Hamell on Trial Interview by Ray Burke
One-man Punk Rock nâ Roll show Ed Hamell a.k.a. Hamell On Trial has been playing and touring since 1989. He plays loud, fast music informed by politics, passion, energy, intelligence, and humour.
Signed by Mercury Records after performing at SXSW in 1995, he released two well received albums on the major label, ‘Big as Life’ and ‘The Chord is Mightier than the Sword’. In 1997 he started his own Such-A-Punch Media label and self-released ‘Choochtown’, which due to its popularity took him outside the U.S. and to Europe, a place he has returned to consistently since. In May 2000 his career looked in doubt when he was seriously injured in a car accident, but after recovering from head and spinal injuries, he defiantly returned with ‘Edâs Not Dead: Hamell Comes Alive’ the following year.
In 2003 he released his critically acclaimed ‘Though Love’ (2003), his first studio album for Righteous Babe Records, which was followed by the equally glorious ‘Songs for Parents who enjoy Drugs’ (2006), and ‘Rant and Roll’ (2006). In 2007 he wrote and performed the multi-award winning stand up show, ‘The Terrorism of Everyday Life’, which received a coveted Herald Angel Award for an outstanding performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The show was subsequently released as a live album (also on Righteous Babe Records).
In 2010. after splitting from his wife of 24 years, he took on the daunting, self imposed challenge of writing a song everyday and publishing the results on his YouTube channel. He ended up with over 400 tunes, eight of which appear on his newest release, the excellent mini album, ‘Ed Hamell is the Happiest Man in the World’.
He has now parted ways with the Ani DiFranco owned Righteous Babe Records, and is freshly signed to New West Records â home to Steve Earle, Richard Thompson and Tom Morello (RATM). His new eight track mini album is produced by The Butcher Brothers (Bob Dylan/John Lennon/Anthrax) and features collaborations with Kimya Dawson (Moldy Peaches) and Ani Di Franco.
Itâs a raucous mix of punk-flavoured acoustic numbers, and stylistically mixed band tracks that tackle love, sex, old age, philosophy, religion, rock nâroll, and the disenfranchised forgotten characters on the fringes of society, executed with his own unique, sharp and capricious voice. Itâs a vivid, brilliant, sometimes hilarious, often poignant collection of tracks that exemplifies why Hamell has amassed such a loyal fan base over the last 24 years.
He is currently on tour in the UK and Ireland.
We recently caught up with him to talk about the new EP, the current tour, and life in general.
Louder than War: These dates are rescheduled from last September, was that illness related, or was it to focus on ‘Eddie’s Bar’ (the follow up to the award winning ‘Terrorism of Everyday Life’), or was there another reason behind rescheduling?
Hamell on Trial (Ed): Well, I was working on that [Eddie’s Bar] but what had happened was, I got signed to a new label, New West, I was on Righteous Babe Records prior, so the release date, I think is today, an eight song EP that is currently just in a digital download format, with a physical CD in March, when we found out, my agent and I, that the record deal was looming, We felt it would be more adventitious to wait and do the dates then (do the dates now).
LTW: What was the reason behind leaving Righteous Babe to join New West, obviously you’re still pals with Ani [Difranco, label owner], and she appears on this new EP?
Ed: It was, and is, a great relationship. They had…peared down there, I think they…, you know…god bless them, they would have put it out, if I wanted to put them out, they would have done it for me.Â New West have a larger profile, and an infinitely bigger roster, they have Kris Kristoferson, and theyÂ have Steve Earle, so, quite a few prestigious acts, and they offered me kinda a better situation, andÂ I went. But it was very good with Righteous Babe, I had gone to Righteous Babe and explained toÂ them…you know….I had been with them for 12 years, and explained to them that I had kind of a betterÂ situation, and they couldn’t have been any nicer, they were…(like) best of luck. I think it was just time for some new blood.
LTW: The EP was actually released yesterday (the 14th) and I was able to listen to it, and it’s really good by the way…
Ed: Thanks, I worked really, really hard on it (laughs)
LTW: Well, yeah, that’s what I wanted to ask you about, those songs were taken from an insane 400, in that period where you were writing a song a day, and your initial plan was to choose 15, how did you settle on those eight, and how difficult a decision was that to make?
Ed: There were certain ones… you know itâs funny, the reason I did it, I mean my, marriage had gone, I had been married for 24 years, and my marriage went down, and it wasn’t my idea! I’ll be frank. And so, it was pretty… and I’m sober, and idle hands are the devil’s playground but I needed to keep myself busy, cause I was in a pretty tough emotional state. There wasn’t any preconceived notion, I didn’t intend to do anything but just write a song a day because that was gonna keep me pretty busy and then certain things would happen, because when you have these YouTube channels, you have subscribers, and I don’t have a lot, I only have about 150 subscribers and they might weigh in and say hey, you know, that’s a good one, or I might have a friend that might call me up, or I like it so much that I try it live and you can tell that it resonates. You know!
