From a prestigious music education (Canada's McGill University) to international travel and tours, to his jazz, art-rock and beatboxing background, Ben Hammond ups the image one might have of a 'typical' backwoods Maine native. Nor does his music fit into any common category: one minute he's singer-songwriter smooth, the next breaking into rap-jazzy scats, skillfully co-merging genres within songs.
Hammond, a finalist in numerous songwriting competitions, started playing bass in high school while his beatboxing was more a 'joke' among friends. It wasn't until auditioning for an elite McGill acapella group that his skills earned him the coveted anchor spot as its "vocal drummer. He later taught himself guitar during his thesis, saying, "(he)realized that if I'm gonna be a bass player, I was gonna always be reliant on other musicians who, as you know, are not necessarily the most reliable people in the world, and if I can do a solo act, I can be self-sustained and just, kind of, make a business out of it but still get the joy of music."
Because Hammond's travels and booming popularity regularly lead him to New England, Canada and around the Suncoast each year, he keeps a separate band in each area. He also performs solo (or in duets, too) and looks to expand his set, Keller Williams-style, where one physically sees him playing an instrument (an upright jazz bass, for instance) while electronically looping its sound, incorporating it when he plays other instruments - in essence, he'll accompany himself, live. "I think it's just gonna add an extra element to the show," Hammond said.[+top][+view original article]
CD Review: Hammond masters grooves on live Stone Mountain set
It was on a Thursday night in May of last year that Ben Hammond took the stage at Stone Mountain Arts Center with audio and video engineers on hand. The result is a CD/DVD set, "Solo at Stone Mt. Arts Center."
The CD part of "Live" includes five songs from Hammond's 2008 album, "Reasonably Honest," six new tunes and two covers.
"When I'm Supposed To" shows off his talent as a human beatbox along with his magic pedal that loops in layers of his vocals. The other instrument you'll hear on "Live" is Hammond's acoustic guitar, but don't think for a second this is a standard-issue singer-songwriter deal. Hammond's far from it, and he's cut from soul-pop cloth, a fabric that includes rock, folk and even jazz sensibilities.
"Except for You," also from the "Reasonably Honest" CD, is a love song that's been infused with the hearty sunshine of Hammond's voice: "I wanna kiss you underwater, come up for air / But there's nothing there -- except for you." Add to those lyrics a little beatbox action and first-rate guitar.
"Wintergreens" is an instrumental track on the "Live" CD, and it's a stirring piece of acoustic guitar. My only criticism is that it's too short at just more than two minutes. All was forgiven when I heard Hammond's terrific cover of Flight of the Conchord's "Most Beautiful Girl."
The DVD has six tracks directed and edited by Mike Dana ("Requiem for a Dream"). Five songs are from the CD, and there's a bonus a cappella version of The White Stripes' "Fell in Love With a Girl." I was nervous when I saw he was treading into those waters, but was pleasantly surprised that Hammond put a groovy spin on an already great song.
Hammond is a versatile musician who writes memorable originals, delivers when he decides to cover someone, and uses his guitar, voice and gadgets to create a sound that you want to keep hearing.
The CD is available at www.benhammondmusic.com, on iTunes and at cdbaby.com. Buy it locally at Bull Moose in Scarborough and Portland.
Aimsel Ponti is a Portland freelance writer. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org[+top]
So any singer-songwriter that owns, knows how to use, and then puts on their CD the Theremin has got my attention. Even if it is for only one track, it piqued my interest, and as I scanned down the page I noticed that this singer-songwriter does a lot more than just play guitar; he beat boxes, circuit bends and writes damned good songs.
The writer in question is Ben Hammond and his new CD, [Reasonably] Honest, has ten tracks that weave in and out of jazz, rock, reggae, rap and pop while staying true to a sound that is definitely Ben Hammond. Hammond sounds, vocally, like Jamie Cullum and John Mayer and has a bouncy guitar style with great backbeats that remind me of Jack Johnson. The thing that sets him apart from those guys is his ability to blur the line between jazz, pop and hip-hop and do it so that it doesn't sound forced. When I was reading Hammond's press release and got to the part about his beat boxing, I groaned, but when I listened I was truly impressed at how he fits it in and makes it sound like it belongs.
