Hamell on Trial: Thunderous guitarist

by McKENNA CARDWELL

The partnership between an artist and their guitar is a classic duo that has claimed the stages of concert venues for decades. The pair is a musical staple, yet when Ed Hamell takes the stage armed with his acoustic guitar, the distinctive music he creates never fails to turn heads, as well as drop jaws.

Highly political and unquestionably passionate, Hamell of Hamell on Trial harnesses the strings of his guitar and the power of his words to construct his quick-witted, punk-rock sound.

Making a career out of music was a move that Hamell approached with an unwavering confidence that can also be found in his songs.

“Looking back now I don’t know why I never questioned it, Hamell said. “There were times when I wasn’t playing much and probably should have, but I just never did. I always knew I was going to make my career out of music. The part I didn’t know was what kind of a career it would be.”

Hamell was aware of the lack of financial security that comes hand-in-hand with starting a career in the music industry.

“I wasn’t completely naïve,” he said. “When I was 14 I worked in a ‘mom and pop’ music store and I learned a lot. I became very cognizant of a great passion for music, and that the sacrifices you make are not really sacrifices if you love what you do.”

After playing in various bands, Hamell became frustrated with the burdens of  working with multiple members and made the decision to try his hand at going solo. He adapted the alias “Hamell on Trial” as a joke title for his first solo act that he thought was going to be a one-time gig. It ended up catching the attention of a major record label.

“They say that your life can change in one phone call,” Hamell said. “And no one was more surprised than I was when I got that call.”

Hamell credits his weekly gig at the Half Moon Café in Albany, NY as the place where he was able to quietly, in front of about 10-15 people per show, develop his sound.

“I tried a lot of different things like incorporating elements of narrative and comedy into my stuff,” Hamell said. “I made a conscious effort to be loud like a band. I missed the bass and guitar, the full sound that you get with them.”

Music provides a creative avenue for Hamell to express his passionate thoughts on anything and everything. Most prominently this means politics, but he also covers subjects on a more personal level.

When Hamell’s 25-year-marriage came to an abrupt end, he turned to the stage of YouTube to deal with the pain and to keep himself occupied. In order to maintain a 30-year sobriety, Hamell wrote, performed and uploaded a different song every day for over a year.

“People ask me how I did it, and I don’t really know how, I just did. Writing muscles are just like any other muscles, where you just have to work them out. It just gets easier as you continue to use them,” Hamell said.

The most well-received among these over 365 songs provided real drafts for the 15 tunes of his most recent album, Happiest Man in the World, released under the label New West Records.

With blunt truth, and hard sense of humor, Hamell on Trial plans on releasing a live album next year, continuing to approach his music with a fearless vigor that just dares his audience to reach a verdict.

“I just finished traveling 28 days on the road with my 14-year-old son, from New York to Washington playing gigs. This is a great thing I get to do and I love my life,” Hamell said.

LIVE SHOW: See Hamell on Trial at the Subdued Stringband Jamboree on Aug. 12. Check him out online at facebook.com/hamellontrial.

Published in the August 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine