Interview with Duncan Webster and Jeff Stickley of Hammer No More The Fingers
Durham, NC rock trio Hammer No More the Fingers (photo L-R: Joe Hall, Duncan Webster, Jeff Stickley) plays Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar in Charlottesville this Saturday, June 30. Their excellent new release, a 5-song EP entitled Pink Worm, is some of the best new indie rock to come out this year. I recently caught up with bassist/singer Duncan Webster and drummer Jeff Stickley during a pensive Sunday morning stroll on the day after the Annual Daniel. We chatted about the following topics.
On what a person seeing Hammer for the first time should expect:
Jeff: A pleasant surprise, hopefully. Good musicianship. We want to make you think differently about rock n' roll.
Duncan: I hope when people see us it will be like us seeing They Might Be Giants for the first time, or hearing The Pixies for the first time.
On what it's like being in a touring rock band with a funny name that plays all original songs:
Duncan: We do everything pretty much traditional style. We don't pay too much attention to online stuff. The only way we really know how to do it is the very 90's way of touring, or 70's way, just going around and playing shows.
Jeff: I think people have lost a lot of faith in new rock. I ask people what's a new rock band you like? And no one knows. They're like ‘Radiohead?’ People say ‘I don't listen to new rock; it's not what comes my way’. I think being a rock band, although in a lot of ways it's the best, it's just kinda out right now. I'm not sure if that's true or not but it feels like it is. Nobody's like ‘Aw man this rock band! They play their own instruments and write their own songs!’
Duncan: The more we do it the more our minds are open. If we all of a sudden blew up I don't know how I'd feel about that. I might get cold feet. We're very relaxed people. When we don't put too much thought into it and just play we have a good time with it and that's when we feel more confident. Even if there's just 5 people there - it's like who cares? We're in it to have a good time in the end. It sounds cliché but it seems like the more we do it apparently that's the reason. I can't sell a CD to save my life or say ‘Come check out the merch table’. I feel slimy doing that sort of thing. Or ‘Come buy a t-shirt’. You really do have to not only be a good musician but be a good salesman, good businessman, these days. I just don't care about that part of it. I just want to play music and hang out with my girlfriend, go hiking, ride my bike.
On the dynamic of the three instruments (guitar, drums, bass):
Duncan: I feel like it's all we need most of the time. Sometimes I hear little things in my head but we can always emulate it by singing it or doing some weird harmony thing, or loops or something like that.
Jeff: We have a really even relationship. No one's just playing a role, you know? We're all this equilateral triangle filling the same amount of space with our person.
Duncan: Everybody has their part where they hold back and where they go nuts, but it all happens at different times. Our songs, when we practice, we try to get every little detail right. We're really meticulous about what we do. We realize our limitations but we really try and make it as interesting to us as possible.
Jeff: We like to rock. We like to do a lot of things, but we still like to rock a lot. Which is a really awesome thing.
Duncan: I don't think we can write a song without some time in the song it not rocking out. Not the entire song, but it has to get there at some point. We practice on so many different songs and if it's not getting there to that point then we don't really follow up with it.
On comparing their 2009 debut Looking for Bruce to 2012’s Pink Worm:
Jeff: Definitely a progression. Looking for Bruce is a pretty raw, live sounding album. We've made another full length since then (Black Shark). We produced Pink Worm a little more. It's a little bit more lax, but it's also a little bit more produced.
Duncan: As far as the songwriting, it's definitely more complex.
Jeff: I think we've actively tried to do something different. We're always thinking about our songs and the structure that pop songs are written by. We're just trying to do something different and not be confined by that stuff. The new material is different so we're just trying to adapt to that and make it as interesting and as easy to listen to as possible.
Duncan: One thing I've realized is that a lot of our songs for a while had three parts - verse, chorus, bridge - and I realized recently that you could do a song that's just two parts, or one part, and just like really build on it. The song Kilowave, every part that you hear of it sounds like a new part.
On Songwriting Inspirations/Influences:
Duncan: With the lyrics it’s stuff I read. I'll read something and let it take me there. Lyrics are usually three quarters really about something - about a topic - and the rest is...
Jeff: There's so single motivation to the writing.
Duncan: Have you heard of this house in California, in San Jose, called the Winchester Mystery House? The Winchester family - Winchester rifles. This lady (Sarah Winchester) was a widow - Mr. Winchester and her daughter died and she kind of freaked out and saw a psychic who told her that she was going to have evil spirits living in her house. But what you need to do is keep building your house and don't stop, don't ever stop and always have construction going on in your house. Not only that but make weird passageways so that the ghosts get lost in these passageways and don't come and haunt you. Construction workers were working on this house 24 hours a day. That's one of the many stories that I like to read. That's probably the next thing I would write about, but not make it totally about ‘the lady in the Winchester House’ (singing), but just get really weird with it.
On a band or artist they are currently obsessed with:
Duncan: Yellow Magic Orchestra. A Japanese band from the late 70's, early 80's. Some of the first techno music. A little like Kraftwerk but a lot more complex. They did a lot of video game music after Yellow Magic Orchestra parted ways, like the music in Street Fighter. Pretty similar to that sort of thing. Key changes are everywhere and the melodies are so strong. There's a lot of classical elements. They also sing in French a lot and it has this sort of French suaveness to it.
Jeff: The only stuff that I've been listening to that's kind of new to me is really old Stanley Brothers, which is just the best because a whole band plays around one mic and there's no isolation to anything. It's the truest music you know? Not a single thing is separated or overdubbed. I've been really liking that. I don't really have too much new stuff that I'm super into.