Nashville duo Hammock is about to release their second full-length of mysteriously beautiful ambient/atmospheric music. Just prior to the release, the band shared some thoughts about music, art, and the creative process behind one of the dreampop scene’s most anticipated releases of 2006.
How have music listeners responded to Hammock since your first release a year and half ago?
Andrew Thompson – We’ve had such positive & gracious response from just about everyone since “Kenotic” came out. It’s really kind of astounding how well received our music has been, especially since we initially had no plans to release any of it. In the beginning it was more of a process of catharsis than anything. Since then we’ve realized that maybe there are people out there who actually do like our artistic meanderings, regardless of any misgivings we may have ourselves.
Marc Byrd – People have told us that it helped them get through the grieving process when dealing with the death of a friend. Some have told us that it makes them notice the world around them more. We’ve received messages from people that said that they have used our music for private times of prayer and meditation. Just last week we got an email from someone who said that they saw a homeless man on the street while they were listening to Kenotic in their car and they began to weep. Most people have said that the music is extremely moving and beautiful and some have said that it’s just plain dull. Either way, it’s humbling.
What was the recording process for “Raising Your Voice…Trying to Stop an Echo”? How was the process different compared to the other Hammock CD’s?
AT – We spent a lot more time going for the right tones & atmospheres to fit each piece this time. We wrote a TON of material, finished recording almost all of it & selected the final tracks from there. The final song selections for this record were very tough to make because we had to cut so many pieces that we both loved. We still have plans for some of these, but it was hard to let them go for the moment.
MB – We had more gear to work with on this one and that helped make the process more exciting. However, this record was a little more difficult for ME to make than our last full length. I was struggling with a lot of insecurity and self-doubt on this one. I think that’s one reason we had so much material. I personally couldn’t feel completely satisfied with a lot of what we did at first. I enjoyed the initial release of putting a fresh idea on tape but after that I found myself second-guessing everything. I don’t like to force anything to happen, especially with Hammock. Hammock is not meant to be some overtly intellectual exercise. Hammock is all about emotion and feeling. Someone said that “thinking people” see the world as comedy while “feeling people” see the world as tragedy. I think there’s a tragic side to Hammock’s music as well as a beautiful side and I have to be deeply connected to both sides in order to make the music of Hammock work for me. Eventually, it all started coming together and everything began to feel natural. Now I think we have a record that is both artistically satisfying and enjoyable to listen to, although I rarely listen to a record after it’s done.
Did having an established fan-base for Hammock affect how you approached “Raising Your Voice…Trying to Stop an Echo”?
MB – The goal is to stay true to the creative process without isolating any of our fans. It’s a lofty accomplishment to strive towards and will never be fully realized. There will always be comparisons between “Kenotic” and “Raising Your Voice” and I understand that. I do the same thing with artists that I like. Keep in mind that a lot of the same expectations our fans expect out of us we already expect out of ourselves—probably more.
AT – I think initially we were more aware of “Kenotic’s” shadow & what sort of expectations that would bring. As we ventured down the road of writing & recording though, we hit a stride that was unique to this record. Once we crossed that hurdle the pieces just seemed to flow quite naturally.
Do you have a philosophy behind how you approach Hammock’s music?
MB – I hope we always approach our music with our hearts on our sleeves and our heads in the clouds. I want Hammock’s music to make me feel like walking through the snow or lying down in the grass to watch the stars. There’s a mysterious quality to our music and if the mystery in Hammock’s music disappears then I will spend my time doing other things that pay more.
AT – I think we both look forward to working on Hammock more than anything else. There’s a sense of space & freedom that is inherent in the way we write & record. There are no rules, no boundaries other than those we impose on ourselves.
How do you choose song titles and the sparse lyrics you use in your music?
MB – The title track for this record comes from an ancient Japanese koan. A title like “Losing You to You” came from a poem by Paul Celan. I guess some titles are influenced by what I read, but most of them come from sitting with a piece and feeling what it makes me feel. I often have a list of possible song titles that I keep throughout the record. With this particular record I think there is a theme of loss that runs throughout the whole thing, a longing to re-live or undo the past, a longing for those who have left and disappeared, a sense of impermanence. Often times the tragic is what makes beauty all the more beautiful. I think this record has that balance.
AT – Marc’s the lyricist & has the gift for packing a lot into sometimes very few words which I think fits the Hammock approach perfectly. We generally use dummy titles for the songs until we go into mastering, and then start pulling out the notebook pages & scraps of paper with song title ideas. Then we have to remember which songs are which after the fact, since we’ve been living with the temp titles for so long! Every now & again one of the work titles will make it through the culling process, but not often.
