Ed Hamell: ‘A bald guy who swears at the audience and plays loud guitar’
Hamell, part musician, part comedian, doesn’t deserve his reputation for being angry. Passionate and opinionated? Absolutely
It has been more than 25 years since his Hamell on Trial guise was born, almost accidentally, after he had had enough of playing in bands in his native Syracuse and decided to road-test some solo songs in front of his peers (hence the “on trial” addendum). Now in his 50s, he says that sustaining a career can “erode your idealism”, but refuses to be pessimistic about his lot. “After a certain point, you wanna believe you get better at it as a craft. Really, at this age, there isn’t really anything else that I could do; certainly nothing that I love as much.”
Songs of protest
Fatherhood has made him view the world in a less cynical way, although he is baffled by the lack of young protest singers in music today. “I think about it, but I don’t understand the ins and outs of it. Either the culture has anaesthetised them so they don’t realise . . . I mean, over here, people are getting f***ed, you know? But they’re not really pissed off enough to do anything about it, other than rant on Facebook. Maybe they look at some of these singer-songwriters who are making $100,000 a year, and they think, ‘I want that, and if I open my mouth and say ‘this is wrong’, I’m gonna lose an audience, so I don’t wanna alienate potential money.’ ”
For now, he will continue to plough his own furrow with this new album, including a 10-date tour around Ireland starting this week. “I’m not just blowing smoke up your ass, but it’s my favourite country to play,” he says. “And it’s important – frankly and pragmatically – that I promote the crap out of this record, because I’m really proud of it. Whenever I sell or sign an album at the end of the night, I’m always telling people ‘Please listen to this, I really worked hard on it. And if it speaks to you, tell your friends’. It’s gotta be a word-of-mouth thing.
“At this age, I’m a realist: I don’t think it’s ever going to blow up. But if I inspire some young musician of any genre, man or woman – if they look at me and think that I was Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan to somebody, or somebody’s Muddy Waters or Keith Richards, and some kid hears something in my music, I think, good. Great. I’ve passed the torch.”
Hamell on Trial’s 10-date Irish tour runs in venues nationwide from Wednesday to May 11. hamellontrial.com