Life On The Road / 11 January 2019

Page Hamilton on Heroes, Compositions and Work Habits

Page Hamilton and MONO go way back. We first showed our products to Page at the 2007 NAMM show, and it’s been MONO or nothing ever since.

Page is most well-known as the founder member, band leader, vocalist and guitarist for NYC’s legendary alternative metal band Helmet. But his exploits don’t stop there – he’s scored for half a dozen independent films, played guitar for Elliot Goldenthal’s film scores like Heat and S.W.A.T, and he played lead guitar for David Bowie on the “Hours” tour as well. The list goes on!

We caught up with Page and talked about his musical heroes, composing for films, and the inspirations that keep him ticking.

What was the moment that made you want to be a musician?

There were two big events for me. The first was being cured of car sickness when a song by America called “Horse With No Name” came on the radio in 1971. The second was when I traded one of the two copies of a Rod Stewart album I’d gotten as Christmas gifts for Led Zeppelin lV. I liked the cover! “Black Dog” started and my entire world changed. I had to play guitar.

Who were/are your musical heroes?

Local (Medford, OR) guitarist Kurt Bosworth from a band called Wisdom Star was my first guitar hero – cool as hell! Jimmy Page was my first famous guitar hero. Then I heard George Benson and became obsessed with jazz music.

At the age of 20, I heard John Stowell, who has been my mentor and hero ever since. He still tours in his Toyota Corolla and never ceases to inspire and amaze me. I started learning and transcribing solos from John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, Clifford Brown, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter et al, I still listen to music from all of them. I love Jim Hall, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Joe Pass, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Nat King Cole.  

If I had to name one (or two) hero(es), it would be Charlie Parker. And Thelonious Monk, one of the greatest composers who ever lived.

I also studied classical guitar at the University of Oregon. I got a box set of the 9 Beethoven symphonies and was hooked. I love Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Maurice Ravel, Ralph Vaughan- Williams, Bela Bartok and Leonard Bernstein. I’m missing many so many but we’d be here for weeks if I ramble on about the musicians who have inspired and influenced me.

Do you have any old photos of you playing?

This is me playing and thinking about playing! Both pics in my apartment in Stuttgart in 1982. These are the oldest pics I know of.

You were probably the first artist to believe in and support MONO. What were your first impressions when you were shown our products at the 2007 NAMM show?

I loved the gear immediately. It made all my other gig bags wither, dry up and get tossed out! If I’m not the first MONO endorser, I’d like to think I’m one of the first. I met Daniel (MONO Founder) at NAMM early on while doing a signing for ESP guitars. I fell in love with my first MONO guitar gig bag and have been traveling the world with MONO gear ever since.

What elements of your musical background contributed to your approach to hardcore and metal?

When I did my guitar instructional DVD for Hal Leonard I tried to pass on some of the musical lessons I learned from Howard Roberts, who founded The Guitar Institute of Technology (now known as Musicians Institute) in Hollywood back in the 70’s. Howard talked about clearing your work area of everything not pertaining to the task at hand and solving musical problems. Artists succeed by developing a system for the creative process to blossom. We focus on keeping a work schedule which I still do to this day. I write away from the instrument then pick up the guitar to flush things out.

I am a believer in writing what you hear; metal riffs are the rock equivalent of classical motifs. Riff = motif. Once you have a great riff, you trust your ears and musical instincts and develop the idea. In rock songs the idea is developed in a short form.

In addition to pushing hardcore and metal in a new direction, you also moved into composing music for films. That’s not a common career move for “heavy music” artists. What inspired you to expand your creative work in this way?

I was extremely fortunate to have been hired by Elliot Goldenthal to play guitar on the movie “Heat”. Elliot was looking for a new musical voice to add to his compositional palate. He let me experiment with feedback and noise as well as having me play parts he had written. I had so much freedom within his music and he encouraged me by pointing out that my playing was orchestral. I use the entire instrument.

There’s a really cool video of Andre Segovia demonstrating on a nylon string, acoustic instrument the variety of timbres we can use up and down the fretboard. My instrument is primarily the electric guitar. It feels limitless.

