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I started playing drums at age 13, although at the time I prefered playing the bass along with Motown 45s and playing the piano with my face.
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Hammers of Misfortune: Band Interviews
- John Cobbett
- Chewy Marzolo
- Sigrid Sheie
- Jesse Quattro
- Ron Nichols

What Is This Thing Called Metal?
- A Dialogue with Andee Connors of tUMULt records

Additional media:
"Screaming for Vengeance"
SF Bay Guardian, March 21, 2007



John Cobbett -- Guitars & Songwriting

*** How did the Locust Years emerge? Did it leap out of your head fully formed? Or did you start with a notion and work towards it?

I have an identical twin brother that lives in Brooklyn, just across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan. On 9/11, he watched the towers fall from the roof of his apartment building along with many of his neighbors. All of them were crying, overcome with horror. We all saw the frantic, dust-covered victims of the attack running from the scene on TV. Many of them ran right by his house. He told me that it took him months to get the smell of burning corpses out of his furniture. The lingering smell, the dust and the heat - these factors are impossible to fathom for most Americans, to whom 9/11 was a spectacle viewed in two dimensions on a TV screen. To New Yorkers it was and continues to be more fucking real than most of us can imagine.

I visited the site, ("ground zero" as it was known by then) a few months later, in December of 2001. It was at night and freezing cold, and I saw the heartbreaking testimonials and hand written notes, with photos and everything posted on the fences surrounding the site. I remember the sounds of the cranes and demolition machinery wrenching huge slabs of twisted metal and concrete from the wreckage. All through the night these eerie, mournful sounds reverberated off the surrounding towers. It was an incredibly haunted place. I thought to myself that this is what we were all waiting for: the Y2K, the big disaster everyone was expecting at the turn of the millennium. We just had to wait an extra year and nine months for it. I thought that this is where the 21st century really starts, right here at ground zero. I knew the repercussions would be manifold, and go on for decades, and none of it would be good. A lot more innocent people were gonna die because of this.

You know the cliche, "everything changed on 9/11". Well it's true! Suddenly the politically correct nattering of the 90s seemed ridiculous. The Monica Lewinskys and the OJs and the Tonya Hardings were all forgotten. You saw campus radicals turn into flag-waving conservatives over night - in droves. You saw conservative pundits lick their ideological claws, gleefully heralding the death of liberalism itself. You saw the overweight, spiritually bankrupt American middle class flock to mega-churches by the millions. Mostly you saw a massive outbreak of cartoonish, sanctimonious patriotism. Suddenly, I felt afraid to voice my opinions in public. As an American and product of the American public school system, this feeling was profoundly disquieting. It was fearful, and so obviously contrary to everything I'd been taught about freedom of speech and all the other freedoms that allegedly define our American culture.

It was no surprise that the drums of war began sounding immediately. Conducting token military ops in Afghanistn and going after Osama was a no-brainer. What really shocked me was that they started framing the whole thing in terms of Iraq and Saddam Hussien almost immediately after the attack. Anyone who knows anything about that region knew that Iraq had nothing to do with it. I just couldn't believe that they started brazenly lying before the dust at ground zero had even settled, and the media went right along with it. Not a single sober, honorable voice was tolerated in the mainstream. Why? Obviously there was something rotten going on. The powers that be were cynically wielding this horrific event to manipulate a vulnerable, frightened public; using this disaster as a ghoulish marketing tool to sell an unrelated war. And then there were those anthrax letters... what the hell was that all about? There are a thousand questions about 9/11 that I, and many, many others would like to see answered, but that's beyond the scope of this article.

I'm sure many artists, musicians and writers will tell you that 9/11 really fucked up their creative process. I myself was utterly transfixed - glued to cable news, watching in horror as the mouthpieces of our national discourse started uttering phrases like "the war on terror", reciting the "Bush doctrine" ("you're with us or against us"), talking about "good versus evil" - with a straight face. I knew there was no way in hell I could write about anything else. This would have to be it for the big songwriting jag I was about to embark upon for the next Hammers Of Misfortune album.

The problem was that I didn't know how to go about it. I've never been a big fan of overtly political messages in music. Political posturing - especially in any form of rock music - usually strikes me as heavy-handed, patronizing and self-righteous. All our stuff has been political in one way or another, but usually couched in psychedelic poetry or narrative; open-ended enough to be interpreted in any way the listener chooses.

My answer came from a very unlikely source: The Super Bowl Half time show in January of 2002. I like to keep one eye on the popular culture and I was keen to find out how the super bowl half-time show would deal with 9/11, which was still very much at the center of the national consciousness and dominating everything. I don't remember anything about the game (except endless reports on heightened security and potential terrorist threats), but I'll never forget the halftime show. It featured U2, delivering what I'm sure must have been a moving and uplifting performance. At the climax of this performance, a giant banner unfurled from somewhere high up in the stadium. Upon this banner were projected the names of all the fallen victims of 9/11, scrolling down the screen like so many morbid movie credits. At the same time, Bono ceremoniously tore open his black leather jacket to reveal it's lining: there was old glory: bright red, white and blue, stars and stripes. The crowd went wild.

