Frank Hamilton – Interview
Monday 7th October
I met up with Frank Hamilton, singer-songwriter-extraordinaire from St. Ives, Cambridge, ahead of his headline UK tour, stopping off at Brighton.
Having only been introduced to his music a week ago, and with just a return trip to Cardiff to familiarise myself with his back-catalogue I was very pleased at how many tracks stood out individually as well as part of a great feat of song-writing which is the #OneSongAWeek Album of 2012. He is definitely one to watch out for and catch live before he explodes into the big-time, in the footsteps of similar acoustic breakthroughs like Ed Sheeran and Newton Faulkner.
I ask him about his past, the Song a Week project and what is next in store for Frank Hamilton…
What first got you interested in song-writing when you were younger?
I guess I was a bit of a late bloomer with music. It wasn’t until I heard Blink 182’s Enema of the State album that I really wanted to write songs. I know a lot of people don’t always take them seriously, but I think they wrote some of the best pop songs of the last 50 years.
Was that your most influential album when you were growing up and has that changed now?
Well I still feel like I’m growing up! But Blink 182’s music was and still is a big influence on my music now. Also, Original Pirate Material by The Streets. The colloquial lyrics of Mike Skinner were something that really inspired me and is something I strive for in my songs.
Where did you play your first gigs, both as your own and as a band?
I played some open mics as a solo singer-songwriter when I was in Guildford studying at University. Before that though I played with my first band, Mike’s New Car at a venue called The Boat Race in Cambridge, which is now a posh wine bar!
Do you have any formal music qualifications from school? Did you have any lessons or take any grades?
I took a couple of trumpet grades and did a little bit on the drums, but that was all when I was pre-13 so not much that’s used now, but you never know when things might come around again!
What was your motivation behind your #OneSongAWeek album in 2012?
It started on January 2nd 2012. I’d had a couple of years of being quite musically redundant. I had a record out in 2008 but not much seemed to some from it, but then in December 2011 I released an EP and just promoted it by Twitter and Facebook and it got to number 3 in the iTunes singer-songwriter chart so I thought ‘I need to make the most of this’. I made a couple of calls and started right away.
I think one of the things that stand out about the record is the consistent quality of the tracks, which could understandably have dipped given the vast output in such a short space of time. Did you have a routine for writing the songs? Were you on tour much that year or did you have a set place that you wrote your songs?
Thanks very much. That was what I was going for. There were a lot of tracks which didn’t make the grade. I knew I wasn’t gonna get it right every time so there was just a constant flow of material for a year pretty much. I did a small tour in April 2012 but apart from that most of my songs were written in a small patch downstairs in my lounge. I remember when we played at the Isle Of Wight Festival, I had to take all of my recording equipment with me to the Travelodge and after going out and having a good time I came back to the hotel room and had to get back to work. It was really hard work but it was great fun too.
What was the idea behind the chord and lyrics booklet attached to the #OneSongAWeek Complete record, released in 2013?
Well the Best of #OneSongAWeek was released just before Christmas due to the demand, but the complete version wasn’t released until early 2013 which gave us some time to get the presentation right. We had had a lot of requests for tabs for some of the songs so I just wanted the fans to be able to enjoy the music fully and get what they wanted from the record. Plus by making it a complete package, it brings a sense of closure to allow me to move onto new things too.
You have some interesting collaborations on your record. How did those people get involved? Did you already know them or were they people who just heard of what you were doing and wanted to get involved?
Mostly it was just people who had heard what I was doing! I got a tweet from Ed Sheeran telling me to check out this article in an acoustic guitar magazine, where he had mentioned me and the album and I was chuffed. I replied to thank him and asked him if he wanted to get involved featuring on a track and he did! Then Newton Faulkner’s manager got in touch saying that he wanted to be involved. That was quite tight as it was near the end of the record and we really didn’t have much time to get it done but we managed it.
How did you keep the record so varied? Did you make a conscious effort to make tracks in certain styles or just span out?
It wasn’t a conscious effort. I was just trying new things. I knew that if I was excited by what I was doing then hopefully the fans would be too. It would have been pretty boring if I wrote 52 tracks with the same chord progression with just guitar and vocal tracks. I wanted to try out new things and see what I could do.
Does the album make it easy to track where you were over 2012?
Yeah definitely. It gives me a lot of fragments to piece together the year with. And I have specific memories for each track. Like for example Flaws and Ceilings started out at my parents house in 2011 when I remember just looking up and down and I came up with the line “I’ve got flaws, she’s got ceilings” which started off the whole song.
Do you have a favourite track on the record?
I hate this question! It changes daily really. I could list any number of tracks. I always say it’s like having 52 children and being asked to pick your favourite. One song that I wasn’t too keen on was ‘Tiny Chemicals’. I really wasn’t too sure on that track but it’s a favourite with the fans so I think it will always be a part of the set!
The Summer EP is out now. How did you choose on the cover of the Wheatus Track Teenage Dirtbag for the record?
Well I was asked to do a cover track for Dropout UK and I chose the song because I love it. I started playing it live during the Lucy Spraggan tour and got some positive responses so I tweeted Brendan (singer of Wheatus) to see if he was ok with me recording a version of it and asked if he would like to feature on the track. To my surprise he said yes and asked what I would like him to do. I said the girly part and he was happy to oblige and sent me over the vocal. I was ecstatic.
Are you very involved with the design of your music video, take for example the new single Summer?
This was one of the tracks from the #OneSongAWeek record, week 36. It’s an important song for me because for a while it felt like I was doing a thankless task. I came up with the idea for the video and knew that I wanted to have kids in it. The song is actually about a girl called Summer that I knew in school. A lot of people just think it is about the season. It was important for me to get that out there. I teamed up with Tommy from Speeding Films who managed to pretty much shoot the video with no budget. It’s really hard when a lot of singed artists have such large video budgets but I’m really happy with how the video turned out.
Do you get much time to explore the cities and towns that you tour in?
I wish. I got to go outside for a cigarette, walk to the guitar shop to buy some plectrums and a coffee but that’s about it. It’s nice when you have days off whilst you’re touring but not being on a label means that everything has to be done as cheaply as possible.
What’s next for you when you finish this tour?
A couple of days rest would be nice. I’ve not really had a day off since May so a couple of days to strategise and plan ahead will be great. It’s really important to think to the future in this business. There will be a new record, most likely a studio album, to be released before Christmas.
With such a wide repertoire, do you mix up your set-lists a lot?
Well the band know about 30 of the tracks from the #OneSongAWeek record, plus another 10 or so that we play live, but usually we only can play around 15 songs a night. The hardest thing for me is that sometime people will come to my shows and not get to hear their favourite track! But I think that natural selection helps to craft the sets so hopefully most people leave the gigs happy. When I was half-way through the record I played a 26-song picnic set at Clapham Common to about 50 people. That was great. I’d love to play longer sets and possible the whole 52-track album but I don’t have anything confirmed yet.
Finally, if you had one track to demonstrate your music to someone who’s never heard of you before, what would you choose?
Wow that’s an impossible question. I don’t know what I would choose. I guess Flaws and Ceilings is a song that I think lyrically sums up my style, so I’d go with that.