Tom Hamilton Interview – Full Text

Josh Klemons: Hey, Tom.
Tom Hamilton: Yeah.
JK: Tom, this is Josh Klemons. How are you?
TH: I’m good, buddy. How are you?
JK: Good, thanks so much. Is this a good time?
TH: Yeah, it’s perfect.
JK: Great. Thanks so much for taking some time to talk to me.
TH: No problem. Hold on one second, let me just walk outside here.
JK: Sure.
TH: Alright buddy, how are you?
JK: I’m great. Yeah, no worries. So, yeah, I got the album about a week ago. I’ve been listening to it. It sounds great.
TH: Thank you.
JK: And yeah, I’ve got some questions for you.
TH: Lay ‘em on, buddy.
JK: Great. I was wondering if you could talk about the recording process. I read that when you write, you start with drums. Is that also true for the recording or mostly for the composition?
TH: Wow, okay. Good question. Let me think about that for a second.
JK: That’s my goal.
TH: Well, you know, everything is a demo until it’s not, kind of. You know, a lot of the tracks, we’re working with computers and stuff. Everything is it’s own session, you know, for a song. A lot of the songs, the session that I started demoing it out on, I still edited up on and a final product also edited. There are things on a lot of the tracks that are, like, from the second I wrote it and are still in there, you know? And I just kind of keep erasing and redoing and going over and going over. You know, some of the things definitely started with the drums, some didn’t. You know, my buddy Joe Russo plays drums on a few things on there and those were, I have the original program demo drums or whatever and he came in and did the drums last on a couple of things. You know, the recording process, it wasn’t as, there’s not as much of a formula, I guess. I try to be as fluid as possible when it comes to making any of these things. I’’m like, however it has to happen, that’s how it has to happen, as long as the end result is there.
JK: Yeah, it sounds explorative. I actually wrote down the words symphonic rock when I was listening to it. I mean, there’s a non-linearness to the album that is very, it took several listens through to really appreciate how kind of, how much it moved. I guess I’m curious, in the end, how much of the album was created with computers because at times it was almost hard to tell.
TH: That’s always been my go to thing, the thing I like the most, was making it so you couldn’t really tell, you know?
JK: Yeah, sure.
TH: You know, man, what I would say is most of it was done by people for sure. The studio I did it in was attached to a small black box theatre and then there was also a rock club both within the same building so even the reverbs and some of the weird delay type sounds, aren’t generated by machines, whether they’re outboard reverb tanks or internal computer programs, like plugins and stuff. A lot of it was pumping sound into these huge rooms and then recording that. You know, it’s not like. It was interesting being able to utilize an entire building as far as getting things to sound the way I wanted it to sound. You know, it was pretty cool. I was pretty fortunate that the studio I have, the people who live in the building were really cool and they let us experiment with, you know the businesses when they’re not open.
JK: (Laughing) Right. How long was the recording process for this album?
TH: I’d say from like recording to mastering, I’d say about six months.
JK: Six months? Is that normal for you? Short, or long?
TH: That’s actually. You know, this is my third record and I feel like that’s probably the average. The first record we did in, like, three weeks or something like that. It was pretty, you know, dudes went in, I already had the songs pretty much written and me and five buddies went into the studio and just cut most of the things live and that was that. And then the last record, Flawed Logic, was mostly, I was kinda figuring out new ways to do things. So it was mostly just me and the producer on that record, this guy Bill Moriarty, who did Dr. Dog’s early records.
JK: Right.
TH: And most of that was me and him for almost a year, just kinda fucking around in the studio and you know, figuring shit out. I mean you take the first month, that’s just meeting, getting to know each other, you know?
JK: Sure.
TH: You know, an artistic relationship like that, it’s a complex thing. So it was great, it was really cool and he’s a brilliant man, so he taught me a lot. But that one took a while. Flawed Logic took quite a bit of time. I would say that this would be the average. You know, I had a lot of the ideas and the demoes going once I got in there and, you know, it just happened how it happened.
