Love, redemption, compassion, and forgiveness. Oh, how we yearn for some or all of these things at various points in our lives. Well, to celebrate the day of love and compassion, today we bring you punk, acoustic, spoken word artist Ed Hamell (or Hamell On Trial as he is known) and his brand new live track “Some Hearts.” This is a song near and dear to Hamell’s heart, one based upon a real-life romance that took place between his college roadie Bobby, and his girlfriend Agnes. The backstory is quite detailed but also very emotional, sad, shocking, and at the same time enlightening. Hamell himself educates us on the inspirations behind “Some Hearts,“ on which he elaborates in our interview below.
With a quick comment regarding the single, Hamell stated, “There’s a lengthy story that informs this song in greater detail but suffice it to say that compassion, forgiveness, understanding, integrity, dignity are in short supply these days. I don’t know about you but when I define love, well, ain’t those crucial ingredients in addition to the body fluid exchange thing? Just sayin’. Let’s take the high road this Valentine’s Day, huh?”
Hamell is what you’d refer to as a natural-born musician, an individual with whom it was always apparent where his life would lead. Originally from the Syracuse, New York area, he first started playing the guitar around age seven before he began playing in bands in his early 20s. With the oversaturation of local acts, he decided that he’d do things on his own terms which led to the creation of the one-man act which he refers to as Hamell On Trial. He temporarily moved to Austin, Texas where he first discovered an audience that was responsive to his storytelling form of stripped-down music. Eventually, he made his way back to New York where he has well-established himself as a local punk-folk hero. Conjoining his sarcastic sense of humour with politics, musical passion, and his witty intellect, Hamell has become a darling of the local scene. He released his tenth studio album Tackle Box in 2017 and now is reissuing his live album Ed’s Not Dead —- Hamell Comes Alive! twenty years after its original release.
With such an interesting story set as the backdrop to “Some Hearts,” and with such a one-of-a-kind artist, we spoke with Hamell about this song’s meaning, the reissuing of Ed’s Not Dead —- Hamell Comes Alive!, and the serious car accident he endured just prior to the record’s original release.
Now there is quite the story behind the subject matter of your song “Some Hearts.” I don’t want to misstate it so can you quickly take us through the origins of the song?
Ed Hamell: “I was driving upstate to Syracuse from where I lived in Brooklyn at the time to attend a funeral of a friend of mine, Grover. He had been the sound man for a band that I played in for seven years. I was reminiscing on some of the incidents that had occurred with him, the band and the rest of the road crew during that time, we were a pretty wild bunch. Played hard, worked hard, drank, drugged and partied hard. One of the road crew, Bobby, I hadn’t heard from in a while. Over the five hour drive to the funeral, he more than anyone kept popping in my mind. He was quite a prankster, always up to something, practical jokes, a lot of run-ins with the law. Had a bit of Lenny from Of Mice and Men in him too, kind of beautiful, kind of funny, kind of doomed. Always seemed to have an injury. Large, very ostentatious casts and bandages, needed a lot of ‘attention.’ Read: love.
When I got to the funeral and paid my respects I asked Hector the Mad Stabber, who had acquired the nickname with a justifiable talent, (one could just ask Danny Malay who was also at the funeral and had the scars to attest, although both Hector and Danny, who hadn’t talked since the ’incident’ weren’t above sharing a joint after the funeral as a remembrance to the deceased) where Bobby was. I had heard that Bobby had received his third DWI which was mandatory incarceration in New York State. Bobby was unquestionably not the type that was going to endure a lengthy stretch well. He had done a few overnights in county jail in drunk tanks and isolated cells, certainly boatloads of reform school, but a couple of years of state time with a roommate was going to be tough on the old mental state.
And not the kind of ’love’ he was seeking if you catch my drift. Hector, in a deep voice acquired from both a 3-pack a day habit and occasional dances with meth, informed me that Bobby had passed. Sure enough, he had been sentenced, after his 3rd DWI, to eighteen months. He was going to store all his earthly possessions at his girlfriend’s dad’s cabin. He loaded these items, some furniture, a go-cart, motorcycle parts, fishing poles, and tackle, unlicensed guns, nunchucks, a picture of his mother, a bunch of concert posters and t-shirts leaning too heavily, some might say, towards the homo-erotic tinged metal band Manowar into a rented U-Haul truck.
His girlfriend Agnes drove. He rode in the back to steady his stuff. He was, of course, drunk. At this point, even piss tested, what did he have to lose? As Agnes navigated down the bumpy dirt road to the cabin Bobby thought it would be a hoot to climb out of the truck, slither across the roof on his belly and drop his head down into Agnes view. Wouldn’t that scare the bejesus out of her? And that’s exactly what Bobby did. And it worked like a charm, because Agnes, probably hungover to the max having survived Bobby’s going away party the night prior, witnessed a vision of a large man head appear out of nowhere, slammed on the brakes which sent Bobby flying just like his childhood hero Daredevil (the man without fear) into a good-sized tree, smashing his skull against the tree, snapping his neck and killing him instantly. As to whatever happened to the Manowar posters, Hector had no idea.”
You eventually came to an understanding of Bobby’s girlfriend Agnes’ point of view in the situation.
