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Elliott Hammond talks Wolfmother and rock ‘n’ roll in the #MeToo era

Dan Webb
Elliott Hammond is an Australian multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, whose band The Delta Riggs is poised to release their fourth album, Modern Pressure later this year. He’s also a former member of Wolfmother.

Before we get started, I thought it would be worth mentioning that I actually supported The Delta Riggs at Workers Club in Melbourne about six years ago, as the keyboardist for a band called Johnny Rock and The Limits.
No way. Was that the part of the residencies that we did on the Sunday nights? If it was like six years ago, yeah, it sounds about that time… that place has got a lot of history for us, because we were kinda like a little bit dead in the water in Sydney, and we were literally living out of this orange orchid, like on this place called Mangrove Mountain, and driving down and playing these shows, and we just couldn’t get any connection. We were literally playing to seven to eight people, and shit like, just nothing going on. So we went down to Melbourne to a show and we just kinda got a good vibe from this one show, and we were just all like, ‘fuck it, let’s just move this thing to Melbourne’. And we started off at the Workers Club doing that residency… It was like, you know, 20 people the first Sunday, and then you know, it doubled and then it tripled and then like the last two we kinda ended up selling out for both of them. And then we were like, “alright, this is where people are actually responding”… you know, because Melbourne’s a little bit more in touch with the culture and that scene of music and going out and seeing live music and shit… so that’s kind of where it started for us really. At the Workers Club and in Melbourne.

You were talking about how difficult it is up in Sydney. What do you make of all of the live venues shutting down?
Ah in Sydney? Yeah well, I mean I feel like that did create a lot of lost opportunity for us. It’s a different story in Sydney even now, it’s like a different time for us and other bands that have just gotten past that crucial kind of stage where you do need to have those little venues that are happy to, you know, put a little door deal on, and you put one of your friends on the door and maybe get 30 people in or something. It still gets you that stage experience and gets you actually exposed to people who are just, you know, cruising around the city and whatnot. But that’s the issue I feel with the venues shutting down. It’s not so much like, you know, the bigger venues or the biggest artists even. It’s the smaller kind of just starting out bands, which we’ve all done, where you just kind of like need to get that little bit of stage time under your belt and some kind of experience playing in front of an audience, and that’s the shit that’s gone now, with like the Annandale Hotel, and fuck, the list goes on… the Hopetoun… The cool thing about the Lansdowne is that they’ve kind of reopened their doors, and they’re trying to do that exact thing, create that intimate small venue experience, but you know, that’s like a huge risk for business owners and shit because you’re dealing with all these lockout laws and limitations with capacity venues and the amount of security guards you need in there… I don’t know how much you’ve read into this stuff, but it’s all big money shit. It’s all about real estate. It’s all about capital investment and you know, so, fuck. It’s not a Keep Sydney Open interview, but yeah that’s the gist of it.

Let’s talk about your music. You dropped a couple of singles last year ahead of the release of your self-produced fourth album this year. If these songs are indicative of things to come, would it be fair to say that this album is inspired by modern stresses?
Yeah, definitely. 100 percent. I mean, the album is called Modern Pressure, which is a – I mean, this album is definitely not like a concept album at all, but a few of the themes just about over the period of writing it, tend to address a lot of those issues that we’re having now, being in the 21st century with, you know, technology at our fingertips and yeah. Still we kinda do fuck all anyway. People are acknowledged and justified by their presence on a platform that there’s no real physical element to. It’s just a – yeah, there’s a lot of themes about that. But it’s not necessarily all negative either. You know, there’s still a lot of really cool shit happening in the world and the album kind of covers that too. But there is an element of yeah – I guess just a bit of like what a lot of our songs have always been, it’s just a little bit of social commentary on what’s happening… It’s not an opinion piece of anything, it’s just what’s going on.

Are we trying to escape through music these days, or are we just trying to find fucking trap tunes which sound like a mobile ringtone and remind us of what’s going on in front of us?

Would you say that rock ‘n’ roll is a form of escapism?
Yeah, 100 percent. Yeah.