I think I might have weaned it initially to about 30, and then, and then thought…realistically…you know, budget wise, because at that point I didn’t ask any labels for any money because I wanted to control where it went. So I paid for everything myself, I did it intentionally. So there were budgetary concerns, which actually sometimes, strict parameters can help the creative process. I find that when I ‘m giving unlimited access to stuff, sometimes it’s too much, there’s too many options. So, you know I think if you notice of those eight songs, I think four of them are completely acoustic, I think maybe some of them were attempted in a band format but were unsuccessful, sometimes you have to spend money to send things up the pole, to see that it doesn’t fly and so I did record fifteen, and of those fifteen I chose those eight, you know, I went into the studio and professionally recorded them.
LTW: The new EP, ‘Ed Hamell is the Happiest Man in the World’, features, as well as Ani DiFranco, Kimya Dawson on the excellent ‘Together’. I know Kimya has talked about her admiration for you in the past, so it was just natural that you would end up working at some point together?
Ed: Yeah, I’ve always wanted to…she couldn’t have been any sweeter, bear in mind, I was kinda really starting from square one, I felt, I didn’t have management anymore, I didn’t have an agent anymore, and I thought there is a possibility I’m going to move on from this label, and I didn’t have a wife! (erupts into laughter) I was really starting from scratch, I really called in, favours, frankly, and she couldn’t have been any sweeter. I had texted her, “hey, so you want do a duet?”, and then she, and you know, itâs funny, cause you know, my girlfriend is a singer, and I asked her, “do you want do this as a duet?” initially, and then she couldn’t get over the line, “going to the bathroom in our pants”, she just wouldn’t sing it. So then I reached out to Kimya, I said “oh fuck, she’ll sing it!” She said yeah, and we did it over the phone, and with pro-tool files, and never came into contact, really.
LTW: Because you just mentioned your “girlfriend”, and a lot of your work is very autobiographical, and itâs for that reason that I feel you might not have a problem with me asking this, but, in the prior years before the split with your wife, you had always been very open about monogamy, and being in love, and how much you missed her on the road, etc. Obviously, [with the mention of his girlfriend], youâre in a better place than you were [Ed was quite vocal about not wanting the relationship to end], is that fair so say?
Ed: Yeah, very fair to say, I’m the happiest man in the world! (laughs) I think itâs a quote from Henry…I think it’s a quote, I’m paraphrasing, but itâs a Henry Miller quote, I think he said, “I have no money, you know, I have no house, I have nothing, I am the happiest man in the world” so that’s where that came from. Yeah! You know, extremely so [happy], and I have a ten year old boy who is with me probably 60% of the time. My ex-wife and I are still very good friends, and very good parents to a great kid! So, you know, it’s worked out pretty…you know life…you know life!…no matter who…I don’t know you, but I guarantee you, you know life! (both laugh)
LTW: One of the things you spoke about a couple of years ago as well Ed, and when you’re talking about putting the EP together, and the budgetary concerns, paying for the recording yourself etc., you mentioned that you were going to start looking at ways of improving the business aspect of what you were doing, and looking at a way of not having to live month to month, as the lifestyle seemed to be demanding, how is that going?
Ed: (sniggers) This is what I tell everyone, currently my life is infinitely better than last year, and nowhere near as good as next year! You know, it is the life of the artist, and its never been easy in the United States, in terms of…on a number of different levels, not only economically, but…another thing, that very well may affect the economic part of it, cause I think the artist `has to feel that they’re deserving of…you know… a certain amount of whatever…you know…you have to value the quality of your…and its tough in the United States, they don’t really…obviously this is a huge generalization, but the arts are not a priority there, you know, well after sports, well after economics, well after politics, the arts are…you know, so consequently, the dignity and the moral of the artist, of any artist, this is not just myself, you know, I’m constantly giving pep talks to peers that are in the arts, saying, don’t confuse your net worth, with your self worth. And this has been a valuable lesson to me over the past few years, and, so it’s never been easy, but you know, obviously, my situation, even in the past six months has gotten better, and I paint as well, and I sell paintings, and I spin a lot of plates to live the life of the artist, but that having been said, and this is another thing…you know…there has been some bold euphonies over the past couple of 2 or 3 years…this is a life that I wouldn’t trade, you know, I couldn’t. You know, I think the life chooses you, before you choose the life. So yeah! things are better, and I see them getting continuously better on the horizon, but whether they [things] were better or not, I would still live this life.
Ed Hamell is currently on tour (dates below). He was special guest at a rare live outing from Tom Robinson in London on the 12th of January and was also a guest on Tomâs BBC6 show on Saturday night, you can hear it on the player above. Ed is also currently developing a new one man show called ‘Eddieâs Bar’ which was previewed on U.S. live dates.
Sat 26 Jan-Cyprus Avenue, Cork, Ireland
Sat 23 Feb-Cyprus Avenue, Cork, Ireland
Sun 24 Feb-Spirit Store, Dundalk, Ireland
Interview by Ray Burke. More writing by Ray on Louder Than War can be found here.