Hamell: “It wasn’t eventual at all. It was my immediate reaction when I heard the story. I had had another friend in high school, a hell of a guitar player, really talented but really haunted by depression and demons who had gone down to the highway and committed suicide by walking in front of a truck. I always thought about that truck driver, alone at midnight, just trying to put food on the table for his family and the next thing he knows he sees a scared kid in front of him, he slams on the brakes, hears that horrible thunk and he’s involved in a murder. Hellish. You see all these deaths in the movies, war epics, gangster films rarely do they show the peripheral characters that have to live with the death, in some cases, like Agnes, with unjustified responsibility. For whatever reason, my mind often goes to the innocents.”
What brought you towards considering this point of view when most people would just be angry at her for what she did?
Hamell: “Well, I don’t know that I can claim complete empathy here, Hector always annoyed me although you couldn’t be too overt about your disdain because you risked getting stabbed. So when he, too loudly I might add for the reverential tones of a funeral, talked about how he had got in Agnes’s face because he witnessed her swapping spit with a stranger in a bar a scant eight days after the funeral, my immediate reaction was ‘Jesus, how about taking it from her perspective?’ She’s scared, lonely, guilty, pissed at him for messing around in such a deadly fashion, and missing the man she, if not loved, had a deep affection for. And if not a deep affection she missed her drinking buddy.
But I’ve always been skeptical of that self-righteous macho stance of, ’and I did the RIGHT AND TRUE thing by…’ (patriotism immediately comes to mind) so I probably gravitated immediately to her support. Now Hector is screaming at her in a bar that she’s a whore and a slut. Talk about a tough couple of weeks. Plus it’s sexist, right? I see all kinds of films and books where the grieving husband seeks solace in the dead wife’s best friend the night of the funeral and no one says, ‘Hey! Too soon!’ ‘No, it’s okay, he’s a dude!’ Wrong. I mean, if truth be told I was never too crazy about Agnes anyway, but I think she deserved better than she got. I wonder whatever happened to her actually.”
I like that the release of “Some Hearts” comes right at Valentine’s Day because I think there’s a lot to be learned from this story of “love.” Was part of the motivation for releasing this song now to show people that love is a lot more than just the lovey, dovey version that corporations and the entertainment world force on us?
Hamell: “I didn’t have anything to do with it. I think it was a marketing ploy on the part of the label. That having been said I know the administration of the label and they’re deeply compassionate and righteous folks so I’m sure they agree with your assessment. And indeed, when I wrote the song 20 years ago that probably was a variable in the equation, ‘judge not lest ye be.’”
“Some Hearts” comes as one of the sixteen tracks on your new live record Ed’s Not Dead —- Hamell Comes Alive!, an album composed of songs recorded in 2000. Why did you decide to do a reissue now?
Hamell: “Happened very organically. Because it’s such an aggressive and idiosyncratic show for supposedly an ‘acoustic’ album, as is my style, it appeals to a weird punky folk audience. And it wasn’t on anything like Spotify, etc, and people were asking for it. I was just going to get it up on some streaming services and reached out to Jeff Smith, president of Saustex Records, a good friend and strong supporter of what I do, for advice, and he said he’d put it out on vinyl. Very cool. Never really intended to do a reissue, per se, but I do want my stuff to be available to those that might appreciate it.”
The album was originally released after a serious car accident that prevented you from touring for roughly a year. What do you remember about this time in your life? How do you reflect on it now roughly 20 years since it happened?
Hamell: “My father used to say, ‘Get a job you like, you never work a day in your life’ Sage advice. Thankfully I love what I do. I was thinking about this recently. When I was first playing out live, in bars and dances when I was like 14 years old I had horrible stage fright. Where I grew up, Upstate New York in blue-collar Syracuse, the audiences were tough, really unimpressed by everything locally, heckled, fought, could be really cruel. And I kept getting up and doing it, petrified and failing, for the life of me, in retrospect, I don’t know why. Really really wanted to make music my life.
Thank God I did because for the last 40 years the stage is one of the most comfortable places I inhabit. I still love every aspect, the writing, memorizing, recording, traveling, performing, etc. And when I got in in the accident, flipped a car twice, 80 stitches in my head, broke three vertebrae, my wrist and ankle, I realized that that could have ended it all so I swore I would try and appreciate every gig I play. Now, I’m considerably older, it’s a physical and aggressive show that I do, I don’t sit on a stool and gently strum. I hope I can do it for another 20 years, fingers crossed, but I’m undoubtedly a realist, so now, more than ever, I appreciate every gig.”
Upcoming Tour Dates:
02/15 – House Concert Washington, DC
02/16 – House Concert Poolsville, MD
02/17 – Exile Off Main St Chattanooga, TN
02/19 – Twilite Lounge Dallas, TX
02/22 – The Bunkhouse Las Vegas, NV (w/ The Frogs and Evan Dando)
02/24 – Pacific Beach Cantina San Diego, CA
03/04 – Low Beat Albany, NY
03/06 – Revolution Gallery Buffalo, NY 8:30
03/07 – 443 Social Club Syracuse NY
03/08 – Valley Blues House Syracuse NY (Benefit for SPARK hosted by Terrestrial Radio Syracuse)
03/19 – Sarah Street Stroudsburg, PA
03/20 – Slash Run Washington, DC
04/18 – Lizard Lounge Cambridge, MA
05/17 – Cap City Comedy Austin, TX
05/18 – Poison Girl Houston, TX, 9:00 pm
05/20 – Under the Volcano Houston, TX
06/02 – Hyde Tavern Winchester UK
06/04 – Kitchen Garden Cafe Birmingham UK
06/05 – Adelphi Hull UK (w/ Ruth Theodore)
06/07 – 100 Club, Ink Fest, London UK