At this moment the phrase "Trot Out The Dead" sprang into my mind. Like, here we go, trotting out the names of the victims of 9/11 again, at the super bowl halftime show of all places. I found it sad and disgraceful that these victims' names were being used -again - as pure, shameless propaganda. By this time, invoking the 9/11 dead was common practice among conservative ideologues; a foolproof way to trump any criticism of misguided policy or blatant misinformation - but this cheap, tawdry display was just too much for me.

The lyrics and music came quickly, like the floodgates had opened, and in no time I had written the first song for The Locust Years LP. I was a little concerned that it was too blatantly political, but it needed to be said, or I needed to say it, to get it off my chest. I was so disgusted. This is how work on The Locust Years began. Over the next few years I managed to distill my feelings about the legacy and repercussions of 9/11 into lyrics, hopefully without being too didactic or specific. Trot Out the Dead was really the starting point of the entire album. I'd finally managed to "find a voice" that would work with Hammers Of Misfortune to address these issues.

*** It seems that you do not just want to rock. You also want to tell a story. Can you talk a little about:
-- what interests you in a narrative
-- what sorts of narratives and stories inspire/have inspired you
-- music as a narrative device

Writing meaningful lyrics and giving a rock song substance is the trick... People are naturally drawn into a good story or fascinated by a mystery. Anytime I hear good narrative or evocative lyrics it makes me want to listen, you know, to find out what happens, or to ponder what exactly the lyrics mean. Maybe glean a bit of wisdom or take away some food for thought from a good parable. Like Johnny Cash and his great characters and tales, or Nick Cave, or Shane McGowan, or Elvis Costello's brilliant wordplay. Brian Eno's early songs are populated by weird personae and call up fascinating, strange situations. Music is a fantastic narrative device - the most ancient after spoken storytelling itself.

*** The Locust Years is a very cinematic work. All the songs have intense visuals for me. "Election Day" is full of crime sequences -- terminals being hacked, ballot boxes being dropped into the Bay, capped off with this triumphal victory rally. "Widow's Wall" is an epic of gleaming, satellite-guided high-tech destruction. TOTD, an evil puppet show with life-size sombie marionettes. How visually do you think of each song and its content?

Right. The only thing I'll add about Election Day is that it's an instrumental, full of sound and fury, but there's nothing being said. Pretty apropos in light of the last few elections don't ya' think?

For Widow's Wall, I had a very scary image in my head that I tried to describe in the lyrics and music. It goes something like this: we're sailing a stormy sea in a ship, and the sea looks like it goes on and on. Then through the spyglass we see a speck in the distance - another ship is coming toward us. As we draw closer we see that the sea is crashing violently ahead, spraying sea foam high into the sky, almost like the sea itself is ending. But no shore is visible and we can still see that other ship coming toward us from beyond the watery cataclysm. Then we realize with horror that the ship in the distance is our own reflection. The future is a mirror - it looks like it keeps going on but it doesn't. The closer you get to it the more you see yourself and what's behind you: the past.

This vision could be interpreted in many ways. In a political context it applies to our civilization. The West is dying, eating itself, strip-mining it's past for the illusion of newness.

I had this image in mind when I wrote Chastity Rides. It's an old Soviet propaganda poster. I think the caption reads "Literacy is the Path to Communism".

*** There are some broad themes at work in the Locust Years. Demagoguery. Spectacle. Greed and ambition. Hypocrisy, madness and death. And the slackjawed complicity of the public, as well -- the good Germans, good consumers, and good voters. Did you deliberately develop the work around those themes?

These themes are not unique to post 9/11 America. They are universal throughout history - except for the consumerism part, which is uniquely American and adds an unsavory twist: war as a consumer product.

*** Spectacle and the manipulation of a willingly manipulated public seems like a big theme on Locust Years. Is that a straight-up Society of the Spectacle reference?

Yeah, it's the big show, the big game. The Bush administration constantly frames this as a clash of civilizations; the very fate of our free western civilization is at stake. They never get sick of comparing it to World War II, and likening "The Terrorists" (whoever they are this week) to the Nazis. However, there is never any call for sacrifice. This is odd, if the stakes are indeed as high as they would have us believe.

They tell us that this is a life and death struggle between good and evil, but the only advice they have for civilians is to "go shopping". More tax cuts. Don't you think they would at least reinstate the draft if things were so incredibly dire and the wolves of oblivion were at our door? I mean, it's obviously just a compelling story, a sales pitch. "The very fate of the world hangs in the balance kids, so don't forget to visit the concession stand during the break!"

*** The album is about 9/11 and the Iraq war, as you said. But is it a "protest" record?

It's not really about 9/11 or the Iraq war per se. It's more about the reaction to 9/11. It could be about any nation that mugs itself, cuts out it's own tongue and puts out it's own eyes to serve the adventurism of a few well heeled maniacs with an agenda that has nothing to do with the welfare of the people they purport to serve. Again, hardly unique to post 9/11 America, but It's new to me. I'd never experienced this kind of national hysteria first hand before.

