Nathan Hamilton twangs against the machine.
Thursday, October 2, 2003
Don''t Mess With Texas: The Lone Star State''s Nathan Hamilton and No Deal.
Nathan Hamilton has done a lot of living. The Texas native has worked as a ranch hand, a plumber''s assistant, and an assistant in a butcher''s shop. Hell, the guy even delivered balloons in a clown outfit, worked for a theater company in Los Angeles and penned his own play, Excepting the Pale.
"It was pretty heady," he says of his play. "It was about deconstructing the myth of the starving artist."
Even though Excepting the Pale garnered positive reviews during its brief run in Los Angeles, Hamilton knew that writing plays was not what he was best at. "I realized that my strengths were really in songwriting," he says.
Now, the Austin-based singer/songwriter uses his wealth of life experiences to craft roots-rock tunes dripping with tasty details about small-town living. One of his best songs, "Mercantile Store," describes a downtown abandoned by shoppers flocking to the megastores outside of town. Hamilton says he believes corporations like Wal-Mart and K-Mart are the biggest threat to the individuality of America''s small towns. His opinion is informed by years of touring around this nation.
"We are touring around and everywhere we go looks like where we just were," he says.
On another of his songs, "Two Penny Vengeance," Hamilton tells the story of a Vietnam veteran who returns home to find his farm taken from him. For the chorus, Hamilton sings "I will not be a part of your dirty, little war/ I will not grease your wheels with my blood anymore."
Though the song is clearly about Vietnam, Hamilton believes the sentiment has relevance today. "It is certainly applicable to current times," he says. "I definitely put my political beliefs into my songs, but I try to tuck it into a narrative," he says.
The message of "Hard Gettin'' By" reverberates in your mind after just one listen like the sound of a plaintive steel guitar. The song addresses the effects of a depressed economy on the working class: "I got a buddy works at the Wal-Mart/ yeah, he went to school, got himself a degree/ now, he can''t find a job in what he studied/ aw hell, he ain''t much better off than me."
Though Hamilton says he is happily married, he believes that it is the darker side of relationships that makes for great songs. "I have always been interested in pulling back those layers and addressing those situations that we all go through," he says.
When Hamilton is not raging against the machine, he can paint a vivid picture of southern living with just a couple of lines. On the atmospheric "Tuscola," he sings, "The only movement around here for miles/ is the lazy nod of the oil pumps." Throughout "Mercantile Store," Hamilton uses similar telling details--a faded barbershop pole, the broken clock on the courthouse--to show how the center of small-town America is slowly decaying.
Even though there is plenty of twang in Hamilton''s songs, his backing band, No Deal, give his songs a bit of an edge. This might be because No Deal''s guitarist, Billy Brent Malkus, is an alumnus of East Coast punk rock bands Berserk and the Stress Magnets. Hamilton also admits that he went through a punk-rock period. "When I was in high school, I got turned on to the Sex Pistols, Japan and other bands," he says. That is why Hamilton says that he and the boys often play a country-fried version of The Replacement''s bar anthem, "Here Comes A Regular," during their live shows.
Nathan Hamilton & No Deal play at 4pm on Sunday at Ocean Thunder, 214 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey. No cover. 643-9169.