The songs on this CD are of the usual variety relationship-I want you, You Want Me-I'm confused, Please help me- type of songs. That's OK, and what makes it OK is the music and grooves that keep you listening. The first track, "Let's Get Alone" starts off with a groovy acoustic guitar riff and has a well placed rap-verse in the middle done up well by Kweku Sam Kwofie. "It's OK" is a solo track with just voice and guitar that gives the listener an insight to the live sound of Ben Hammond. "Touch" is a track that does not allow you to sit still and uses Hammond's beat boxing and some beats and sounds that reminded me of Stevie Wonder.
Ben Hammond seems to be on the edge of all the latest musical trends like circuit bending and beat boxing, yet it is all brought back into the traditional forms of jazz and pop and delivered with expertise. Go out and get this disk. [+top]
Musician Ben Hammond was born in Hiram and ended up in Montreal, where he graduated from McGill University in 2006. He's calling Maine home again and is celebrating the release of "(Reasonably) Honest" Tuesday night on my favorite stage within several hundred miles of here, the Stone Mountain Arts Center.
Hammond's been performing his tunes from New England to New Zealand, with appearances as the Montreal Jazz Festival and Sarasota Arts Weekend.
Joining him on stage will be two fellow Fryeburg Academy grads, Danny Berglund on drums and Kelly Muse on bass. As for Hammond, he'll be singing, playing his acoustic guitar and will be his own human beatbox.
The 10 songs on "Honest" encompass a spectrum of styles and expression. "Let's Get Alone" is soulful and driven, "It's OK" is a song with a swollen heart. "Don't you ever go and drop me, now that I've got no way of stopping," beseeches Hammond with just enough inflection to leave its mark.
"Touch" is a spring-loaded toe tapper with fantastic female back-up vocals that give it a funky sheen. "Start Breathing" turns in on itself through Hammond's lovelorn lyrics, sung with a controlled fervor that both sooths and burns.
The record's closing track, "Another Friend," is upbeat with salty words: "You used to act so happy and then those gray clouds came up under your eyes. Is there something you've been hiding?"
Congrats, Ben, on the standout record and the show at the House that Noonan Built on Tuesday night. Visit www.benhammondmusic.com for free mp3s and more info. [+top]
Artist: Ben Hammond (vocals/beatboxing, guitar, bass, theremin, composition)
Base of operation: Sarasota
Style/genre of music: "Acoustic-soul-pop"
Bio: Hammond is only partially settled. The Maine native, a degreed music technologist who studied in Montreal and spent a year immersed in New Zealand's vast musical culture, calls Sarasota home - at least for "season." The jazz, soul and pop vocal-beatmaker/singer-songwriter has had a busy year. Hammond won two awards in 2008 - one as a finalist in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, another at Vermont's SolarFest Songwriter Showcase, where he placed second. He also released his first full-length CD, "(Reasonably) Honest," in March, celebrating it at a sold-out hometown launch party in Maine. Also, giant CD/DVD design, packaging and duplicating company Disc Makers chose his eco-friendly "digipak" (CD case and jacket) to display in their product catalog.