JK: Yeah. Sure.
TH: I definitely don’t ever put, for better or for worse, I don’t put a time constraint on things, you know?
JK: Yeah. For sure. It’s self-produced? You know, I didn’t get liner notes to the album. I was just given a digital download. It was self, you produced the album, right?
TH: I did produce the record, yes.
JK: Right, okay cool.
TH: You know, over the years I’ve worked with a couple of guys here and there, with my old band Brothers Past all the way up to the present, and you know the thing, a lot of the times I use a producer just for gear situations, you know? Tones and my own limitations of studio knowledge. I didn’t know how to get things I wanted, a lot of the ways, I lot of the best producers are basically just facilitators, you know?
JK: Sure.
TH: But, you know, I’ve worked with some great guys that have taught me a lot of things  and I’m at the point now in my career where I feel comfortable going in on my own and, you know, just having an engineer with me just kinda to help out, you know running cables and shit and, you know, and I try to make it somebody that I respect so if I do need to bounce ideas off of them, I can. And I worked, fortunately for me this time, I ran into a buddy of mine that I grew up with in West Philadelphia that I hadn’t in fucking the years and he was like “yeah man, I’ve got a studio” and I was like “no shit.” so I went in, checked it out, it was great and you know, me and Dan caught up and it turns out after ten years, we kinda both turned into the same person, we really see eye-to-eye on a lot of things so I came in and said “let me make my record here, I’d love for you to be my engineer on it. And let’s do this.” That’s how it went.
JK: That’s awesome. What percentage, or you mentioned Joe Russo, of the dup right? Benevento/Russo?
TH: Yeah, absolutely.
JK: What percent, how much is you and how much is other people, on this record?
TH: Like actually playing?
JK: Yeah, I mean, yeah.
TH: Or you mean sorta writing the parts.
JK: What I’m hearing, how much of it came, I know you play many instruments, in the end of the day.
TH: Oh yeah, I’d say probably, like 70%.
JK: 70% is from you and then 30, I mean, again, its from you and whatnot. 70% of the tracks on there, you produced them, or recorded them yourself I mean.
TH: Yeah, totally.
JK: Okay. And I’m curious how the songs are sounding live? Is it something that you’re able to, it’s hard to imagine some of these songs sounding like this, which, you know, an album and a live song should sometimes be different. But are you trying to recreate these songs live or are you reinterpreting them live?
TH: No man, I don’t ever try to recreate songs live. It’s a, I think it’s a waste of time, personally.
JK: (Laughing) Okay.
TH: Well, you know, it’s like we’re playing, I feel like. Okay, let’s say I wrote a tune four years ago and it was about fucking broccoli. Let’s just say it was about broccoli.
JK: Sure.
TH: And, you know, so what, I gotta re-conjure the feeling I had about broccoli four years ago tonight? You know, that’s fucking horse shit. I mean, like, I kinda let the songs be what they are at the moment, the night that we’re playing them. And I’m not saying, like hey, let’s make this one a polka, but I give the band the freedom to let the song move around.
JK: Sure.
TH: Let the song be fluid, let it, you know… it’s like water takes the shape of whatever it’s in and I appreciate that. That’s how I view music. That’s how I view my music. It’s like, you know, we’re four weeks into a tour. How’s it gonna go tonight? I don’t know, it depends on how we all feel. Is the bass player tired? Does the drummer miss his girlfriend? Does the keyboard player need to get laid? I don’t know.
JK: Sure.
TH: All of those things, that all, that recipe is gonna make that version of that song that night, you know what I mean?
JK: Sure.
TH: And then tomorrow it’ll be different.
JK: Sure. I’ve got one more question on the recording process and then I actually have some questions about the specific songs. Do you think differently going into the studio or writing the songs, I guess I’m curious is the composition or is the construction different for this band than if you had been doing these songs with Brothers Past? I mean, are you writing them at the outset knowing that it’s gonna be a different sound on the album or is it just, this is where your heads at and your recording the same song in a totally different way?
