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Challenge met! How Ryan Hamilton created his all-killer, no-filler LP ‘1221’

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Musician Ryan Hamilton struck upon a brilliant idea just over a year ago when it looked like Covid was going to wipe another year of concert dates from his schedule. The Texas-based power-pop rocker issued a daunting challenge to himself: Release a strong new single each month for a year then compile them all for an album at year’s end. That collection, “1221,” is out now, and true to its inception, it sounds like a greatest hits record, which it is in a sense.

Hamilton is a prolific musician who has the best of both worlds. During normal times, he tours furiously across America and across the pond. He records solo albums and he records with his British band, Ryan Hamilton and The Harlequin Ghosts, in both cases for Little Steven’s Wicked Cool Records label.

A few days after I spoke with Hamilton for this story, he received word that “1221” debuted in the top 10 on the U.K. independent artist albums chart.

“1221” refers to the commission Hamilton assigned himself. Each of the 12 singles represented was released this year on the 12th of each month. It had to be an all-killer, no-filler affair, and even though Hamilton is sitting on enough unrecorded songs to fill more than 10 albums, he said it was important to him to come at it fresh every month.

Hamilton says when he first approached his label with the “1221” concept, he was afraid they might say “What do you expect us to do? Promote a song every month for a year? Are you crazy?” but instead, they championed the idea.

“They were incredible,” Hamilton says, adding “Credit to them for embracing this idea immediately.”

“1221” features seven original Hamilton songs, three carefully selected covers and two fresh songs offered up by some of his artist friends. Longtime U.K. producer and musician Dave Draper oversaw proceedings remotely while contributing to the recordings as needed. He and Hamilton cover all of the instrumentation on “1221” and it’s a wickedly impressive collection of melody-driven, hook-laden pop rock.

Hamilton’s “Déjà vu I Love You” is the sort of catchy, crunchy rock song that stays lodged in your mind long after you hear it, like many of the songs here.

Hamilton is a song craftsman but not in the traditional sense. Some writers prefer to set time aside to work on their craft. Hamilton prefers to wait for the songs to come to him. As he explained during my interview with him, melodies might arrive when he’s in the shower or when he’s zipping down a freeway. When it happens, life stops momentarily so he can receive them.

“Caught Up in a Moment” is a mid-tempo tune that deals with a relationship best left behind.

Some good old rock and roll swagger is at the forefront of “Do The Damage,” where Hamilton sings of fast forwarding a relationship to the ending, equating it to a groovy new dance move.

“Permanent Holiday” is another earworm that’s not far removed from the concept of Monty Python’s “Christmas in Heaven” from The Meaning of Life. It’s funny, it will make you think, and it’s another of this album’s hits you’ll want to hear again.

“If Life Was a Movie” is a fun rocker that tells the story of two damaged lovers coming together.

“Shots Fired,” sounds like an obvious hit single. Creating a song like this is a true art form but Hamilton almost makes it sound easy (it isn’t).

Austin-based rocker Bob Schneider, former frontman for The Ugly Americans, contributed the metaphorical song “Babies” to Hamilton’s project. It’s a creative slice of social comment.

Former Green on Red rocker Chuck Prophet gave Hamilton the gift of “Big Man,” a previously unrecorded track that fits perfectly like it was written expressly for this record.

Hamilton decided on three cover songs for “1221,” including “Satellite” from the much-missed British band Catherine Wheel, and says he was shocked when the members of the group hopped on board early with encouragement.

A wonderful semi-obscure album track from The Spin Doctors opens “1221” in the form of “How Could You Want Him (When You Know You Could Have Me).”

“Banditos” was a modern rock hit for The Refreshments in 1996 and Hamilton’s faithful cover does that Arizona band proud.

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The Maine Edge: It’s an almost impossible challenge to come up with a song each month worthy of single status. Were your original songs written expressly for ‘1221’ or did you record some songs you’d been sitting on?

Ryan Hamilton: That’s a good question. None of these songs had been sitting around. It was important to me to come at it fresh every month. I was determined to come up with a song each month worthy of being a single. When I had a month where a song maybe didn’t come out as good as I’d hoped, I reached out to other songwriter friends and artists that I knew who were also sitting around. Bob Schneider and Chuck Prophet each wrote and sent me an original song to record and put on this record.

