Acoustic Punk - The Bass/Meant Tapes
Hamell On Trail is one Ed Hamell & his defiantly one man band. Forced into contention earlier this year via delivery of his awesome NYC streetscene storybook, "Choochtown", Ed Hamell has much in common with the current crop of NY antifolk strummers. Acoustic punk, is what he likes to refer to his music as - there is very little sensitivity or reference to Nick Drake going on here. Spiritually Hamell is closer to The MC5 & The Stooges than Simon & Garfunkel - he tears at his gtr strings like they're the pin of a grenade he's about to lob @ a convention of folk troubadours. Insincerity incites him.
After years spent furrowing conventional tracts in Upstate New York, Hamell headed south for Austin, Texas, where he began a residency at the Electric Lounge. After alienating half his audience on the first night, crowds soon began to swell to 500 +. The seed had been planted & growth was inevitable. In 1994 Hamell signed with Austin label DooLittle Rekkids & recorded his debut lp, "Big As Life".
A major deal with Mercury lead to the re-release of "Big As Life " & a second lp, "The Chord Is Mightier Than The Sword". Ed moved to NYC soon after & began to perform around the clubs & bars of the East Village. "Choochtown" was recorded in his Brooklyn basement for indie label, Such A Punch Media. A live lp, "Not Dead - Hamell Comes Alive", was recorded with the aid of his trusty 1937 Gibson whilst on tour with Ani DiFranco. A UK tour is in place for Nov/Dec 2001.
trakMARX - You've been knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door for a while now - why do you think someone has answered at last?
I always has a sneaking suspicion that Europe would respond to me, at least initially, better than the States. They seem more eager to try something new. My first two records were on Mercury, a major, and they took a very conservative marketing approach, when they took any approach at all. Those records were never released in Europe, so I just had to wait. I also like to think that this record, "Choochtown" is the best, so maybe everything happens for a reason. It's a long range plan anyway. I'll still be putting out records 20 years from now.
trakMARX - Are you down with the AntiFolk scene?
Most definitely. In the late 80's I was playing in a band, and when it broke up I was looking around for something "new" to do with myself. I never listened to acoustic singer/songwriters unless you put Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie in that category. I was pretty much a rock and roll fan leaning heavily towards NYC 70's punk and 80's midwest alt-rock like Husker-Du and the Replacements. Someone gave me a copy of Roger Manning's first record on SST and it blew my mind. Just a guy and a guitar but very cool dirt poetry and aggressive acoustic. It was the template by which I organically created Hamell On Trial. It's still a very vibrant scene, having spawned Beck and The Moldy Peaches. The guy who started it and came up with the name, Lach, is really good and occasionally tours Europe. Try to catch him.
trakMARX - Choochtown feels like one of the definitive NYC street statements of all time - how does it feel to have out Lou-ed Lou?
Thanks for the compliment. Lou, obviously is one of my favourite all time songwriters. Anybody who thinks his material has lost it's edge is dead wrong. His body of work may be the most consistently great of all the supposed "legends". I don't really feel like I've started compared to him. Plus Marquee Moon might be the all time definitive New York statement anyway.
trakMARX - The lp was recorded in a basement in Brooklyn - does that reflect the vitality of yr. music better than a 48 trak $500 an hour studio?
Well, it definitely reflects my economic situation at that time. Offtimes limited parameters breed creativity. My next studio record will probably be more sophisticated but I doubt I could ever justify the budgets that fly around this industry. It's usually about pre-production and feel for me. Sort of like Alfred Hitchcock in that respect. Storyboard the shit out of it.
trakMARX - Observational humour plays a big part in your songs & you obviously pray @ the church of Bill Hicks - do you think people learn well as they laugh?
They heal as they do.
trakMARX - The characters in yr. songs are often based on real people - we heard a local residency was proving dangerous as a result - any truth in this?