Do you think that there’s more or less of an appetite for escapism, and therefore rock music, in the Trump era?
Yeah, good question. Really good question. You know, that’s a – I’ve never really thought about it like that… are we trying to escape through music these days, or are we just trying to find fucking trap tunes which sound like a mobile ringtone and remind us of what’s going on in front of us? Yeah, it’s a good one. For me, I find you get the rock ‘n’ roll kind of angle questions a bit and although we are definitely – our live shows is definitely inspired by that abandonment and recklessness of rock ‘n’ roll. But I’m not really trying to like, you know, recreate rock ‘n’ roll or find the new wave of what’ll be the next kind of fucking rock god like Led Zeppelin type shit or anything. For me, a lot of that abandonment and – you know, that’s the stuff that is still saying something, that to me is rock ‘n’ roll or punk rock or whatever you want to call it, is in other shit now. Like I would kind of call someone like Earl Sweatshirt pretty fucking punk rock with the shit that he’s saying that has a meaning behind it, has some truth to it. So I don’t know if the people are really looking for that the same way in the sonic aspect as far as like your traditional guitar, bass drum set up is, but I think people are still trying to identify with the concept of it, and it’s just how it’s presented to them. So for us, for example, we still do find a way to express that with, sometimes with guitars, drums, but also if you listen to our records fully, and not just like the singles, you’ll see that it’s not just really just like a standard rock outfit at all. My favourite band for example are N.E.R.D., which is The Neptunes guys, Pharrell, and I could argue that I’m more influenced by them than like fucking Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones or something, and I also would say that they’re just as expressive, and they’re saying just as much as those bands as well. Or even yeah, I don’t know, the Fugees or something like that. I don’t know. Did that really answer it Dan? That’s the kind of question that you ask me that I need to have a good think about, could write that on paper, but I’m still processing the information, yeah.

I kind of need to be really careful how I say this, because we’ve always been a Triple J supported band…

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Feel free to get back to me. Do you feel any pressure from Triple J to change your sound at all?
Yeah, um, fuck, that’s again like, good question as well. Man, I don’t even know where to start about that. Like we definitely try not to do that. We’ve kind of looked at that path before and just it’s – we’re not that kind of band. And that probably has maybe set us back a little bit from our peers who might have kind of – again, not naming names – when it might have found a formula and kind of stuck with that and really like exhausted that. For us, as musicians or well artists, it’s like we would just choke up and wouldn’t really want to be a band anymore if we had to you know, keep on doing that. So I do think that like Triple J – I kind of need to be really careful how I say this, because we’ve always been a Triple J supported band you know. And we support them as well, I think they’re fantastic, and they’ve helped give us, you know a national kind of audience. Um, but I definitely do think that there are – there are kind of themes and fads that run through that scene, where bands and artists definitely do do that, exactly what you’ve said. But I don’t think that we do. And we’re just lucky I guess that we’ve just tried to be really honest and true with our music. And although it has evolved and changed its sound, I think we do have like an identifiable sound that when you hear it on the radio, you’d still be like that’s the Riggs, even if it was a punk rock kind of trashy song or if was a more danceable kind of disco track or something.

You were talking earlier about having various genres of influence and being inspired by different bands, but you’d probably have to say that there’s this common thread of rock throughout your music. Would that be fair to say?
Definitely. Well to be honest, it was punk rock that we all started out with… none of us have ever really gotten over punk at all, but I guess we were just trying to get away from those tempos and that faster, trashier (sound). So the next gradual step would be to get into kind of rock ‘n’ roll, because of that. So yeah, it’s based on that… but it’s hard for me to really kind of know, because it’s – they’re all my songs and shit, so you as an outside listener or like, if I was listening to your band for example, I would have my own set of opinions of where I think the music kind of derives from.

Yeah, sure. Well I feel like I need to ask this question. Rock lyricists have a long history of objectifying women in their songs. Do you feel any sense of responsibility or pressure these days to adjust your songwriting in the age of #MeToo?
Fuck man. You’re on the money (laughs). This is good shit. Yeah, well, usually it’s just like, “And how did you get your band name.” And like, “Where did you all meet?”. Man, I do feel like – I don’t know about the objectifying women, I don’t really know if we’ve got any songs like that, but I do feel like there’s a certain section – you know, for example, I was just going to see the Stones exhibition the other day and just going through some of these handwritten lyrics, and some of these, you know, cease and desist letters that their accounting team got for songs like “Some Girls” and “Honky Tonk Women”, that have these kind of like sexual undertones, and it just kind of amazed me how much history – this sounds so clichéd, but history repeats itself. Like you’ve got this age where this shit was happening in the 70s because Jagger’s saying girls want to fuck all night, and then you’ve got Marilyn Manson, you know, coming through in the 90s… but what the interesting thing is, man, is that shit is not happening in the rap scene. I listen to a lot of that shit, and the derogatory, you know, sexist remarks about women are just rampant in that style of music but no one says shit… You don’t see Die Antwoord, who in my opinion are incredible artists, being held to task for some of their more explicit, racial kind of elements that they include in their music videos. So is it just focused on a kind of set group of agenda, a medium of people? Is it being profiled to fit that? Or is it mankind as a whole that needs to wake up and readdress what their opinions are? But yeah, we’ve had some interesting conversations within the band about that very thing, about subject matters and what the guys feel is comfortable for me to say, because I feel like I’ve got a lot to say and some of it is provocative. For saying something that – you know, yeah, it’s definitely something that’s on my mind lately.

