Iconic Aussie rock ain't dead, just ask Northern Rivers firebrands Hammers who have pulled off the near impossible in 2017: writing a heap of thrashing rock for their brand new album and surviving a significant line-up overhaul. But if anything, the changes that rocked Hammers this year have decidedly strengthened the quartet, resulting in a controlled evolution into slightly heavier ventures, while still retaining their signature thumping party-rock that's endeared them to their devoted audiences for all these years.
Now poised to totally annihilate the new year, Hammers are closing out 2017 with a brand new music video, a coveted support slot alongside legendary pro-rockers Cog, plus a whole lotta crushing new music on the horizon. And along for the ride in the brand new line-up is Queensland legend Lucas Stone, previously of Helm and Tension fame, who took some time to chat killer riffs, balancing business with pleasure, and knocking back the Americanisation of Aussie rock and roll.
TIANA SPETER: Hi Lucas, thanks for your time today, I'm very excited to talk to such a Queensland legend. So, 2017 has actually been a bit of an interesting year for you and the band Hammers itself - I believe your first actual show with them was in September this year on the Gold Coast?
LUCAS STONE: Yeah, as an official member. I did some session work for them while I used to play in a band called Helm, and Hammers was a band we used to get for supports a lot. We were mates over the years and I ended up doing a bunch of session work for them as a bass player cos they lost their bass player, just to help out so they could keep playing shows. And I was never "in" the band....I ended up co-writing and producing a song for them in the studio, still not in the band. And then they had a bit of a change up with their members and by that stage we were all pretty good friends, and I kind of got asked to have a bit of a goof off around sort of thing and I ended up saying yep and committing. The guy that ended up playing bass was also a really good friend of mine, we lived together and stuff for ages so he ended up stepping into the permanent duties and...it's hard to explain, really, but it all sort of just happened! We were all mates first, and this is what happened!
TIANA: It's quite a nice organic transition then, you not being a total random stepping into an established group, you would've already had a feel for it which would've made life a bit easier.
LUCAS: I used to just love getting Hammers as a support band for Helm because they put on such a good show. Leigh (Leigh 'Fish' Dowling - vocals) is one of the best front-men I've ever seen as far as performing goes, and being a front-man myself, I'm a pretty harsh critic, but I'm happy to play second-fiddle to a dude like that - he's amazing. So it came together pretty easy, yep!
TIANA: With the fact that Hammers also have a bit of new music kicking around now as well, were you able to have a bit of creative input into that?
LUCAS: Yep, that's definitely my thing I suppose. I'm writing songs, I've re-worked a couple of the other ones that we've decided to keep as a band, and then just ripping in to churning out music for the band now and putting them together. It's been a really good process, I bring the riffs and the ideas and then we get together on it and just party (laughs).
TIANA: You are quite well-known for your brutal riffs, and it's been exciting to see a slight change in the Hammers sound, but without losing what the band is.
LUCAS: Yeah, you don't wanna lose that party-rock vibe that Hammers has always carried. It is hard at times, I suppose, because I'm always geared towards writing darker or heavier sort of stuff. But at the same time I love my rock, and I grew up on bands like early Queens of the Stone Age and stuff like that....I think that Hammers have always held that southern rock/stoner vibe. It's really easy to slide into it and have a ball, so you kind of get a nice little blend of the two, I reckon; I can sort of bring the heaviness into it but not make it like a domineering aspect of it, it's just a bonus towards the end of a song or towards certain parts and the rest of the stuff can kind of sit in that rock world. It's all about the riff really! We're all massive guitar-heavy fans across the board, so it's easy to come up with those fun riffs and Leigh can do his thing, and we can get together and come up with some cool lines and vocal structures. It's good stuff, good fun.
TIANA: That's one thing that's so endearing about Hammers, it does rock pretty hard but it doesn't sit there brooding with everyone taking themselves super seriously, which I think can happen a lot. So I love that aspect of it.
LUCAS: Yes, 100%! Well I think on that subject, for me as a songwriter and the person that's always previously been the front-man delivering his product, it's almost a cathartic process where you're just dealing with yourself, or a side of yourself that you don't generally share. So most of the stuff I've released in the past has been dark and mysterious and hard to, sort of, relate to straight away. Whereas this band is more like me as a person, and all of us as mates and blokes, so it's a lot more of an honest....or more direct kind of element. Instead of getting up there and getting a chance to let all your shit out, this is just us having a ball, continuing into the night, if that makes sense (laughs).
TIANA: Oh, absolutely! The new single 'Dead Set' just made me want to crack a tinnie as soon as I heard it.
TIANA: And I know Hammers in the past have had some pretty epic supports with band like The Screaming Jets and King Parrot just to name a few...but also something exciting coming up is that you guys are going to jump up with Cog on some shows very, very soon. What are you guys feeling about that one?
LUCAS: It's really fun and really good for Hammers, it's nice for the first year of us being a band with this line-up, and coming out of 2017 into 2018 with those lads. For me personally, I shared the stage with Cog quite a few times when I was a young fella, we're all sort of the same age and this is the first time as mates we get to do it again 20 years down the track! I think the last time I played or toured with Cog was in Tension, my band before Helm and that was, bloody, 2002 or something? 2002, or 2003. So yeah, a long time ago!