Quote: "The reason I'm in the music thing," Hammond said, "is not to make money. It's not to get famous; it's 'cause I don't really have any other choice. I mean, I'm gonna be playing the music whether I get paid for it or not, because I love it too much to NOT do it, you know?" [+top]
BROWNFIELD, Maine - It can never be said that musician Ben Hammond isn't loyal to where he grew up. No matter what adventures his life takes him on, the 2001 Fryeburg Academy graduate from Hiram, Maine always comes home to share his new life experiences. This time he returns to the Mount Washington Valley with his fi rst album, "[Reasonably] Honest," for a performance at the Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfi eld, Maine, on June 10 at 8 p.m. "A lot of the bigger artists that go there talk about how nice it is to go back and play a small venue again, and for me it is like this huge venue," said Hammond, who has been a staple of the valley bar scene on and off for the past few years. The show is part of an album tour that has had Hammond bouncing back and forth across the Canadian border. Thus far he has had shows in London, Ontario, Toronto, Montreal, Burlington, Vt., Bangor, Maine, Norwood, Mass., and Boston. The tour will continue with another trip to Montreal and appearances in Portland, Maine, and New Jersey. Hammond's connection to Canada goes back to his years studying music technology at McGill University in Montreal. It is there that he developed his talent as a musician by performing in jazz, rock, hip hop and a cappella groups and where he established many of his musical contacts. When it came time to record his first album, it seemed natural to head back to the Great White North, and so this past November Hammond set off to Toronto. The final product of his time in Toronto reveals an artist who is not your topical singer/songwriter. Many of the songs on "[Reasonably] Honest" start with a simple acoustic base and layer on elements of jazz, hip hop and reggae, sometimes within the same song.
"Having known Ben since he fi rst picked up a bass guitar, I can say that he's always been both talented and ambitious," said Kelly Muse who is performing with Hammond at the Stone Mountain show. "His jazz experience gives him the skills to write really intelligent songs, but Ben manages to do so in a way that isn't forced. It's a rare kind of organic smart rock that brings elements of folk, funk and jazz. His new album is a perfect example." Dan Berglund, who has known Hammond since nursery school and will also be joining him Tuesday, agrees that Hammond's diverse musical background makes him a fresh voice and performer. "I think his new album is great," said Berglund. "His voicings and harmonies are a clear indication of his musical intelligence, and the broad scope of the styles he writes in is a refreshing change from the commercial pop scene." "Let's Get Alone," the first track on "[Reasonably] Honest" perfectly encapsulates Hammond's ability to blend genres. Starting out as a catchy, pop jazz song, it seamlessly segues into a rap interlude written and performed by Kweku, one of Hammond's friends from his days at McGill. The track's inventiveness is the ideal opener because it lets listeners know they are in the presence of an artist who is willing to take chances. "We decided to put it up front almost like the way an emcee would introduce a show," said Hammond. "[Kweku] is introducing a lot of the lyrical themes that happen on the album. I think it worked out really well in that way, and I think it gives a different texture."
The songs on "[Reasonably] Honest" may seem like a straightforward collection of love songs, but there's more going on. Hammond begins with the formula of a love ballad and gives it a twist. His songs feature confl ict and struggle. They aren't all sunshine and rainbows. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Hammond is willing to go beyond the superfi cial and brush up against darker themes. "Instead of writing break-up songs, I tend to write almostbroken- up songs, and I think those are a lot more interesting than either straight 'I love you' or straight 'I hate you' because who really feels one way or the other?" said Hammond. "I think on the first listen a lot of my songs you don't necessarily catch that there are other levels happening lyrically because they can come across as just love songs, which is fi ne, I don't mind that." There is also a craft in the production of the songs themselves that some listeners may not catch on to, but indeed the recording process for "[Reasonably] Honest" was crucial to its success. "We did this one a bit different than most pop and rock albums," said Hammond of the recording process. "We did it in more of a jazz way, in that everything was recorded at the same time and we added to it afterwards, but the vocals, the drums, the bass, the guitar and the piano were all done live in the studio and that was sort of the vibe we were going for with the album - the organic, live, jazzy, improvisational feel where it is loose." Once the album was done, Hammond knew he'd want to tour with it, but more importantly he knew he wanted to have a big show in his hometown area. "I thought about doing a venue in Portland, but then I'd lose a lot of the North Conway crowd and vice versa I'd lose all my Portland people if I did a North Conway show," said Hammond. "Something right near Hiram would be the best, so Stone Mountain is a perfect venue, not too huge, but big enough to have a big party." Joining Hammond in the party is a special guest band put together specifi cally for the Stone Mountain show featuring Hammond on guitar, Muse on bass, Berglund on drums and Gabe Nespoli on piano. "I'm really looking forward to this group," said Hammond. "Everyone involved is just such a great musician and has their own voice to give to it. I tend to look for that; I really hate playing with these sort of robot players. There are some guys that are fantastic, but they only play exactly what you tell them to play. For me my music is a bit more dynamic and improvised than that." It is that willingness and openness to explore different genres and what other musicians have to offer that Nespoli - who is coming down from Toronto for the show - admires most about Hammond. "I have always envied not only Ben's incredibly diverse musical interests, but also the way in which he lets them infl uence his music and playing, making him quite the musical chameleon," said Nespoli, who played on "[Reasonably] Honest" and has been touring with Hammond. "He values the infl uences of other musicians with whom he is playing, and is eager to incorporate what they bring to the table. This creates a very comfortable, unique and unifi ed sound that is hard to come by these days." Hammond is hoping to run through the whole album at the Stone Mountain show following a solo acoustic set of older material. He also promises a few unexpected musical surprises. "Touring with Ben has been a really enjoyable experience for me since we're not playing the songs exactly as they are on the album," said Nespoli. "For the live shows we've opened the songs up a little more, making them edgier and livelier." Tickets cost $15 and are available at www.stonemountainartscenter. com.
