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Progressive Rock Interviews

Hammers of Misfortune

Interviewed by Mike Korn
Interview with John Cobbett of Hammers of Misfortune from 2004
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2004 Year Book Volume 3 at

I see the roots of the Hammers go back to a band called Unholy Cadaver, which sounds real death metalish. Can you explain a little about the background of Hammers and tell us exactly who is in the band now?
Unholy Cadaver was originally a solo ambient project of mine, hence the weird name, which was centered on the idea of producing an "opera". As I recruited musicians and singers for this project, a metal band started to form around it. The "opera" eventually became our first album: "The Bastard" and the band eventually became Hammers Of Misfortune. The current line-up is myself (guitar, vocals), Chewy (drums), Mike Scalzi (guitar, vocals), Sigrid Sheie (organ, piano, vocals, etc.) and Jamie Myers (bass, vocals).

MSJ: I've heard Hammers of Misfortune described both as a band and a "project". Which term do you think is the better description?
We are both a band and a project. We behave like a band: playing shows, touring, putting out records etc. but I like to look at it as a long term project, focused on producing the finest musical legacy we possibly can.
MSJ: The material on "August Engine" sounds like it would be very difficult to reproduce live. How do you handle that aspect and, in fact, do you play live frequently?
We have 4 singing voices, 2 guitars and keyboards to work with live. It's almost like having a small orchestra. We can reproduce pretty much whatever we want to live. Of course, we also have to perform a significant chunk of our first album as well. We play live pretty often. Usually we'll do a rash of shows around the Bay Area or a small tour, and then take a few months off to write and/or record.
MSJ: The medieval feeling from this music is tremendous. How do you achieve this feeling? Does it come naturally to you or do you have to work really hard?
We don't really try to sound "medieval" at all. I guess that must come naturally. It's part of our style perhaps, or could be due to the use of acoustic instruments in places. We like a lot of traditional folk/bluegrass music, and classical too. Maybe that has something to do with it!
MSJ: A lot of that medieval feeling comes from the vocal patterns, which sound unlike anything else in metal today. Are those vocals based strictly on ancient sources?
Actually, to me the vocal patterns are more along the lines of early Van Halen, Sweet, Beatles and classical music again. So yeah, those are pretty ancient sources I guess. We are a "vocal group" in a sense, so we like to do cool stuff with vocals.
MSJ: Some of your music has the really epic feel of old Rush, especially "August Engine Part 2". Would you agree that they are an influence on you and what are some of your other "rock" influences?
I loved Rush as a kid, also Kiss, Sweet, Aerosmith, Bowie, Beatles, Van Halen (the classic line-up only), Scorpions (the Uli Roth years only!), Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy etc. I'm not sure how much of this creeps into the music. I often try to stay "un-influenced" when writing.
MSJ: "The Trial and the Grave" is one of the most mournful songs I have heard. What was the lyrical inspiration for this depressing tale? For some reason, the lyrics reminded me of the story of Joan of Arc.
That's interesting! I didn't have Joan Of Arc in mind at all when writing those lyrics. It's kind of a story about going mad, or watching a part of yourself dying.
MSJ: Is there a concept running through "August Engine" and what exactly does that name mean?
The concept is there, but it's very abstractly presented. It has motifs that recur throughout, and was meant to be left open to interpretation. The "august" in August Engine doesn't have anything to do with the month of August. The word is used in its adjective sense. If the album is a conversation between a microcosm and a macrocosm, then the august engine would be the macrocosm, and the voice that sings the title track.
MSJ: From where do you draw the majority of your lyrical inspiration? "Rainfall" sounds like it could be a musing on both drops of rain and the mingling of human lives. "A Room and a Riddle" sounds almost Poe-like in some ways.
Well, you got Rainfall right. That song is a metaphor about lives and fates as drops of rain. "A Room and a Riddle" is also a metaphor about life, and Poe's poetry is some of my favorite!
MSJ: Do you think Hammers of Misfortune can break through in the American market? It would seem that Europe would be more predisposed to your style.
I don't know about the American market. We do OK when we play live. For lack of a better way of putting this: it seems that metal types, indie kids, stoner rockers, prog rockers and crusty punk types all come to our shows around here. At this point I should apologize for using such crass, pigeonhole terms to describe our audience. What I'm trying to say is that we attract a pretty diverse crowd. It's pretty cool to see that there are still a lot of open-minded people around. Of course, in San Francisco and Oakland it's one thing. I'm not sure how open-minded people are elsewhere.
MSJ: What future plans do you have for the Hammers?
We want to tour The States, Europe and Japan. In fact, we are trying to figure out how to set all of this up. If anyone has any ideas, let us know. Also, the material for our next album is well underway, and I hope that we can record it before the end of '04.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought for your own enjoyment?
Pelican, "Australasia".
MSJ: What was the last live show you saw for your own enjoyment?
Asunder with High On Fire in San Francisco.
MSJ: Any Spinal Tap stories concerning HoM you'd care to relate?
Every day is a Spinal Tap story.
MSJ: Any last messages for the fans out there?
Thanks to everyone who has supported us! We hope to see you on tour this year sometime. We own and maintain our own website at Please pay us a visit. Sometimes the site is down, if it doesn't work at first try back later!
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