TH: I don’t, I try not to. After Brothers Past’s first record, I totally got out of, I wasn’t happy when that record came out and a lot of it was because when we were making the record and we were wanting to do things, what always came up was, well how are we going to do that live? And you put these fucking shackles on yourself because of that. And I was like, you know what, I don’t care how we do it live. It’s not about that. There’s two different things for me. The live band and touring, is its own entity away from records and doing the studio. You know, those records are the statement when you get to really think about it and over analyze everything and fucking make this piece of art. And the live show is your statement every day, it’s your journal, it’s hey, you know, this is where I was on that day, this is how I felt, this is what was going on in our lives. So, you know, I don’t worry about it. I don’t think about it a live show at all. I could care less about the live show when it comes making a record. You know, and that’s why I’ll have a lot of different people come in and play things that are not in the band. You know, Russo hasn’t been in the band in five years, but I still have him come in, because, you know, it’s like hey man, I have this idea and you can really get the swing I want out of it or you know, different bass players, or whatever. It doesn’t matter for in the band or not. This has nothing to do with the live band, it has to do with what’s the statement that’s happening right now, what is the next phase of the band, you know?
JK: Yeah, no. Definitely. Why American Babies?
TH: Oh, the name of the band?
JK: Yeah.
TH: We were doing the first record, there was a song on there called American Babies and it was in my mind, at the time, it was the centerpiece of the record. I had this big, grand idea and it has middle section that is this big cacophonous, weird, almost like the middle of A Day in the Life, where it’s just this big noisy situation is going to happen and when I was making that record, the idea of the first record was basically I just had all these songs and a lot of my friends just so happened to not really be touring at the same time and we all got together and made this record and that one track, the idea was to have everybody that had been in the record or had recording anything on the record and just go at that section and fucking run some shit over it and whatever they wanted to play, just play it over. It was the kitchen sink type of think .
JK: Okay.
TH: And it just symbolized, the most to me, what I wanted to do, what I wanted this project to be. I want it to always be a collaborative thing in the studio, free situation where I can be just like, hey man, I want this side of this to come in and play on this record and no one’s gonna give me shit for it, you know. I want my brother to play, he can play, you know? On Telephone, the last song, my mom’s singing the harmonies with me, you know? It’s whoever, it’s whenever, it’s complete freedom. And that song American Babies, at the time that rung true to me. I was like let’s just call the band that, you know?
JK: Sure. Okay. I mean, it’s a really interesting name. It’s very outside of what you would think of for like a rock and roll name. That’s really interesting. This Ain’t Going Nowhere opens with two experiencing the world, young and old. And I guess I’m curious which one you feel like you are?
TH: Aww man, here’s my problem. I’m in that fucking middle situation now, man. I have a little sister, she’s 16 and goddamn she’s 16. She’s like, such a 16 year old girl, the crank, or the knob broke off, just fucking 16, you know what I mean? You know what I mean, it’s insane. It’s been heaven to me. And then my dad, he’s almost 60 and you know, he’s raising this fucking 16 year old girl, and it’s a piss to watch, you know what I mean? It’s just like, man, this is funny. Because in between the two of them. You know, age wise, I’m pretty much right in the middle. I mean me and my brother, we’re significantly older than my sister and it’s just a lit bit of a weird. I don’t know man. In your 30s, you like, fuck, I‘m in the middle of the circle. You’re no longer really at the kids table, but you’re not really at the adult table. I have cousins who sit at the adult table with their three kids and their fucking husband, and then there’s me who showing up to to the family dinners looking like I fucking just crawled out of a gutter, cause I just got off tour for six weeks. I don’t have any kids, you know it’s this weird Peter Pan situation.
JK: Okay, Peter Pan situation. I hear it. I’m wondering, okay. On a different song, Running in Place, what were you trying to say with the intro?
TH: I wanted, what, the big nothingness?
