Tom Hamilton is the guitarist and vocalist from the Philadelphia quartet Brothers Past. He's an interesting musician with a very original approach to the guitar‚ songwriting and improvising. Brothers Past just released their second album entitled A Wonderful Day‚ and they will be touring heavily throughout 2003. They put on a hell of a show‚ weaving in and out of a solid core of songs with hypnotic electronic improvisation.
Mike McKinley: The last time I spoke with you‚ we were discussing the approach to making a studio album. I've been listening to your first album Elements quite a bit…
Tom Hamilton: That's a piece of crap (laughs). I'm not going to lie to you here...
MM: (laughs) I like it. I think it's good.
TH: Do you? You're not just blowing smoking up my ass?
MM: For me as a listener‚ I think it tells a good story‚ not a specific story‚ but from start to finish there is journey to it. It's definitely young‚ but I think there're a lot of good ideas on it and it makes a statement.
TH: Yeah‚ it's cohesive. It's as cohesive as we could be at that point in time.
MM: The album was recorded partially live and partially in the studio right?
TH: Everything is live‚ but we recorded in a place that's like a studio‚ it's a place you would play live over the radio. We rented this place - it holds about three hundred people‚ sold the tickets‚ and played a show. It was a three-set show‚ and we taped it all. Then we went back through the tapes and said "what doesn't totally suck?" (laughs) We had three sets so that covered all of our songs at that point in time. I think we had been together for about five or six months.
MM: When was this?
TH: May 5th... of... wait‚ what year is it? (laughs) Yeah‚ May 5th of 2001. Boy‚ I'm a fucking moron! You don't have to put that in there - "Here's the interview with Tom Hamilton‚ doesn't know what day or year it is..."
MM: (laughing) That's great. I think it's a keeper.
TH: Well anyway‚ it was May 5‚ 2001. So we broke it down to seven tunes that all had a common theme in them. Actually‚ we could only stand three of them. We actually recorded the first track beforehand‚ because we knew the album was going to be called Elements and that hasn't been played since. We took certain tunes like "Who Really Runs the Planet‚" "Squeeze" and "Crutch" and chopped it all up. So everything was recorded on May 5th‚ and there's no overdubs or stuff like that. What we were able to do is bring things in and then fade them out and mute certain sections‚ stuff DJ's do. I think "Crutch" was the first tune we started to put together in the studio using Pro Tools‚ and we were like‚ this is so cool‚ because it was our first time using that program. We realized what we could do with Pro Tools‚ and we ended up taking three different jams from the show and making it one song‚ which ended up as the track "Elements." So we laid it out and made it work - the key changes‚ the drum tempos - it was a cut and paste kind of thing‚ like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
It was cool‚ but listening back to it now I'm not a big fan of it‚ just because I know where I was then and I know where I am now. It was a learning experience for all of us. We learned a lot on how to use stuff in the studio‚ and it was just a big tool for us in making our new album A Wonderful Day.
MM: You end Elements with the song "Crutch" which features some horns. So they were with you when you recorded the show?
TH: Yeah. I use a lot of programs to write‚ and this one program I have is a recording program but also has notation on it‚ so it will actually write out the music on a staff. I can't read music‚ but at the time I thought it was great‚ you know‚ I could teach myself how to read music. I was writing stuff on that‚ and I started notating "Crutch" and ended up writing out this whole symphony to it. So I was like‚ this is the coolest thing ever‚ and when we decided to do the album I wanted to get a few musicians to do a few of the horn parts I wrote out. We rehearsed it the day before and then played it the next night at the show.
MM: Wow‚ that's cool. I think that was a great way to end the album. Like I was saying before‚ it kind of tells this story and then ends with the horns coming in with this triumphant piece of music. So going on to your new album‚ what was the approach you guys took for A Wonderful Day?
TH: Well ... first let me say by the end of this‚ you're going to think we're the most anal-retentive dudes (laughs). We had meeting after meeting about what we were going to do for an album. We sat down and took a look at the songs we had... sort of the same thing we did for Elements‚ we looked at our songs and looked for common themes. "A Wonderful Day‚" "Monsters Come Out At Night" and "Night Villains" are the three songs we had prior to going into the studio. We looked at the lyrics‚ and over-analyzed the music. These three tunes have the common theme of night‚ or sleeping. We had that as the general idea‚ and then we threw around various ideas. Eventually we came to the conclusion to make an album about not being able to sleep‚ about insomnia‚ and about what creates insomnia‚ and what goes on in a person's head when they're lying in bed. From there we sat and wrote the rest of the record. I think there are five more songs we added to it‚ and it goes through the stages of a person trying to go to sleep. You crawl into bed and your mind wanders for the next six hours. "A Wonderful Day" opens and closes the album‚ and the first part of that is kind of lullaby-ish‚ I guess. Then the next tune is "The Ceiling‚" which was written by Tom McKee (keyboards)‚ and that tune is about lying in bed staring at the ceiling wondering when you're going to fall asleep. The next tune is "Night Villains‚" which is about your mind wondering about what is going on in the outside world while your trying to sleep‚ what's going on in the wild of the city - sort of like a paranoia type of thing. After that is "Monsters Come Out At Night" which is more about 'fuck what's going on outside my window‚ what the hell's under my bed?' (laughs)
MM: (laughs) I imagine that tune is a little bit playful?
TH: Well... no‚ it's really a punch you in the balls type of song. It's a really cool song‚ it's definitely one of my favorites on the album. Tom also wrote that tune. The song after that is "The Mirror‚" - that's kind of like the guy's getting sort of pissed off at this point in time because he can't sleep‚ and that's more where the mind is introspective. Tom and I wrote that together - I wrote the music‚ he wrote the lyrics. After that is a tune called "Tired Sigh(t)" which is introspective as well. The character is starting to talk to himself‚ kind of like telling himself 'why did you let me down‚' you know. Then that's followed by Clay's (bass) song "Bottle Cap" which we have not performed live yet. It's just a crazy tune‚ you'll see when you hear the album. It end's with "A Wonderful Day" again‚ and that's kind of like the guy saying... well‚ the hook line is "it will be a wonderful day when I get out of here‚" and that's him saying it will be a wonderful day when this stops‚ and he will get some sleep.