“Even if you go to our publicist’s site for our band, the whole article is about the other bands from our area that have blown up,” Hall said. It’s like, ‘You can find Joe Hall playing basketball with Ivan Howard from the Rosebuds and jamming with members of Megafaun.’
“It has nothing to do with our music or our sound or what we’re doing musically. It has everything to do with, like, ‘The Triangle is a cool spot and it’s blowing up, so therefore, you should check these guys out.’ That’s how the industry is working.”
The band doesn’t take the lack of label attention personally. The fact is, a Hammer live show sells better than a Hammer album — and if it means building momentum through crowds, so be it.
In five years’ time, best-case scenario, the band sees itself as successful arena-rockers in the vein of Phish, playing extended jams on a stage in front of thousands with an unforgettable light show. This isn’t a garage band’s daydream — this is a master plan the group is putting into action.
“Speaking for myself, I’m confident that it will happen,” Hall said. “I don’t think Jeff (Stickley) or Duncan (Webster) would be as invested as we are unless everybody believed that it would.”
While Hall admits that he’s not a Phish fan, Webster feels the comparison to the stigmatized jam band is apt.
“They’ve never been a commercial success, as far as selling a lot of albums, and the press has bashed them for years,” Webster said.
“At the same time, they can bring thousands of people out to a show and everybody knows every word. They take it and they rock it. It’s so fun, you’re just feeling it and you have a great time.”
Behind the spectacle that is a Phish concert is the lighting engineer Chris Kuroda. Phish endearingly calls Kuroda “the fifth member of the band,” and for fans, he is just as important to the live show as frontman Trey Anastasio.
Go to any Hammer show and chances are Eric Chen will be there, filming or recording. He probably helped set up the show and he probably helped book it. If Hammer has a Kuroda, an unofficial fourth member, it’s Chen.
Drummer Jeff Stickley is quick to correct the notion that Chen serves as the band’s foundation — “No, he’s the roof,” Stickley said.
“He’s basically our record label, and he even wrote us that one time in an email. He was like, ‘Look, I love doing all this stuff for you guys, but where the hell is your label at?’”
Chen helped the band secure upcoming playtime on WKNC and NPR’s “The State of Things” — not for money, but because he’s a fan. He tagged along on the band’s first European tour and he will tag along for round two, paying for it all out of his own pockets. Chen has never taken any compensation other than personal enjoyment for his services.
“They’re in it just because they love making good songs, and that’s something that’s rare these days,” Chen said. “They might not explode off of a release, but they will steadily build a following because they’re good at it.”
Chen’s presence in the music community has given him a reputation among local musicians. When Webster met Scott Carle, drummer for Lost in the Trees, he had only the kindest words to say.
With the thickest southern drawl Webster can manage, he puts on his best Carle and reimagines the encounter.
“‘You stop right there,’” Webster says from Carle’s perspective. “‘You got Eric Motherfucking Chen. Oh my God. That boy’s the titty milk. That boy will never lead you astray.’
Webster’s reply? “Yes sir, Scott Carle.”
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