Onwards and Upwards – An Interview with Ryan Hamilton
Slowly but surely, Ryan Hamilton is making his mark in British rock music. Having previously served time with college rockers Smile Smile and fronting up pop-punks People On Vacation, 2015 saw him striking out on his own with the supremely confident Hell Of A Day album, chock full of top drawer sunshiny pop tunes with a darker undercurrent lurking just beneath the surface. Joined by Rob Lane (ex-Teenage Casket Co) on bass and Mickey Richards on drums, the album caught the ear of Ginger Wildheart who invited the band out on tour with him, since when their popularity has continued to grow and grow.
Ryan was nice enough to meet up with us on the last night of his recent UK tour with The Main Grains and chat about touring, songwriting, country music and the dangers of your mum putting baby pics of you on the Internet!
Thanks for taking the time out to talk to us Ryan. I guess the first question is – how’s the tour going?
Really good. We’ve been back to places that we’ve played before and played to sold out rooms, but we’ve also been to three places that we’ve never played before and the crowds there have been fairly small but really good, energetic, loud singing groups of people! I really like that because if they’re heard of us and we can get that response in a town we’ve never played before, next time we’d have a good chance of hopefully selling it out. I like a challenge – I think it comes from being bi-polar!
Your reputation’s growing very fast over here – how does touring in Britain compare to touring back in your native USA?
In Texas, the first big successful band I was in was called Smile Smile and we were popular there but it’s been a good 10-12 years since then. Since that time, I’ve been in another group called People on Vacation and then doing the current group for the last few years. So it’s a bit strange because obviously with touring America I have those memories of ten years ago. But now it’s definitely growing faster in the UK than it is in the US, I mean we’ve done an East Coast tour and a couple of New York shows plus a few shows in Texas and I would say those are comparable to the smaller shows that we do over here. I mean, there are people in the States who are excited about this band too, but America’s just so much further apart when it comes to touring.
You’ve got your UK band with you on this tour – Rob (bass), Mickey (drums), Carol (keys) and new guitarist Dave Winkler (Renegade Playboys/Bordello Rose) – how did you guys all get together back in the day?
Well Rob knew Jaret (Reddick, Bowling For Soup), my bandmate in People on Vacation, and when that band came to tour over here we were looking for guys who would be our UK touring band, and Rob knew Mickey so they became our rhythm section in that band. And when the shit hit the fan with People on Vacation, I said to Rob and Mickey, “You know what? We’ve got a good thing going here, let’s stick together”. Carol was recommended to us by Ginger Wildheart, and she’s been a great fit for the band. This is Dave’s first tour with us, but we hope he’s gonna stick around cos he’s a great guy. Him, Rob and Mickey actually know each other because they were all in the same Poison tribute band (Poizon) together!
You’re currently nine months into the Traitors Club singles collection – how’s it going so far? Are you happy with the reception it’s got?
I’m a little stressed about it right now because I’m behind with it! I broke my ribs at the end of last year and it’s taken me a while to recover. Up until that point it’s been incredible, a real challenge but the songs have turned out a million times better than I thought they would – I’m not one to sit down and just write a song, I prefer to wait for them to come to me. I’m really looking forward to finishing the last few, and then taking what we’ve learned from the first year and then doing things differently for the second.
Speaking of songwriting processes, what’s yours? And how does it work when the band live on two different continents?
Let’s just say that I can’t imagine doing something like this pre-Internet! I do miss sometimes being in the same room as the guys and ideas happening organically because it takes longer to send things backwards and forwards, but we make it work and I think it works great.
You’ve also got your country and western covers album with Tony Wright, Grand Ole Otley, that’s just been released. How did that come about? Any plans to tour it?
I was thrilled with that. People are really interested in picking it up and promoting it and now we’re gonna do a tour together in June for it. We thought it was gonna be a bit difficult fitting it in between Terrorvision and Traitors tours, but we’ve found a nice window for it. I’m over for the Camden Rocks Festival at the start of June, and then Tony and I are gonna hit the road. I mean that album started out as just being something that the both of us wanted to do for ourselves, so for it to already have legs and be taking off on its own is a really good sign.
You were mentioning earlier how you’ve been in the business for quite a few years now with Smile Smile and People on Vacation, and you’ve also got a reputation as being someone who’s very open and honest on social media. What advice would you give any young bands starting out today?
My advice would be don’t make it your goal to get signed. Your goal should be to become the best songwriter and performer you can be, and always cater to the people who support you. A lot of people as soon as they start getting a bit of a following start looking to the high-ups in the music business to try and get signed. Let those people come to you. That’s the big lesson I’ve learned, especially in today’s world – you can do it off your own back. You can build a following, make money, why sacrifice the rights to your music when you don’t necessarily need those people? Wait until it gets big enough that they’re necessary.
Social media’s something that you’ve admitted in the past to having ups and downs with – what’s your opinion on it nowadays? Also, my fellow Pure Rawk scribe Kazza has asked me to ask you – how do you feel about your mum posting baby pictures of you on Facebook every Friday?!
This is what I hate about social media! (laughs) I’m pretty much obsessed with social media and how to use it in the best possible way. We’re all trying to work out what the music business is nowadays and I hate that my Mom gets so many likes on those pictures! I’m like “What are you doing?!” So I want to be mad at her but I can’t, it’s become a fun thing and when something becomes a fun thing like that, you kind of have to embrace it.
In terms of social media overall, you have to find the balance, I think you have to be open and share and bring people in. I’m a big advocate of not putting up these stupid walls and making yourself unobtainable and behind closed doors. But at the same time, you don’t wanna over-share, and you have to be careful how you say what you want to say. I’ve only really ever had trouble once, and that was because what I was trying to say didn’t come across the right way. So I’d say use a little caution, but try to be as open as you can be.
What are your future plans at the moment, both with your solo stuff and with the Traitors?
Well we finish the tour tonight, and after that we’re doing Camden Rocks, then I’m out doing the tour with Tony. After that we’re looking to hopefully try and get a support tour at the end of the year – we’ve had a few e-mails back and forth with some different acts. That’s what I’d love to do next – it gets tough because a lot of young bands pay money to get on a big tour and I don’t wanna do that, I want to be invited because people want to have us. I mean the invitations are there, but often they end up getting squashed by someone paying money to get on the tour instead of us. So we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a nice support slot at the end of the year, if not we’re gonna do another tour like this which I really love.
Anything else you want to talk about or plug while we’re here?
No, not really – I just want people to keep supporting this band the way they have been and tell all their friends. Things are growing at a crazy rapid pace right now, so it feels really good and I just want things to keep happening the way they’re happening!
Many thanks again to Ryan for taking the time out to talk to us. You can catch Ryan and the Traitors at Camden Rocks Festival on June 2nd and then with Tony Wright on their upcoming acoustic country & western tour at Huddersfield Parish (June 6th), Manchester Gullivers (7th), London St Pancras Old Church (8th), Nottingham Bodega (9th) and Gateshead Prohibition Cabaret Bar (10th). The Traitors Singles Club is also still ongoing – for more info, you can visit their website here to find out more.
Words – Andy Close, Title Image – Stephen Curry.