Hammers Of Misfortune just released their latest album Dead Revolution. I caught up with guitarist John Cobbett, who fills us in on the several year gap between albums, possible touring, his other band VHOL and other subjects.
Chad Bowar: What led to the five year span between 17th Street and Dead Revolution?
John Cobbett: It usually takes us three years or so. Simply getting back into writing mode takes me a while. I like to go back to being a fan for a while after making an album. It’s a lot of work and can leave me exhausted, so just going back and being a fan, listening to records and going to shows, really helps me recharge. This time we a had a few major events befall us. Sigrid and I had a baby, and Joe got in a serious motorcycle accident which took almost a year to recover from.
You’ve had a couple lineup changes since the last album. How did bassist Paul Walker and drummer Will Carroll come to join the band?
We’ve known Will for years, and he filled in for us on tour when we found ourselves drummer-less. It worked out really well and we just stuck with him. Paul was in Joe’s other band Worship Of Silence and when we needed a bass player, he stepped up. Both of them have been a blessing!
What was unique about the songwriting process for Dead Revolution compared to your past albums?
The usual methods are still the best: cup of coffee, guitar, keyboard and a blank slate (or a stack of unfinished ideas). I tried a few new things, experimenting with chord changes and transitions, but for the most part it was just chipping away at it. I think I built around the guitars more on this one. I wanted a guitar driven album.
How has the band’s sound evolved on this one?
I don’t know if “evolved” is the right word, since this album is more analogue and raw than previous efforts. We have Joe and Leila singing on this again, their second album with Hammers, and I think it makes a difference. Everyone has been in the band for a while, we’ve played a bunch of shows, and the lineup is solid. It all seems to fit together nicely these days.
What inspired you to cover the folk song “Days of 49”?
I was researching songs from the California gold rush era, and I stumbled across “Days of ’49” in a library book. I made scratch recordings of a bunch of these songs at home, and this one really stood out to me. I knew I wanted to use a song from the gold rush, and the choice was clear; “Day’s of ’49” was by far my favorite adaptation.
Did you have the title Dead Revolution going in and write a song with that title, or did you decide on the album title after that track was written?
I decided on that title for the album first, and that song needed a title. It fits closely with the lyrics. In fact, I think I got the idea from that line in “Dead Revolution.” So I guess the song suggested the title, and then the title sought out the song, if that makes any sense. Now I’m confused.
You produced the last album. What led you to work with Nick Dumitriu this time, and what was his impact on the process?
He runs a recording studio that is attached to our rehearsal facility. We got a good deal because we practice in the building, but also the studio seemed perfect for us: 1970 Trident console and a massive tracking room. Nick was a pleasure to work with, and we share a lot of instincts about tones, effects and so forth.
Does the positive reception to 17th Street increase your expectations for this album?
No, you never know how that’s going to go. Once you finish a record you’re so deep into it that it’s impossible to see the whole thing objectively. You never know if it sucks or not, you just have to try your best.
With everybody else being in other bands, how challenging is it to coordinate schedules so you can tour?
We’d love to play some festivals, but right now we don’t even have a booking agent. I’m not very good at setting up DIY tours, but maybe I could try after Will is back from Death Angel’s tour with Slayer.
With six albums under your belt, how difficult is it to come up with a set list, and does it change from show to show?
We try to take at least one song from each of our albums. The set can change a bit from time to time. We’ll try to do more than one off the latest album. It’s usually pretty clear which songs are going to work best live, and we usually get about 45 minutes to play, so it’s not that hard to pick some songs.
The first two VHOL albums were well-received. Do you anticipate doing another one in the future?
Oh yes, of course. VHOL is a normal band. There’s a lot of this “supergroup” B.S. that gets talked about, but we’re old friends and we like playing together, that’s all there is to it! We’ll make records until we break up…
Are you working in any other musical projects/bands currently?
No, just Hammers and VHOL. That’s quite enough to keep me busy!
What are some of your non-musical interests and hobbies?
Gardening, video games, bicycling. We’re getting ready to move out of California, out to the country, where we’re going to try and grow most of our own food. That will be a very interesting project!
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Vektor, Profanator (Mexico), Thantifaxath (Canada), Sauron (Cleveland, OH), Fastkill (Japan), new Revocation and Cardiacs. I just discovered this band Cardiacs from the ’70s-2000s. They made some of the most amazing music I’ve ever heard. It may not be for everyone, but I’m stunned that nobody ever turned me on to this stuff. None of my music nerd friends seem to have heard of them. either.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
I’d like to promote turning off your computer and going outside! Leave your phone behind. Do something amazing and don’t share it with anyone on social media! Try going a week without the internet! My computer died, and it was amazing.
(interview published July 26, 2016)