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Interview

Hammers Of Misfortune Comments On "Dead Revolution"

John Cobbett is a staple in the San Francisco metal scene. Including masterminding and guitar picking for his main band, Hammers of Misfortune, he’s also split his time between Slough Feg, Ludicra and Vhol. He’s responsible for making some of the best music in the Pacific Northwest. Whether plating his licks with amour first sculpted by bands like Storm and early Satyricon, vintage NWOBHM or a serene acoustic passage, at par with Pink Floyd or King Crimson, Cobbett has a penchant for writing memorable tunes.

Being the staple he is in the ‘Frisco scene, it’s not surprising the town has entered his music’s vocabulary. “Dead Revolution,” the latest opus by Hammers of Misfortune (released via Metal Blade on July 22nd) is somewhat of a goodbye album to the place Cobbett calls home. His lyrics reflect a disenchantment of the city that he once loved, the city for which he makes his living.

Upon receiving my call, Cobbett told me how he plans to move to Montana. The salty shores of the Bay will be replaced by mountains and woodlands. City concrete will be replaced with grasslands. This will certainly affect the way Cobbett writes future albums. Read further to learn more about this shamefully under-recognized artist.

Rex_84: So what’s been going on?

John Cobbett: We’re getting ready to move. We’re going to play some gigs up in Portland with Vhol. We’re going to play the Migration Fest in Olympia and then we’re moving to Montana. That’s what is going on here. I’m getting out of this place. We have a 2-year-old son. He just turned 2 on Sunday. Without getting too deep into it, San Francisco is just not the place we want to raise him. The school here are terrible. The city has really been gutted of any meaningful culture. It’s all be taken over by tech. I don’t feel at home here anymore. I want my kid to be able to go outside and play without being run over by an Uber. I want to go fishing with my son. I want him to have a dog. We live in the middle of city here. It’s just cars and traffic everywhere and winos passed out on the playground.

Rex_84: You want to go back to the serenity of nature.

Cobbett: Yeah, I wouldn’t call it going back to nature, but where I grew up I could go out in the woods and play. There was a creek where I could catch fish, so yeah, I think I want him to grow up in a place that is not over crowded. There is still plenty of gang violence here even though it’s filthy rich from tech. There is still a lot of prostitution and gang violence right here in my neighborhood. There is a pimp who got shot 5 times from another pimp a half a block away from my house. There have been murders three or four blocks away from my house several times in the past weeks. I’ve lived with this for a very long time, but I’m tired of it. I don’t want to be walking my kid in his stroller past murder scenes everyday. The cost of living here is fucking outrageous. A 1-bedroom apartment is 4,000 dollars a month here. If I didn’t have rent control here, I would have been gone a long time ago. All the artists and musicians have left. Who can afford that? You can’t afford a house here. A condo is 2 million dollars. There is no way you can ever get ahead here, especially if you’re working class, which I am. I work in a bar. That’s what I do. I could write a short book on all the reasons we’re leaving here. There are elements in the latest album that deal with that, for sure.

Rex_84: Can you talk a little more about that?

Cobbett: I don’t want to put too fine of a point on it because you want people to interpret the lyrics. People project their own situations onto your lyrics. That’s actually how it should be. I’m not real comfortable explaining things because I might be writing a lyric about something that is on my mind but is also something else on my mind. I’m also trying to write loosely about a couple different things at the same time. The song “The Precipice” when it says, “a plague of luxury with nothing else to find,” is talking directly about my neighborhood. There are no gigs here anymore. There used to be gigs everywhere—illegal parties, basement gigs, punk shows, metal shows—that’s long gone, man! Long lost. Now it’s just fine dining and craft cocktail bars where you spend $15 for a cocktail. That’s what has taken over. My street, 20th Street, used to be a regular residential street and now it’s called “The 20th Street Corridor” because all of these bars have opened up and restaurants. There are fucking yuppies walking by, day and night, screaming into their phones right outside my kid’s window. There is a reference to the corridor in that song “The Precipice.” “All the birds have flown,” in other words, all the musicians and all the interesting, cool people have left. That’s a literal interpretation for you there.

Rex_84: Your albums are both heavy and psychedelic. Being in San Francisco, you have those scenes. You have the psychedelic scenes that came out of there, but you also have the thrash scene.