I don't think of The Locust Years as a protest record. I can see why some would look at it that way, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree with them, but I don't think an obscure underground metal band is gonna change the world, and that's not what it's about anyway. I'm not a pacifist. I believe that some wars have to be fought, and trying to end war is like trying to stamp out masturbation. It's just something that people do. At the same time, I did march against this idiotic Iraq war. I was out on the street on my bike stopping traffic ahead of the massive demonstrations on February 16th, 2003.

*** I have never seen any Grand Guignol theater, but I find my dictionary's definition of the phrase, "A short drama stressing horror and sensationalism," to ring pretty true with Locust Years. There's a wicked carnival quality to it. The title track's vocals and lyrics sound a bit like a sideshow barker or Las Vegas emcee offering you astonishing, shocking or prurient diversions, but at a cost. Did you have any specific sort of framing like that in mind?

Definitely. The idea was to have an evil carny type character welcoming you to the show. "Feel free to leave the theater, but it won't do you any good - the show is going on outside too, everywhere, forever. Hope you like it!"

*** To what degree are you working with elements from opera and musicials? That really strong musical vocabulary, in terms of flourishes, details, sentimental evocations, pacing, suspense and resolution, etc?

We get a lot of comparison to musicals and such. I guess our natural tendency toward grandiosity leads to these comparisons, but the only musical I've ever listened to at length is Jesus Christ Superstar. All that other stuff is just solid composition, dynamics and arranging in my book. If you try to tell stories with this kind of music the comparisons to opera are inevitable, but it more comes from folk songs and art songs than opera or musicals.

*** Are there repeating musical themes and phrases that turn up throughout the work?

I like to mess around with computer programming as a hobby. To describe it in programming parlance, every one of our albums is like a parent program. Each riff, melody or chord progression is a method or global variable that can be invoked from anywhere in the program. Or, in Object Oriented terms, the album is a class, and each song is an object of that class. Any musical array can be passed as an argument to any object. My apologies to the real programmers out there - this may not be the most robust analogy.

*** Is it me, or are you using propagandistic art -- the stock elements and sentiments of pop culture and pop patriotism -- against itself? War Anthem, for example, plays along patriotic, swelling musical themes and sentiments, and but then rips the mask off and reveals this awful, baldfaced rapacity. Again -- deliberate? Are you using patriotic kitsch to destroy it?

Yeah, it's all about propaganda - the imagery and rhetoric of religion and state. It's very powerful stuff and we use it very deliberately. War Anthem was directly inspired by the performance of the U.S. Congress singing "God Bless America" on the steps of the Capitol building just after 9/11.

*** "Trot Out the Dead" seems unusual on the album in that it reveals the true feelings of the band (rage, contempt, accusation), whereas many other tunes seem to be more focused on revealing the truth about what others (i.e. "We The People" -- the manipulated public and their leaders) are feeling.

As I said above, TOTD was the first song I wrote for this LP. I decided to just leave it raw and pissed off. The rest of the songs are subtler, and can be taken in more ways than one. Of course, TOTD could describe many leaders, past, present and future.

The opening lines:

"Fool, I am no hero
So leave my casket be
Furthermore I'd never give
My life for such as thee"

are sung from the imagined perspective of the 9/11 dead themselves. I wrote these lines immediately after seeing their names disgraced at the superbowl. During the second quiet break in the song another idea is introduced: the chilling possibility that our leaders knew, and they let it happen. Thus heaping betrayal upon disgrace. Yes, it's a very angry song.

*** Speaking of which ... nerd question: "One voice, two faces, three kings, four horsemen" = the pretense of national unity; the duplicity of the demagogue political class; the three major apocalyptic religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism; and lastly the self-fulfilling prophesy of war, death, famine and pestilence.

Yep, you nailed it. Also, the one voice could be the "right wing echo chamber" or the mainstream media, or public opinion. The two faces could refer to the hypocrisy of those that cry the loudest about morality - and always turn out to be completely morally bankrupt. The three kings could be the holy trinity, and obviously come from the Christian creation-myth of the birth of Jesus. You are correct that first and foremost the three kings refer to the 3 headed monster of Judeo/Christian/Islamic myths that are devouring this world.

There are other ways to look at it. Using The Four Horsemen as a motif on a metal album is a very conscious and deliberate use of an utter cliche. It's also a reference to the final judgment. That song (Chastity Rides) could also be taken as a simple fuck off to judgmental people at any level of society.

*** Tell me more about metal-phobia. What is it? Why is it? Did it go away? Come back? Who are the metal-phobic, and why?

Metal phobia is just a term that I used once, but the term that my friends and I use more often is metal envy. Metal is cool again these days. Yawn. All these hipsters that were sneering and laughing at metal three years ago are now dropping big bucks on "vintage" Judas Priest t-shirts and Britny Spears throws the devil-horns at the paparazzi. Those of us who know the riddle of steel see right through these fools and their games. They are cowards. Our god is strong, and laughs at them from his mountain. Ha! They will never dwell in the Great Grim Halls of Iron and Glory. They will perish like dogs, confined in a prison of irony, forever mocked by the Invisible Troll of Eternal Snarkiness.

