Written By: Chad Berndtson
:: The Art Of The Sit-In - Tom Hamilton ::
Welcome to another edition of The Art of the Sit-In, where we mix it up with the
scene’s most adventurous players
and hear some stories from the road. For more, check out our recent interviews with Jeff
Schnier and many others.
Tom Hamilton made his bones with Brothers Past, one of the scene’s most
bands and a staple of
often described as jamtronica. But it’s American Babies that might be the fullest
expression yet of Hamilton as a
musician – a song-based rock ‘n’ roll band with, as of late, a definite jones for jamming
and a lot going for it as it kicks
off a massive U.S. tour this month.
[Photo by: Andrew Blackstein]
The past year in particular has been an impressive growth period for American
Babies, which began in 2007
as a “when
we have time” side project and has since released consistently more interesting albums
(including 2013’s ace Knives
and Teeth), solidified its lineup of Hamilton, drummer Dave Butler, keyboardist Adam
Flicker and bassist Marc
Friedman, and is fast becoming a live band to make time for.
We asked the always-animated Hamilton to give us the lowdown.
JAMBASE: I remember when American Babies started but it seemed like it
took a few
years to become your
primary band, settled with a full and consistent lineup. When do you think it became the
TOM HAMILTON: I would say 2011. I wanted to really get on the road like
we had with
Brothers Past and
make it my primary thing. It’s been that way for about three years now.
There are quite a few factors in there that got it to that point. Brothers Past can’t be
the touring entity it once was – life
happens, and that’s fine. And if you know me, I’m all about the laugh, the hang, the good
dick joke. But when it comes
to music, I hold it sacred. I needed to get out there on the road and have something to
pursue full time, give it my full
attention. That’s what got Babies there.
JAMBASE: So you have your guys now after a less definite lineup in
How did you settle on this
TH: We had different guys in the lineup when it was more ‘we’ll do some
and we’ll do some shows
there.’ Organizing those names, guys like Joe [Russo] and [Aron] Magner into a constant,
grinding it out schedule would
be pretty much impossible so there was the need for a solid group.
Dave Butler I met through Russo. We had Eric Slick in the mix but almost two months after
he first came around, he
joined Dr. Dog and I was back looking for a drummer. Joe recommended Dave and it was a
[Keyboardist] Adam Flicker was in a band called The Brakes.
JAMBASE: Right, also from Philadelphia.
TH: Yeah. They were younger than me and when we were heavy in Brothers
opened up for us a few
times maybe – I knew them from around the way. They kind of stopped playing regularly –
their drummer [Josh Sack]
tragically died from leukemia [in 2008]. They went their own ways a bit, which is very
understandable in a situation like
that. But Adam and I were friendly, and he stayed and stuck around and he was a good fit.
And he’s just a fun person to
hang out with.
JAMBASE: And Marc?
TH: Marc Friedman is the newest Baby. That was just…wow. We had this tour
and the bass player who
was going to join us had a stop-gap and he told me, you know what, after all I’m not going
to be able to do this tour. I
was kind of panicking, and I was like, fuck, what can I do?
So as a last-ditch effort, I threw something up on Facebook. I have thousands of friends,
right? Someone will respond,
right? I got 80 responses, and a lot of it was from kids wearing flat-brims, you know? But
the 81st response was from
Marc Friedman. And I was like, dude, do you not have a gig? You’re Marc fucking Friedman!
He’d gone out to San Francisco and was doing work with Big Light and they’re kind of not
very active at the moment, so
he was like, hey man, I want to get back on the road so yeah, I’m available. I asked him
if he wanted to check out the
music in detail and he was like, no, no, let’s just jump in. We were friendly for a long
time, I knew him from The Slip and
them and Brothers Past were on festival bills together. And here we are.
JAMBASE: I think a lot of people shared your surprise. Marc is one of
you just always assume
wouldn’t be available.
TH: I know, right? His name actually came up last year. Joe and I were
about it. Russo isn’t in the band
but he’s still invested in it – he and I started it together – and we were talking about
potential players and he was like,
what about Friedman? And I remember we both thought about it for a second and then shook
our heads, naahhh, he’s
definitely got a fucking gig [laughs].
To say I’m incredibly excited…well, the hang’s been amazing, we’ve played only a few shows
but every one has been
better than the list. He brings a very exciting element to this. We didn’t really embrace
improvisation with the Babies
before, and I remember a lot of people were telling me things like, don’t jam, let the
songs speak for themselves. But at
the end of the day, I love to improvise, and I’m good at it. I love the Grateful Dead, and
that whole model was take the
best songs you could possibly fucking write and then open them up fearlessly.
So the Babies have embraced these natural instincts toward improvisation. And having a guy
like Marc – a master
improviser – has made it great and really fun, and now we’re getting to do some of the
things I feel like I built my career
doing with Brothers Past. I don’t know why I didn’t feel comfortable before. Maybe I felt
like I’d be stepping on the toes
of Brothers Past or something, but it’s been so exciting to do this with the Babies. We
have shows where we’ll do a
Babies song into a Brothers Past song into a Dead tune and back into a Babies song – I
love that freedom.