It was basically the worst year of my life until I had that surgery done.

I’m curious about your time with Wolfmother. You’ve spoken in previous interviews about experiencing back tightness from drumming on tour with them. Have you tried anything to remedy that – perhaps yoga?
Yeah well, I had a lot of problems earlier on, and it was just after I joined Wolfmother, I’d actually had back surgery because I’m quite skinny and I was drumming so much, that when we moved to that farm I was talking about, the Mangrove Mountain one that I’d stopped drumming because we had a drummer come into the band. I wasn’t really doing much, I was chopping firewood every day, but all that core strength kind of – I’m quite skinny and it left, so a disc slipped out and it was basically the worst year of my life until I had that surgery done. But yeah, I was still in recovery mode when we were on – I was doing like you know, nine, ten week tours at a time in Europe with Wolfmother, living in like a tour bus and obviously you can’t stand up straight all the time, so it was pretty hard. But yeah, my routine now which is – it’s not very rock ‘n’ roll to admit, and it has been like this for probably like seven years (laughs), is like a strict 35 minute core strength work out every morning without fail. Like I don’t fuck around with not doing it or get lazy because that pain was so – by the end of that time spending a year with that back pain, I was on anti-depressants just to get out of bed, and I’m not a negative person. I’m usually a pretty sprightly positive guy, but that pain had just gone on for so long. So that kind of scared me. After I recovered I was like, “I’m going to be pretty diligent with this stuff”. And I actually hate working out to be honest. Like it’s not something that I enjoy doing at all, but I just force myself to do it every single day. Just cos I don’t want to get back to that state… before I had that surgery I went through everything. I went through yoga, pilates, I was getting like what pressure point, like acupuncture, meditation and that kind of thing (laughs). I was speaking to these spiritual gurus, like this one dude I was sitting there with, he was like, “No, no, like once we get your muscles tightened up, your muscles will suck that disc back in.” And I was kind of like, “I’m not a doctor, but that sounds a bit…” anyway, I just kind of went with it anyway, but the time I got to the surgeon, like after the year, I told him that theory and he just basically just started laughing. He’s like, “Man, you’ve got a permanent injury. Your body’s not just going to like suck a fucking disc back into you.” So yeah. It was a real wake up call for me, and now I’ve got a new set, like anyone with any of those kind of like physical ailments and stuff. Usually when you hear people like, “oh my back’s killing me” and shit, you’re just like yeah, whatever. But now that I’ve been through it, I know first hand. So yeah. I’m pretty diligent (but) the short answer is 35 minutes exercise routine every day, that I loath.

I’m not going to say it was all awesome… at times he could be difficult. I can be difficult… Brian fucking Wilson didn’t get out of bed for two years. No one gives a shit about that.

