Hammer rocks out on Terrace

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March 18, 2008

3:51 PM

__Hammer No More jammed for two 45-minute sets last week__

p. Considering the typical concert experience for Hammer No More The Fingers, a rock band native to Durham, N.C., Fridays @ 5 on the UC Terrace last week made for an unusual — if not more relaxed — setting.

p. “There’s usually alcohol involved,” Joe Hall, the band’s guitarist and back-up vocalist said of their events. The group’s native music scene is actually shared between three cities in North Carolina — a triangle of Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh — and is home to a number of lively clubs and venues frequented by the band.

p. “Today’s a bad example. We usually go nuts,” Duncan Webster, bassist and lead vocalist, said.

p. The group, which also includes drummer Jeff Stickley, has played both together and separately in several other bands since high school in Durham. While early efforts were mostly local, their latest venture has taken them to cities like Philadelphia, New York and even as far as Bloomington, Ind.

p. “This is the first time we’ve had goals,” Webster said. The band released its first EP this November, earning them the “band-to-watch” pick on stereogum.com (a music news site) and is currently planning for a full-length release.

p. The band carried their newfound enthusiasm through on stage. The set began with what sounded like tuning as each member fiddled with various chords and beats.

p. “We’re happy to be here, you guys have a beautiful, beautiful place,” Webster said into the microphone, before hammering into the first chords of the show.

p. The band was in full swing from the start, delivering a powerful sound for a three-piece. Individual songs moved with remarkable ease between grunge-riffs, funk-inspired grooves and delicately crafted licks, showcasing the trio’s knack for shifting styles.

p. But what ties the band together might be Webster’s strained yet agile vocals, as he fearlessly communicates a sense of emotional urgency while straying into the lighter side of his lyrics. During power-house songs like “O.R.G.Y,” he explores the top range of his vocals as he sings about a scandalous Friday evening: “Everyone, everyone / Get in a circle / O.R.G.Y. / I came to do it / Sweaty, naked bodies.”

p. Off-stage, the three come across as rather unconventional indie rockers, sporting flannel shirts and faded jeans and citing groups like Nirvana and They Might Be Giants as key musical influences.

p. The best way to describe their approach might be that simple phrase “old school,” as the band not only expressed its affinity for the tried-and-true methods of artists like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, but also its gripes with the current music scene. The success of indie rock acts like Vampire Weekend, who earned fame through explosive internet hype, was of particular concern to the group.

p. “Yeah, we’re bitter,” Hall said, regarding the fortuitous success of Vampire Weekend.

p. In a more positive aside, however, Stickley said that such success stories “kind of give you hope.”

p. Webster also expressed his appreciation for groups like Deer Hoof and Animal Collective — two of the more avant-garde indie rock bands.

p. The real issue with indie rock lies in Hammer No More’s old fashioned approach to the industry. They emphasize a fierce dedication to live shows and meticulous work ethic as their greatest strengths. According to Andrew Blass, a producer at the label Power Team, the trio played 100 shows in their first 13 months together; they expect to top that number this year.

p. “Everybody who’s ever been famous has played shitholes,” Webster said referring to artists like Springsteen, expressing the notion that a lucky break through the blog world might be counterproductive for the band.

p. “We want to build this from the ground up. A [major] label might destroy us at this point,” Hall said, adding that he “loves playing shitholes.”

p. The other side of their distaste for indie rock is their shared love of ’90s rock acts like Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Webster described his influences as anchored in the music he loved while growing up.

p. “They made ugly music sound beautiful,” Webster said about Nirvana.

p. The ultimate goal for the band is to make a living from their music, something that the members have committed to accomplishing in the long run. For now, they are content with sleeping in cars while on tour and endlessly polishing their songs.

p. “For a start-up label, you couldn’t ask for a better band,” Blass said. “Their live performance is the best part of their publicity.”
Blass and his wife Danielle make up the second band on the label, called Red Collar, and know Hammer No More from playing shows together. After leaving their previous label, Blass and his wife started Power Team with Hammer No More in mind, signing them in June 2007.

p. “Their enthusiasm blew us away,” Stickley said. The five members go out each week to discuss the label’s direction over a few drinks, making for a more relaxed work experience.

p. “The road to making [their music] a financially stable career takes a lot of time and dedication, and they have a lot of that,” Blass said.

p. The band’s upcoming album, set for release this May, will include all seven songs from their EP plus four new tracks.

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