*** Musical influences: You've got a million elements bubbling around in there. United by massive riffage and concept, sure, but many diverse elements nonetheless. It's easy to throw around words like, metal, prog, classic/epic, stoner, goth, folk, or even opera, symphony, etc. But who are the bands and what are the styles that inspire you, if not the genres?

My default answer to this question is always Thin Lizzy, Bowie, Beatles, Van Halen, Queen, early Metallica, Venom etc. The actual influences pretty much come from everywhere.

*** On my iTunes, Hammers comes before Hawkwind, and thus Widow's Wall segues easily right into Sonic Attack and Ejection. Classics, and eerily apropos. Any thoughts on that earlier band?

I'm not a huge fan of Hawkwind. I'm a fan of the fact that they exist.

*** Literary influences?

For The Locust Years I was really into this book by Chris Hedges: "War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning". Also, the Bible and the endless imprecations of Muslim clerics are a great inspiration. In general I like Poe a lot, and the French novelists like Balzac, Huysmans, and Flaubert. Lately I've Discovered William T. Vollmann, whom I really like.

*** What's your background? Upbringing, school, work. How'd you wind up in SF?

I was born to a middle class family in Rochester, New York, one of 5 children. My father was a guidance councilor in the NY public school system and my mother was a housewife. After my parents divorced we moved around a lot, eventually landing in the suburbs of Washington D.C. I was heavily involved in the burgeoning hardcore scene there, going to see the Bad Brains, Minor Threat, The Obsessed, Pentagram and many others. By the time I was 15 I was working, writing songs, had my first band and was gigging around the DC area. I spent most of my time in DC, hanging out in Dupont circle by day and hitting the 9:30 club or the Wilson Center at night, going to whatever show was happening.

Around '86 the whole "revolution summer" thing started up in DC, which I found to be incredibly specious and cloying. Someone told me that I'd like San Francisco, so I packed up my amp and left. Within a week I was living in the Mission District and still do. That's right, I've been living in the mission since the 80s were actually happening the first time.

*** Would you consider Hammers a Mission band? There was an era in the '90s where the Mission was such a bubbling cauldron of metal/punk/heavitude -- from Hickey or 50 Million to Fuckface or Old Granddad. And then the compilations, such as Mission Accomplished and Death to False Metal. Is all that "over"? Is it still happening? How has this community influenced you guys? What's the future?

Yes. I definitely consider us to be a Mission band. We shared a practice space with Hickey back in the day, played our first show at the Tip Top (on 25th and Mission) with Weakling and Black Goat. We played with Old Grandad, Sangre Amado, and all those bands. I play in a band (Ludicra) with Aesop of Hickey and Laurie of Tallow to this day. That was a great scene, and it sort of imploded, but that is definitely our origin.

*** One thing that strikes me about The Locust Years is its immensely sympathetic awareness of tragedy. "Famine's Lamp" embodies that for me -- it's a hell of a rock dirge. But in The Bastard (as I read in another Hammers interview online), the trees come to life and destroy the humans in the end, quite without mercy or sympathy. Tell me about that different emotional pitch.

I see the Bastard as a bedtime story for eco terrorists, or an environmental revenge fantasy. The Locust Years was written from an entirely different perspective; we are inside of the situation as it unfolds.

*** Regarding the end of The Bastard -- does that make you an environmentalist or a misanthrope? Or some combination of the two? (And on that note, did you read Margaret Atwood's "Oryx & Crake," by any chance?)

I'm not really a misanthrope. Our civilization will end, as all civilizations must. Our race will die out or evolve into something else, as all species do. It's not the end of the world. The world will still be here after we're all gone. We are extremely lucky to be living in a time and place where there is enough food to eat, electricity to power our stereos and time enough to think about art and music. Might as well enjoy it, because we are some of the luckiest people in the history of the human race. Believe me, it won't last.

*** Name one totem object that assisted in the composition of the music, or which is useful in its performance.

My '76 les Paul Custom Sunbust guitar, which is 90% of all the guitars you hear on our albums. Also this old Epiphone acoustic I have, which is what I write most of the songs on.

*** The lexicon and methods of Metal are particularly suited to telling the story of the Locust Years. Can you talk a bit about that?

I don't know about the lexicon of metal, I don't think we stick too closely to it, whatever it is. As far as the methods go, as I said before, we're just trying to use good composition, dynamics and arranging. Metal and all that, that's just how I grew up, what I grew up playing. It's in my blood ... So obviously if I have anything to express I'll be at my most eloquent using the tools I know best, breaking the rules I know best.

*** Guitar texture and tone is very specific and versatile on this record. Can you cite some influences?

Malcolm Young, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen (his rhythm guitar parts), Uli Jon Roth, Scott Gorham are all influences.

