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They Came From Beyond Space: It's The Hamiltones!

You won't believe your eyes, but somehow we managed to catch up with Buffalo surf punk ghouls The Hamiltones to talk all about the concept of their long-awaited new album, how their origins are traced to Ringo Starr's mistake film Son of Dracula, the classified information behind that Moon People 7", and looking back at the only show where they were asked to play two sets.

Photo by Mark Duggan

First tell me what you've been up to lately? What have you been listening to, reading, or spending a lot of time doing?

Nick Reynolds: I just started The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress a couple days ago.  It's a total coincidence, actually, and I hadn't really thought of that connection until just now. I don't usually read a lot of sci-fi novels– I mostly read classics– so I was probably subconsciously influenced by this record.

John Toohill: I was getting too much stuff done and started feeling less buried under the self made stress of projects I'm doing so I started playing Elden Ring because that game is very relaxing.

Nick: Oh, we talkin' video games, too? I got sucked into a Civilization II hole last week. That was pretty satisfying.

Chris Scamurra: I am trying to win the Sabres the Stanley Cup in every video game that has the Sabres and the Stanley Cup. I just beat NHL Breakaway '98 tonight. The Avalanche took me to overtime in the final game, but we pulled it off thanks to some late Derek Plante heroics.

For our readers who aren't familiar, take us through the origins of The Hamiltones. How did you all meet and decide to start a band together? 

Nick: We really bonded early on by watching Ringo Starr's mistake of a film Son of Drac together. That got the ball rolling on our thoughts on making something out of the ordinary.

Chris: Ringo is our favorite actor.

Nick: And producer.

Besides making music, what's something you love to do when you all get together or something that you'd like fans to know about The Hamiltones?

Nick: Do we do other stuff together?

John: We drink a lot of coffee and then scheme up ideas for all the other shit that comes along with being in a band besides the actual music.

Nick: That's true. And then I eat your roommate's snacks.

How do you think this band has grown since its 2015 demo tape? Also what are your thoughts looking back on past releases like Dracula Invitational, 1791 or The Shape of Walter

Nick: No one has said "no" to anything. It's becoming a problem.

Your long-awaited LP In Space is finally out today! Talk to me about its concept and how it all came together.

Nick: It's long awaited by me and John; I'm not sure that anyone else was waiting.

John: We had lots of other concept album ideas kicking around. I don't know how this one jumped to the front of the line. I think we were trying to get in on some of that new DUNE movie money but stalled out at the moon and started goofing around about Elvis body doubles instead. There is a Shai-Hulud in the album artwork though!

When and where was the new album recorded? 

Chris: I'm only able to record the drums when I'm back in Buffalo so I played all of my parts with Nick and John over a couple days a few years ago.

Nick: I feel like it was four days over the course of a week.

John: Nick's basement and my office over the course of like two years. Usually in sudden, intense bursts followed by long slumbers.

Instead of just the bare minimum surf rock instruments (guitar, drums, bass) you implement various layers of strings, horns and space-age synthesizers. Talk to me about what that was like? 

Nick: The surf trio has become the dominant mode in instrumental surf music since its first revival (c. 1980), but that wasn't so much the case with earlier bands and records. Most first wave California bands had a sax player. Dick Dale has piano and trumpet all over his records. It only gets weirder from there. A lot of Eleki Buumu bands had organs from the start, but then you look at a record like Hari no Umi and The Sharp Five add shakuhachi and shamisen to their stable of instruments.  Then there are bands like Los Destellos whose percussion is much more varied than California bands of the era. So, the limited variety of timbres in surf is a myth one that has a modern bias as well as a geographical bias as well. There's no reason to stick to guitar, drums, and bass except for convenience.

John: Damn. I was just gonna say once we figured out how to use my mono synth as a midi controller Nicky and I just got carried away but his answer is way better.

Nick: We also got excited to add a lot of non-midi stuff, too. Lucy Bell came over and sang a lot of the vocal ooos on the record to make it sound like the Star Trek theme from TOS.

Which song from the record means the most to you (and why)?

