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The Artist in the Office Interview: Hamell on Trial

April 26, 2010

From his site: Hamell on Trial is a one-man punk band and by punk we mean (mostly) loud, fast music informed by politics, passion, energy and intelligence, played by a guy with a sharp tongue and a wicked sense of humor. His ninth release, a double-disc set titled Rant & Roll, launches Hamell into new territory, capturing not only an award-winning, hour-long performance, but the Kerouac-esque story of social commentary through years on the road.

Note: Comments are OPEN!  I have a ton of CDs to give away thanks to Hamell and the folks at Righteous Babe Records, which means more than one winner!  Sound OFF, people!

What are some of the jobs you’ve had?  What was the worst and what made it the worst?

Lots of food industry jobs, waiting tables, bartending, some office jobs but I have limited computer skills and a bunch of manual labor jobs. The worst have less to do with the stuff you have to do and everything to do with the environment, i.e. your fellow workers, the boss, the clientele etc. I did a key punch temp job in an office working for the State of Texas that was a drag because everybody was concerned with retiring and they were young so I had to be faced with people wishing their lives away. Very spiritually demoralizing.

Can you talk about the moment you stopped working at a regular job—what was the process behind that?  How did you get there?

Hmm… well I never really signed on full scale to a “regular” job. The last part time job I quit was in Austin Texas when I got signed to Mercury Records and the label was cutting me checks so I knew I could do it but I’m having a sneaking suspicion that I might have to get into the workforce yet again to take some time away from certain mundane areas of the artistic career and focus on the areas that matter in the hopes of negotiating the next level. Re: How I got there…you mean, I think, the ability to quit the job and focus full time on the art…it was always the kind of job where you could kinda write your own schedule so you could cut out and do the gigs. There’s many drawbacks obviously, you trade ANY kind of security and benefits and it’s indeed humbling, (bordering on humiliating) to take orders from a manager that’s 20 years younger than you. Builds character I guess or fuels the art.

Some of my favorite earlier songs of yours deal with jobs you’ve had, like being a truck driver and a bar tender.  Some people struggle for material when they leave the “regular” peopled world of jobs.  Was there ever an adjustment you had to make artistically when you left the regular job world and what was it?

The adjustment was very much to the positive. By that I mean it would never have dawned on me to write about that stuff had I not experienced it. But working, not unlike love, is pretty darn universal. So the “adjustment” was almost where to stop writing. When does it become boring for people? Where do you draw the line when you’re being honest and not fall into a “looking for sympathy” mode? Who does the guy think he is, y’know, everybody’s gotta work?  So the adjustment came about in how to relay it honestly in the art and hopefully learn something from it. i.e. Would it had been better for me to get some kind of job I liked, arts related, a radio jockey, a graphic artist, something I found fun and challenging and focus on the music when it could be presented at it’s best and not play some dump in Iowa to 12 people for a hundred bucks? I don’t know…it’s too late now. I like to think I made the right choice so that the experiences I’ve had performing, even in those shitty environments have added to my expertise. But we’ll all rationalize anything I guess.

I’ve been at gigs where you had driven through traffic for hours only to turn around and go home the same way you came right after the gig.  Can you talk about the hardest parts of being a full-time musician and the parts you love the best?

I’m lucky in that I love just about all of it. I love the writing, recording, performing and even the traveling. I’ve got great friends all over the world and I’m proud of my legacy. Get a lot done in terms of writing and particularly memorizing in cars and airports. And I see my 8 year old son all the time too. He comes with me to the gigs now more than not so it’s really awesome. The only downside for me, and I’m hoping to change all this, my expectations and understanding of it on a deeper spiritual level, is that it’s still a tough month to month hustle to pay the bills. The old art and commerce division but I’m addressing it full scale at this point in my life and am VERY optimistic I’m going to work it out finally.

Not everyone can do the JOB of being an artist, even if it is their passion.  How do you balance the business end of the musician life with the artistic—and do they ever clash?

This is the perfect question to follow the previous one. Yes, in the past they have clashed considerably. But I was looking at it in the wrong way. Very wrong. It’s way too long and involved to go into but as succinctly as possible I would say there are ways, very cool creative ways of combining these two seemingly opposed elements. I suggest a book, and I think I have a reputation for being a tad skeptical, particularly of bullshit, but I recommend Ask and It is Given by Abraham Hicks. ‘Nuff said.

You’ve been doing this musician life for what? 20 years?  You’ve been through a lot: the highs and lows of the record industry, car accidents, moves around the country—what are some of the ways/things that have helped you keep going?

