Hamell on Trial: A One-Man Musical Tornado

Ed Hamell, who performs as Hamell on Trial, is not your average acoustic-guitar solo act. The first time I saw him, at the old Fabulous Satellite opening for Syd Straw and the Skeletons, I didn't know what to expect. Within a couple of songs, with that little piece of wood and steel plugged into 100 amps of Marshall power, I was calling him the Hendrix of the acoustic guitar.

You see, if Ed Hamell didn't have a guitar and microphone to channel his anger, he'd probably be a SWAT team member, a mercenary, a wrecking ball, a steam hammer, a dynamite expert, an assassin, something violent, powerful, and swift. He is a one-man musical tornado.

His record label describes his records as "loud, fast music informed by politics, passion, energy and intelligence, played by a guy with a sharp tongue and a wicked sense of humor." Album titles include Rant and Roll, Songs For Parents Who Enjoy Drugs, and The Chord Is Mightier Than the Sword.

Tonight he'll be checking the walls at Leon's Lounge for structural integrity. Random power outages in Midtown are possible, so folks might want to stock up on batteries and candles.

We caught up with Hamell as he was waiting to catch his flight to Houston.

Rocks Off: You haven't been down here in a while.

Hamell on Trial: And I don't really know why that is, I've always liked playing Houston. I've just gotten out of the habit.

RO: We first saw you on that tour with Syd Straw.

HOT: Funny, I remember that pretty well. That was the last night of the tour. And you crazy Houston people kept sending rounds of tequila shots to the stage.

RO: Yeah, I might know some people who were involved in that.

HOT: I figured. Let's not let it happen again. I'm trying to keep a career together here.

RO: What brings you down at this time?

HOT: Actually, I have a business meeting in Houston. But what made this trip possible was a club gig and a house concert in Austin this weekend. There are a couple of guys who opened a club in Austin last year, and they try to get me down about twice a year now.

RO: But you don't tour, per se?

HOT: Well, I don't have any place to play in Dallas, at least not yet. And, you know, Texas is so big, I guess you could just come down here and tour forever. I probably do need to concentrate on Houston a bit more than I have the past few years. I used to play Rudyard's, I think it was. Great people there.

RO: What's going on with you as far as a new record?

HoT: That's actually part of why I'm in town. I'm about two-thirds the way through the next one. But I'm just not sure how to release it, what my strategy should be. Everything has gotten so different as far as releasing albums goes.

RO: Yeah, it's funny, some people see the end of the music business, other people see new opportunities. Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

HOT: I supposed technically I'm still on Righteous Babe Records, but I really am up in the air about how I'm going to market this next one. Tom Robinson of BBC6 in London has been in touch, and it looks like I may go over there and play on that channel. And that may be how I introduce this new album. Do I really need a label? I don't know.

You know, it used to be you didn't think about making money with records. You just had to have one if you wanted to draw at your live shows. That's where a band made it's living, playing live. But today you've got all these ways to put music out, the iTunes thing, all that. Heck, if the BBC thing goes well, I might just release the album there and hope to get some buzz and support before bringing it back home to the States.

RO: A lot of your work is full of righteous Everyman anger tempered with that mean sense of irony, and you make some pretty bitter social commentary. Is that still the core of what you're doing?

HoT [laughs]: Even more so today. There are just too many targets, so much what-the-hell stuff out there. It's like hitting a tee-ball.

9 p.m. tonight at Leon's Lounge, 1006 McGowen.

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