Nick: There are a lot of moments on this record that are meaningful. We tried to include a lot of musical allusions, so those moments have layers of meaning. Those references are sometimes pretty on the nose, especially on a tune like "Long Live the King (Viva Los Space)," but sometimes very short and subtle. A song that strikes a middle ground there is "Armed and Crazy (in Space)," so I really like that one for making something new out of something we love. But, there are also homages to Sandy Courage, Agent Orange, and plenty more on here.

John: "The King is Dead" because it oddly comes on like a Joy Division song and then slowly morphs its way into this beautiful, sad, wide open vastness. That violin swells and you're left staring out the window of your spaceship as the last of your breathable air slowly runs out. We have no business writing something like that.

Chris: I don't know the name of the songs, so I had to look this up, but the one called, "Entr'acte to The Hamiltones in Space." I like how there's a lot of tension and chaos and then it all comes together neatly into a tight little spacey surf jam.

The new album also comes with bonus 7" by the mysterious Moon People. What can fans expect from that? 

Nick: In some ways, The Moon People are more traditionally Surf than The Hamiltones, at least in terms of the technical instrumentation. I'm not sure how much more I want to give away about them.

John: Moon drugs.

Nick: Fuck.

John, I know you and Lindz are always hands on with the art for every release coming out of Swimming Faith HQ.  What can you tell me about the visual side to the new album? Also, what were the inspirations behind the LP's cover and gatefold artwork?

John: So I learned how to do stop motion from Lindsay but the video for "Entr'acte to The Hamiltones in Space" is all Nick and I. She just popped her head in and said "This is amazing. Keep going!" Originally, I tried to talk Nick out of us even doing it as stop motion because our idea for the video would be such an insane amount of work, which it was, but it ended up something really special. Very proud of it.… As for album art. I designed the record's jacket with a lot of inspiration from classic '50s and '60s space age album covers and a hefty dose of Nick's own vision. He steered me in the right direction.

Nick: Having a visual style that is unique from all of our other projects is important to us here. That has been an important driving force for us over the years. It's also worth noting that our friend Mickey Harmon has done the majority of illustrations for our band throughout the years. He's the common thread that seems to hold our releases together aesthetically.  He did the Shape of Walter cover, and then started doing the fantastic Where's Waldo style centerfold art for both of our LPs, plus some other illustrations for this one. He also did the art for the live tape — he was at that party, so he remembered what it looked like. And finally, this one had a hand from the Syracuse artist Mike Tommyrot. He really gave the Moon People 7" its own style, plus he did the tee shirt for this record.

Chris: NASA's original photography.

Nick: That's true. Chris discovered a treasure-trove of thousands of hi-res public domain images taken during the Apollo missions.

It was pretty cool seeing the Instagram page retroscifiart post the stop-motion animation video for the track "Entr'acte to The Hamiltones in Space" on their page. How did that happen?  

Nick: If I learned anything in 2023, it's that you can just contact people directly and ask them if they want to do stuff. It doesn't matter who it is, they'll usually respond and be receptive.  You're making a short film and you were imagining Wayne Knight in a role? Contact him; he'll respond. You're writing a paper for class about a book by Dick Hebdige? Send him an email and see if he wants to chat about it.

What do you recall from the 2014 winter beach party gig you played that ultimately became Live at the Jungle Gym.

Nick: That is one of a couple gigs I've ever played where people demanded that we play a second set. We were a new band, so we had literally played all the material we knew the first time, but Curtis insisted that it didn't matter and we could just play the same set over again.  He was right. The first set was at 10:30pm or something. The second set was at 2:00am and was really something special.

John: I always blur that party with the New Year Eve one we also played there. Though that period of time in my life is pretty blurry anyways. Legendary party, I think. I actually just taped my phone to the top of the door frame. That's the entire recording. An Iphone 5 holding on for dear life.

Chris: You put the year in the question, and now I'm trying not to freak out that we played that show a decade ago. Feels like yesterday. Church Key!

John I know your schedule is pretty packed with Science Man touring, but are there plans for Hamiltones show later in the year?

John: Chris, are there plans for a Hamiltones show later this year? Would.

Nick: Would. 

Chris: Ok, I guess we’re playing a show. Do you know of any beach parties we can crash?

In Space is out now on Swimming Faith and Big Neck Records.


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