Tom Hamilton's American Babies
Tuesday, February 28th, 2017
7:00 pmBrooklyn Bowl Las Vegas
$20.00 - $25.00 +
This event is 18 and over
$20 in advance. $25 day of show.
All guests must have a valid government/state issued ID for entry to the venue. No refunds.
TICKETS PURCHASED IN PERSON AT THE BOX OFFICE INCLUDE A $2 BOX OFFICE FEE
All general admission tickets are standing room only.
ALL TICKET PRICES INCLUDE NEVADA'S 9% LIVE ENTERTAINMENT TAX
Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas is excited to offer special room discounts via Caesars Hotels & Resorts for traveling fans. For hotel rooms use promo code: BRB15 at www.caesars.com applicable for rooms at The LINQ Hotel and the Flamingo.
*Advertised times are for doors -- show time not available until day of show*https://www.brooklynbowl.com/event/1363645/
To which Scorsese, the inquisitive interviewer, asks, “What’s it called, then?”
“Rock & roll!”
Clearly looking for a more specific answer, but realizing that he isn’t going to get one, Marty laughs. “Rock & roll…”
Well, that’s the way it is sometimes: musicians play music, and don’t necessarily worry about where it gets filed. It’s the writers, record labels, managers, etc., who tend to fret about what “kind” of music it is.
And like The Band, the members of Railroad Earth aren’t losing sleep about what “kind” of music they play – they just play it. When they started out in 2001, they were a bunch of guys interested in playing acoustic instruments together. As Railroad Earth violin/vocalist Tim Carbone recalls, “All of us had been playing in various projects for years, and many of us had played together in different projects. But this time, we found ourselves all available at the same time.”
Songwriter/lead vocalist Todd Sheaffer continues, “When we started, we only loosely had the idea of getting together and playing some music. It started that informally; just getting together and doing some picking and playing. Over a couple of month period, we started working on some original songs, as well as playing some covers that we thought would be fun to play.” Shortly thereafter, they took five songs from their budding repertoire into a studio and knocked out a demo in just two days. Their soon-to-be manager sent that demo to a few festivals, and – to the band’s surprise – they were booked at the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival before they’d even played their first gig. This prompted them to quickly go in and record five more songs; the ten combined tracks of which made up their debut album, “The Black Bear Sessions.”
That was the beginning of Railroad Earth’s journey: since those early days, they’ve gone on to release five more critically acclaimed studio albums and one hugely popular live one called, “Elko.” They’ve also amassed a huge and loyal fanbase who turn up to support them in every corner of the country, and often take advantage of the band’s liberal taping and photo policy. But Railroad Earth bristle at the notion of being lumped into any one “scene.” Not out of animosity for any other artists: it’s just that they don’t find the labels very useful. As Carbone points out, “We use unique acoustic instrumentation, but we’re definitely not a bluegrass or country band, which sometimes leaves music writers confused as to how to categorize us. We’re essentially playing rock on acoustic instruments.”
Ultimately, Railroad Earth’s music is driven by the remarkable songs of front-man, Todd Sheaffer, and is delivered with seamless arrangements and superb musicianship courtesy of all six band members. As mandolin/bouzouki player John Skehan points out, “Our M.O. has always been that we can improvise all day long, but we only do it in service to the song. There are a lot of songs that, when we play them live, we adhere to the arrangement from the record. And other songs, in the nature and the spirit of the song, everyone knows we can kind of take flight on them.” Sheaffer continues: “The songs are our focus, our focal point; it all starts right there. Anything else just comments on the songs and gives them color. Some songs are more open than others. They ‘want’ to be approached that way – where we can explore and trade musical ideas and open them up to different territories. But sometimes it is what the song is about.”
So: they can jam with the best of them and they have some bluegrass influences, but they use drums and amplifiers (somewhat taboo in the bluegrass world). What kind of music is it then? Mandolin/vocalist John Skehan offers this semi-descriptive term: “I always describe it as a string band, but an amplified string band with drums.” Tim Carbone takes a swing: “We’re a Country & Eastern band! ” Todd Sheaffer offers “A souped-up string band? I don’t know. I’m not good at this.” Or, as a great drummer/singer/mandolin player with an appreciation for Americana once said: “Rock & roll!”
With such a chameleonic existence, it's not surprising that American Babies' founder Tom Hamilton's guiding creative principle is very simple: He doesn't like to repeat himself artistically. For the multi-instrumentalist, this mindset stems from a deep-seated need to always keep pushing himself as a musician—to delve into different lyrical themes and musical detours, and to explore potentially uncomfortable and unfamiliar emotional places.
"After you stop writing songs about standard things, then you're left with who you really are as an artist," he says. "Maybe you have to dig deeper into yourself, and talk about some shit that maybe you don't really feel comfortable talking about—or that you're not even ready to talk about. But that's what you're left with, if you keep challenging yourself.
"For me, that's where I am I my career. I'm trying to find the deeper things inside, and to start scratching those itches and opening up those doors that I didn't even really know were there."
Hamilton certainly dug deep when he and musical collaborator Peter Tramo started writing American Babies' fourth studio album, An Epic Battle Between Light And Dark. The record ended up evolving into an introspective collection that's a "meditation on mood," Hamilton says. "A meditation on dealing with having a hard time. Dealing with that constant struggle of confidence and doubt, that struggle of depression, anxiety and comfort."
