Tonight he's playing at Slidebar in Fullerton, then at the Viper Room tomorrow as part of (the unfortunately canceled) Sunset Junction Festival. We caught up with him a few days ago to talk about why he decided to revive Helmet, music he's preoccupied with now, John Stanier's new band and what he knows of Kelly Thomas.
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On why he revived Helmet: "I put so much into that band that when we broke up I was left holding the proverbial towel...[there was no reason to] abandon your heart, soul, blood and guts." Today Helmet's songwriting process is Hamilton writing lyrics and arrangements--"but I don't write drum fills and bass fills. [The way Helmet works] obviously you can't be in this band if you can't play, the space of the music ...and the way rhythms lock together."
On ex-Helmet members' new music (specifically John Stanier's Battles): "I've heard a little bit of it, my cousin played me snippets...there was some singing and some lyrics. It seemed very '80s, pop sounding; I thought it would be more art rock, but it sounded pretty cool. I think everybody should do what they want to do, but I prefer the [harder] music that I'm doing."
- On when a new Helmet album is coming out: "I've come up with a guitar vocabulary that works...it's the parametr of Helmet for Helmet. What I write still sounds like Helmet regardless of who's playing, it's very distinctive. But a new record, I don't know yet. I still have a lot of [other music] I want to work on."
- What's this other music? "I have all this stuff that I've been working on. (Hamilton is a trained jazz musician.) There's an orchestral piece with a German concert pianist who teaches at USC, some jazz tunes that I'd written with a jazz singer. These jazz tunes have been floundering for about 30 years that I finally want to pay attention to."
- And a possible collaboration with jazz/jam band Bad Plus "I've been talking to Dave King of the Bad Plus and we're trying to get a collaboration going. Apparently they're all big Helmet fans. The biggest thing is our schedule so hopefully that will all jive."
- On working on movie soundtracks: "I like [working on soundtracks] but I kind of like being a hired gun for movies more because I see what composers go through in Hollywood. There's a saying here that everyone in Hollywood has two jobs; their job and music, because everyone thinks they know about music, and it's disheartening sometimes. It's a lot of long hours, and as fun as it could be, I don't want it to be a job. I've been spoiled because of Helmet that I don't have to play music to maintain a lifestyle...I don't have four houses, I don't have a high overhead! (laughs.).
- On moving to LA (no, it was not to do movie soundtracks): "I got divorced and I was floundering in New York because even though I was playing with David Bowie and that was a fun gig, it didn't slow down my partying. 9/11 was kind of a sign for me to try something else. In New York I was just really doing not enough creatively...I'd write two songs a year, maybe, something ridiculous like that. LA is much more accessible, and it's [easy to be creative].
- Did he know about the Slidebar controversy and Kelly Thomas? "No, I hadn't heard anything about it...I'd just got back from Brazil and Australia unfortunately. But what's his name?" (Then asks me to spell Thomas' name so he could look it up.)