Cobbett: Those scenes, of course, are long gone. I was never into San Francisco psychedelia like The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother And The Holding Company. Moby Grape is ok, but I was into Hendrix and Blue Cheer. Heavy psych, especially Hendrix and stuff like Cream. I’ve always loved that psychedelic touch. When you look at the way Hendrix used the recording studio as an instrument. He had all kinds of really interesting sounds popping in and out of his recordings. I hear a touch of that on Venom’s first couple of records. “Welcome To Hell,” but more specifically “Black Metal” has some really strange things going on in the mix. There are weird sounds. There is this whole monolog that Cronos delivers at the end of the album that is like this bed of screams and bass feedback. The track is called “Don’t Burn The Witch.” It goes into “At War With Satan,” which carries into the next album by them, which didn’t affect me the same way. I always heard a pronounced psychedelic element to “Black Metal.” I thought it was fantastic! I loved it. It really reminded me of Hendrix in places. To me, the two—psychedelic and thrash—have always been intertwined, mainly going back to that album. I got really into black metal in the Nineties. I was hearing some of that weirdness again, some of that psychedelia, over blast beats. I was over the moon about it. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. I still love black metal. I don’t listen to black metal the way I did when it came out, but the Norse scene—second wave, whatever you want to call it—put out so many good records. So much good shit. It really was a magical time when those bands started coming out. It really changed. That’s when I started booking Weakling and Ludicra. A little bit later, Wolves in the Throne Room started coming out and their was a really vital metal scene in the West Coast in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Good times.

Rex_84: “Dead Revolution” is more varied than its predecessor. You use different tones, and it’s heavier and darker territory. Tell our readers about brining the heavier, darker side to this album.

Cobbett: It wasn’t that we didn’t want to be dark and heavy before, it’s just that we were having trouble getting it. This time in the studio, there was a much more primitive set up. We were using an old Trident board and old tape. We’ve used these things before, but I just wasn’t getting the mix I wanted. I’ve always wanted Hammers to be dark and heavy, always. It’s just we could never really quite get it. This time I did do some different things with the guitar tones, for sure—things I tried with “17th Street” but just didn’t quite get it. This time we used less technology. That was not even by choice, it was just what we had to work with in the studio. I think what a lot of it was due to happy accidents. Things just came out closer to the way I wanted to hear them. Also, I made sure to turn the guitars up this time. The vocals aren’t as on top of the mix this time. That’s because when you turn one thing up, other things don’t sound as loud. I definitely turned the guitars up a little bit on this one. That helped a lot with the heaviness, for sure.

Rex_84: The heaviness starts from the very beginning. The opening riff on “Velvet Inquisition” fucking rips!

Cobbett: Yeah, I like that riff too (laughs). It’s like Kiss meets Mercyful Fate meets Judas Priest. It’s a good riff. We decided to open the album with it. I wanted to open the album with Bam! right into a riff, no intro. No quite thing. No build up, just Bam!, right into a power riff.

Rex_84: Some of the riffs, especially “Dead Revolution,” really have a NWOBHM kind of sound to them.

Cobbett: The working title for that song was “White Out” because I was listening to that song “Black Out” by The Scorpions. I listen to a lot of old Scorps from the ‘70s, Uli Roth. It’s always been a huge thing for me. I don’t really listen to albums after Uli Roth left, after “Taken By Force” and before “Love At First Sting,” which is where they really broke out in the U.S. More bubble-gum metal. That album’s not without it’s merit. There are some good songs, but I want to listen to that weird mid-period, late ‘70s Scorpions and that song “Black Out” is such a good song. I thought maybe I would write a song like “Black Out,” so that’s how “Dead Revolution” started. Then, of course, being a Hammer song it gets more complicated and weird from there (laughs).

Rex_84: Why did you choose this song as the title track? Is it a political song?

Cobbett: Sure, it’s somewhat political. I didn’t really know what to call it but there is the line “your revolution has gone on for so long,” I thought “Dead Revolution” would be a good title for the song. Then I talked to the band and they said “Dead Revolution” is definitely a good title for the album. Everybody agreed so we decided to use that as the title track. As far as the politics of that song, it goes in a few different directions as far as people talking about this revolution and that revolution that is going on right now. They’re all full of shit. The tech revolution—my ass. Making the world a better place—my ass! My neighborhood is overrun with people who work for Facebook, Google, Twitter, Dropbox, Snapchat. These people are stepping over homeless encampments while they’re tweeting about how they’re saving the world. It’s utterly full of shit! They talk a good game about social justice and shit, but these people are utterly full-of-shit hypocrites. Revolution my ass! A revolution for affluent twenty-three-year olds, maybe. For the old school people that have been working San Francisco for years—the city is dying for us. This is a huge, huge thing in San Francisco. It’s a huge controversy. It’s much more complex than that, so I’m kind of glossing it over, but that’s part of what the song is about.

Rex_84: “Here Comes The Sky” has a Pink Floyd/King Crimson kind of feel to it.