JK: You know the song comes in from this over a minute, I wrote down harmonic helicopter, something like that. And then it comes in with this very nice finger picking. And I guess I’m curious what it was you were trying to get to, if you had something in mind that you were going for with that.
TH: I just wanted, ideally, you know, for me, the ideal situation for a record is always, is headphones on, is usually the prime one, and if you’re fortunate enough and if you have really great speakers and you know just turn it up to ten, and there was. I wanted there to be a cool down, in the middle of the whole thing. And I feel like when you’re listening with headphones or something, specifically like that, when that’s going on, it’s not that loud, that noise, that’s happening.
JK: Definitely.
TH: Which makes so you have to listen more and draws you in and it makes your ears, it changes your ears. Instead of your ears receiving sound, it’s now making your ears seek out sound.
JK: Interesting.
TH: You know, and you’re digging in and you’re trying to find it. You’re listen to it, you’re like, what’s going on and you’re like, why is this happening? And then, so you are listening even harder as you wonder, why the fuck is this going on, and it brings you in and to me, personally, it wraps you up like a little warm blanket and then that guitar starts and you’re like oh shit, that was nice.
JK: Right. That’s really interesting. I mean, I heard it like that, but I certainly wouldn’t have though about it like that. I thought it was interesting enough to merit asking you about. I read that you, you know I read some interviews with you, and you said you weren’t really listening to much specific music. I think you mentioned Alice Cooper.
TH: Alice in Chains.
JK: (Laughing) Alice in Chains, sorry.
TH: Huge difference, bro. (Laughing)
JK: This question is specifically from the song Telephone, which I actually have a few other questions about, but I guess in general, I’m curious, what were you reading? If you weren’t listening to specific music, I’d like to know, were you reading a great novel while you were writing or recording these songs? Or is that not really where you’re at?
TH: No, it wasn’t, really at all. Yeah, no. I wasn’t really reading anything. Really, I was kind of focusing on my own shit and you know, I had a lot, there was a lot of really weird things going on in my life when I was getting this shit going and it was plenty.
JK: Okay,
TH: You know, I didn’t need any help.
JK: Right. You didn’t need Dickens to help you help through that process at that moment?
TH:Yeah. No, no. I was getting, you know, life was kicking my ass down the street pretty handily, so. I didn’t need any help.
JK: So, are these songs you or are they characters or somewhere in between?
TH: I mean, you know, they’re me, you know.
JK: There’s some dark stuff on this album, that’s why I’m asking.
TH: I’m sorry.
JK: There’s some really dark themes in thew album and that’s why I’m asking.
TH: Yeah. Feel free to be more specific.
JK: In Telephone, are you comparing being on the road to being at war?
TH: No. Telephone. Being on the road is a real pain in the ass, you know? When in the middle of a furry (?) tour and you know, I have. You know, it’s cool, we get to talk and stuff like that, and to me obviously, I’ve been doing this a long time, so it’s no stranger to me. You know, the whole highland chicken at home thing. My older brother is in the military. Or was in the military. He was in Afghanistan for quite a bit of time. We would talk, not every day, but a lot. We would talk pretty often. Just like, online. Gchat or something. And it turns out him and his wife, they would skype all the time. And I found it remarkable, like whoa man, the spark from the tune really came from all this stuff. I was thinking to myself, like fuck man, imagine what it was like in World War II.
JK: Right.
TH: You know what I mean. It’s like, I’m gonna write a letter and you’re gonna get it 4 weeks after I wrote it and maybe I’m still alive. It’s crazy that my brother’s in the middle of a war and I’m gchatting with him and were LOLing. You know what I mean? It was just an interesting thing, an interesting observation on communication and phones and things like that. You know? You know, you miss somebody. These days when you miss somebody that much, you’re constantly looking at the fucking phone. At least I am. I mean I look at my phone 100 times a day, hoping that my girlfriend is thinking of me. I mean, we all do that.
JK: In that song, you are her though, not him. Correct?
TH: I’m sorry?
JK: You’re her in the song, not your brother. You’re your brother’s wife in the song, really?
