Music doesn’t have to be complicated to be exceptional. It’s not about how fast a guitar player moves his fingers. It’s not about how quick the drummer shakes his arms and kicks his feet. It’s about the timing, the instinct, and the feeling felt when a note is hit exactly at the right moment. Traditionally, that’s what has made the blues such a popular genre. Not the notes, but the emotion and weight behind them.
With one of the most badass names in music, Vancouver-based Blues duo, The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer (HAM), are returning to the raw roots of the blues. “That’s what we think is at the core of our sound. It’s the old stuff – we’ve based ourselves off of that style of blues rather than, you know… like 80s Stevie Ray Vaughan or Eric Clapton type of blues” says Matthew (Axe Murderer) Rogers. Eliminating the intricacies and the hour-long guitar solos, Shawn (The Harpoonist) Hall and Rogers leave us with pure, unfiltered raunch n’ roll. As their website states, “it’s music that grabs you by the crotch”.
They’ve been lumped in with world-class acts such as The White Stripes and The Black Keys, artists paying tribute to the blues through rock, but what HAM are offering is a whole other beast. “I don’t think we’ve ever tried to sound like those guys at all, but we do share a lot of the same influences” says Rogers. It’s hard to avoid the comparisons when they share the same amount of band members and influences. It’s the nature of the industry, to compare, that’s just how it works.
But, what separates HAM from the rest is how they’re rapidly converting people to the blues with their brand of groin-grabbing rock. “We’re trying to convert people into realizing that they do like the blues, it’s just that they’ve been listening to the wrong types.” More than Jack White or Dan Auerbach, these two are successfully paying homage to the classics (John Hurt, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter…etc.) while, simultaneously, using their incredible musicianship to create what the older artists couldn’t: a booming sound that infects the heart and the feet.
They’re sound is infectious, and you can’t help but dance until you drop.
Hall and Rogers met during a radio jingle studio sessions for a Jamaican restaurant. An unlikely environment that bred a bond over blues music. They formed HAM not long after, originally, as an acoustic band. But, it was when Rogers incorporated the foot drum that things started taking a different path. “It was when we started playing more loud bars, we really felt the need to amp it up” said Rogers. “I remember the first time we had people dance at one of our shows, and we were impressed that two people could get people to dance.” And that right there opened up a whole other world for this band. The addition of a snare on Rogers’ left foot, and replacing the foot-stomp box with an actual kick drum has given HAM that loud sound necessary to create a really full sound. An uncommonly rowdy sound for only two people.
With their first record, The Blues Can Kill, up until their last record, Checkered Past, HAM has evolved not only with their onstage presence, but with their sound as well. They began with the traditional, folky approach found in their first record. Covers of old blues standards mixed in with original material. Now, HAM’s sound is dancy, sweat-filled rock n’ roll with a twist of whiskey. The type of jams that could burn down a barn and lift up a shirt.
“…Definitely more electric, that came from playing bars, more groove-based, and wanting to play a really energetic live show for people” says Rogers when speaking of the band’s audio evolution. A shift that has, obviously, proven to be a very natural progression for Hill and Rogers.
A natural progression that has also proven to be fruitful for the band in 2013. “We had the best summer of festivals we could have hoped for.” Playing 17 festivals, including both the Vancouver and Montreal Jazz Festivals, Hill and Rogers have been busy converting people across the country to their style of blues. They’ve made the switch from dingy bars to outdoor festivals. They’ve gone from having dozens to thousands in attendance. “Playing Montreal for 5000 people in the middle of summer, or downtown Vancouver at the art gallery for like 4000 people was unreal. Not just because they’re big, but because of the really cool sort of reaction from the audience.” Like in the beginning, HAM is continuing to convert and surprise those who attend their live shows. But, more importantly, Hill and Rogers are surprising themselves in the process. “We never thought we could play to big outdoor crowds and get a response. Because we’ve always felt that we’re only two people, so I don’t know, I guess it’s sort of building our confidence up a bit.”
As for 2014, HAM will be releasing a new album that has just been finished recording and entering into the mixing stages of production. For the last record, Hill and Rogers mixed and produced everything themselves, which won’t be the case this time. “We have more people involved this time around,” says Rogers, sounding slightly relieved at the prospect of a lessened workload. The addition of more instruments on the new record allows the band to evolve their sound even more, as well. “We’ve added some female backup singers, a dash of horns, even a banjo in there somewhere.”
With SXSW in a few weeks, a new record, and, I’m sure, a lot more festivals this upcoming summer, HAM is set to have another great year in terms of attracting people across the continent to their brand of heavy, smoke-filled blues. Make sure not to miss out on your chance to see them live at The Imperial on Friday, February 28th before they take off and leave the stratosphere.