October 19 – Jonathan Berger got online with the Ed Hamell, the lead singer of Hamell on Trial. Berger was at the Sidewalk Café’; god only knows where Hamell was. They chatted for a while. Here’s a revised transcription.
Hamell: You there?
Hamell: Let’s do it.
Berger: OK. What’s the typical Hamell on Trial day:
Wake up at dawn, start writing, fighting zombies around noon, driving to the gig at three, rocking at eight? Asleep by ten?
Hamell: Well, that depends whether I’m on tour or off tour… The typical Hamell day while on tour, i.e. this summer when I was opening for Kimya Dawson and Aesop Rock was: waking up, doing that silly first thing computer stuff we all do, getting my kid breakfast and waking him up…on day: driving to the gig, getting him lunch and dinner, getting him WIFI, getting him his place where he’s going to be selling merch, sound check, whipping the crowd into a frenzy, checking out the UNCLUDED, getting the boy together and driving to the hotel
Berger: How much touring goes on at this point?
Hamell: The whole summer was touring – or at least 11 weeks of it.
Berger: Your 11 year old son sells your merch on tour? Is he into that?
Hamell: Yeah, he loves it, meets the people, they all know him across the country and he’s into filming and YouTube so he put out a tip cup that said, “I’m buying a movie camera with tip money” and he made $800.
Berger: Christ. What’s the point in performing if Detroit (that’s the kid’s name) can do that?
Hamell: I hear ya… still love my job though… they’ll have to wheel me out eventually, until he puts me in the home….
Berger: In certain recent shows, you’ll have Detroit on stage with you, he’s sitting on stage, reading a book, paying no attention to his old man at work. He seems delightfully unengaged. You think he likes your music?
Hamell: Yeah, he does, but he hears it A LOT!! From its very first draft, to 200 nights a year almost, he knows ALL the words, but he’s a modern kid and video games are INFINITELY more IMPORTANT than music, old timer!!
Plus he thinks NYC audiences aren’t a lot of fun; he likes the screamers in the Midwest and West Coast… they’re too uptight for him in NY.
Berger: We’re too cool for school, so he shows us how cool a kid from school can be.
Hamell: Except it’s genuinely unaffected… it’s kinda brilliant I think; sorta the ultimate statement….
Berger: Recording: it’s been a while since the last release. When can we hear something new, man?
Hamell: Official release date for Hamell’s new record on New West titled, The Happiest Man in the World is Feb 11th, 2014
Berger: You were on tour with the Uncluded for a lot of the summer. You watched their shows? What’d you think?
Hamell: I really dug them, I was proud to be aboard, the music was really good; Aesop is killer and Kimya’s got balls of steel.
Berger: Do you usually watch the other acts if you’re touring with someone? It seems respectful, but, like with Detroit, you hear the same stuff over and OVER again…
Hamell: sometimes, like with Ani, I wouldn’t watch it for the first week or so and then I would kind of treat myself to an Ani show… get a great seat or get down in the pit, especially if it wasn’t a travel day the next day and just dig it like a general fan… it’s more fun that way for me.
Berger: Everything in moderation.
Hamell: Except crack – that stinks in moderation That’s my usual way, although with The Uncluded I watched them a lot because I was trying to steal stuff from Aesop.
Berger: When you steal, is it recognizable? That’s a dumbass question. That’s for the witness to decide.
Hamell: Nope, I don’t think so – if for no other reason than I can’t fucking rap, but he’s this weird self-effacing thing juxtaposed with the boast thing that was highly intriguing to me, it’s hard to explain, but it was funny and infectious and I was trying to sorta capture it’s appeal. I steal it and then alter it so hopefully you can’t recognize it, maybe even the original artist can’t…you could flatter them by saying, ‘I was highly influenced by you…’ which would be true, too, of course.
Berger: Happiest Man in the World: Is it all done? Is it the best album ever? Is it all material from your song a day period?
Hamell: Happiest Man is not done but I bet will be Oct 2nd. It’ll be MY best album ever; in shuffle culture nobody compares artists with other artists so it doesn’t matter. All the songs very well might be from my song a day period, but good lord, have they been worked….
Hamell: You go to get cheese fries?
Berger: Erin Kleh stopped by.
Hamell: Did Erin go for cheese fries?
Berger: Erin was promoting her show on September 26: Animals Animals Animals.
I’m playing that, and then the next night with you.
It’s a Jonstravaganza!
Hamell: Cheese fries, cheese fries, cheese fries…
Berger: I’m gonna get crème brûlée later.
Berger: I’ve only started getting it recently, but I will continue getting it until the day I die – probably from caramelaization of the blood.
You like recording with Brian Speaker? I hear nothing but good things.
Does Happiest have lots of arrangement?