TH: You know, those two aren’t the specific people in the song, they are more of the inspiration. In the song, I’m missing someone.
JK: I ask because it’s a really interesting take. Usually when people write about war, they write about the person who’s gone, not about the person who’s home waiting. So I think it’s an interesting flip on that notion of restlessness. I wasn’t meaning to undermine the idea, I really like it.
TH: Yeah man, I’m glad you dig it. That was one of the things. The point was really, I don’t know. I never really thought about it before, whenever I thought about that type of situation. You never think about who is at home.
JK: Right.
TH: You know, you always think about the soldier. But you see what that does to a wife and children, or parents, you know my mom and dad, how worried and relief when they do hear from them and stuff like that. It was something I’d never thought of before. I’d never thought to look at that side before. Like you mentioned, it was always, “look at the solider,” you know.
JK: That’s why I actually asked, what you were reading. It sounded very specific and I knew you weren’t at war. So now I know it’s a personal story. It’s really interesting. I had some questions about Goddamn, but I think I’m gonna skip them. I’m sure, you know talking about it, I don’t know if you need to talk about it. I am curious about the story behind Fire Sale. It sounds like a very specific, very dark kind of a situation, and I’m curious again, is that a personal story or is that an imagine, going back to, is this a character or is this something that you’ve been dealing with?
TH: Well, I was pretty into the whole Occupy Philly thing.
JK: Okay.
TH: For a while, I was there all the, I was there for quite some time with the Occupy movement and man, what a fucking shit show that turned out to be. You know, it was awful. Seeing how people are, in that kind of way, this thing that started with such hope and good intentions and then just seeing what people turned it into. You wonder why nothing can happen. You have all of these people with their own fucking agenda and their own bullshit and it’s like hey man, I’m pretty sure, aren’t we here for this financial equality thing, figuring out the banking system and stuff and all of a sudden you’ve got some asshole talking about legalizing pot and some other asshole talking about the Illuminati and some other guy, some anarchist passing out some. It’s like dude, this isn’t, I appreciate that everyone has their own issues they want to address here. But this is supposed to be about this. But to make it about this and to make a change instead of fucking splintering off, well that somehow works out. Everybody’s got their own fucking thing. Then you’ve got the opposition coming down and even they can’t agree. We’ll I’m pre-fucking life and I’m fucking this and I’m that I’m like “dude, would everybody just shut the fuck up for four seconds and let’s try and come to a general consensus here.” it was very discouraging man, I gotta say.
JK: Yeah, it sounds like it.
TH: Yeah, you know, Fire Sale was that man. That whole thing. You know, the first line “I don’t know if I can forgive / Or where to begin with the way that you live / With the Catholics.” That’s just like that whole crazy right wing thing. You know man, hey dude, I get it, man. My mom is a very catholic person but she’s not fucking crazy. She’s not fucking biting the heads of kittens. You know, you have these people, fucking psychopaths, that are taking things to extremes. It bothers me. To say the least. So, the whole thing is just, while we’re young, while we’re free. And it’s like hey man, listen, this is a good opportunity. You have ? You have that on your side and you have your opinions and all that shit. Be smart with it. Try to get together. Why don’t we all get to-fucking-gether and talk about this shit and make it one voice that’s undeniable instead of a billion little voices that nobody gives a fuck about. You know? I don’t know.
JK: Yeah. Again, that came through in the song and I was curious where it was coming from and I think that definitely tells me. Last question, any relation to the Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith.
TH: (Laughing) Yeah, no. Funny story. Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, his birthday is Dec. 31st, so is mine.
JK: Okay, nice.
TH: So we have the same name, we have the same birthday, and we’re both juniors. We’re both Tom Hamilton, Jrs.
JK: Yeah, for sure I noticed that.
TH: You know, it’s quote a weird.
JK: Yeah. It’s really weird. Have you guys met?
TH: No, I have not met. I actually have not.
JK: Maybe American Babies can open the next Aerosmith tour.