With the kind of music that Hammock plays, fans are bound to project all kinds of meaning into your music (I think I’m often guilty of that!). What are some of the more interesting stories you can tell about people’s interpretations of your music?
MB – Some people have thought that it was great massage music so it’s being played in several day spas around the country. Overall, our music can fit a lot of different moods so I think the interpretation depends on what each person is going through in their lives when they happen to be listening to our music. The interpretation is open and that’s what is great about instrumental music.
AT – I still find it interesting that our music is used so often to lull people’s children to sleep. I can’t even remember how many times people have commented on the “soothing” effect it seems to have. Who knew?
How does art in general (and your involvement in Hammock) affect your life?
MB – Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” All art, whether it be expressions of despair or symbols of eternal hope needs to come from an intuitive place. I have to stay in that place when working on Hammock or else I’ll feel like we’re faking it. I work on music that is mostly for commerce but Hammock is art to me. If I didn’t have this outlet right now I know I would feel a greater sense of turbulence in my life. Like an overwhelming sunset, art should give you a lump in the throat, a sock in the gut and sometimes a shock to the overall system. When hearing a piece of music, reading a poem or looking at a painting that moves me I always find myself wondering why it can touch me the way it does and where this feeling comes from. There have been times in my life when that feeling, that sense of the ineffable was the only thing that I could believe in. Sometimes that’s all I have.
AT – We use a lot of photography from Thomas Petillo mainly because of the artistic nature of his work. Both Marc & I are extremely influenced by film, music, photography, painting, books, poetry, you name it. I’m not even sure there would be Hammock without those forces so tightly intertwined in what we do. It just seems to work its way out in our music & outlook on life.
What place should art have in the lives of people?
MB – I can’t make a universal statement that applies to everyone. I would hope that art would give people pause, enough of a pause to see and feel things on a deeper level. Art is a luxury—it seems to be a necessary luxury for man. G. K. Chesterton said that out of all the things we know about early man one of the things we know for certain is that man felt a need to paint images on the walls of the caves they lived in. This necessary need to express is a mystery to me. When you see yourself in another person’s creation, when you feel like someone else is putting into words the same feelings that you’ve felt and when a piece of music moves you to tears, that’s the place that art can have in our lives. It should elevate as well as reflect everyday reality. A lot of times everyday reality isn’t pretty and that’s when art can move one to have empathy on others and take action. Outrage is not a negative emotion when directed towards the right things and art can certainly make one feel a sense of outrage. Of course having some kind of understanding of art doesn’t hurt. Most of the time the more you understand something, the more you will get out of it. That’s where education comes in and don’t get me going on that.
AT – It would be nice to see all forms of artistic expression supported in our school systems, but I don’t see that happening under the present regime. I feel it is absolutely essential to provide balance through art & music, to give these kids an outlet to express themselves & to learn that a truly full education is so much more than filling in a circle on a multiple guess test.
How did working with Darla records come about?
MB – Darla has been our best distributor for all of our releases. They offered us a record deal and it just felt like the right thing to do. The negotiating process went smooth and we all went away feeling great about the whole thing. The fact that they signed Robert Guthrie didn’t hurt either.
Have any CD’s stood out to you guys in the last year that you’d recommend for listeners?
MB – Right now I’m enjoying “The Blue Notebooks” by Max Richter. The other cd’s that still stand out for me are “Melancholia” by William Basinski, “When the Detail Lost It’s Freedom” by Brian McBride, “Roger Eno at Lincoln Cathedral” and Richard Butler’s self titled solo record. I loved him in the Psychedelic Furs and I equally love him as a solo artist.
AT – “Takk” by Sigur Ros just blew me away. If you don’t have any Sigur Ros (& I’m sure you do) this would be a great one to start with. Amazingly beautiful!!
What is in the future for Hammock? Also, will you be playing live to support the new CD?
AT – Working on some new material in what little down time we have at the moment, starting to gear up for another edition of the “Sleep-Over” series as well. We may do some live shows for this release, but that’s going to be a whole different beast to tackle in itself!
MB – I’m really feeling the need to take advantage of the fall and winter and try to get some new ideas down before those seasons pass. Now, trying to pull this off live will be a big challenge for us. I’ve had a severe case of stage fright for the last few years when it comes to playing my own material so we’ll see how this goes.
Any other comments?
MB – If you have a choice between absolute justice or compassion—err on the side of compassion.
AT – Pray for Peace & VOTE. NOW! Thanks for being such gracious listeners.