Where'd you hear that? There's a great story Richard Pryor tells about going back to his hometown after he was famous. He walks into the pool hall where he used to hang out and nobody pays him any attention. Finally one guy looking at his pool shot says under his breath, "Richard Pryor. You wasn't funny then and you aren't funny now." I'd venture to say it's the same in Syracuse. They couldn't really give a fuck --- although I'm probably not welcome at the bar I used to work at which is a shame because I really loved those guys. Most of them are dead or in jail now anyway.
trakMARX - Never meet yr. heroes - would we get more than a simple "fuck off" if we approached you in the john @ one of yr. forthcoming UK dates?
Sure. I'm pretty easy going. I appreciate the hell out of my fans. Never confuse the art with the artist.
trakMARX - Did the above experience change the way you felt about Lennon?
No. Me. I wasn't old enough, unfortunately to a) not take it personally and b) to put it in a larger and more mature perspective. Particularly now, with Americas infatuation with celebrity, it's easy to see how disillusioned he had become with it all. Especially in light of the negative reaction he got over the woman he loved. That's the point I'm trying to make, ultimately, in the song, when I say I was pushed, "straight as a bullet" into him. All he lost over someone's, (Mark Chapmen's), desire to be famous is a great tragedy of our time.
trakMARX - You are a big fan of 60's punk, The Stooges & The MC5 - are you pleased to see their influence rolling around again?
Um, where??? I'm not trying to be a wise guy but I don't see it. The Stooges. and people seem to overlook this, were a GROUNDBREAKING band. That's why people didn't buy their records. Only a few people, like Lester Bangs and Danny Fields, knew how important they were at that time. I love the fact that Iggy finally got his due, both critically and financially, but he put in, (and STILL puts in), a lot of work. I don't hear anyone, with the possible exception of Sonic Youth taking those kinds of sonic chances. The MC5 put their lives on the line at a time in this country where their was genuine rioting in the streets. A lot. I don't see any bands doing that because that social climate doesn't currently exist. However, after the events of Sept 11th we might see some repercussions in art and music like we haven't seen in a while.
trakMARX - You took a bit of a kicking from an auto accident last year - what went down?
I was on my way to a gig, I was in somebody's blind spot and he ran me off the road. My car flipped over twice, they had to cut me out of the car, flew me to the hospital and I broke 3 vertebrae, my wrist and had 52 staples in my head. I was in an upper body brace 24/7 for 5 months.
trakMARX - You have spent time touring with Ani DiFranco - do you share her political world view?
You know, we never talk politics, we only talk music. I like her very much and have the utmost respect for her. I would imagine I share some of her political views.
trakMARX - Any contemporary movers & shakers out there you feel an affinity with presently?
There are musicians, filmakers and artists that I'm inspired by all the time. Lately I've been going through a Tom Waits faze. Lucinda Williams, Lou Reed and The Ramones I listen to a lot. The new White Stripes record I play a lot. I just got the Richard Pryor box set and I blasted through that and had a ton of old memories. Just read a book by Jonathan Letham called "Motherless Brooklyn" that was pretty great. And a film called "Hard Core Logo" that threw me for a loop. Went thru an Abel Ferrara period recently too. Constantly searching.
trakMARX - After 11/09/01 will life in NYC ever be the same again?
Absolutely. Better, I'll bet. But with reservations. New York, you've got to remember, was never "the same". (Although I know what you're getting at). That's the beauty of it. It's a wonderful, inspiring, resiliently TOUGH town, that will bounce back. I'm excited to see the manifestations of that bounce.
trakMARX - How do you think US popular culture will react in the long term?
That's a good question and one I've been thinking about a lot. I would bet, and lord knows I'm no visionary, that the emphasis on superficial art, (and I'm not being condescending here), would wane. The teen groups and the minor face appeal will wane. Maybe there'll be a better appreciation of intellect and substance. Already the acknowledgement of the heroics of the common worker is everywhere.
trakMARX - Are you looking forward to visiting the UK?
Very much so.
trakMARX - Any reservations about yr. travel arrangements?
A little. Not enough to dissuade me. It's probably safer now than it ever was.
trakMARX - When can we expect a follow up to "Choochtown"?
I have a live record that I sell at shows now. We're currently looking for a European distributer. I'll start recording a studio record in December for release in spring of next year, hopefully.