Cobbett: Obviously, I really love Pink Floyd and King Crimson, but that song was originally a thirteen-minute-long metal epic with an acoustic part in it and some different parts. It was really, really long. It was just collapsing under its own weight, so we chopped it up and took out most of the song. At one point Sigrid suggested we start with the acoustic part and build it from there, so that’s how that part came about. I think it worked out good. Then it goes into that sort of nursery-rhyme part, which is really influenced by black metal. The part where Joe [Hutton] is talking about the wind and the sea is really influenced by some of the slower Darkthrone stuff and Falkenbach. Falkenbach is good. I can’t really get behind the drum machine or the autotune that they’ve been using. Their early records are really good. There is a band called Storm “Nordivind” that was put out on Moonfog Records. It was Fenris from Darkthrone, Satyr from Satyricon and the lady from Third And The Mortal. That’s the record that really influenced that part, more than anything else. I love that album. That’s the first time I really heard anyone do that. It’s been an influence on Hammer from the beginning.

Rex_84: Satyricon’s first record (and also “The Shadowthrone”) had a lot of folk in it, too.

Cobbett: Was that “Dark Medieval Times” or “The Shadowthrone?”

Rex_84: Yes.

Cobbett: Those were really good records. I went through a big phase of that stuff. What happened to folk metal, later on, with the penny whistles and stuff, I didn’t like that as much. It’s just too squeaky clean. I didn’t follow up on that. Finntroll and all that stuff, I didn’t really dig it. The early, gritty folk black metal like Isengard, that stuff is good, too. That part in “Here Comes The Sky” is really influenced by Storm and Isengard.

Rex_84: What about “Days of ’49?” Was that influenced by those groups, as well?

Cobbett: Oh sure. I’ve always wanted to do an American folk song in a metal style. “Days of ‘49” really fit my ideas, conceptually, for the record so we did it. We adopted an traditional American folk song in a metal style. That was absolutely influenced by Storm. I will state that unequivocally and without reservations. A few of the reviews I’ve seen said it was kind of a let-down at the end of the album. I can see why somebody would say that, but I think if you hear it in the right spirit it should work. It works for me. I’m only one guy. The thing that people may not realize is that I’m a metal head. I’m a nerd about this shit (laughs). I like taking a weird progressive metal band, but this song is influenced by early Satyricon. I get a kick out of that.

Rex_84: You also used to play in Slough Feg. Whatever happened to that band? Why did you leave them?

Cobbett: I went on 3 European tours with Slough Feg. They were really early European tours. The first one we did by train, dragging our guitars across Europe and basically begging for gigs. These were pretty rough tours. I was really getting busy with Ludicra at the time and also Hammers. The last tour I went on with Slough Feg, I just burned the fuck out. Mike [Scalzi] could tell. It wasn’t working out, so I bowed out. Shortly after, Mike bowed out of Hammers for the same reason. He and I worked together for several years where he was in Hammers and I was in Slough Feg. Then it turned out we were getting too busy to be in each other’s bands anymore. I enjoyed playing in Slough Feg, but Mike needed somebody who could be there for touring. He really wanted to go back and build something in Europe and I was busy trying to make Hammer and Ludicra albums. Mike and I are still great friends, though. We go out once in a while and have a beer. He’s a great man, Mike Scalzi.

Rex_84: I talked to Mike, too. We talked about the threat of technology. He seemed to have a similar attitude as you.

Cobbett: He teaches at a college and he sees how these kids are completely lost without their fucking phones. That’s a whole other topic. I sure hope there is a backlash against that stuff. I really do. I think it’s really damaging to have kids’ noses stuck into social media at a young age. I think social media is extremely damaging in a lot of ways, but that’s another topic.

Rex_84: You mentioned touring with Slough Feg. What’s going on with Hammers? Do you have a tour in the works?

Cobbett: No, we’re moving to Montana. Will [Carroll], our drummer, is going out on tour with Death Angel. They’re going to be touring with Slayer. That’s going to be another factor that’s in the way. Our singer just got married. He’s going on his honeymoon. As much as we want to play out some gigs right now, we just can’t do it. Everybody is off doing something else, which sucks. I wish we could go out and play some shows. We’re going to try to later on in the year. If we can. We’ll see how that works out. It will probably be limited to whatever festivals contact us in the Pacific Northwest since we are all on the West Coast. Sigrid and I will be in Montana at that point, so it will be tricky. We’ll try to make it work somehow.

Rex_84's avatar

An avid metal head for over twenty years, Darren Cowan has written for several metal publications and attended concerts throughout various regions of the U.S.

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