*** The guitar definitely can evoke the human voice, and it seems as if metal, at least as you're using it on this record, is more versatile in that regard than "classic" hard rock guitar styles. A more dynamic range of potential expressions. Any thoughts on that? Am I talking crap?

Where do you draw the line between metal and hard rock? I find that most metal these days uses so much compression and saturation on the guitars that a lot of the note information gets lost. If you're playing anything beyond a 1 - 5 barre chord all that distortion just makes it sound like mud. We don't use very many of those barre chords. The guitars on our album are a lot less distorted than what you hear on most metal records.

*** How did you meet your band? When did you start working together?

I've been playing with Chewy (drums) for years and years. We first played together in a band called Osgood Slaughter, which gained some notoriety around here back in the early 90s. Since then it's been a typical matter of revolving door members, people coming and going, the incestuous music scene. We all knew each other or knew about each other through the scene.

*** Why aren't Hammers on The Bone or something? I know it took KUSF a couple tries to figure it out, but they figured it out. I can't imagine anyone who presumes to be a rocker to be able to pass on, say, TOTD or Chastity Rides. Any of 'em. But then again, I don't run a million dollar radio station ... but it seems like there are heaps of kids out there who would crap their pants upon hearing this.

If people find us, that's great, but we don't have any illusions about "making it big". If we were worried about commercial success we would have disbanded long ago. We do as we please and nobody is looking over our shoulder and that's fine. Anyway, marketing and brown-nosing are two things that I have never been very good at. Look at all these bands, hundreds and thousands of them, all clamoring for attention, like so many cheap whores fighting over a single client who isn't even horny. It makes me ashamed to tell people I'm in a band. Don't these bands know that all the doors are closed? Don't they know that the age of the rock star is over? Don't they know that all the "talent" you hear on the radio is focus-grouped and manufactured in-house now?

If you're looking for fame and fortune, power and money, the real game is in global business and politics. Air power, sea power, natural resources, territory, blood and bullets. The Bushes, the Clintons, the EU, China, India and the Middle East. This is the big game kids, the real game, the game of history itself. If you want to be a real player - a real star - here is my advice: put down your guitar and run for office, join the air force, or better yet, become an international arms dealer. Either that or extreme sports. You're way better off in extreme sports than music these days.


Chewy Marzolo -- Drums & Percussion

*** What is you musical origin?

I started playing drums at age 13, although at the time I prefered playing the bass along with Motown 45s and playing the piano with my face. The style origins started with the normal fare of playing along with The Beatles, Zeppelin, Santana and "Classic Rock" standards of the time and some funk standards from Rick James and The Dazz Band.

My Pop was a beatnik sort in the 50s and so he pushed a lot of late 50s/early 60s Brubeck, Miles, MJQ, Monk and earlier swing like Benny Goodman and Duke on me. I dabbled reluctantly at it, but as any hyperactive dirtbag band geek teenager would instinctually do, I resisted trad-jazz for rock and then eventually and fell into punk, hardcore and thrash and speed metal in the early 80s, also as a course of natural sucession for hyperactive dirtbag band geek teenagers of that time.

I've recently (by way of drum guru Pete Magadini) rediscovered some of the Godhead Jazz great drummers (Like Vernell Fournier) and master horn players (Like Ornette Coleman) of the 50s and early 60s, proving that my Pop had been right the entire time. I have a slight obsession with N.O.L.A. second line grooves, swings and shuffles, and am probably at my most gleeful moments playing the spoons and percussive toys against Latin Sambas and Ragtime cartoon music rhythms.

I'm most inspired by local drummers, specifically Boz Rivera, Aesop Hantman, Ches Smith, Tim Soete, Pete Divine, Sam Foster, and Pete Magadini.

*** When did you come to SF, and from where?

Originally the West "Chicagoland" area (Birth 'til 16) and then 2 years in L.A. then here at the end of 1985.

*** How'd you fall in w/ Hammers?

John and I started playing together in a band called Osgood Slaugher in 1988 and it's been a-one band-to-the-next continum leading to Hammers starting in 1998.

*** Tell me about the dynamics in the sutdio and on the stage. How do you work together?

I think that generally the dynamics and approach are, at least should be initially the same in either format which should be a pure expression and transferal of energy. Energy is everything, whether it be a Spring drizzle or a Tsunami, it's all an energy and energy will make or break a song, live or recording, it's a tantamount psychology.

H.O.M. is a very different type of operation from most when it comes to any kind of studio chemistry. It doesn't really exist because we don't record as a band. After the basics which are usually just the drums as the keepers, the rest comes laboriosly overdubbed from beyond, piece by piece, and so from my end, the intial relationship between the drums and rhythm guitar (and keys in some cases) has got to be solid and exciting, or rather if John and I can lock in, then that be priority against my fuck ups and fluxuatons. I prefer fuck ups anyway. Perfection is an twisted ideal defined by uptight machines called Roland and a terrible band called Rhapsody.

