Harry Hamer Interview

March 22, 1998 at The Paramount Theatre, Seattle by Paul Clark.

What do you do in the band?

Well when we play live I play drums, but when we did the record and the writing of the songs I do all the loops and programming and all that sort of stuff y'know sampling.

I noticed when I listened to the album for the first time a few weeks ago that there are a lot of synthetic drums in there, how much of that is programmed?

Probably about ninety percent of it is synthetic drums. There are real drums on there, like loops and stuff, recorded with drum sets set up somewhere, but there's that thing about going into a studio and spending two weeks trying to get a decent drum sound. We gave up on that years ago. It was just too expensive. Much easier to use some unit and maybe use samples and do it that way.

Are the drum samples your samples?

Some of them are, not all of them, a lot of them are just nicked off sample CD's, old records. The usual sort of thing.

I noticed on the album credits that there a four or five acknowledgements for source material yet I heard, I think it was a BBC World Service coastal weather report thing, is it possible that there are other sources as well?

There are definitely other sources. We have this big dilemma wether to be totally straight up about everything, and certain things, if you're not taking the piss you can get away with it. So we came to the conclusion that certain things we'd get permission and get it all paid for, but that radio thing, we tried to get permission and it was like, it would have taken two years to y'know.

So what happens if...

If Mr. BBC rings up.


Well then we'll negotiate, but he's got to suss it out first hasn't he.

That's a couple of years right there.


So what kind of computer do you use, do you use a Mac?

I do.

Why's that?

Well, the thing is about three or four years ago I started realising I had to learn how to use a computer, because it's the future and all that. It makes your job a lot easier, and it did, it totally revolutionised the way that I work, and gave me a lot more control. A lot of this album was done at home in the spare room, working it that way. We basically went into the studio to do the vocals, guitars, and all that sort of stuff, because you can't afford to buy a Neumann microphone. So you rent a studio and use it for the day, and that's what's you do. So it was like a cost cutting exercise all the way through this album, which is really funny now seeing as it's y'know.

The production's impeccable.

How much do you think it cost?

Erm, did your record company pay for it?

Well, we got an advance from One Little Indian and they basically wimped out on it towards the end. Decided they didn't want to do it.

Well, I'd think, not including mastering, about thirty thousand, minimum.

Not far off, it was about forty.

That's pretty good. A hundred thousand is normal these days.

Well most bands can spend that just doing their demo don't they.

What about the songs, have been around for ages or what?

They were all written for this album.

Is there any one person that kind of pulls it all together?

Well there's me and Boff, the guitarist, who sort of pull it all together, but what tends to happen is that there are certain people who are good with music, good at writing music, and other people whose strong point is writing words, and we'll basically kick ideas about, do loads of tapes of them, like I might do some drum stuff or whatever and hand that over to Boff, he might put some chords to it, but when we actually go into the studio it's me and Boff who'll sit there and y'know, and at the same time it's really a communal thing.

How did you decide which songs went on the album?

Well we had a big party and people had been listening to them for ages on all these tapes and stuff, so we got loads of booze in and sat down there and listened through to them all and people picked their top ten or whatever, and put all that in and then sort of went through it and just argued out all the discrepencies like "this one's gotta go on because" y'know.

So the obvious favourites got on the album.

Well it's funny because all this stuff that's happening with Tubthumping, going crazy everywhere and all that, well when we were doing the album it was obviously a good song but it seemed like just part of the rest of the album.

So how does the producer, Neil Ferguson, fit into all this?

We've worked with Neil for ages, he used to own Woodland studios in Castleford but he just recently sold it. Twelve years sat in a studio and all that. He's now doing the live sound with us. He doesn't really work on the songs before hand but when we go into the studio he not only tries to get what we want but will also add something as well. We've worked with people in the past who just want to get their own ideas in there and that's it

That can be a big problem.

It is a big problem, and with us the best idea wins, there's no personal thing about it. Like if I say we should do this, and someone else says it should be like this, and everyone thinks so then fair enough. So that's how neil works with us which is really good. We have a good relationship with him.

When did this song choosing thing actually happen?

Just before the album came out basically. Just when we had to go and get it mastered, it was like "okay we've got to decide now", and the rest of the songs will become B sides and compilation tracks and all the rest of it.

