Stu Hamm

March 14, 2005

What was the first Rush album you ever owned?

Well, I guess it was the one that had "Spirit Of The Radio" on it. Which one was that? I think I got into them pretty late in their career actually.

I know the first one I owned was Signals.

I can't remember the name of the album but I remember the cover was like one of these really stark photographs, black and white and really detailed. That was the first one. Some friends of mine had had some of the early stuff and then I heard the "Tom Sawyer" deal and "Spirit Of The Radio" with the little reggae bit at the end of it on the radio and I really liked it. I think that was the first one I actually ever rushed out and bought.

What was your favorite Rush album?

That would have to be that one probably. I mean I got that and 2112 was pretty good. I'm not as familiar with a lot of the stuff. Some of the stuff on the record I'd actually never heard before so it was fun for me to go back and hear some of the stuff that I'd missed the first time around.

What kind of a musical influence did Rush have on you?

I mean I certainly liked the energy of it and Geddy played that Rickenbacher like Chris Squire did and I remember for a while I had big Taurus bass pedals like he used to have. Just the way that they can get so much sound out of a trio was certainly an influence. I just could never sing quite as high as Geddy could so I passed on the vocal influence. As a bass player, he knew when to lay down. Chris Squire was one of my first real big bass heroes and since Geddy used a pick and played with Rickenbacher, it was a similar kind of thing. Just continuing on. A bit heavier.

It's amazing how three guys can get up on stage and be as powerful as four or five guys. How did you get picked for the tribute CD?

I did a Rush tribute a number of years ago on a different record label and I know Mike Varney quite well who owns a record label called Shrapnel. He also knows Pete Morticelli a lot and does records for him. They just told me about the project and they pitched it to me. I heard about who was playing on it. I heard that Mike Mangini was going to be doing all the drums and I'd just gotten off doing a series of clinics in the northeast with Mike and he's just amazing. I heard they were going to get my buddy Vinnie Moore to play the rhythm guitars and then the names of people that would do it. It sounded like fun and like I said, it really gave me a chance to go back and check out some of that Rush stuff that I missed the first time around.

Did you get to pick the song you did?

They asked me if I wanted to do the whole record and I said "you betcha." Some of them were pretty rearranged. I think it was the brainchild of a producer named Trent Green and so when I got the tracks, I think the guy that arranged it kind of sketched out most of the tunes because he did some rearranging on some of the stuff. He changed some of the intros and changed some stuff around so he laid all of it down. The synthesizers block out the map of the song and then I think there were some rhythm guitars on it. When I got it, it was pretty rough. Just a lot of Mangini's complete drum tracks. That's what I was playing to which is the way that the rhythm section should be. You lay down the bass and drums on the bottom and then let everyone soar over it. When Vinnie started doing the guitars, we emailed some files back and forth and made a few changes. It sounded really good. I had the roughs of just the rhythm section for a long time before I heard all the vocals and leads and even those sounded good. Mangini is such a Peart fanatic. I think unlike myself, he'd grown up playing every one of those songs a million times so he just nailed it.

I was talking to Jani Lane earlier and he said he had been involved in a number of tribute things but none of them was ever as really good as the Aerosmith one or this particular one.

This is a good one. I did some funny ones. I think I did a track on an Alice Cooper record with Vinnie Calailita playing "Billion Dollar Babies". I ended up on one, I think "Dream On" with Yngwie playing guitar. It was just so funny. This one came out really well. I think part of it for me is that I know Mike Mangini is such a Rush freak. He just loved them and it was a lot of fun playing to his drum tracks because they're just slamming. Just awesome. There's a fine line there where I didn't want to make the Geddy Lee purists mad but I just tried to do my own stuff on there a little bit. You pick out what the main groove of the song is and then when it seems to come time where he was playing free, I put my own personality in there. I wanted it to be a little more interesting and a little more myself than just copying exactly his licks.

I think when you do a tribute album, you are paying tribute to this band but yet you need to put your own flavor on there. Hell, everybody already has the songs by the original band.

Absolutely. You've got to make it sound a little different. At least for my self's sake too.

Why do you think that Rush is so influential today?

They just stuck with it. They stayed the course and probably a lot of parents that grew up listening to them when they were teenagers have kids now that are rediscovering them. They're still out there. A lot of those bands came and went or their members disbanded and they joined other bands but they've kept it going strong. They've got a good solid catalog of stuff besides all the obscure stuff that just the real geeks get into. The real hardcore fanatics. They have a staple of good really interesting first tunes. They're part of the whole classic rock set. They're still being played. You still hear them out over the airwaves all the time.

You've done a lot of stuff with Steve Vai. Been in a lot of bands with him.

