Stephen Hamm has been entertaining, engaging and galvanizing audiences for over 30 years playing bass, keyboards and singing in bands such as Slow, Tankhog, Copyright and Canned Hamm. He is currently in the Evaporators with Nardwuar the Human Serviette and Hamm: One Man Band (where he kills it on the Theremin!). I recently sat down with this Vancouver treasure to talk about his interesting, creatively fun and lengthy career.
CG: You have played in so many great Vancouver bands since the late 70’s/early 80’s, (Slow, Tankhog, Copyright, Canned Hamm) what was the Vancouver scene like back then? From your experience how much do you think the Vancouver scene has changed over the last 30 years?
SH: Oh man the scene is always changing. People come and go. I get older. I’ve seen waves and waves of new kids. When I started out everyone in the scene was on Welfare ‘cause in the mid eighties there was no work in this town and if you didn’t look, well straight that was grounds for not getting hired for what little work was available. So most big local shows happened on Welfare Wednesday when everyone had money and then maybe there’d be a couple more the following weekend. It’s funny ‘cause a lot of people I started out with left ‘the scene’ to have families and now their kids have grown up and they have time to go to shows again. Its become intergenerational now. A good example of what it’s like now to me is my bud Christian who used to roadie for Tankhog, in one week he’ll be helping me load in for a show and then he’ll be heading off to help out a band in their thirties and then he’s gotta head down to the Black Lab to drop off a guitar amp for one of his own kids!
CG: I love Christian! He used to be a roadie for my old band too. He’s the best. So I’m sure you have been asked this a lot so my apologies in advance but could please explain in your own words what happened during Slow’s Expo 86 Festival of Independent Recording Artists show that almost led to you and Tom Anselmi’s being arrested for indecent exposure. I read that there was near riots after your set was cut short which in turn cancelled the entire festival.
SH: Essentially we drank a bunch of grain alcohol, went to play the show. It was at the Xerox Theatre, an outdoor theatre at Expo. We had arranged for a bunch of ridiculous stage props to be built which they provided and we decided to tear them apart when we hit the stage. Tom started the show by chanting “Zeig Heil Bill Bennett” to commemorate the then outgoing Premier of BC, we did our set, swore a lot, invited our friends to come on stage with us and yell obscenities into the microphone, someone pulled Tom’s boxer shorts down, the powers that be turned off the power to our amplifiers so I pulled my pants down and showed everyone my wang. My Mom and Grandparents were in the audience. They were none too impressed and neither were the Police. The only person that got taken away by the cops that day was Death Sentence bassist Jimmy Sigmund who insisted that he be arrested.
CG: Hahahaha! Well that’s good that your own ass didn’t end up getingt arrested. Can you tell my readers about the punk band you were in called Chuck & the Fucks and the infamous concert at Queen Mary Elementary in the spring of 1980 where many of the teachers forced the children to leave?
SH: Haha ya that was my first punk rock band. We only played two shows. The first one was at the Lord Byng Gong Show when I was in grade 9. We played Pretty Vacant by the Sex Pistols. We got gonged but we were so loud that no one could hear the gong. They ended up giving us first prize. Then we booked a noon hour show at our old Elementary School. They had all the kids sit assembly style, grade ones in the front, grade sevens in the back. As soon as we started playing it was so loud that the teachers evacuated the gym where we were playing like it was a fire drill. The grade sevens stayed and came to the front of the stage and we rocked through our set of originals and punk rock covers. The principal tried to get on stage to turn off the power but we had brought the school bully Mort Reynolds who had gone to Queen Mary with us to do security. He was a big guy like Nelson from the Simpsons. He threatened to punch Ms. Laurey, our former Principal in the face if she cut us off.
CG: Oh to be young again! Ok this is going tough one. The top 3 shows you have ever played. Band? Where? When? Why?
SH: Hmmm, Slow at the Savoy in Vancouver, summer of 1985. We did surf nights or something like that which meant we started the shows, two in a row, with a wind surfboard we set up as kind of a cat walk on the front of the stage. We used to start the set with a medley of instrumental surf tunes, Walk Don’t Run, Mr. Moto, Theme from Batman. Christian, Ziggy and myself would all be on the surfboard doing choreographed dance moves. Those early Slow shows were really exciting. I was always thrilled when we packed a room.
Canned Hamm at Yosemite National Park. A bunch of kids who were working at the park during the summer pooled their money and paid for us and comedian Neil Hamburger to come and play for them. They had a minimal PA system and we were playing outdoors in a campground. All the surrounding family campers came with their children to watch our show but retreated in horror when Little Hamm and I started doing our strip show. Later, during Neil Hamburger’s set one of the Fathers, drunk and outraged interrupted the show and yelled at Neil “Take those fucking faggots in the leopard skin underwear and go back to the Bay Area where you belong!”
Playing with Copyright opening for Matthew Good at a free outdoor show in Winnipeg on Canada Day 2001. Have you ever played for one hundred thousand drunk Canadians all bouncing up and down and singing along? It’s a trip.
CG: I bet it certainly is. I unfortunately have never seen you perform live yet but I have seen videos of you, mostly with the Canned Hamm project…how on earth can you perform these songs with a straight face? And when performing the songs live who is responsible for the choreography?
SH: I’m a professional entertainer. I have to keep a straight face. You never wanna break the fourth wall. Most of Canned Hamm’s choreography was done by Robert and me. We sure as hell laughed our heads off when we were coming up with it! For the Erotic Thriller show, our second album, we enlisted our friend Morgan Mclachlan who had taken Jazzercise classes to help work out some of our moves and for one number we even enlisted the help of a professional dancer who had studied mime in Paris.