I just fucking love doing it. With the exception of hanging with my son, when I’m on stage I’m the most comfortable I am anywhere. It’s the only thing, other than being a father, that I do great. There’s absolutely nothing like what I do so, ha, I’m the best at it. If I want to sing about love or heartbreak, or sex or the horror of Glenn Beck, tell a joke, do a dance, play a punk rock song, ballad, polka, I can go at it full throttle and no one can tell me I can’t. Check it out: I got a job I LOVE, I get paid, people dig it and I CAN SAY WHATEVER THE FUCK I WANT! That makes me a very lucky man.

Okay, totally self-indulgent question alert!  I know you have a family and you have other artistic pursuits, like painting and spoken word projects.  I just had a kid myself and I am dying to know how the heck do you balance the artist life with family life?

I might not be the guy to ask. Totally faithful and sober for 25 years and my wife left me a year ago. Coming out of some very dark times because, gulp, I still love her like mad. Reconciliation? Probably not although this could turn out to be a love story of historic proportions. As I said I’m with my son all the time and at worst I think my wife and I will be great friends and great parents to a great kid. Fuck if I know, good luck. I would say this though: Never betray, honesty is the best policy and it’s better to have loved and lost than to blah, blah, blah…

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a song a day and recording a video of it on my website .  I’m up to 206 songs. Idle hands are the devil’s playground so it’s been keeping me busy and out of trouble, (read: suicide) through this hellish period. I’ll releasing the best 15 of the first 100, rerecorded and mastered through my label Such-A-Punch Media with my business partner Kris Carter. We’ve also started recorded an album called Tacklebox, (because it has so many hooks) with full instrumentation that will be released through Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe label before the end of the year. I continue to paint and sell art through my website which has been surprisingly successful and I’m also working on another one man theatrical presentation called, “This is Your Brain on Rock and Roll”  which will premiere at the Washington DC Fringe Festival in June.

Do you have any advice for creative types with jobs out there you care to share?

You’d better love it. Not the money, not the fame or power, not the press and the clapping just the DOING. Love it, or else get out of the fucking way, you’re a pain the ass for those of us that do. And if you love it it’ll all be worth it, it’s a grand adventure.

Thank you, Hamell on Trial!

  1. Ann GH permalink
    April 26, 2010 11:21 am

    Great interview, Summer. I loved learning about Hamell and can’t wait to see him in DC. You’re a great interviewer, BTW, Summer!

  2. April 26, 2010 12:09 pm

    Great interview to read as I get up and get ready to go to my 9-5.
    I loved to hear he is working on a song-a-day project, very inspiring interview.

  3. GoP permalink
    April 26, 2010 12:18 pm

    I wish Amazon let your listen to the tracks, I wanted to get a preview!

  4. Morgan G permalink
    April 26, 2010 12:48 pm

    Wow! What an inspiring guy. I just love the “you better love it.” In my experience, man, that’s so true. Great interview, Summer! Looking forward to listening to the CD.

  5. April 26, 2010 2:32 pm

    Wow. Great questions and powerful responses. Thanks for your honesty!

  6. April 26, 2010 2:42 pm

    Wow what an inspiring interview!
    Its great to hear from some one who has so many projects on the go – I always wondered if maybe I should just concentrate on one thing but I think Hamell proves it doesn’t have to be so.

  7. April 26, 2010 5:30 pm

    Very inspiring! Thanks so much!

  8. April 26, 2010 6:40 pm

    I was standing last week at a farmer’s mrkt gig,my designated spot on a gloomy low traffic day.I’m singing & playing good through my self contained sound system when I spy a colleage from work.He interupts with don’t you find this depressing?I said, listen pal I just love to sing and play. It’s all good and thanx Summer for bringing Hamell.

  9. April 26, 2010 11:31 pm

    Oooh, I’m always game to expand my musical horizons. And you’ve given such a great back story; I’d love to get a copy of his CD. please.

  10. April 27, 2010 2:18 pm

    What an intelligent and intense interview. Thank you!

  11. April 28, 2010 7:51 pm

    I have never listened to any of his music, but am looking forward to checking it out. Please send me a CD!!!!!! Thanks, Summer, for another great interview.

  12. Sarah Chepkirui permalink
    April 29, 2010 1:08 pm

    This is a great interview, Summer. Thank you! Especially the reminder about loving it. (Also, thank you for the Lucille Clifton post. She’s an old favorite who I’ve not read in a while. What a stunning, stunning quote from her.)

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