The goal, for all of us, is to take John's visions and ideas and make it sound like a band, despite the method, so there can sometimes a lot of second guessing about another musicians parts that haven't been overdubbed or decided yet, or maybe just the overall mood of a song that John's fishing for, but if the energy and attitude are there in the basics, then the rest of the pieces will follow suit.

Attitude is also everything. Attitude is more important than truth. I believe that the listener can hear and identify songs or parts that have been too calculated and overthought, so consequently in basics tracks we don't try more than 3 takes per song (drum basics) 'cause I don't like to.

I'm pretty sure that with possibly one exception, I've never done more than 3 takes of any song with Hammers and most of the finals have been first and seconds, warts and all, damn the torpedos, so maybe that adds to the energy or even the tension between the guitar and drums. In a live situation, again, it's also about energy transferal but on a much grander scale.

This is a dramatic band, so let the show commence. The biggest and most obvious difference that we're all up there playing at the same time as a unit, and I'm still sussing out the dynamics of that, but the object should remain the same. How do we work together? Hopefully with caution. There are now 6 of us.

*** In addition to being a pure joy as a work of unfettered, explosively powerful ROCK, The Locust Years is also an amazing and affecting statement about the state of this world we live in. Tell me about how it feels to perform the music, and be a messenger of that sentiment. Also ... what was it like to help CREATE the music? John said he WROTE it, but that each of you made it your own and brought your own interpretation and inspiration.

John writes and creates all the music for Hammers. As far as the other members, past and present, and I bringing personal interpretation and/or inspiration to the songs, well I don't really know about that. Actually I don't really think so at all. It's one persons project, and so the other members and I have to do the best we can to try and read John's direction one way or another, but that's not interpretation. That's just trying figure out what John wants.

When the estimation of this want is attempted or executed, some things just come out one way or another because of the way people's personalities are, or even the way peoples heads are shaped cause them to sing and sound a certain way, but I wouldn't call that either interpretation or inspiration. We're basically live musicians for hire that are also used on the records in whichever fashion John wishes to use us to get the job done to make Hammers sound good.

*** Where are you going with this? What are your hopes for Hammers, and the record?

My hopes are that the new members enjoy themselves to the fullest extent with H.O.M. through absolute clarity and forethought.


Jesse Quattro -- Vocals

*** What is you musical origin?

i grew up listening to doc watson and going to pentacostle churches with a lot of singing and occasional barking. as a teenager i listened to "prog" rock. mostly stuff from the 60's and 70's. now i listen to anything that touches my ears.

*** When did you come to SF, and from where?

8 years ago, from the cold dry moon.

*** How'd you fall in w/ Hammers?

a friend told me they were looking for a singer. i had heard of them, but hadn't heard the music yet. needless to say, i was impressed and showed up at a practice.

*** Tell me about the dynamics in the sutdio and on the stage. How do you work together?

i just joined and we've only played two shows with this line up, but so far we're like old friends, which is a great start.

*** In addition to being a pure joy as a work of unfettered,explosively powerful ROCK, The Locust Years is also an amazing and affecting statement about the state of this world we live in. Tell me about how it feels to perform the music, and be a messenger of that sentiment. Also ... what was it like to help CREATE the music? John said he WROTE it, but that each of you made it your own and brought your own interpretation and inspiration.

the music and musicianship of each member is so kick ass, i just revel in how much fun it is to perform. as far as the sentiment, i agree with everything being said. even the parts about dragons.

*** Where are you going with this? What are your hopes for Hammers, and the record?

i'm a lifer in music. i'll be here till the bitter end. we hope to start working on a new album which will make filling a stadium with 30,000 screaming fans a piece of cake.


Sigrid Sheie -- Keyboards, Vocals

*** What is you musical origin?

I began playing music at three years old. I'm a classically trained pianist and flutist, but I also play bass guitar and Hammond B3. Currently I'm working towards a Master's degree in piano performance and Pedagogy.

*** When did you come to SF, and from where? I moved to Oakland from Minneapolis in 2001, then moved to the Mission in 2004.

*** How'd you fall in w/ Hammers?

I originally auditioned to replace Janis....that didn't happen! I was mostly just playing bass at the time but couldn't pull off the vocal parts from the Bastard. I kept practicing with John and Chewy just for fun because I knew I could learn a lot from these two old men! Eventually John decided to add keyboards, and I was an obvious choice I suppose. The first year or so in the band was difficult because John and I were both trying to figure out how to add a B3 to Hammers. Eventually, I found the right gear and started to figure out how to play the organ and work out the differences between the organ and the piano.

*** Tell me about the dynamics in the sutdio and on the stage. How do you work together?

Recording the Locust Years was a lot of fun for me because I could finally hear myself in the mix! The basic tracks were easy and well prepared, but my overdubs were more difficult. John often has a specific idea how something should sound and it required a lot of patience, a little bit of mind reading, and a lot of trust. In the end it was all worth it. As far as working together now, it's obviously different because we have four new personalities in the band. Ron is one of my oldest friends in CA, so I'm happy to be in a band with him again. Everyone is professional, serious, and extremely gifted musicians. Our show at GAMH was a joy because for the first time I knew everyone had their place and was going to do well. I could just sit there and enjoy what I was hearing for the first time since I've been in this band.

