“Why are you so elusive? Is it because you’re actually unicorns?”
“Yes,” they all say immediately. I knew it. Why else would a band so awesome feel the need to play so rarely, and then shape-shift to a new identity the moment after their awesomeness is recognized? (Seriously, like two weeks ago the Hambones were profiled in the News & Review.)
File Photo: Proof of unicorn existence
The Hambones had been one of those rare musical treats that pops up at random a few times a year. They played a quirky blend of trashy surf-garage that made my ears so very happy. When I heard they were changing their name to Hasta La Pizzas and going in a new direction, I fell to my knees and screamed, “NOOOOOOOO!” And then I took a breath and screamed, “OOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”
It was with fragile psyche and hoarse voice that I asked them If we could talk. They agreed to meet me for non-allegorical pizza at Celestino’s. I sat scribbling desperate questions on my notepad while I waited. Things like: “How could you do this to me?”, “What’s going to happen now?” and, “When can I see you again?”
I plunk the recorder in the middle of the table, and Trent Burnham eyes it suspiciously, “I’ve never had pizza while I was being recorded before.” Fearing that I’m scaring this mythical creature, I awkwardly reassure him: “Oh, you’ll never want to have it any other way; you’ll want to record all your meals.”
I turn to Wes Jensen in an effort to deflect from my true purpose, and confront him with a rumor I had heard minutes before, “Aren’t you some kind of child star of the fishing world?” “No.” he says flatly.
“Oh, I heard you were in some magazine.” Awkward.
“Well, yeah, when I was a kid I had a fly pattern I designed in a magazine, but I never won any awards or anything.” Tick. Tick. Tick.
Finally pizzas hit the table. The next 10 minutes of the tape are all chewing sounds. Christina Ulsh quips that they could make this a hidden track on their album; just like an hour of eating pizza. I can tell the food is calming them, as they ease into casual band-banter that segues into us all talking about Tanner (Synthesis Creative Director/Christina’s brother)—who apparently started wearing suits and ties when he was four years old (!)—and swapping stories about growing up in Forest Ranch (fun fact: my first kiss in kindergarten was a result of being chased down by the son of the guy who owned the store up there, and he grew up to axe-murder his dad in a meth-fueled rage).
File Photo: Tanner Ulsh suit wearing
I decide to make things weird again. “So Christina, you and Trent are getting married! Wes, do you feel left out of their lovemaking?”
“Yeah,” he admits, then gives them a moony look. I feel like we’re getting real now; it’s time to ask what I came here to find out.
“Sooo, are you guys going to stick with Hasta La Pizzas, or is that a transitional name?”
“I think so, at least for a while,” Christina says with a little head tilt.
“Why?” Dain asks pointedly (Dain was there too), “Was Hambones taken?”
“There are some old dudes who have that name,” Christina and Trent say in a jumble of affirmation. She continues, “But that’s not why. Hambones, as a band, became a little too serious for us. We found ourselves not having fun anymore. We thought about just changing our sound and direction and keeping the name, but inspirationally, for us, the Hambones was a certain thing and we needed that kind of separation from it.”
Dain nods, “Hasta La Pizzas is definitely more freeing. You can add some more novelty…it doesn’t say anything about your genre, but in a way it kind of does. It, to me, sounds like a garage band who has fun on weekends. They’re not trying to make anything big of it.”
“I’m just going to interview Dain about your band.” I say with a mouth full of pizza.
“Thank you, he’s our new manager,” Trent announces with a slight gesture of deference.
“So Dain,” I ask, “what can you tell me about their new sound?” He bows his head a little sheepishly, “Well, I don’t know really, I haven’t heard them yet. But to me Hambones, other than Candy Apple, was the only band to come along in the last ten years that actually caught my ear, where I was like, ‘Holy Shit, I love this!’” He paused a moment, “Well, the Shankers too. But Candy Apple really got me, and then when The Hambones came along it was such a nice blend of what I wanted to hear… I think what the Persian Skirts are doing is really great too… and Michelin Embers… but yeah, do you have new stuff yet?”
“What did you just post?” Christina asks Trent. “Monkey Jerk is the only thing I’ve put up so far.” He nods [visit thehastalapizzas.bandcamp.com to hear it]. “We’re not quite there yet, as far as really developing a whole new sound,” Christina adds. “We have Hambones songs that we’ll transition over. But that’s why we’re doing this whole thing: it’s that we want to be able to do whatever we want. We just want to have fun and play trashy garage rock. Our new band motto is ‘Make it shittier.’ If we’re trying too hard and the song’s not working, it’s like ‘stop trying so hard and have fun.’”
“Yeah, don’t overcomplicate it.” Trent nods. “And add more reverb.”
Christina laughs, “We were playing at Duffy’s a couple weeks ago, and I was trying to tell the sound guy to make the vocals sound shittier, but he thought I was kidding and took it as a compliment.”
As an aside, I’d like to mention that one of the seriously spectacular things about this group (whatever their name) is the batshit-wonderful vocal styling Trent brings to the table. He has so much fun with pitch and tone it’s a little bit unreal. Really, everything about them is fantastic: the simplicity of the threepiece, the upbeat retro attitude, the fact that they’re stylish as hell and totally immersed in the unique thing they have going…
We got to talking about the sound of the “first” Rock & Roll song in 1951 by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats called “Rocket 88,” a sound made gorgeously shitty because it was played through a damaged amplifier, setting it apart from the smooth R&B sounds that preceded it.
Christina got back on topic, “So yeah, with the name. People laugh when they hear it, and I think that’s good even if they’re laughing at us.”
“Yeah,” Trent smiles, “I feel like if you’re going to go out and go to a show…I mean, I’m a homebody, so if I’m going to go out—as much as I appreciate all other kinds of music—I want to go out and have fun. So I hope when people hear the name they think about that, because we want our music to convey that. It’s going to have a little bit of all the stuff we like, and some new stuff…you gotta always be moving forward. The name is sort of a way to trick us into not caring and having a good time.”
“Plus we really like pizza,” nods Christina, as we eye the devastation on the table. A few slices of Tom Jones and Olive Special remain of the two extra large pies; our bellies fat and satisfied. I decide to force-feed myself another half slice; why stop at full?
“And, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger.” She laughs. We take turns making garbled impersonations, which is somehow easier with a mouth full of greasy pizza. The conversation suddenly turns to a serious discussion of copyright and parody law, and whether they can use Schwarzenegger quotes or images for their album.
“So you’re working on an album then?” I ask, a little squeakily.
“Yeah,” Christina says, “eventually. We’re working on writing some new material and really getting our sound dialed in. But yeah, we’re hoping to record an album pretty soon.”
“Cool,” I say (maybe a little too eagerly), “because you guys don’t play very often.”
“Yeah, we’re pretty busy. Especially with the wedding coming up in September. But hopefully after that we’ll have a little more time on our hands.” Christina says reassuringly. I think she pities me a little. Trent takes a harder line, “I think it’s good though, it makes it more special. You don’t want to play every weekend…it can become like practice. But we do want to go out of town and meet new bands to bring back. Do some touring eventually. Help create a little stop point on the road for bands we like.”
Dain burps incredibly loudly into the recorder. This interview is clearly over.
I feel pretty reassured that the things I loved about The Hambones will continue on with their even trashier, garagier, surfier, reverbier rock songs, and I’m itching to see them play again. Hasta la Pizzas, baby.