Just barely more than five weeks before Churchkey Records takes to the Hopscotch Music Festival to celebrate its third birthday, and it’s time for the second entry in our interview series. This week Chaz Martenstein from from Durham’s amazing Bull City Records talked with Hammer No More The Fingers for his WNnG blog. Check out part one of the interview below, and make sure to come back next week when Raleigh blog Mann’s World sits down with The Loners.
After I had just moved to town, my first group of regulars was a loyal bunch of bored kids from Durham School of the Arts. I was new to the area, so any kind of repeat action and conversation in the record shop was beyond welcome. A name kept getting dropped here and there…I was told I really needed to hear the Droogies. “What? You haven’t heard the Droogies?? Oh Man!” was something along the lines of the regular excited local band chatter. These kids were proud of this small group of guys who had slipped out of the dry, every day high school life to dive headlong into the daunting “local music scene.” Honestly, when you live in an area that is so fertile with music and community, how do you just step outside your garage door and hope to be picked up and accepted by it? I can’t think of a more daunting, scary task for a young band. Turns out it really wasn’t an easy task at all. The band went their separate ways for a good long time until they pieced it back together and decided to start fresh again.
A band popped up. Their name was Hammer No More the Fingers. I remember when the band seemed to just charge around the corner out of nowhere. How can I specifically remember this? Don’t bands pop up everyday? Well, yes. Bands do pop up every day. However. It’s not often that a band pops up with such a strange name that you actually remember not quite feeling the urge to rush out to check them out. Should I really spend my night tonight going to see a band whose name implies a cheesy blues-rock, bar jam band that’s probably from a nameless freshman dorm on Duke’s East Campus? Nah, I’ll be good jamming my Air Supply LP at home tonight. Thanks.
Whoops. Turns out I totally misread that one.
I was relieved, surprised, thrilled, enamored, embarrassed…
DUNCAN: We had a four song demo and a show booked at the now defunct 305 South before we decided on Hammer No More the Fingers. We were really tired of coming up with dumb band names, so we kind of just kept the last dumb band name that any of us thought of.
The name comes from this cheap, chinese made, red plastic pair of pliers that holds a nail in place so you don’t accidentally hammer your thumb. The product is called “Guide Nails.” I think my grandpa picked it up at Lowes and gave it to my dad years ago as a gag. It still remains unopened. The Chinese to English translation on the package is so whacky. Hammer No More the Fingers is one of the more comprehensible sentences. One day I will give “Guide Nails” to my son. I think the name came out of necessity since we had a demo and were trying to book shows, but we all kind of liked the quirkiness of it. I like the name more and more as time goes by.
I kinda wanted to ask why they didn’t just go for the name Guide Nails. Instead, I wanted to probe a little bit and go slightly deeper into the band name process.
DUNCAN: We had a few really offensively bad band names before we decided on Hammer No More the Fingers. I think ‘Amputee’ was in the running. As was ‘Preesh Leatherson’ and ‘Pantera Bread.’
Since I’d heard so much about the earlier bands and many sidetracks that lead down the path to Hammer, I really wanted examples. After pestering the band just enough, I was somehow able to finagle old recordings out of them dating back to their elusive (and probably almost forgotten) high school years.
JOE: Hammer No More the Fingers has gone through several incarnations since Jeff and I started playing music together in the fourth grade. That was around 1993. Our first performance was at the sixth grade talent show where we covered Green Day’s “When I Come Around.” I met Duncan at DSA a couple of years later and joined his band Slippery Chicken. We played the Duke Coffeehouse, the Skylight Exchange (now the Nightlight), and various garages throughout the Triangle. We recorded a 7 song tape with Mitch Marlow (now of Warrior Sound) in 1997 and a full length CD out in the boondocks of Orange County in 1998, which included the hits Power Gods of Utah Part IV the Legacy and Butt Demons from Denmark.
Looking back, we may have peaked a little too early. Slippery Chicken split up in 1999. Duncan, Jeff, and I went on to play in several bands throughout high school, including Human Pudding, No Touch Red, Country Time, No Booker (named after John Booker who seemed to be in nearly every local band at the time except this one), Crawdad P.A., Vision Quest, Dead By Doxhn, and finally the Droogies (Duncan, Stephen Coffman of the Beast and myself). The Droogies recorded two 7-song EPs between our senior year of high school and freshman year of college, one with Jerry Key and the other with Chan Bahn of Bahn’s Cusine. After that we went out off on our own adventures for a few years before forming HNMTF in late 2006.