In Andrew Stockdale’s own words, he’s been depicted as a guy who’s difficult to work with. In your experience, is there any truth to those suggestions?
Um, man to be honest, we went through a lot of stuff. Like I personally am still a fan of Andrew Stockdale, even like after everything that happened and even before going into it, because you know, I wasn’t part of the original line up. But I was in high school listening to those Wolfmother records as a fan. Like I loved Wolfmother. And then so getting to the – we kind of met and became friends and when I kind of joined the band, I always and still even after I left, I always loved the way he approached writing music, and he kind of taught me a lot of things about writing music. In fact, he was involved with the – which he never really wanted a credit for, but “Never Seen This Before”, which is one of our songs I was kind of showing to him after I got back from L.A. This is years after I left the band, and we ended up working on that chorus together. And yeah, I think he does get a lot of like heat. I guess people have bad experiences with him. I’m not going to say it was all awesome, but for me, I still think he’s a pretty talented guy. I know he’s got his own struggles musically, and whatever with how he wants to express that, but at times he could be difficult. I can be difficult. I know I’ve worked with a lot of artists that can be difficult. Brian fucking Wilson didn’t get out of bed for two years. No one gives a shit about that. Sometimes if you want to hit that bell curve of you know, real creativity and really kind of pushing it, someone’s got to be cracking that whip. I never had an issue with that with Stockdale. I know a lot of other people did. I didn’t really feel like I was competing with – when I was working with Wolfmother, I was still in the Riggs. But when I was working with Wolfmother, it was like I’m the drummer, I’m the keyboard player, whatever my role was at the time, in Wolfmother. I’m not like trying to fucking vow for, it’s Stockdale’s operation, and I was always cool with that. So yeah. Everyone approaches that shit differently though, you know.

Were you pissed off at all that he decided to drop the Wolfmother name in favour of his own?
Um, I was confused by it (laughs). But again, it was not my – you know, I wasn’t a decision maker in that outfit. That period was strange. And then halfway through the tour they kind of went back to Wolfmother so I never really completely understood that (laughs), what was going on there. And we played some strange gigs and some really cool ones too. This guy called Rory had lent us this 1969 GTS Monaro – this seems just so ridiculous now. Stockdale just abandoned the van and like the gear and everything and was like, “right, we’re all in the Monaro.” And we were just burning around some places like Bendigo and Ballarat and shit and just turning up in this GTS Monaro, and just thrashing it. Like it was strange cos it would start with the Andrew Stockdale set but then he’d get all kind of sucked up and he’d turn around and be like, “alright, ‘Joker and the Thief’, lets go.” And he’s like, “hang on man, that’s not in the…” and then all of a sudden it would turn back into a Wolfmother set (laughs). Yeah, I don’t know.

At the time that you left the band, you cited scheduling conflicts with The Delta Riggs. What’s the real reason why you left?
Yeah, look, that was a kind of like a publicity angle to smooth it over I think. There had been a little bit of – like you know, some stuff going on there. But in all honesty, yeah it wasn’t really a scheduling conflict. But to be honest I don’t really want to go into it because I’m not going to get anything out of sitting around slagging off Stockdale, as I’m sure people love to do. And I’ve been through that period, but I’ve made peace with it now… Yeah, look it just kind of, it reached a bit of a head and I was constantly trying to work around his schedule. You know, some of it was the schedule, but he’s a real sporadic dude and he’s got that freedom because he’s not in – for me, I’m still very, and then, and now, like a working musician, so if I’m not on the road with the Riggs, I’m you know, in the studio writing for other people, or I’m doing session stuff or I’m trying to fucking pay the rent you know, so I’m not – I can’t just sit around in Byron Bay like Stockdale and be like – oh, actually, he like calls me up one time (laughs), which is just so… So he just calls me up, I’m like down in Melbourne hanging out with the guys, and he’s like, “Oh Elliot, hey, how’re you doing?” I’m like, “Stockdale, what’s up?” And he’s like, “Look, um, I’ve moved those rehearsals from Byron on Saturday. Can you like – is that cool with you?” And I’m like, “yeah, well where do you want to rehearse?” And he’s like, “Oh, I’m in London… can you call the travel agent and get a flight?” I’m like, “Yep, alright. I’ll get onto it.” And as he’s getting off the phone, this is the best part – “Hey Stockdale, do you need anything? Like did you bring your – do you have guitars or like…?” He goes, “Nah man, but I packed my guitar strap.” (laughs) So he literally like just got on the plane with his whatever fucking else he packed and his guitar strap, and he just – you know that’s the kind of luxury – I don’t have that luxury. I can’t do that to my band. I can’t turn up with like a guitar pick and just be like – but yeah, some of it was scheduling. I guess that put a lot of pressure on the other stuff, because you know, it was in his eyes, and I get this as well, it’s his band, he’s trying to do his own thing. He loved the Riggs, he’s always been around it. But he didn’t kind of enjoy the fact that I was unavailable sometimes when he just wanted to do things on a whim, you know. And it was stressful for me, because it was always, like, what’s he going to do next? I’m trying to just keep these two ships afloat, and it was, yeah. It was a stressful time.