"[Reasonably] Honest" is on sale in the valley at White Mountain Cider Company, Cafe Carleo, White Birch Books and Cigar Emporium as well at Bull Moose in Portland, Maine and online at iTunes and at http:// cdbaby.com/cd/benhammond. [+top]
It is said that "Variety is the spice of life" and that is precisely what is found in Ben Hammond's newest cd release "[Reasonably] Honest".
It is filled with musical spices to feed the appetite. His original compositions have something for everyone, with elements from jazz to funk, changing rhythms, styles and arrangements. His beautiful lyrics, ranging from sensual to exuberance and everything in between come together nicely in a great package of vocal performance and instrumental gifts. His stories are filled with the exploration of life and all it's demands. Ben is an inspiration as a gifted young artist with a shining horizon and a style that will make a difference.[+top]
BROWNFIELD: Ben Hammond will be making a homecoming when he takes the stage at Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield June 10 to celebrate the release of his first CD, "[Reasonably] Honest."
Born in Hiram, Hammond, 25, will be joined on stage by old Fryeburg Academy classmates Kelly Muse and Dan Berglund. A guitarist who can cover more than 250 songs from Elvis Presley to Jack Johnson, Hammond mixes elements of jazz, hip hop, reggae and folk into the 10 original tracks on the CD.
"[Reasonably] Honest" is more than a composing and producing effort for Hammond, who has also done the promotional and marketing work for the CD.
Hiram native and Fryeburg Academy graduate Ben Hammond's first CD "[Reasonably] Honest" is a melange of jazz, reggae and folk influences. Hammond celebrates the release of the CD with a June 10 show at the Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield. (Photo by courtesy)
He learning the business aspects of his career came from growing up in a family that has owned a Hiram lumber mill for more than 60 years. The artistic aspects are also rooted in his family, as Ben Hammond recalls joining his parents, Thomas and Debbie, brother Thomas Jr. and sister Greta in singing in the car. But he resisted efforts by his parents to take music lessons as a boy. "Then I found a guitar in the attic on my own, so it was cool that way," said Hammond. Home schooled until he entered Molly Ockett Middle School in Fryeburg in sixth-grade, Hammond began private guitar lessons with Fryeburg Academy teacher Brent LaCasce at about the same time. It was LaCasce who urged Hammond, who was about to enter Fryeburg Academy, to switch to the bass, telling him he had plenty of guitar players looking for spots in school bands but no bass players. Hammond learned the bass and subsequently played "in pretty much every band I could absorb," including the award-winning jazz ensemble at Fryeburg Academy. As a senior, he was named best male vocalist at the Maine State Jazz Competition. During a band competition, Hammond visited McGill University in Montreal. Though he was interested in attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, he chose McGill after he graduated in 2001, because it was less expensive than Berklee and the bilingual atmosphere in Montreal was one he wanted to explore.