*** In addition to being a pure joy as a work of unfettered,explosively powerful ROCK, The Locust Years is also an amazing and affecting statement about the state of this world we live in. Tell me about how it feels to perform the music, and be a messenger of that sentiment. Also ... what was it like to help CREATE the music? John said he WROTE it, but that each of you made it your own and brought your own interpretation and inspiration.

When we sing War Anthem I get a little caught up in the sentiment. It feels a little desperate but with a strong sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself. It's a little scary as a call to war. Also the beginning of Trot out the Dead is a pretty creepy and quite emotional. As far as writing the material, John definately wrote the melodies and the words, but John, Chewy and I spent months in a practice space arranging and re-arranging songs.

I look back on that time as special because we were all hashing out ideas, some of them stuck, most of them didn't. It was very collaborative that way. Chewy and John have a musical chemistry that allowed them to try everything they could think of, and I just sort of went along for the ride.

I think Election Day was the most fun to write and arrange for me because we were just laughing the whole time, like "can we really get away with that?" There were a lot of cape jokes when we first got that song together.

Speaking of capes, I was also very sensitive to the fact that most keyboards in metal these days are horrible. I didn't want to "ruin" the Hammers sound, so we had to be very tastful with what the keys did. Part of that was finding the right amps, a great old Leslie, a rhodes piano, and of course the chopped B3. The keyboards are definately all over the Locust years, but hopefully they sound like they are not some sort of gimmick or special effect, but a true compliment to the guitars and bass.

*** Where are you going with this? What are your hopes for Hammers, and the record?

I just want to graduate with a Master's degree and be a music teacher and play, perform and be creative as much as possible. I want Hammers to be successful in the sense that we don't have to pay practice space rent, maybe tour Europe, small things like that. I hope the record wins a grammy though.


Ron Nichols -- Bass

*** What is your musical origin?

I've been plucking my life away in various punk and metal bands since the mid eighties. The first two records I ever bought were Gary Numan's "The Pleasure Principle" and "Aqualung" by Jethro Tull; both seem strangely apropos in retrospect.

*** When did you come to SF, and from where?

I'm a local boy, born at Alta Bates hospital in Berkeley.

*** How'd you fall in w/ Hammers?

I've been aware of Hammers since their inception. I used to hang with the original bass player and can remember her playing me 'Unholy Cadaver' tracks. At first it seemed like something verging on parody. As the music evolved, I became a big fan. I was pleasantly surprised when Sigrid and John asked me to try out as I'd assumed they'd be looking for another foxy lady to fill the position.

*** Tell me about the dynamics in the studio and on the stage. How do you work together?

I can't really say at this point. Although I've been in the band for over a year now, I've only played two shows (both were a fucking blast) and have yet to record with them. I know John is something of a perfectionist, which suits me fine as long as he doesn't piss me off too badly. It's all going to end in blood and tears.

*** In addition to being a pure joy as a work of unfettered, explosively powerful ROCK, The Locust Years is also an amazing and affecting statement about the state of this world we live in. Tell me about how it feels to perform the music, and be a messenger of that sentiment. Also ... what was it like to help CREATE the music? John said he WROTE it, but that each of you made it your own and brought your own interpretation and inspiration.

Regretfully, I had nothing to do with the creation of The Locust Years, so you would have to ask Jamie Meyers the latter half of your question.

As far as performance goes, this new material resonates with me in a huge way and it feels fantastic to be part of its presentation.

*** Where are you going with this? What are your hopes for Hammers, and the record?

I don't really have any delusions of Hammers achieving any kind of commercial success. I hope we are able to play these songs for as many people as possible, but we all have scheduling constraints so there's probably not going to be a lot of touring. I'm looking forward to recording with the new line up and hope we can lay down something even more powerful than The Locust Years.


What is this thing called Metal? Andee Connors of tUMULt Records speaks on the life and mission of a small label, the nature of buzz, blast and drone, and why black metal is truly outsider music.

*** Hammers is challenging to labels, it seems. They don't know how to classify their sound. For some people, the genre subdivisions are very important. For others, it seems that all sound is one sound, and can be freely mixed and matched. Can you comment on this issue of genre classifications, particularly regarding Hammers, and how it can affect both what a band is undertaking, and how a label deals with it?

As a label, I have that trouble a lot. Not having a specific bent. Metal distributors don't want pop records, pop distributors don't want country records, etc. so for me it was sort of par for the course. I loved Hammers the first time I heard them, and it never occurred to me to question or examine their sound, which was sort of a strange mixture of genres. The thing is, they're still basically a metal band. Epic true metal, black metal, folk, even some prog and post rock. But it just sounded so perfect together. So much so that they almost couldn't be just a black metal band, or even a metal band, they were just Hammers Of Misfortune, and they sounded like no one else. You take out any of those elements and it wouldn't be so weird and unique and so good. It might be confusing for folks who are very strict with their genre divisions. Some black metal kids might find it too catchy and melodic, some true metalheads are put off by the harsh vocals, but music isn't meant to be picked apart like that. Hammers are what they are, this gloriously confusional, amazing and intricate chunk of mind blowing music, metal or otherwise.

