Houston musician Chase Hamblin recently released A Fine Time, a collection of songs that play on the 60s British invasion with a modern twist. It is an accomplished EP; with only five songs, Hamblin raises the expectations of how local music can sound.
This is the first in a series of interviews with bands that will perform at the inaugural Free Press Summer Fest, which runs next weekend, August 8-9, in Eleanor Tinsley Park in downtown Houston.
Houston Calling: You released A Fine Time recently. Are you pleased with the feedback you’ve received so far?
Chase Hamblin: Feedback has been excellent–better than I expected. I’ve received emails and CD orders from around the world. People in Montrose have been coming up to me and telling me they love the album. A lot of work went into the recordings and it is very rewarding to hear that people are enjoying the music.
HC: When listening to the EP, a few influences come to mind (The Beatles, Brian Wilson). What do you consider to be some of your primary musical influences and how do they play into your songwriting?
CH: I have a very eclectic set of musical influences, though A Fine Time purposely showcases the more Beatlesque, late ’60s pop sounding numbers. I wouldn’t say that any particular artists influence me when writing, it is more like everything I’ve ever heard is there at my disposal to help coax the new song out of the ether. I never feel like I write the song, I just hear it and try to copy it down. What was influenced specifically by other artists was the way in which we recorded, the style of arrangements, and the sounds. In this respect we looked to some of my favorite bands: The Zombies, The Beatles, David Bowie, T-Rex, The Kinks, and the early Bee Gees.
HC: What’s your favorite thing about being a musician in Houston?
CH: My favorite thing about being a musician in Houston is the opportunity to play with such talented people. We really have an interesting little pocket of enigmas down here.
HC: You’ve played in local bands before (Penny Royal, for one). What led to you going the solo route?
CH: I’ve actually always been a solo singer/songwriter and I have lots of material. I used to make home demos and play lots of acoustic shows, but I always wanted a full band. I like the energy and obviously the ability to fully realize songs, whether mine or someone else’s. Penny Royal asked me to join after I left a previous group in Portland, Oregon. I was eager to give it a try with them, but it was always understood that I would also be putting out my music. Once Penny Royal started to implode I knew that it was time for me to make my own record, the one I’ve wanted to make for a couple years.
HC: Live, you and the band tend to switch up the instruments quite a bit. Does this stem from how you recorded the EP?
CH: Derek Dunivan (producer) and I played all the instruments on the EP save strings and horns, so we naturally had to play multiple instruments. Live, we switch around because I am lucky enough to have multi-instrumentalists like Derek, Robert Ellis, Corey Power, and Geoffrey Muller in the band. We can capitalize on each person’s specific talent according to what the song calls for. For example, Derek switches from keys to drums on “Can You See the Beast?” and Robert moves from drums to guitar so that he can play a blazing country solo, which is one of his fortes. We will start mixing it up more soon with Geoffrey playing some guitar on a new country-swing song and Corey switching to bass.
HC: You recorded locally, correct–at Sugar Hill? How was that process?
CH: Sugar Hill was amazing. Engineer Josh Applebee saw me play once and we struck up a conversation about recording. I told him I was about to make my debut album and he encouraged me to do it with him at Sugar Hill. We became very close friends and he was incredible in the studio. I had my Penny Royal band mate and long-time friend Derek Dunivan as producer which really made the album shine. Derek is a master musician and a studio ace, plus he knows exactly how I want the songs to sound because he knows me and what I’m doing. We went in knowing we would take our time on just four songs (“We’re Gonna Make It” was recorded by Derek at our Penny Royal studio) and make them as perfect as we could, utilizing all the instrumentation and sound play we wanted. Had I tried to do a full length album in the same amount of time, like I originally wanted, it never would have sounded as good as the EP does.
HC: Listening to the songs on A Fine Time, it’s obvious you put a lot of thought into the lyrics. There’s the typical love and loss, but I can read a but more into “A Fine Time” and others. Is there a particular message you’re trying to get across in your songs?
CH: There are many messages trying to get through in my music, I think. “A Fine Time” is the title track because it sums up one of my most urgent messages which is, “What are we doing to the planet and ourselves?” It poses questions about our collective memory: “Do you remember our past? Can you see our future?” I strive to reveal the beautiful, the poetic moments of life and to confront the bleak alternative of a world without love or art.
HC: What’s your plan to get your music heard outside of Houston?
CH: The plan right now is to send off CDs to radio stations and to continue selling the album on CDBaby. I’ve already had a number of international sales and interest from various reviewers across the country. I plan on doing some regional touring, but the focus will be on promoting the album on-line. Once there is interest across the nation I will look to bigger touring arrangements. For now, I want to get it on the college radio charts and get as many reviews as possible. I’m also seeking support from investors and labels so that I can make the full-length album.
HC: What are you most looking forward to at the Free Press Summer Fest?
CH: I look forward to getting a tan! I’m also excited to see Devin the Dude and Of Montreal live.
HC: What are some of your favorite local bands/musicians?
CH: There are so many great musicians here I could go off for quite awhile. Geoffrey Muller has been one of my biggest influences for five or six years now–he’s a natural teacher and I have learned much from him. Derek Dunivan has also been a major influence on my playing even before I was in Penny Royal. Those two guys are probably my favorite musicians in town for many reasons. My favorite acts in town are I Am Mesmer, the phenomenal Robert Ellis, The Sideshow Tramps, Two Star Symphony, Craig Kinsey, Blarin’ Aaron Loesch, Southern Backtones, listenlisten, Tyagaraja (of Million Year Dance), Benjamin Wesley, songwriter Dylan Bryson, singer/guitarist Ryan Guidry, the Ragged Hearts, Nick Gaitan and Umbrella Man, Indian Jewelry, Greg Harbar and The Gypsies, and Roky Moon & Bolt. Gone but not forgotten: JW Americana and The Scattered Pages.
You can see Chase Hamblin perform songs from A Fine Time at Free Press Summer Fest on Sunday, August 9, at 12:35pm on the second stage. Tickets to Free Press Summer Fest can be purchased online at www.freepresssummerfest.com.