At McGill, Hammond pursued a degree in music technology, merging his passions for music and computer technology. "I was unsure I wanted to be a professional musician," Hammond said. "Then about halfway through, I realized I was having too much fun not to give performing a try." At that point, Hammond was still more a backup singer and bass player, but realized it could be more lucrative to perform as a soloist. After graduating from McGill in 2006, Hammond returned to Maine and began playing a circuit of clubs through Bridgton and North Conway, N.H.
His bachelor's degree in music technology would need to be enhanced by a master's degree before Hammond might land a job as a studio engineer. The lessons from the classroom and studio had a defining effect on Hammond's solo career in ways like the incorporation of a looping pedal that allows him to play back a vocal track and harmonize with it onstage. "The degree has made it easier to think of sound analytically," Hammond said.
Artistically, his trip to New Zealand from November 2006 through April 2007 provided a boost as he discovered an enthusiasm there for reggae beats tinged with electronic drums and added it to his eclectic repertoire. "I had to rely on my playing and press packages," said Hammond about touring in New Zealand, a country he had visited when his brother Tom studied there years before. He earned a working visa there and found more time to write because he did not play as many gigs as he had in New England. Hammond returned to North America with new material and confidence ready to record his first full-length CD. "I could have rented some cheap mics and done it in my garage," Hammond said. Instead, the allure of recording at Phase One Studios in Toronto, where his band, consisting of drummer Nico Dann, Nespoli on keyboards and bassist Dan Fortin, could be ensconced in separate rooms to record and the chance to work with old friend and producer Reuben Ghose was too strong. Hammond's experience from McGill again came into play as he recorded his music, but it was the collaborative process with Ghose he said gives the CD its strength. "He made me focus on what I really needed," said Hammond. "The songs had an opportunity to breathe." The CD, mixed at Sterling Studios in New York, took a month to record.
The sounds on "[Reasonably] Honest," can be simple or cacophonous through the use of distorted trumpets, but what may pique listeners most is the use of the Theremin on "Lemme Know." The Theremin is unique in that it is an instrument not played by contact. The sound is created by someone waving hands in front of a small box with dual antennae. The hand movements control the pitch and volume of sound. The sound of a Theremin may be recognizable because of the theme to the original "Star Trek" TV series and the song "Good Vibrations," by the Beach Boys. "Most people use of it for sound effects, but it has a really beautiful sound," he said.
Hammond prefers not to discuss the cost of producing "[Reasonably] Honest" independently, but did say the money was earned "through the generosity and tipping of people in North Conway and Bridgton." He also created his own Web site to market his music. Part of marketing means giving away some music, and the song, "Worst Kind Of Perfect," can be downloaded for free. The remaining nine songs on the album can be downloaded individually for 99 cents by using a link to digstation.com at www.benhammondmusic.com. By giving away one song, Hammond hopes to create a buzz and sense of discovery for listeners leading to additional downloads or CD sales. "My computer is on all day long," said Hammond about the work to market himself. "You are constantly in a job interview, wondering if the person you are talking to is someone who could buy your album," Hammond said, adding that he is ready to consider turning over that part of his career to a manager or promoter.
After the release party, Hammond will play in Montreal and Toronto, then work his way down the East Coast to his home in Sarasota, Fla. He expects to return to New Zealand by December, and stay there through April or May. "I'm trying to avoid Maine winters," he joked, but expects the return to New Zealand would lead to more inspiration to return to the studio in 2009.[+top]
In other musical highlights, don't miss valley entertainer and Fryeburg Academy grad Ben Hammond's CD release concert at Stone Mountain Arts Center in bustling Brownfield, Maine, Tuesday, June 10, at 8 p.m. Ben, a gifted guitarist in the James Taylor vein, produced his first CD in Toronto. it's got a very witty title, "[Reasonably] Honest." Call Stone Mountain (207-935-7292) for the scoop or go to www.benhammondmusic.com.[+top]
Impossible to name a genre for this talented young man - each cut on the CD is different and gives a different feel ..... it's as though he just can't quite make up his mind where he wants to be - Jazz - Folk - World - and somehow it simply works ... he manages to be a little of everything and his love of different genres of music is very clear.[+top]