He didn’t kind of enjoy the fact that I was unavailable sometimes when he just wanted to do things on a whim.

At what point did you decide you wanted to pursue being a musician as a career?
I had a bit of a skewed view on it I guess. I was younger and you know, I was living on the Gold Coast. My whole plan (originally) was to just be a session drummer. That was like my life’s goal. So I just kind of dedicated most of my teenage years to just practicing drums and getting the contacts to get drum endorsements and kind of setting myself up for what I imagined was yeah, when I turned 22 or 23 I would get down to Sydney and I’ll – and I did do that, I like came down and started doing that. I was working, I was doing session stuff working for like Sony artists like Brian McFadden and Natalie Bassingthwaighte and like just a bunch of session shit. And then it was kind of like quite apparent after about eight, nine months of it – like I still love playing drums, but that gig, and being in that world – and you’ve done some session stuff as well, so you probably know as well, you’re kinda like the bottom rung of people that get paid and acknowledged (laughs)… so I kind of had a bit of a wake up call. I was also seeing producers coming and going, people kind of presenting songs and I’d been writing songs for a bit. The Delta Riggs is just a jam band at this stage and we were probably writing shit songs. But I was still writing them. And like you know, I’m kind of writing some songs, and Rudy and I – Rudy’s the guitarist in the band, and we’ve kind of been doing a bit of production and shit, and so that’s when I started kind of expanding my idea of, I guess, the reality of what a working musician is in today’s time, which is you can’t, unless you’re someone like you know, Steve Jordan or some shit, just be the drummer. It’s not really that feasible a thing to do. I was just thinking about Dann Hume who is the drummer from Evermore. Just in the years that we’re in the same management back in the day when I was still playing drums, I was working for this other band, and they’d just gone into the production thing and it’s like now he’s just killing it. Like he’s just producing. That stuff he does with Matt Corby that I’m just a huge fan of – I didn’t even know but he played bass on the new Angus and Julia record, which Angus didn’t even tell me. But I guess he was just like there or something. The guy’s everywhere. But that’s the kind of dexterity you need to have. You need to be able to put your finger in a few different pies and be not only just across something, but also willing and able to give something, you know, that’s going to be valuable, that people are going to call you up again and be like, “come and do it again.” Like I said, at the start I was just going to be the drummer, but you know in my mind I wanted to be like Steve Jordan, like getting the subway around with my cymbals and snare and shit and it was more of a romantic idea. The reality is you’ve kind of got to do a lot more than that. So that’s what I kind of turned into. But I don’t think I ever could have imagined that I was going to do all that shit. The shit that I do now.

Well I’ve got one last question for you, and acknowledging that I’ve asked a few tricky questions so far, I’m actually going to end with probably the trickiest question of all. If you could collaborate with any artist, in any medium, past or present, who would it be and what would you ideally create?
That is such a huge question, man. Like Jesus Christ. That’s an alright question though, because it’s not – yeah, I don’t have to tip toe around it as much. We actually play that game in the tour van, believe it or not, this question that you’ve just asked, about putting together your dream band or – we’ve never really expanded it on (what) you’re saying, like to what project would you actually work on. I mean, fucking hell. That’s crazy. Okay, I’m just going to like try and – this should just be one scenario, I’m not going to say like this is my ideal scenario, but I’m just going to go with a theme on this one, cos I could flesh it out a bit. So going with that like kinda galactic theme, ‘if you would, if you could’ person – you know, like so Pharrell Williams is heaps into aliens and kind of extraterrestrial activity, and so am I… like I said, I could make up like 50 of these. But this would just be an interesting project. So you get myself, Pharrell, obviously with that planetary background, then you get someone like Carl Sagan, astrophysicist, astronomer… and then Brian May, who has also done a full degree in astrophysics and has complete like, intergalactic, you know, star solar system patterns on the ceiling of his house, and just do like some kind of sonic project to connect with extraterrestrials would be pretty powerful. That’s just a concept. Like that’s just come up within 30 seconds of thinking about that. But yeah, I’m still backing it now, now that I’m processing it. I don’t know who would even play what. I don’t know if Carl Sagan can play anything. Maybe he could just talk about the wonder of the world and, yeah I don’t know. I’d have to flesh that thing out.

Do a concept album.
That’s it. Yeah, maybe. Maybe for once a concept album, yeah.