Hamell: I liked working with Brian. He’s got a cool room, gets good sounds and had a good ear for what was a great performance from me. A lot of times my ‘revisions’ or rerecordings of the songs have nothing to do with the producer’s inability to capture stuff… I hear the recording, which is usually pretty good on the producer or engineers part, and think ‘I can make this a better song’ and the producer might think oh, Hamell’s not happy, but its not that I’m not happy with him, its that I’m not happy with me… anyway, Brian was great.
Berger: I remember being involved in jam sessions in your basement a few years back (I learned bass!) You’ve moved since then; do you have space to play and record now?
Hamell: Yeah, I moved, my wife and I split up, would have been married 26 years today oddly enough… no, no little studio anymore but a LOT of this album is just me and a guitar and it’s been a real battle getting the Hamell live thing down
Berger: Wait, wait. You’ve got this regular thing of recording earlier versions of songs, then going back to revise the song? So you have like this entire OTHER catalog of Hamell songs?
So if you ever do Expanded versions of your old releases, there could be demo cuts, live cuts… the mind boggles.
Hamell: Yes, I confess, there’s a couple of box sets waiting to happen…I’m releasing 8 of my albums digitally on bandcamp soon but no expanded versions…what you hear is what I want you to hear….
Berger: It seems that finding the live Hamell sound has been a struggle forever. Big As Life is mostly the sound of one man and guitar, but with overdubs aplenty. So it sounds like a version of the solo show, but still a lot more mannered.
I was crazy excited when Ed’s Not Dead came out, because, good as your albums may be, nothing really compares with that live experience.
Hamell: Hmmm, probably… I can’t tell anymore, I like the YouTube videos a lot really, but thanks on the live thing tip… I kinda wonder what the people hear live, the overtones, the shit in the next room, the guys foot pounding on the stage, the spontaneous screaming, even the facial expressions, just that feeling that it could go off the rails but… the guy’s in control… it’s hard to nail… I work at it a lot at home, just me and a Dictaphone…. doing some more recording with the Butcher Bros that’ll be that kinda vibe, just me and a guitar, but a lot looser: more screaming, less mannered. I want you to be able to smell the cheesefries.
Berger: Butcher Brothers: they produced Chord is Mightier than the Sword. Any others of yours?
Hamell: always did something on every record, you know mixed the live album and Choochtown, did stuff in their studio for every record.
Hamell: I got to record wherever I can get it – you know, where the price is right, where I’m located, who’s got the right gear…. I’m lucky this time; it seems to always sound good, I just keep making it sound more fun, (which ain’t easy oddly enough) until I get it… usually my kid will be in the car and go ‘you got it!’
That’s like the fun stuff live!
Berger: So the Butcher part is what’s next for Happiest, or some other later release?
Hamell: Finishing up Happiest…
I might do a covers record next in a year or so – freak everybody out.
Berger: I listen to this podcast, Coverville, pretty regularly. Nothing but covers.
Hamell: I put the covers over my head a lot – love it.
So… what? We got a show there at your Sidewalk place? When? With who? Promote, promote, promote, get them asses in the seats!!!
Berger: Next Friday, yo. It’s sort of a Speakersonic sample show, except for me.
I’m playing at nine. I’ll be reading shit.
Bird to Prey at eight o’clock, starting things out with her Australicana, and Hamell on Trial at 10pm.
You heard of any of these people?
Hamell: Oh…we crossed paths… yup, you I know because you have a bike, and Brian I know because he has a wife and Bird to Prey I know because she has an accent, so yes, I’m thinking its gonna be pretty fun.
Berger: It’s sort of the state of quality AntiFolk – at least, in my opinion.
Hamell: Cool, love it, what’s this beef and jerky all about?
Berger: Beef n Jerky (Brian Speaker and Scott Loving’s duo project), is at 11.
Brian and Scott used to live together, and they created a specific set of songs that sound sensitive, but are probably not.
Most notable in their set is the song, “AntiFolk, AntiFolk.”
It pretty much encapsulates the whole experience.
Hamell: Oh, I know that song
OK, got it. Do you think we inspired any AntiFolk community nonbelievers that might not have come before to go, “HOLY JESUS I GOTTA WAKE UP 20 OF MY FRIENDS AND SEE THESE FUCKERS!!!!”
Berger: Oh, who knows? We don’t even have a comments section on the site; I got no idea who reads it.
Hamell: We gotta make promises, big huge false promises, just like politicians do if we’re gonna get butts in the seats…. there’s gonna be free food and beer and naked breasts and money and video games and MONEY… WE’RE GIVING AWAY A LT OF MONEY…TO EVERYBODY THAT COMES. And we cure diseases.
Berger: I will personally offer sex to every third 20something woman who requests it, and/or every other woman.
Hamell: …and fake comments like ‘I blew these guys once and they were the best!’ for the woman attenders and ‘These guys rock; they know all about sports!” for the manly guys.
Berger: I know all about sports! Sports are… the best Huey Lewis album?
Hamell: And dogs love them for pet enthusiasts.
September 27 – starting at 8pm. A show !