Jason had the wonderful opportunity to chat with the legendary Stuart Hamm ahead of his performance at the Mod Club this Sunday, July 28th.
JR: You’re coming to Toronto on July 28th. What can you tell me about the SkolHamm Asylum band?
SH: Many, many years ago, I guess 1991, that was sort of the peak of my fame or notoriety or whatever, and I sort of had a quasi-hit in the song “Lone Star,” with Eric Johnson – actually got like AM radio play and all that kind of crap. And so I was putting a band together, you know, this the ancient days of like record company tour support. These sorts of terms that don’t actually exist anymore.
JR: [Laughs.] Yeah, what are you talking about?
SH: Yeah. Retainer? Right, there’s another one – we’ll pay you not to take every gig, what a concept! And so, I was looking for a guitar player, and I auditioned like every friggin’ hair guitarist – I won’t name any names. But you know the usual cast of characters, right? So, they all showed up, and I auditioned them all on “Lone Star,” and they all played Eric Johnson’s solo note for note. If you go hear Joe (Satriani) and Steve (Vai) in concert, the solos are like composed, right? They’re playing the same solo every night. That’s some boring shit, man. It really is. So, Alex Skolnik showed up, and he was the only one that played his own solo, and I was like, ‘You’re hired!’ Because my music – it’s strange – all the rock dudes think I’m like a jazz fusion guy, and all the jazz fusion guys think I’m a rock guy. After a number of years, I decided – I hadn’t toured for a while, and I called up Alex; we hadn’t seen each other in twenty years, and we got together and played. He’s one of my best friends. He’s such a smart, inquisitive dude, and he always reads as much as I do. You know, I played with Joel a lot here in L.A., and we’ve got a couple of little runs. The reason I called it SkolHamm was just because I wanted to get more of Alex involved, rather than just having him be in my band, and you just draw more people when there’s a guitar player’s name on the bill.
JR: Oh, for sure. So what kind of material will you be playing?
SH: We’re doing some of my tunes and some of Alex’s tunes and some tasty covers. No one can play every genre well, but I like to surround myself with guys that have a really diverse musical vocabulary, especially the drums. On a rock gig, the drummer’s only job is to play the part. They don’t necessarily have to listen. So you’ve got to get a guy that knows what’s involved. Joel’s played great. We’ve played these songs a million times and they’re still different every time, which is what keeps it interesting for me.
JR: I like that style. It is a little bit more open to something new happening. I always felt that when you were with Satriani the band felt that way to me. The first few times I saw you guys with Jonathan Mover on drums just seemed like it was more exciting and less predictable.
SH: If you listen to Joe’s records, the rhythm section is pretty static. It’s basically a drum machine and the bass part is just doubling the eighth notes of the guitar players. And compositionally, you’ve seen why that works. If you’re trying to do rock, you know your bass part. You don’t show up at a pop gig and do all that “Pork Chop Express” stuff. You’ll be driving back to Guelph before you know it. In composing my songs, if there’s a rippin’ guitar solo – in that style of music, you’ve just got to lay it down. So, it’s just finding the right balance of what works for the song and then picking a set where some music is played this way and some of it’s played in a way that keeps us interested and keeps the audience interested.
JR: Right. Now, when you’re getting ready for these tours, I would assume like your practice is probably more project-based now than it is anything else? Or do you still find time to try to develop new stuff?
SH: I’m always trying to. It certainly takes longer to warm up, as I get older. I got to admit that. If I take the time to warm up and stretch and I feel comfortable, I have a great time. When the equipment’s right and the strings are right and everything’s working – it’s happened like four times in my life, but those four times were really fun, you know? So, I’m always trying to recapture that and try to enjoy it. Right now, like I said, I’m just sort of backed up with a bunch of recording projects, which is good. Next week, I’ll start listening to the tunes and playing over them, but we like to keep it fresh. We’ve played these songs before. I mean, I imagine if I was thrown on stage tonight like in one of those nightmare dreams you have, I could probably play half of Satriani’s set and not miss a note, you know. Just from memory.
JR: Tell me about the new amp: the new Mark Bass S.T.U. Amp 1000.
SH: I talked with the Mark Bass guys for a while. I think the first time I met Marco was when BX3 played the B.B. King’s in New York, and there was Marco showing Jeff Berlin how to unhook the horn from a little mini Mark Bass amp. The guy went from literally selling electronic gear out of his truck to cornering fifty percent of the bass market? Forty? Sixty? Somewhere in there, right? So I met with those guys, you know, I’ve known them for a long time. Sisinio is the engineer. Great, crazy guy. Just a freak about amps as I am about basses. I can’t talk electronics or capacitors or any of that. When I try to design a product that has my name on it, I want it to be – I’m looking at my amp longingly, but the way – I want it to be unique, not just like slap your name on a P bass. And also fill a market place void. You can’t really bring a 4x10 to a rock gig and you’re too old to carry Ampeg 8x10s, right, so cabinet-wise, there’s got to be something in the middle with all the innovations and neodymium and what Aguilar did lightweight cabs and stuff, right? They sold me on that idea. They had this cabinet with two 15s in it, and I was like, no, 15s are going to be mushy. But whatever they did, the definition of the 15s is amazing, and it has a low end that just, you know, when I plug in some of the old gear, it just sounds a little nasally. So really full, easier to carry, a nice size, and bigger than a 4x10. When it’s rock, it’s got to look cool, right? So I thought the kiddies would like something with big knobs and bright lights!
SkolHamm Asylum hits the Mod Club in Toronto on Sunday July 28th.
And keep your ears and eyes open for "The Pork-Chop Express," the new single from Jason Raso, featuring Stuart Hamm and Marito Marques! Coming soon!
Interview transcribed by Andrew Jacob.