The 90s math-rock factor is extremely high in these early recordings…super impressive for a young band. Personally, I’d love to hear what Chan recorded as I really had no idea he was into recording. We’ll have to explore this a little more.
Recently, Hammer’s songs have seemingly been getting longer and more drawn out at their shows. The experience is becoming a little looser and more hinged on a freer, improvised sound. It sounds as if they’re pulling and stretching the idea of their existing 3-minute jagged pop songs and incorporating deeper elements. I was curious if there was a reason for this. Honestly, it’s very intriguing and exciting to see a band go through this type of transformation in the years you (as a fan) have been watching them. When a new element is introduced into the live show experience, it induces a thrill and different energy into the usual audience.
DUNCAN: Well when we practice, we hardly ever just practice the songs that we already have. We usually just end up jamming for three hours straight, and it’s a blast. Every part that we’ve ever written has been formed in an improvised jam. We have so much fun doing it, that it kind of just started seeping into our live show. Especially at shows like the Annual Daniel or any drunken house show. We’ve started doing a lot of transitions between songs on the fly. It doesn’t always work, but when it does if feels great, and people go nuts. There’s a feeling of accomplishment when you’re able play yourself out of an uncertain “jam hole.” We’ve definitely been more open minded to bands that are considered “jam bands.” But we really just see improvising as another way of expanding our horizons of rock. We may not even be “jamming” in a year, or we may be jamming like crazy. It’s still something we’re experimenting with, but it’s been really fun.
I think we’re all on the same page, just figuring out how to master the jam so it doesn’t just sound like we’re screwing about.
Very eloquently put. At the behest of Churchkey Records, I was trying to get Duncan to admit to his recent conversion to the gospel of a certain jam band. I’ll leave this a little open-ended for now. I don’t think there are too many people out there that aren’t anxious to see the direction towards which the band is developing. A little psychedelic step and uncertainty in a live setting rarely has a negative effect on a band. It’s an exercise and a trick for the band to stay on top of their game while driving away the looming monotony of touring life.
Rumors and sightings of a couple Hammer No More the Fingers / Free Electric State collaborations have been starting to pop up around the Triangle. Could there possibly be a planned free-form recording session down the line? Let’s hope so.
DUNCAN: We had a giant Hammer / FES jam session at my cousin Daniel’s birthday party in the mountains of south western Virginia. The party was aptly titled the Annual Daniel. We called the band Loose Coozy. We haven’t taken it outside the mountains though. Maybe it’s a secret that only the mountains will know. Pretty trippy, right?
Yes. Pretty trippy and quite intriguing. We want recordings.
In the meantime, here are some already released tracks from their first full length, Looking for Bruce (on Churchkey Records):
Hammer No More the Fingers – Automobiles
Hammer No More the Fingers – Shutterbug
Because my lovely friends at Churchkey Records unsympathetically forced me to do this interview under the wire while on vacation, here’s my closing thought and final question (for now) to Durham’s extremely beloved Hammer No More the Fingers.
CHAZ: Time for me to get back on the road. I am currently sitting, typing this in a Dollar General parking lot outside of Woodstown, NJ. I crossed the border while listening to “The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle.” Is that too obvious? Too cliche? It felt so right.
DUNCAN: I don’t think you have a choice when you cross that state line. Ya did good Chaz, ya did real good.
This is my first interview ever.
Pt. 2 will follow shortly.
Now back to vacation.
Happy third birthday Churchkey Records!
- July 28: Diversions (The Daily Tar Heel) talks with The Dirty Little Heaters
- August 4: WNnG (Bull City Records) talks with Hammer No More The Fingers
- August 11: Mann’s World talks with The Loners
- August 18: Triangle Music talks with Last Year’s Men
- August 25: Recess (The Chronicle) talks with Spider Bags
- September 1: The Independent Weekly talks with The Dry Heathens
- September 8: On The Beat (The News & Observer) talks with Free Electric State