I have. I first met Steve when we were 18 year old freshmen at the Berklee College of Music which was now over half my life ago. I met him about the second week that I was there and we were buddies. We had a band in Boston and I played on his original demo tapes that he sent to Frank Zappa to get that gig and then moved up to California when he started his solo records. Then we did Flex-Able and Passion & Warfare. I lived at his house and slept on the sofa in his studio for about a year I guess. I've known Steve forever and pretty much through that association I ended up hooking up with Satriani because they were friends that grew up in the same town on Long Island. It's all very incestuous. Small little world this musical community but it's great. Right around that time, those guys, it was really a happening new style of music. It was fun to be part of it. See it just grow from nothing into how popular and successful they've all been.

I love that aspect of it being incestuous because so many cool people wind up working with each other. I was curious as I've listened to people talking about bass playing and for some bizarre reason a number of people feel that it's an uninteresting instrument. What made you pick up the bass as opposed to the guitar?

The bass is ultimately cooler. The musical answer is that the bass has the ultimate power in the band because it's what unites the rhythm and the harmony. If you play it strong enough and you're playing a pop tune, and the bass player messes up and goes to the bridge of a song, it sounds like the song goes to the bridge and everyone else is messing up. There's a great deal of power there but the silly reason is of course that when I was a 13 year old red haired geek, my hair was Danny Bonaducci from the Partridge Family. I had red hair and I was kind of pudgy and I was a geek just like him and he played bass. Where I was living in Illinois, the big thing was high school jazz bands. The high school jazz band at the high school was state champions so in our junior high school, they had two different levels of jazz bands. The A and the B bands. I got my first bass and a book and then started playing jazz. Mostly big band stuff and then started getting into bands and playing with the guys. Just veered into fusion and rock and all that good stuff that I do now.

Of course you got to work with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani a whole lot. Do you get to jam with them every once in a while?

Steve's coming through town and I'm probably going to show up. I might get up and play. See Billy and see those guys and I see Joe from time to time. We played together for years and years and years. We both live in the same town. We bump into each other and I may get up and play the next time they come through town. Not sure.

I was reading an interview that you did and you were talking about how you played on a lot of records where the bass was so undermixed that you didn't even hear it. Why do you suppose that people do that and not make it more prominent?

Cro-Magnum attitudes I guess. It also depends whose record it is. Everyone has a different ear for a mix and that's I think kind of the crime of Pro-Tools where the mix is never done. If you listen to it a week later, you can just call it back up and change the EQ on this or this or this and it's almost better to just let it be gone and be done. In general, it's just that people have a different sense of what they want to hear in the music. Obviously if it's a guitar player's record, he's going to want to hear a lot more guitar. On a bass record you want to hear more bass. I try to be more just general now. I just like the way that at least hearing the bass a little more prominently just really drives the mix. Makes the tune a lot heavier and moves it along.

The bass and drums play really important roles.

They sure do. They lay the bed down. It's all good. It's just the fun of playing bass. For all the solo stuff I do and all that in the music, the best part is just laying down a big fat groove and shaking your head and getting sweat in your eyes and just laying it down. The real physical presence of playing rock and roll is what it's all about.

People tell me that they think playing bass is boring but I see people playing bass and they're having a high old time. They're doing their thumb tapping.

Absolutely. I say good thing that not everyone likes to play bass or thus everyone would be bass players and there would be no drummers or guitar players. I guess that all worked out pretty well.

I think it did at that. What all projects are you working on besides the Rush tribute?

I'm writing for this new record that I have coming out. It's going to be a live record and DVD. Kind of a more melodic thing. Been doing a lot of sessions. A lot of clinics from designing amps for Peavy and I have a guitar that I designed for Fender so they keep me busy going around. I went to a music show in Frankfurt and out and about demoing their gear and going out this summer with a band called The Jaguares that are the top rock group band from Mexico. I've played with them off and on for a number of years and did a few of their records. That's a great band and just a really rocking band. I played for these huge crowds in Mexico with them so that'll be a real fun thing. Just working. I've got a nice steady gig here in San Francisco that lets me be home to see my daughter grow up more than being on the road too often so it's all good. It's working well.

That's really cool. You sound like a really devoted father.

It just changes everything. Obviously it's in my blood and I love to go out. Like I said, this summer going out for three weeks with these guys is even going to be a stretch but it'll be a lot of fun to do. I love playing with that band. They're just such a good band and some of the people know me but I don't have to be Stu Hamm. I can just be a bass player in this band and everyone says "who the hell is the white guy in the band?" No one is asking me to play any of my signature licks but actually a lot of the fans there know me from Satriani and stuff. A lot of bleed over. Three weeks, that's a long time. I like to be home and I get to play five nights a week in this show I'm doing here in the city and just take my daughter to basketball practice and violin lessons and all that kind of good stuff.

I thought that was cool in this one interview where someone asked you what you want to be remembered for and instead of saying a bass player or whatever, you said a good father.

That's it. That's my goal.

Any other thoughts or comments?

I really think the record came out really well. I've heard a lot of these and there's a lot of life in the tracks and it was fun to do. It was a good chance for me to go back and catch all the Rush stuff I missed and it was great talking to you.

Stu Hamm