The Maine Edge: It’s obvious from listening to your music that it’s all about the song for you and melody is paramount. Most melodic songwriters I’ve interviewed have told me that the melody almost always comes first before any lyric ideas appear. Does that method also apply to you?

Ryan Hamilton: Yes, absolutely. It’s easier now with technology to grab your phone and do a voice memo to get that melody down. I don’t know if it’s because I did too many drugs in the 90s but if I don’t capture that moment, it’s like lightning in a sense. I have to pull the car over or get out of the shower to record it quickly or else I forget it. It happens really fast and I feel like I have to grab it before it’s gone. Melody is really important to me and if that comes through in the songs then I’m doing something right, so thank you for telling me that.

The Maine Edge: Do you have a pile of unrecorded songs?

Ryan Hamilton: It’s a lot. I’ve probably accumulated somewhere between 100 to 120 songs that I haven’t recorded. I’ve heard people like Tom Petty say you feel the need to record it when you have the idea because you don’t know if it’s going to be there forever. I’ve heard that from some of my heroes. I have that fear – in a good way – it drives me. I never sit down to write a song because it’s time to write, I wait for the songs to come to me. When it happens I try to get it down immediately.

The Maine Edge: The three cover songs fit in perfectly. How did you come to select them?

Ryan Hamilton: I wish I had a smart answer for that. Sometimes you hear a song, or my producer, Dave Draper, whom I love, will hear something and say ‘This would be great for Ryan.’ They were kind of random choices but it’s also important to me to pick songs that haven’t been covered a lot. The song by Catherine Wheel is a perfect example. They had a couple of big hits but never got to the place they deserved. “Satellite” was amazing because those guys actually got on board and got involved. They made some suggestions early on and became involved with notes and pre-production. I didn’t know them but through the friend of a friend, I reached out to Brian (guitarist Brian Futter) and sent them an early demo then the rest of the band got involved in this group chat and it was really wonderful to get their stamp of approval before it went out.

The Maine Edge: After being sidelined for so long, are you itching to get back out there to play live?

Ryan Hamilton: Mike, I’m dying to get out there. I love writing songs and I know I’ve been given this gift to even be able to do that. I’m very thankful but playing shows is my favorite thing to do. I’ve worked hard to develop a really good reputation, especially overseas, of someone who puts on a great live show. For that to be taken away, I don’t think anyone was prepared for what that was going to do to us emotionally. To not have that on some level is very difficult. Next year is already filling up, I can’t wait but I want it to be smart. Hopefully, we’re approaching a place where people feel as comfortable as possible going out to concerts.

The Maine Edge: Tell me about your Holiday Hoedown show that you have coming up on December 9? That’s just a day after this story comes out.

Ryan Hamilton: It really turned out to be incredible thing. I started doing this annual show called the Holiday Hoedown in the U.K. This year it was supposed to be in London at this very cool venue, St. Pancras Old Church, which has some Beatles history (In July 1968 while in the midst of recording ‘The White Album,’ The Beatles broke out of the studio for a photo session on the church grounds, among other London locales, for photographer Don McCullin). Those shows have been incredible and this was supposed to be the first one back since the pandemic. Unfortunately, it’s still too soon but there’s this historic church in Stephenville, Texas that is just beautiful so I reached out to them and said I wanted to film this show there in place of the big London show. We did a multi-camera shoot, recorded the audio and waited to see what we had. It came out so cool Mike, I’m so thrilled with it. Of course I wish I could be with everyone in London but people can buy tickets to stream it and they’ll receive a recording of the show. It’s a full album’s worth of solo acoustic performances. It was a surprise for this show to even happen let alone go as well as it did.

(Ryan Hamilton’s Holiday Hoedown show will stream worldwide on Thursday, December 9, beginning at 4:00 p.m. (Eastern). Tickets can be reserved for $12.21 and each ticket holder will receive a link to view the show in addition to a download link for his “Live & Acoustic in Stephenville Texas” album recorded during the show. For tickets and more information, visit www.RyanHamiltonMusic.com.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 December 2021 07:27

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