By Michael Lello
For Tom Hamilton, changes in his perspective on life led to changes in his music.
Put simply, both grew more serious.
You can hear the new approach on “Knives & Teeth,” the third studio album released Oct. 15 by Hamilton’s band, American Babies, who will perform at the River Street Jazz Café in Plains, Pa., on Saturday, Oct. 19.
“I turned 30 a couple years ago. I stopped worrying about all the stupid shit I did in my 20s, like getting laid and finding a chick,” Hamilton said earlier this week from his home in Philadelphia. “It was a freeing thing but I started to realize that mortality is a real thing. I’m gonna fuckin’ die. And I’m not OK with that.”
The newfound seriousness was inspired not only by hitting the three-decade milestone, but also some events and people in Hamilton’s life, chiefly the return of his brother from the service in Afghanistan.
“I followed that whole thing down the rabbit hole, exploring my own thoughts and fears. That sparked everything on the record,” he said. “I was also in a really bad relationship at the time with a mentally ill woman – schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder. I cared for this person, and tried to work with that as well and all these things going on. It made me reassess everything in my life.”
“Led Zeppelin III” also played a role in the making of “Knives & Teeth” as a touchstone Hamilton could turn to that represented different dynamic qualities he was trying to capture.
“It’s one of those complete records to me,” he said. “I thought a lot about it when I was making this record; it was the juxtaposition of rock and roll, this really bruising, heavy thing, ‘The Immigrant Song.’ My favorite song on the record is ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You,’ just devastating blues. Juxtapose that with the folk/acoustic thing, that real Celtic type of thing.
“I also listened to a lot of Alice In Chains for personal reasons, I don’t know. I went back and kind of rediscovered the Alice In Chains and Soundgarden records from when I was a kid. ‘Dirt’ and ‘Sap,’ all the Alice In Chains records, are just great records, man. They were the best band on that scene. (Listening to those albums) really had nothing to do with what I’m doing, but it’s just something I really like.”
Hamilton started American Babies following the run of his previous band, Brothers Past. The idea was to use a revolving roster of musicians, but the lineup has somewhat solidified as of late, with Adam Flicker (piano, organ), Nick Bockrath (bass, guitar) and Dave Butler (drums) settling into the band.
Saturday’s show will feature Northeastern Pa. resident and Leroy Justice member Justin Mazer on guitar.
“He sat in with us last night, it was great,” Hamilton said Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve been doing this residence every Monday night at Brooklyn Bowl, and it’s been going great. We had Justin’s band Leroy Justice open up for us, and then he came out, and our original drummer Joe Russo, who now plays with the Grateful Dead guys (Furthur) came out and played the whole show.”
Hamilton has played at the Jazz Café many times, and his history with the room and related venues in the area goes back to his Brothers Past days.
“Oh man, they’re all pretty great times,” Hamilton said, asked to recount some standout moments in Wilkes-Barre. “Tom Moran, the gentleman who books that place, is a wonderful man, and I can’t say enough good things about him. He was one of the first promoters outside of Philadelphia to take a chance on me and developed a band of mine. And he hasn’t stopped helping. He’s a wonderful guy, the venue’s great, the entire staff is.”