Bay Area prog metal hounds Hammers of Misfortune are back after five years with their new album entitled Dead Revolution, which continues their singular musical road in logical fashion. Band’s mastermind John Cobbett (guitars, vocals) is here to give us the necessary info about it and some other features…
Greetings John and welcome to the pages of Metal Sound! How are you doing these days?
Great, thanks! Lots going on here. Getting ready to move my family out of state, there are boxes piled up everywhere here.
First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your new album Dead Revolution! How are you satisfied with it now that everything is said and done, how would you position it in overall Hammers of Misfortune discography?
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it! I’m never 100% satisfied when I finish an album, but at some point you just have to finish. As I like to say, starting things is easy, finishing things is hard. By the time I’m done, I’m just glad it’s over! As for me, I would simply put the album chronologically in our discography. I think it’s up to the listener to decide where it belongs in our discography…
Five years have passed since 17th Street and a lot has happened in your personal lives, from you and Sigrid having a baby (congratulations!) to Joe being involved in motorcycle accident. That’s life for ya, from good to bad… Did these events have any influence on music of Dead Revolution?
Oh, no, not consciously. We don’t write introspective lyrics, and I find myself to be a supremely boring subject. Our lyrics are observations about the world (extrospective, if that’s a word). I write about situations, or tell stories. You know, it’s pointless to write about yourself and your feelings. The personal stuff just seeps in – like toxic gas – all by itself. You don’t have to encourage it. I find gratuitously emotional, personal lyrics to be tiresome and there’s way too much of that shit going on these days.
If I have to compare Dead Revolution to its predecessor, I would say that the new album is considerably heavier, with more concrete song structures. Was this done on purpose and what led you to this sound?
It may be partly on purpose, partly by accident. I’m always trying to make a dark, heavy record, but I’m still learning, and I haven’t always succeeded. The first thing I did during mixing was to make sure the guitars were nice and loud. This means that the vocals aren’t in your face all the time, and maybe you can’t hear every detail of the drums at all times. Also, we were working in a more primitive recording environment, which could have effected things. We definitely didn’t want that hyper compressed, germ-free pro tools sound, and we couldn’t have gotten it anyway, the way we were working.
I still do not have the lyrics so please give us some insight on the themes found on Dead Revolution, also in connection to the album title. Is this some kind of concept album?No, it’s not a concept album. I was wiring about many things, sometimes at the same time. I could say that some of it deals with the devastation caused by the tech industry, both on the ground, inside our minds, and in our public discourse. I find that most people who talk “revolution” are just completely full of shit.
When it comes to vocals, I can honestly say that Joe and Leila sound better than on previous album… one can hear that they grew into a band more. On the other hand you have two new members in the band since the last album. Please tell us something about the band chemistry in HoM nowadays.
Oh, absolutely. Joe and Leila definitely sound more at home on this album. We’ve played a fair amount of shows with this line-up and it shows. Will and Paul have been in the band for a while now, at least since 2012. This line-up is probably my favorite so far. Definitely the most stable.
I just love the album cover, it seems so weird and psychedelic! Can you please tell us something about it, who was responsible for that?
The artist is Robert Steven Connett. I found his work online, searching endless galleries for artists. I wrote to him and asked if we could use a couple of his paintings, and thankfully he agreed. I picked out the two paintings based on what I saw as imagery that reflected the lyrics. For example you can see the confession from “The Velvet Inquisition” on the front cover. I did the gatefold, and hand lettering myself. If you want to see this properly you should pick up a copy of the vinyl, where it’s presented as a proper gatefold, the way it was meant to be seen.
If I am right, the whole of Dead Revolution is recorded in analog technique and one can really feel that in sound. Can you please tell us something about that process? Do you think that kind of sound is making a comeback since people got bored with fake plastic sounds?
Well, we did use software to track and mix, but there were basically no plug ins, so it was a hybrid process. The sounds came in through an old 70s Trident console, then to 2 inch magnetic tape, and then into the computer. So the music hit tape first. This isn’t uncommon these days. What was uncommon is that we didn’t have access to digital effects. All the effects were done on 4×8 reverb plates, and stomp boxes. There are no synths (we never use them anyway), no digital reverb or delay, and of course no Auto Tune. I absolutely hate Auto Tune, and I will turn a record off if I detect it.
It is obvious to me that Hammers of Misfortune are inspired by old bands, it can clearly be heard in your music, but in the same time I cannot compare you to any specific band out there. It is clear that you are forging on path of your own. Can you elaborate on this statement?
I think part of it is that we use the same tools as old bands: acoustic guitars, real piano and especially the Hammond organ. The minute people hear the organ, they think Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and that kind of stuff. But we’re not trying to sound like anyone. (The keyboard style sounds more like The Stranglers to me, actually.) We have our own style. The influence that is most important is in songwriting. I don’t sit around thinking about what we can do to sound more like other bands. I think about how to write a good song. By the time it comes out, it just sounds like Hammers…
Days of ’49 is your version of famous folk number, can you please tell us something about this interesting choice and theme of the song?
I wanted to do a song from the gold rush era, because I thought it would be fitting on the album. I looked through some very old library books and collected a group of songs that I liked from the mid to late 19th century. Demos were made, and we sketched in some vocals on a group of these songs. “Days of ’49” was by far the best one. The lyrics were perfect, and the musical adaptation really worked well. It was clearly the winner, so we used it.
You and Leila have Vhol and Vastum as side projects where you explore heavier dimensions of metal. Can you please tell us something about your work there and is there a possibility that Hammers will employ this kind of sound in the future?
Doubtful. The whole point of having more than one band is to be able to play different stuff. VHOL is a whole different attitude than Hammers, two different worlds. VHOL can’t get away with what Hammers does, and vice versa. I formed VHOL because I needed to play chaotic thrash; stuff that I love to play, but not necessarily with Hammers. The opportunity to play more extreme stuff used to be provided by Ludicra, but when that ended, I still needed that outlet!
I love to listen to your music in the summer since Hammers for me carry some kind of warm yet very melancholic vibe, like being alone on a summer day with your thoughts. Have you ever thought about the music of your band in a same way and do you have some bands that you love with similar associations?
That’s a great way to look at it. One of the reasons I had Ludicra, and now VHOL, was because after Hammers first album (The Bastard), I decided to “purify” Hammers of all the “extreme” devices like blast beats and grim vocals. I still wanted to do that stuff, but I decided to put it all into a separate project. That left Hammers free to indulge in “pure” songwriting, with melodic vocals etc, without having to hit all the default “extreme” devices. We may have lost some fans this way, but it was worth it. The ability to focus on melody and songwriting has served us well, and I think that may be related to what you mean; the melancholy feel…
What lies in the near future for Hammers of Misfortune, are some tours already planned? When can we expect to see you in Europe?
At the moment we have to wait while various band members deal with tours by their other bands and so on. We would definitely be interested in playing some festivals, which work better for us, at least until our son is a little older. We’re open to offers!
That would be all for this time, I would like to thank you for this chat and wish you all the best! Your last message to fans over here…
Thanks you so much for the interview! Hopefully we’ll see you soon, in the meantime thank you for listening.
- Questions by Slobodan Trifunovic
- Answers by John Cobbett