The impetus for these themes was the sudden August 2014 death of Robin Williams, whose approach to comedy and acting—specifically, his penchant for improvisation and a dislike of repeating material—resonated strongly with Hamilton. "I consider myself a survivor of depression—I got through my late teens and twenties in spite of it, basically," he says. "When Robin Williams passed away, that was a heavy, heavy thing for myself. Topically, we started to explore dealing with depression and what a common thing it is these days. It was something that really hit home."
Hamilton admits the weightiness of this topic at first gave him pause—"Talking about mental illness and how we've experienced it or have dealt with it in others is a pretty fucking heavy thing. I wondered, 'Is that really a road I want to go down?'"—but once he and Tramo finished the album's first two songs, the War on Drugs-meets-Springsteen surge "Synth Driver," and the synthesizer-stacked, disco-tinged pop tune "Oh Darling, My Darling" he knew they were on the right track.
"'Synth Driver' and 'Oh Darling, My Darling' had two very unique grooves to them," Hamilton says. "That was the first marker of success for us. They have these really cool drum feels that affect you viscerally. These songs just opened the floodgates for the rest of the record, basically, and gave us direction as far as where we were going with it, sonically and lyrically."
Indeed, An Epic Battle Between Light And Dark, true to its title, is a dense record predicated on unexpected sonic detours. In addition to its '80s influences, "Oh Darling, My Darling" boasts eerie, soulful harmonies and a keening guitar solo reminiscent of Pink Floyd; "What Does It Mean To Be" is an exquisite example of Bowie-esque glam-funk; and "Bring It In Close" possesses a languid, jazzy cabaret vibe. The record's arrangements, meanwhile, masterfully stitch together disparate influences: The brisk "Fever Dreams" starts and ends with horn-peppered twang-rock—but boasts a sparse, pedal steel-augmented bridge that's straight-up vintage country—while the instrumental "Not In A Million Years" segues from zoned-out psychedelic rhythms and grooves into a hard-charging coda with firecracker-reminiscent electronic effects.
Despite its diverse sounds, An Epic Battle Between Light And Dark is a remarkably cohesive record. Hamilton attributes this to the fact that most of the record was created in one place, Philadelphia's Lorelei Studios—a space that he and Tramo had spent well over a year updating with new gear and a customized layout. "Most of the tunes on the record, the grooves all feel pretty good, and they're all different. They all share a familiarity of making your body want to move a little bit. For me personally, that's a sign of a record I want to listen to."
Hamilton comes by his love of the groove honestly: For starters, he's been drumming since he was five years old. But since 2013, he's also played in the Grateful Dead tribute band Joe Russo's Almost Dead, while in 2014, he was invited to join Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann's new band, Billy & The Kids. For good measure, Hamilton has also played with the Dead's Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart "in various combinations" in recent times, and he was a founding member of beloved jamtronica pioneers Brothers Past.
Being immersed in the Dead universe and songbook in particular had a profound impact on An Epic Battle Between Light And Dark—namely, Hamilton was adamant that the album didn't reflect his extracurricular musical activities. "I didn't want to come out and make a record that sounded like I'd been playing the Grateful Dead's music for the last two years," he says. "If you want to honor somebody that you really look up to or love, or somebody that influenced you, don't imitate them. That's the most insulting thing you could do.
"I don't want to sit there and try to sound like Jerry Garcia, for example—I want to try to forge my own path and to innovate in my own way."
Indeed, Hamilton initially formed American Babies in 2007 as a reaction to prevailing music trends—specifically, the live electronic music boom. He tapped his drummer pal, Joe Russo, to collaborate on American Babies' self-titled 2008 debut, an acoustic-leaning affair indebted to folky singer-songwriters.
In the meantime, Brothers Past had broken up. As a result, he decided to take American Babies more seriously as a creative outlet, releasing two albums, 2011's Flawed Logic and 2013's Knives And Teeth, recorded with an ever-evolving cast of musicians.
"The thing with American Babies I set up from the get-go, is that it would be a rotating cast of people," Hamilton explains. "It's not about who's playing—not even myself. It's about the tunes and the end result, and the record from front to back. I wanted that freedom to be there to change sounds and to evolve, so you don't get stuck where people are like, 'Well, I thought you were this kind of band, so you should play this kind of music or wear these kinds of clothes.'
"The word 'should' is something I've been trying to avoid for the last seven-to-ten years," he adds. "That's a cancer to creativity. I don't want to 'should' do anything."
Hamilton is especially effusive about his current collaborators, which include guitarist/vocalist Justin Mazer, acoustic guitarist/vocalist Raina Mullen and drummer Al Smith. "This current incarnation is wonderful—it's very open-minded people that are always into saying, 'Yes, let's try it,' as opposed to saying no right off the bat," he enthuses. "That's very important to me. I want to be in positive environments creatively, where the mantra is, 'Fuck it, let's try it.'"
By having an ever-changing lineup and adventurous sonic approach, American Babies is a remarkably fluid band which floats comfortably between scenes and genres. That's just how Hamilton likes it.
"Bruce Lee invented his own form of martial arts, called Jeet Kune Do," he says. "The point of it is there's no form to it. There's no set ways of standing; there's no set ways of attacking or defending. It takes the shape of whatever the moment is. And that's what I want the American Babies to be, and that's the way the American Babies are. Wherever the creative itch is at the moment, that's what we are. That's what we do. And that's what we sound like."
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