Being a diversified artist and composer, what advice would you give to younger musicians with regards to career and creative sustainability?

Make it about music, don’t worry about results. Just be honest, do your work out of love.

Develop work habits because, as they say, inspiration comes from perspiration. People who think it’s just about inspiration will burn out quickly. You have to keep opening doors and trying to solve musical problems; inspiration comes from doing the work.

The years of adhering to a work schedule gave me a musical base I trust. Patience is so important. Not every fleeting thought is a pearl, be willing to let ideas ferment and toss others out.  Some songs come in 10 minutes (“Just Another Victim”), others have taken 10 years (“Expect the World”).

I learned a Clifford Brown intro as well as a Billie Holiday intro this week which led me to try transposing a jazz standard into 3 different keys to hear what my voice sounded and felt like in different keys. Inspiration can come from so many different sources.

I’m a believer in reading books, poetry, becoming familiar with great paintings, listening to all types of music. Don’t worry about “what can I do with this?”, “how will this benefit me?”. Just do, just enjoy. John Stowell always talks about active listening. Meaning music is not just background. Right now I’m listening to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” because every single time I hear it I am moved.

The point is, don’t stop. Don’t stop listening, practising, playing. writing, singing, observing, reading.

What’s your pre-gig ritual?

I stretch for 20 minutes, do 20 minutes of vocal warm ups, play jazz guitar for at least an hour, preferably longer every day, brush my teeth before the stage and 15 minutes before we step up I pour a single malt scotch, preferably Laphroaig.

What MONO gear do you own and what do you love about them?

My Kondensor backpack carries my laptop, iPad, a book of sheet music, headphones etc and serves as a pillow at airports or backstage. It’s been around the world with me probably ten times.

My Kontroller Messanger Bag protects my laptop/small midi controller keyboard/recording interface (Apogee Duet) so I have my portable studio with me on tour.

I have a MONO Guitar Sleeve and my Kondensor backpack with our gear in Prague so my guitar is protected on the bus, backstage and my hotel. It makes such a huge difference to feel like your guitars and gear are protected.

I also have a Dual Electric case for movie work and another gig bag for one of my weird tuned movie guitars.

I recently put together a modular pedalboard system and protect 2 of the boards with the MONO  Accessory cases. I also have a 4-pedal satellite board that plugs into my Euro and US Bradshaw switching systems for Helmet tours, it fits beautifully in my Tick!

Helmet’s music has been classified in many ways, from post-hardcore and post-metal to smart-rock and thinking-man’s metal. In a way, there seems to be a similar “smart design” approach to your music and MONO products.

With MONO, I have absolute trust and confidence that all my gear is protected – guitars, pedals, computer, keyboard, digital interface, everything. There are so many details that no one had ever thought about for a touring, working musician – so many companies have lifted ideas from MONO! The material, headlock, zippers that open on both sides of the case, storage with slots for phones, pens, business cards (I put picks in the business card sleeve), padded straps with a belt, removable storage compartments. MONO for life!

What’s your proudest music achievement?

At this point, as we approach the 30th anniversary of Helmet, I’d have to say forming Helmet and staying true to what inspired me to become a musician in the first place.

What’s coming up next for you?

I’m finally pulling my jazz standards album together for 2019. I’ve also finally started writing my electric guitar orchestral piece, hoping it’s ready by 2020.

We’ll finally be releasing “M’lumbo featuring Page Hamilton” (album #1 of 2) in 2019. Helmet will be releasing 4 cover songs as 7″s with my artwork (done with Scene 4 in LA) and hopefully mixing/releasing Helmet at CBGB’s from 1990 for the 30th anniversary tour/Helmet 1989-2019.  We’re talking about 30 shows in the US and 30 shows in Europe for the anniversary.

I also started writing with drumming genius/icon Thomas Lang and hope to record an album in Tokyo in 2019. Fingers crossed!

On a side note, we just released the first ever Page Hamilton Distortion pedal with Pro Tone Pedals, it sounds great!

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