Mike Hamel interview for the rhetoric

Photo courtesy of Diane Landro

When Mike Hamel appeared on my laptop screen for our interview, I could tell he was tired. “Sorry I look a little ragged,” he began, “I had a late night.” This late night was courtesy of Hamel’s performance at The Back Fence in New York City – a gig that kept him out until 3:00 am. Yet Hamel – with a coffee in hand – was cheery and ready to talk.

“I had been playing music for a really long time – you know, playing in bands and doing a bit of the cover circuit playing in bars around where I grew up,” says Hamel, “but that’s the thing, I had been in the same area for 27 years and I just got the seven-year-itch of working at the same job. It’s like, ‘Am I doing what I want to do? Should I be pursuing more?’ Especially when it comes down to music, it’s just something you have to throw yourself into full force.” So Hamel – a Fishkill, NY native – made the bold decision to quit his job and move to Hoboken, NJ with his boyfriend Geoff to pursue his career as a musician. Although most budding musicians relocate to Los Angeles, Hamel chose New Jersey. “What’s cool about being in Hoboken is that you’re really close to the city,” he explains, “New York has always been an epicenter for music and culture, and especially now there’s a flood of bands coming out that are more folk driven, and that speaks to me. Seeing these bands coming out, Geoff entering law school in the area, and getting tired of my job – all these things lining up – this was the time.” The singer-songwriter claims he had his “VH1 moment” while working at a music store, and knew he had to make a change. “I remember I was filling a humidifier, and said to myself, ‘Man, fuck this.’”, he laughs. “So the next day I talked to my manager, quit my job, pulled out my savings and started booking shows.”

“I was going door-to-door to bars and restaurants with a press kit, a CD, and cards, saying ‘Call me, I can do anything, I’m available all the time’, and that worked for a while,” says Hamel, “Then I decided to record a legitimate CD, so that was the next thing on the list.” To fund this project, he began a Kickstarter campaign. “It was fantastic, I got a huge response. It funded the whole record from production to recording to pressing, and it was incredible because it was this feeling that if you take things into your own hands, and you have enough heart, you can make anything happen.” His EP, “Where the Change Is” was released in March 2012. “I wanted an album that reflected my personality,” he explains, “One with a broad range of songs – there are some really intense ones, a few lighter ones six songs that were more or less in the same genre but went different places.”

Mike Hamel photo for interview for the rhetoric

Photo courtesy of Diane Landro

Hamel reveals that he wants his music to fall between Jeff Buckley and Queens of the Stone Age – whom Hamel considers his “Elvises”. “I want my music to be folky, I want it to be story-telling, to be daring and to shock people.” He chose to record his next album at home as it gave him more flexibility. “With this record, I’m going to be all over the place: there’s going to be a dance song, country-esque songs and high-energy rock and roll.  I’m playing my washing machine or hitting the mic instead of using a drum set.” But he still wants to maintain the heart and soul of folk music to connect with his audience, “People want to hear something that’s a little more heartfelt – music doesn’t have to necessarily be ripping your face off. There are people who come up to me after shows and say, ‘I know we’ve never met before, but that one song, that one line hit me, and I just wanted to say thank you.’ And it’s touching,” he says, “I mean, that’s what music is all about to me.”

Hamel admits that artists release songs that appeal to the masses, showing preference to the most popular genre of the time. Once that genre loses its allure, the audience moves on. Today, folk music takes the spotlight – and up-and-coming artists are taking notice. “It’s this big resurgence,” explains Hamel, “It started with Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Phillip Phillips; and if you go out to Brooklyn any given night of the week, you’ll see.” Hamel says he loves how mainstream folk has become, but stresses the importance of uniqueness within a popular genre. “It all comes back to a certain format,” he continues, “There’s always an acoustic guitar, there’s usually a banjo player, tambourines and group vocals. It’s almost becoming a parody of itself.”

By night Hamel is a musician, but by day he is a music teacher. “I stumbled into it,” says Hamel, “I’m still doing music full-time, but it’s not the most lucrative business. I needed to have some extra flow going. I always had these great relationships with music teachers growing up, and I wanted to help start someone else on a journey that, if they didn’t have the right teacher, they wouldn’t want to pursue.” But what he didn’t realize was how this experience would help him as an artist. “It’s constantly keeping me on my toes.  I’m singing all day so it’s strengthening my voice and it brought out a whole other side to my creativity,” he adds, “And it’s good for my soul, you know? It keeps me happy. It’s hard to be angry leaving a school when you have a group of five-year-olds coming up and hugging you.”

Mike Hamel photo for interview in the rhetoric

Photo courtesy of Diane Landro

Hamel’s face noticeably lit up when I mentioned one of his tweets quoting The Roots’ that read, “Fuck getting money, for real, get freedom”. When I asked how the lyrics resonated with him, he said, “I’ve got to remind myself everyday why I’m doing what I’m doing. It would be so easy to go back home and say, ‘You know what? This is too hard, I need more stability, more money.’ And I’m not rolling in dough or anything but I can pay my rent, I’m not living outside of my means. It all has a purpose and it’s all supported through music. I’m free.”

To listen to his tunes, scope his website and iTunes.

Interview & article by Kiara Zuchkan

Mike Hamel photo for interview for the rhetoric

Photo courtesy of Diane Landro