TIANA: Well it definitely seems to be a nice fit, and a nice trip down memory lane perhaps too! It's gonna be awesome, I'm so jealous!
TIANA: On that note, you're closing out 2017 with these killer shows, but you guys have also recently released your new single 'Dead Set', which is the first taste of new music from the upcoming Hammers new album. It's a bit of a stomper, I feel like there's quite a heavier tone here...is that your element shining through?
LUCAS: It's a collective effort at the end of it. I suppose so, it is one of my songs...I can write that stuff but it still takes the vibe of the band as a unit. Fish has definitely got a unique and abrasive vocal tone, and has a great scream and stuff. but me and him have worked really hard on just being as close to us as people that you meet in the street in this music than we ever sort of have, that's been our whole direction with this new stuff and I think you can hear it in Dead Set - it's very easy as young Australians, you grow up and write music and a lot of it tend to be very Americanised and that sort of stuff...and I've always been pretty staunch with trying to sound as close me as a person as possible. And now that Fish and I have got together on this stuff, we've been able to really sort of go "well, righto. How would we f*uckin say this as dudes?". And then it kind of comes out in a way where...it's honest. It's about as real as it's gonna get, you've got like a sound that kind of blends unintentionally.....you can pull aspects of bands like Every Time I Die and The Bronx and then go right back to bands like Rose Tattoo - if you can imagine throwing all those bands into one room, it's kind of like that...
TIANA: I've never before uttered this phrase, but Dead Set is legit "true blue". And that's f*cking awesome.
LUCAS: Yes, I reckon the best Aussie bands sound uniquely Australian, you know, like when you mention Cog, they're a perfect example right back to bands like Midnight Oil. That whole Australian spirit kind of tends to get lost a little bit with bands that come out of the country because everyone's competing in an international market and you tend to adopt sound that aren't naturally yours...but with all of us guys, we're all between early 30s and 40s so we don't need to f*ck around anymore, we wanna do what we wanna do, exactly as we wanna do it. And if that's the most honest portrayal of what we're doing, then that's what we're doing.
TIANA: For yourself, you're no newcomer to the music world, what are your thoughts on the current state of the industry, especially on a local level? You would've seen so much change in such a short space of time...
LUCAS: Yeah.....it's been pretty crazy. I think I started playing and touring in bands when I was about 15, I used to get escorted into the venues and back out again. And I watched, like when I was a grommet and going into the scene, you could tour like from a Wednesday to a Sunday night through the week, and you play on a Wednesday night at your local....but you play on a Wednesday or Thursday night back then and have like 200-300 people there. These days, it's very different. So over the course of 20+ years of being in and out of the scene, I've had it at its kind of best and watched it fade out into this social media-fuelled scene. And as well, the social structure of people in general has changed a lot...people don't seem to make the physical effort to enjoy your core kind of entertainment that we used to. People have actually changed, the intention of a human and whatever it is that drives you to entertain yourself has changed direction. It's been a pretty big experience, I don't really have the same hunger to go out and tour like I used to because I don't think it's the same kind of climate. I've had to reinvent myself a bunch of times over the years to make stuff valid and actually get it heard, and this is no exception going into this band...we're trying to make better decisions, but at the same time I don't really want to think about the business side of it too much, I just want to write f*ckin riffs and have a ball, and that's kind of what's driving this whole thing. As soon as I stop having fun then I need to question what it is and why I'm doing it, and the industry has that kind of effect I think on artists. You kind of have on one hand this need to write music and this need to produce stuff that you enjoy, and on the other hand you've gotta control this little business that isn't really built for business. It's a bit of a balancing act, and you constantly change to suit the climate. It wasn't something I guess I expected, cos I kind of finished up Helm and was very settled on the idea of not having to play or slog it out anymore, but this is just too much fun. I'm having too much fun writing riffs and I can't deny it, so you just go "f*ck it" let's just do it again but try and do it a bit smarter.
TIANA: One thing I always like to ask people, especially given that your songwriting and tone is on the heavier side....are there any bands or artists that you listen to in your downtime that may surprise people who know you for a particular type of music? Or is it all pretty obvious?
LUCAS: I do listen to everything, there's no genre-based decision on music....I'm absolutely in love with Lianne La Havas. I actually am in love with her (laughs). She's amazing, but I am predominantly a heavy music listener. I like, even as far as the darker sort of stuff, people like Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly, the guys from Neurosis and some of the stuff they do on the side, that's pretty special stuff. I like my country influenced stuff as well, especially as I get older. But yeah, man...too many to mention I guess!
TIANA: Well I'm so excited to see what comes out when the new album drops and with these tours, and to see what Hammers have up their sleeves for 2018. It's gonna be a wild ride by the sound of it! Thanks so much for your time!
HAMMERS BRAND NEW MUSIC VIDEO FOR 'DEAD SET' IS OUT NOW - CATCH IT BELOW AND FOR ALL OTHER HAMMERS INFO HEAD TO: www.facebook.com/HammersOfficial
BY TIANA SPETER