Interview: Stuart Hamm

Dan McAvinchey: Stu, let's start with your roots. When did you first get interested in bass, and how did you learn and progress as a player?

Stuart Hamm: I started playing bass when I was 13 years old and wanted to be in my school's stage band which was a perennial State Champion. Also, I was a big Danny Bonoduce fan from the Partridge Family TV show and songs. My family then moved to a small town in Vermont that didn't have a very large school band program, so I started gigging in bars, frat houses and ski resorts. When I was 18, I moved to Boston to attend the Berklee College of Music and met Steve Vai and a lot of other musicians with whom I have played with over the years.

Dan McAvinchey: Tell us a little bit about your latest CD, "Just Outside Of Normal". How did you come up with the concept and songs for the album?

Stuart Hamm: I started work on "Just Outside Of Normal" in 2008 and then got a very late call from Satch to do his tour so that put the whole project back a bit. It's a collection of pieces that I have been working on that seemed to fit together to take the listener on a little musical trip Stu-style. The title track is an homage to a childhood spent in the Midwest and my brother plays a solo on his Dotar that sounds like a twisted, fretless banjo! Each song had it's own story of growth which is explained in the liner notes.

Dan McAvinchey: Who are some of the guest artists you worked with on "Just Outside Of Normal" and how did you get them involved?

Stuart Hamm: I am very fortunate to know and have worked with an amazing variety of musicians, so I can write a piece of music with someone in mind. Satch was the obvious choice for "The Obligatory Boogie" and I sent him a demo if "Windsor Mews" to see if he could recommend someone for the track, but I guess that he liked it because he asked to play it himself! The Great Roberto (Mr. Fripp) agreed to donate a soundscape for the project and when I heard Malika sing at a Cirque de Soleil show in Santiago I knew that Bobby had met his match and the whole song took shape. I heard Stanton for the first time live in Bath, UK and had to have him on the CD.

Dan McAvinchey: What are some of your favorite songs off of "Just Outside Of Normal"?

Stuart Hamm: I am very proud of the compositions on this CD so it's tough to pick just a few., but "Just Outside Of Normal" sure came out well; I love the solo that my brother plays at the end, and "Big Roller" has some dynamite performances by Stanton Moore, J.R. Burr, and the gang. Of course "Windsor Mews" holds a near and dear spot in my heart. Joe's track took the song to a different place entirely than what I had envisioned..I love it when other musicians hear things on my songs that I didn't!

Dan McAvinchey: How has your approach to writing evolved since your first solo album release "Radio Free Albemuth" on Relativity?

Stuart Hamm: I honestly try to record what I am hearing and writing at the time - that's what it is - a record of a time in my musical life. I am not consciously writing for a certain audience or market, although I certainly feel and hope that as I continue to grow as a musician my compositions have some more depth. I certainly give them more time to develop now than earlier in my career!

Dan McAvinchey: What in your opinion is essential for a great bass solo?

Stuart Hamm: Hmmm... I guess a great bass solo should sound exactly like Byron Miller in "Reach For It". Bass solos are tough, because once the bottom and groove disappear... If you are soloing only playing high note melodies, the whole sonic bottom of the song drops out. I am happy with a solo if I play something new and unexpected - that's a keeper for me!

Dan McAvinchey: How do you feel "Just Outside Of Normal" compares to records such as "The Urge", "Outbound" and some of the material you recorded with Frank Gambale and Steve Smith?

Stuart Hamm: "Just Outside Of Normal" is unlike the three GHS albums in that it is a series of compositions for variant instrumentation, not a collection of songs to be played by the same musicians. "The Urge" was certainly my most rock-oriented release, and there are moments in "Outbound" that pre-echo some of the things that I am aiming for in "Just Outside Of Normal".

Dan McAvinchey: How has the economic slowdown across the world affected how you personally buy and discover music?

Stuart Hamm: While the tough times have affected most of the musicians that I know, I can't honestly say that it has affected how I discover and buy music. I still get turned on to new artists and composers as I travel the Globe, and am often sent YouTube links to check out, then it's a quick search online or to the local store. There is music that I will download, but I guess I am Old School in that if it is something that I really treasure, I prefer to hold the physical copy in my hand and read the liner notes.

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Dan McAvinchey: Are you planning to use social media sites to promote your new album?

Stuart Hamm: All over FaceBook, maybe it's time to start tweeting and certainly try to get all of my gear sponsors involved to help promote all of my products, tours, etc.

Dan McAvinchey: Finally, when can fans expect to hear some of this new material in a live setting?

Stuart Hamm: There will certainly be a West Coast swing to promote the release and Europe is looking good. The challenge will be to try to figure what kind of instrumentation I will need to pull off some of the tunes if I m going to play most of the new CD. See you... Out There!

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A bassist whose work with Joe Satriani and Frank Gambale means he needs no introduction, Stuart Hamm has now released a new solo album, entitled "Just Outside Of Normal", that coincidentally features both guitarists in guest spots. Hamm fans will hear a lot they like on the new disc, which also features a number of other guest artists, such as Robert Fripp.

Dan McAvinchey recently met up with Hamm in cyberspace to get the lowdown on the new album.