TH: Hey man, you know, fucking love in an elevator brother. (Laughing)
JK: (Laughing)
TH: I grew up, when I was like, fuck, I don’t know, 7 or 8, when Pump came put. That thing was the shit.
JK: Yeah, for sure. I remember it well. Is there anything else you want to say about the record? Otherwise I’m gonna let you go. I really appreciate the time.
TH: No man, dude. Whatever, if you have more questions, feel free. If not, I’m totally good. I appreciate you taking the time.
JK: Yeah, like I said, I really appreciate it as well. Let’s just talk about Goddamn and then I’m gonna let you go.
TH: Okay.
JK: I really love that opening line: “I’m hurting like I don’t know what.”
TH: Yeah.
JK: When I was listening to it, I wrote down the note, “so powerful, it couldn’t hold a metaphor.” and I just love that idea. I’m wondering if you started with the line or the feeling.
TH: Yes. I did.
JK: Did that line pop into you and you wrote the song or were you like, “fuck, I’m so angry, I don’t even know what I am,” you know?
TH: No, no.
JK: I’m curious which way it started.
TH: I was in a really, incredibly bad, unhealthy relationship. And I just wrote that down. I wrote the line down. I was just like, well, that’s that. So I just took that and ran with it.
JK: Yeah, it’s so on the cusp of being pointless that it’s amazing. It’s, I love that line, like really love it. I’m curious, what isn’t enough?
TH: Anything. You know, I don’t know man. I was dating a taker. There’s givers and takers and I was with someone who was, just,
JK: A taker?
TH: Not a great human being. And you know, you try, and you literally try everything to make someone’s happy and nothing works. And I can’t think of anything that makes me feel any more useless and worthless than when you’re giving something all you have and all you can and it’s still, just like nothing. Not even like a smirk or a high five. And you know, it’s a rough one, bro.
JK: Yeah, that’s intense. I wrote down, I was gonna ask you, but I heard it as an anti-love song, so I guess that’s about what you were thinking.
TH: No it’s not anti-love, cause you know that’s not my thing. You know, I will say after that relationship I was pretty convinced I was done with it, for sure. But you know, here we are a year or so later, I have myself a wonderful new lady. But it’s not anti, love is, it;’ what we got man. It’s one of those things that everybody has in common. It’s all in our brain, in some capacity and you know, I couldn’t give up on it. It’s music, you know man, that feeling, of like wanting to hug a basket of kittens. That’s what you get you know, when you listen to Brain Damage, Eclipse from Dark Side of the Moon or The Boxer from Simon and Garfunkel. You know, there’s this moment at the end of Suite: Judy Blue Eyes and you feel that thing that’s like, it feels like someone squeezing your lungs because you are so overcome with joy. And you can’t ever go against that, man.
JK: Yah, for sure. So now that the recordings done, the records released, are you listening to anything specific?
TH: You know, I listen to a lot of Grateful Dead. I grew up on the Grateful Dead and I put that down for quite a bit of time cause that’s something you gotta do with your influences. I put them down for many, many years, and you know man, I thoroughly enjoy listening to them again. I’m totally, especially on the road, it’s one of those things where I can’t believe I haven’t been doing this my entire career. Cause you know, you pop on a three-hour Dead show and all of a sudden you are in the next fucking town.
JK: Nice.
TH: So, yeah, I’m been listening to that a lot. I missed them terribly and I’m glad to be back.
JK: Good.
TH: Mostly those guys right now. That’s kind of where I’m at.
JK: Okay. Well, like I said I really appreciate your time and once this is done, I’ll send this on…
TH: I greatly appreciate you taking the time. Thanks for your interest. And you know, hope to catch you out there.
JK: For sure, next time you guys make it to Madison, or wherever I’m at, I’ll definitely come check it out. I’ve listened to the album a lot, I’ve really been enjoying it. So I appreciate it.
TH: Thank you man, thank you so much. Take care of yourself.
JK: Yeah, have a great day.
TH: All right, you too.