*** How was it for tUMUlt to work with Hammers? Would you like to carry their work again? How to the aforementioned challenges affect this?

It was awesome. They are amazing. And the music still blows my mind. And they put 100% into the music. Recording all the time, touring, you couldn't ask for more from a band. But I think tUMULT has already served its purpose for Hammers. I sort of envisioned them moving onward and upward. I always see tUMULt as a sort of stepping stone for unknown bands or bands just starting out, who I think deserve to be heard. When I released The Bastard, not that many people had heard Hammers, so there wasn't much interest in releasing their record. But I loved it, and knew that once people heard this it, they would freak out and nature would take its course. Hopefully big labels would take notice and the band would be showered with love and praise, and of course money and tours and all the things a tiny label can't. It took a little longer, but it seems like the word is finally starting to notice...

*** About the black metal. Obviously, Hammers is doing way more than black metal, but it is also deeply influentional on their work. I remember Carrie at KUSF once saying that things were very, very serious with the black metal in SF in the '90s. Cobbett also said that the energy at the time was very high and very serious. There's that word again: Serious.

*** At the same time, in conversation w/ John, he acknowledges a great deal of joy and gleeful, "little-kid enthusiasm" for making music WITHOUT genre boundaries. I realize something can be fun and also serious, but I wonder if you could comment on the emotion and intent of that era, and how it has carried forth and evolved in the present, perhaps as something that has expanded boundaries or crossed borders.

To my ears, Hammers' sound has gradually moved away from the black metal that was all over the Bastard. Where that record seemed like the perfect blend of true metal and black metal, as they grow and develop as a band, their sound seems to become more epic and sprawling, more proggy and melodic and less buzzy and harsh. Part of it might be that Cobbett has another -actual- black metal band with which to channel his BM leanings....

Although even when Hammers had more of a black element to their sound, they didn't necessarily embody the spirit of black metal. Their songs weren't anti-christian, they weren't singing about satan, they weren't depressive or nihilistic, sure they were dark at times, but mainly they took some of those sounds, the buzz, the blast, the riffs, and wove them into their own sound, an epic, majestic metal world, shaded black here and there, and that blackness became less and less of a driving force and more simply another element of their music.

To me, black metal is an ultra personal artform. Some of the best black metal is made by a single person, holed up in their room, playing all the instruments, pouring all of their darkness and misery, loneliness and depression into the music. It's dark and cold, at its core a relentless black buzz. Hence the common BM descriptors, cold, grim, necro, true, etc... and many of those bands choose not to play live, or simply can't because it's only one person. And even black metal bands proper are a grim proposition, especially live.

But Hammers are more and more a real band, a ROCK band, a group that weaves these elaborate epics in the studio and then makes them come alive on stage. There's a certain joy in making music, and in rocking out on stage, and you can hear it in Hammers' sound.

It's not to say Hammers are not serious about their music, just a different sort of serious. Not so much 'serious' sounding as serious about making music. And in a more general sense, the emotion and intent of that era is still alive and well, locally, there is Leviathan, Draugar, Crebain, Horn Of Dagoth, Mastery, Bone Awl, and worldwide the BM scene is alive and thriving. And while it has crossed boundaries, influencing new bands, non-black metal bands, becoming require listening for pretty much all metalheads, the core sound and the general spirit have remained the same, dark and depressive, blasting and buzzing, personal and intimate....

i have a soft spot for black metal. way beyond the image and the spirit, the sound is so amazing to me. from a purely sonic standpoint it manages to be so raw and aggressive, but at the same time so strangely soothing and drone-y, sort of trancelike.

i may be one of the few people who find black metal incredibly soothing. great drifting off to sleep music too ; )

but seriously, one of the most important developments in 'outsider music' over the last 15 years as far as i'm concerned....

the drone, i've decided, is probably the most important, or at least consistent part f most of the music i like. be it metal, or country, or, well... drone music.

as for black metal, the nihilism is not so much what interests me, although i do find the passion and aggression and darkness andokay, maybe the nihilism to be an important part. it's a very dramatic and intense music, but the sonics, the way drums can become a blur, the way guitars can be thick and heavy but also brittle and buzzy, it very much speaks to me. it's a 'sound' i seem to be unable to get enough of....

and i think it most definitely is 'outsider' music. the best BM, the most personal, eschews typical rock band stuff, like, well the band for starters, and recording studios, often the performer will play drums and bass and sing, even though those are not their strong suits, in their drive to capture the sound they hear in their heads, and their hearts, and the results are seldom polished, often stumbling and chaotic, but again, it's sort of what makes it so special and interesting....


All interviews by Sandoz Toynbee

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