Tom Hamilton’s American Babies is band, that if you haven’t heard them already, you need change that immediately. If you have listened to them before, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
The brainchild of Tom Hamilton, who also jams with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, American Babies is a terrific band that fuses insightful lyrics, charismatic vocals, and an intoxicating blend of indie rock and Americana.
Recently, we caught up with Hamilton to talk about performing at Jerry Garcia’s 75th Birthday Show at Red Rocks, his new project with Rainia Mullen, and new music for American Babies as he gets set to perform at Jams on the Sand in Asbury Park.
You’re performing at Red Rocks as part of the Jerry Garcia 75th Birthday Concert in August. First, how did it feel to get the invite to a show of this magnitude?
Oh man, I truly don’t have the proper words in my lexicon. At first it didn’t really register. I thought, “Oh yeah, cool. I love these tunes. I love these players. The hang will be great. Awesome, let’s do it.” But then I received a text from a guy I’ve known since I was 11, who was the first real bassist I ever played with. His text [said] how special the Jerry [Garcia] Band was to him, and how proud he is that he’ll get to see me bring that material to life in that setting. It made me realize that there will be a lot of people like my buddy who haven’t seen Melvin [Seals] play since Jerry passed. That’s pretty awesome.
What role will you be playing in this show — opening up, part of a larger jam?
Well, the concert is a celebration of Garcia’s life and career. He had three pretty distinct musical entities; The Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia Band, and his acoustic band. My role will be celebrating the Jerry Garcia Band material with Jerry’s organist, Melvin Seals, and backup singers Jackie LaBranch and Gloria Jones, along with Oteil Burbridge on bass, Duane Trucks on drums, and Kamasi Washington on sax.
You are a veteran musician, but is there any nerves going into a show this big, or is it just another show.
Eh, I get nerves for every show. Big or small. It’s always exciting for me because there are just so many variables and I love being able to walk on stage every time knowing that anything can happen.
You’ve also been involved with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. How important is the music of The Grateful Dead in your life? Is this a band you draw inspiration from, or inspired you in your budding days as a musicians?
Oh, sure. I’ve been listening to The Dead my entire life. My entire foundation and core values as a musician are owed to them. The quest for excitement on any given night and the willingness to go for something big even if there’s a solid chance it’ll crash and burn. I couldn’t imagine doing it any differently. This is all applied in a general mindset sort of way. Whereas if one were to listen to my original music, I would be shocked if they thought it reminded them of the Grateful Dead as all.
You’re doing a handful of shows with Holly Bowling coming up — can you talk about working with her as musician, and what she adds to an American Babies live show?
Holly is great and she’s one of my favorite musicians to play with. She listens so well and we have wonderful conversations on stage. I’m always super stoked when we get to do shows like this.
You recently announced a new project with Raina Mullen — can you talk about the impetus of this project, and what we can expect from it both sonically and in terms of records/tours?
To be honest, it was kinda of an accident. I was booked to play an acoustic set at a charity gig and I’m not the biggest fan of playing solo. So I asked Raina if she would be into playing rhythm guitar for me. She knows the material, knows how I improvise, and has a killing voice. It was an easy ask.
I didn’t want it to be some cutesy guy-and-girl-singing-love-songs thing. This goes back to my previous answer regarding the quest for excitement and pushing the envelope. So we ran our acoustic guitars through a bunch of effects, and washed out our voices a bit in reverb to give ourselves a texturally complex palette to work with.
We wrote down a list of tunes we thought would lend themselves to being explored in this setting and then hit the stage. There was a solid chance that we crashed and burned, but instead we found ourselves doing some truly wonderful playing. I definitely will be looking to do a few more of these special shows in the future.
Is there any new American Babies music on the horizon?
For sure, there’s a whole bunch of new stuff that I’ve started to work on. I don’t really have a timeline, though.
What are your plans for the rest of 2017?
I’m going to take it relatively easy for the rest of the year. I had been going non-stop since around March of 2014 and by the time I got to January of 2017 I was on my last leg. I was burnt out musically, socially, and emotionally and I needed to slow it down. So here we are. I’ve been home more than I’ve been in years. I get to be the weird guy who eats at his favorite diner for breakfast every day. Spend quality time with my cats. And, most importantly, work on new material in my new studio. I’d love to start recording a new album by Fall. That’s as far as I’ve thought ahead.