake. “There are plenty of AUBG alumni around us who are involved in almost everything we do,” Anton said. “Angel Ivanov and Vlady Gerasimov of handplayed helped us massively with the concept and editing on our first video. And we used their office space and equipment to edit the video for Blaze of Sorry as well so both videos wouldn’t have been possible without them. Ivan Botev is another extremely talented AUBG alum, whom we are currently working with on a new project.”
The amount of creativity and hard work that's required to start a band may look like a full-time job, but in reality, both Anton and Petar have their business careers.
“I used to be in e-commerce until very recently,” Anton said. “I’m in mobile banking now, working as a product manager for one of the major banks in Bulgaria. Combining a 9-to-6 job with a music career can be tough but if you sort out your priorities and you’re determined enough about what you want to do with your life, you can make it happen without feeling stressed or burnt out. In my case, I want to be successful as a musician, but I also want a steady income and a family. Time will tell if all three things can happen simultaneously. At the very least you (and whoever it is you’re working with) have to respect your working hours. When you’re at work, you’re at work. When working hours are over, you switch off completely and move on to hug or handshake tasks. Then, with a little luck, you switch off again, you cook some dinner, you watch a Netflix show or two, and then go to bed (at a reasonable hour). I still haven’t quite figured out how to separate hug or handshake from family time but I’m working on it.”
Petar has also switched careers recently, moving from being a creative director at a small advertising agency to working as a video producer. “What I like about it is that there’s more of a hands-on aspect to it,” he said. “It’s not just people in a conference room discussing stuff and then putting it into presentations to be sent as emails. It goes beyond that when you get to the filming process and see the actual thing being created. Naturally, these other boring processes are necessary as well, but my experience shows that it’s quite easy to get lost in them.”
Both alumni look back at their time at AUBG as a formative experience.
“Perhaps the biggest merit is that it helped me develop critical thinking, which is something applicable in all aspects of life,” Petar said. “But please don’t put that as a quote under my picture. Michael Cohen’s and Robert White’s classes were especially insightful and helpful in that regard, may God bless those guys. Also, all these perplexing things you do during group projects and wonder if you’re ever going to need them - turns out working at a company is just like that. Of course, I also got to meet some really great people who are a big part of my life now. I wouldn’t say that I’m a model for an AUBG-er but having that as a shared experience is quite a valuable thing.”
“Even if you never learn anything at AUBG, you will still meet a lot of interesting people with different backgrounds, talents, and aspirations,” Anton said. “I think this is the biggest asset of being an AUBG student. I actually wasn’t able to appreciate it until very recently when I realized how many AUBG alumni there are around me. In terms of business, obviously having AUBG written down on your resume is a big advantage and everybody knows it. My previous employer was so fond of AUBG that more than half of my team was AUBG alumni. And the company is still a regular at the job fair. On the creative side, I think there are two major faculty members who had an impact on me in some way. One of them is Nedyalko [Delchev] and the other is Michael Cohen (no surprises here). I learned a lot from other professors as well, like David Wallace, Robert Phillips, Robert White, Melody Gilbert, Mark Wollemann, to name a few. Perhaps the biggest lesson for me was that I realized I didn’t want to be a journalist. Which is still a lesson, right? And just to throw in one 'hard skill' which I learned at AUBG and I deem quite important, WORD ECONOMY! I can’t even begin to tell you how thankful I am for that. If only more people knew…”
What’s next for hug or handshake? An album release and (possibly) another single before that. “Together with handplayed, and with the help of NCF, we are working on a series of interactive music videos, which will accompany our album release,” Anton said. “There is a bunch of talented people involved in this project and it is shaping up to be really something. We also want to start playing live soon, you know, like a real band, hopefully in time for the album release. We will keep you updated.”