Getting back to the nitty gritty technical stuff lets start off with the Mac. What kind is it?

It's a Performa 630 or something like that, it's really slow compared to what's out now, it's about 33Mhz or something.

So you should be able to pick up a new G3 at some point in the near future?

I wouldn't mind. I'm quite interested in one of them.

So you use it mainly for sequencing?

Yeah. I use Logic. When I decided I wanted to do this and went looking around for stuff to use Logic just looked nicest, or at the time it did anyway.

And that was what, three or four years ago?

Yeah, and I thought if I'm going to be sat in front of this for six or eight hours a day I want to be able to look at it, and it's really good because you can get all the sequences in different colours.

So obviously because of the machine you currently own you're not doing much recording straight to the hard drive?

No, I have a sampler, an AKAI S3000.

And what about an actual synthesizer, do you use one?

Yeah, we've got bits of stuff kicking about, like an SH101. I'm also a big fan of the Roland Space Echo, but as for keyboards most of it depends, like we use a Korg X5 on stage. When we go into the studio we'll be using stuff like Vintage Keys and a Matrix, so it's great because we'll work on something at home knowing that it's not going to be the finished sound and then going into the studio and trying out various things.

Have they got a Mac there?

No I take my Mac in because he's got an Atari, like most people they still use them, it's amazing.

So what's the music scene like these days in Leeds?

It's good but Leeds is still like this poor cousin to Manchester and Liverpool, it's weird. There are loads of new bands coming up all the time, and good venues like The Duchess, The Cockpit and Town & Country.

And what's it like getting hardware and new technology in Leeds, is Alpha Music still there?

No Alpha Music's long gone now, Leeds is actually really bad when it comes to music shops. For MIDI stuff it's really poor, so I go to a place called Metro Music in Doncaster. That place is the best music shop in the North. I didn't get my Mac from there, I got it from a magazine like computer wherehouse or something, but all the other stuff like the sampler and the ADAT for stage was bought there.

What does the ADAT actually do on stage apart from produce click tracks?

Basically there's a click track, which I listen to through headphones and play along to, and the rest is just bits of stuff that we can't physically play because there aren't enough of us on stage. A few samples, a few drum loops.

Any vocals?

No, all the vocals are live. It basically means we don't have to have someone there whose job it is to just trigger samples the whole time.

So there are no guilt trips for running pre-recorded tapes throughout the show?

Well there are different levels of it and I think we get away with it because there are five live vocals on stage, keyboards, guitars, drums and percussion and all the other stuff is just to fill it out a bit.

Any clues as to what to expect from the next album?

Well I've got one of those portable Sony DAT things and while we've been touring all over the place I've been collecting sounds, I'll go out wherever we're staying and just go walking around taking samples of the street. So we want to work that into it somehow and that's going to be a big part of it. Before every record we'll sit down and decide what it's going to sound like, what's it's going to be about, how we're going to do it and all that sort of stuff, and then it goes from there and grows somewhere else. That's what we did before Tubthumper. The idea to start with was Leeds because we're all from Leeds and we thought "okay we've done loads of songs in the past about different places all over the World so lets do one all about Leeds, and it just so happens that most of it goes across fine because homelessness is everywhere, it's not just in Leeds, people going out and having a good time happens everywhere, it's not just in Leeds.

Finally, just for the record, what's your background as a musician?

Working Men's Clubs.

Playing drums?


Really, my dad used to be a Working Man's Club organist.

My dad still does them. Up until I was about ten he used to do it at night time and was a plumber during the day.

What, play drums?

No, he plays guitar and sings, he's a club act. Then he decided to turn professional and has been doing it for the past twenty years. I've got total respect for how he does it. He's earned a living from it and done what he wants to do.

What does he think to how well Tubthumper is doing?

He's well into it. He's living through it.

Maybe he should do a guest spot on an album?

He's already been on one. He does a version of Time Bomb on one of them and he's on the B side of Amnesia, the single that's out now, not in America, but the rest of the world, he's on that

When are your past albums going to be released in America?

Well at some point y'know. We're still trying to drag them all together because over the years we've done stuff with loads of different people, so at the moment we're just trying to get control of them all?

Do you still own all your songs, all the publishing rights?

Oh yeah.

That's handy.

Website: Chumbawamba