CG: You are the bass player in the band The Evaporators, what’s it like being in a band with Nardwuar the Human Serviette? I’m sure you have a few hysterical stories playing music with this man.
SH: I’ve known Nard since 1987 when my metal band Ogre went on one of his very early shows at CITR. We didn’t have a demo at the time so we took a tape of Ride The Lightning by Metallica and told him it was us. It took him a while for him to figure it out but we became friends pretty fast. Nard’s a real sweetheart and is always good to us Evaporators. We’ve been to SXSW a few times and I’ve helped him do his interviews with Snoop Dog, Macklemore and Haim to name a few. When you play in the band you always end up being enlisted to run a camera or something when he does his interviews. My favourite story with Nard was him trying to nail down an interview with Asap Rocky and we got the call to meet them for the interview in y’know like 5 minutes. So Nard enlisted Kurt Dahle who was with us playing drums and myself to be the cameramen and we ran off to hail a cab during rush hour in downtown Austin during SXSW. We ended up piling with all our gear into a peddle cab and the poor guy peddling managed to get us a few blocks before the freakin’ cab buckled in two from the weight and we had to run through traffic to get to the venue but we made it and got the interview!
With Snoop Dogg
CG: YES! I was a fan of Wadda Ya Gonna Do site/podcast that yourself and Terry Russell host, what happened to the show?!
SH: The idea of the show was Terry and I were having our umpteenth mid life crisis (Did you know Terry played drums in Chuck And The Sucks?) and we were trying to figure out what to do with our lives so we got people on who we thought had a plan and knew what they were doing. People like Chris Walter the writer, Grant Lawrence and Steve Bays etc., but it turned out they were all flying by the seat of their pants and didn’t really have the answer! Anyhow I got a part time job and got busy and realized I just enjoy playing and performing music and lead a pretty blessed life so the podcast kinda fulfilled it’s mission and we ended it. That being said we could start doing it again any time either us are feeling directionless again!
CG: Hahahaha!!!! So your not only a composer/musician/performer but also a producer and actor. Can you name work that you have produced and some of your acting credits?
SH: This kinda speaks to the earlier question about trying to figure out what the hell to do with one’s life. Being in an around the entertainment scene in Vancouver for most of my life a casting director was looking for a ‘big Grizzly Adams’ kinda guy for a TV commercial. Some how my name came up so I went and auditioned, didn’t get the part but the casting director took me aside and told me that I might want to pursuit this because I’m a specific ‘type’ and did very well in the audition. So I got myself an agent and proceeded to start going to auditions. I very quickly landed a role in a commercial for Career Builders that was slated to debut during the Super Bowl. I did the commercial, got paid very well and figured I was now on easy street which was not the case. After auditioning tirelessly for a couple years and getting only a couple non union gigs I kinda dropped that. But I did play The Chief in a stage production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and I’d really like to do some live theatre again. Maybe when I retire… I have great respect for real actors. It’s a craft you have to work very hard at.
As far a producing goes I’ve recorded a few bands like View Master, The Loose Tights and my own band Sunday Morning. I love the process of putting together an album of music. I produced and recorded all three Canned Hamm albums and did one for Croatian recording artist Ivan Hrvatska. I’ve also been heavily involved in writing and recording the last three Evaporators records. I’ve also done soundtrack and post audio work for film. Right now I’m working on my solo record for Hamm: One Man Band. I keep myself pretty busy!
CG: What should one expect when they go to see your new project HAMM: ONE MAN BAND?
SH: Hamm: One Man Band started when I realized I had a bunch of random gear kicking around and I put it all together and started writing songs by myself. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of the one man band, be it someone like Bob Log III, Quintron or the guy who used to play standards at the Marine Club (I forget his name) on Yamaha organ and drum machine. Also it’s so freakin’ hard to get people to come to practice these days ‘cause we’re all working so hard to pay to live in this town that doing a one man band makes sense. If nothing happens with it I only have myself to blame! It’s kinda a psycadellic experience. I’m playing organ, synth and triggering backing tracks that I’ve made. When I said I just kinda put together a bunch of gear I had kicking around one of the instruments I had was a Theremin which I never bothered to learn but all of a sudden I had a reason to learn it because I wanted to incorporate it into my set up and I became quite a good Theremin player! Which then inspired me pursuit that instrument more. I’ve started taking it down to Granville Island to busk and this summer I’m going to Colmar, France to attend a Theremin academy and be taught by some European stars of the Theremin! But to answer your question, what can you expect is me singing, playing organ and synth and Theremin. People are really enjoying it. I think it’s important to stand out from the pack and try do something different musically and visually. That’s what entertainment is right?
CG: Absolutely. What should one expect from Stephen Hamm in the future? Any other projects you will like to talk about? Future gigs? Etc. Now is the time to promote all things HAMM.
SH: Hamm: One Man Band is playing at Lanalou’s on Saturday Feb 25th with Jerk In The Can and Rare Figures. I’m hoping to get out this summer and fall and do some shows with the act. It would be fun to play festivals. I’m also playing Theremin for Spectral Theatre a company that does sci-fi and horror style productions and once a month they record their podcast in front of a live audience. On March 11 I’ll be joining them at the new Red Gate Theatre on Granville Island. The Evaporators will be playing shows this year. Our latest album Ogopogopunk is available now and was number one on college radio in Canada all of January, we cracked the top 40 on College Radio in the USA! I will be releasing my solo album very soon and look for me playing Theremin down at Granville Island come by and drop a loonie in my hat and say hello!