Ham it up
"Cheap, local and reliable" is what Hamfist member Cletus T. Cornhauler calls the band's new self-titled, debut album.
It will be available for $10 at the band's CD-release party at 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, at Caldera Tap House, 31 Water St., Ashland. The cover charge will be $3.
The cowboy, folk-blast group came up with its first recording endeavor in response to overwhelming requests by fans, says E.Z., vocalist, ukulele and harmonica player.
Hamfist recorded the album in three days in the rehearsal space in Cornhauler's studio.
"It felt like it took eight or nine years," E.Z. says.
Perhaps it was because there is no leader of the seven-piece ensemble. Getting everyone to agree on any one thing was a challenge.
"We toyed with the idea of having a mediator," Slim says.
Members of Hamfist go by aliases during shows, which speaks volumes about the comic side of the band.
Along with Cornhauler on mandolin and fiddle and E.Z., there's The Kid on Dobro, banjo and accordion. Slim plays bass and guitar, and Jonny B. and Sequoia play guitars. Then there's Stephany, who's still looking for a persona, who sings and plays accordion and mandolin.
The band likes to put its own spin on popular tunes, taking "pretty songs and making them purdy."
When it comes to recording such tunes, it can get a bit expensive because one must pay for the rights. Hamfist ponied up the cash to include such tunes as "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and "Do Re Mi," then mixed in some traditional country and bluegrass.
A few original tunes include Cornhauler's "Moonshine Party," based on a true story.
"My woman ran off, and I had a lot of time," he says.
"It's a true story," Stephany says. "He has a craft distillery, and he makes some mean moonshine."
Another reason the band's members enjoy their aliases is that many of them are known as employees of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It's no surprise when you see Hamfist perform to learn that the group is familiar with performing arts. It influenced the way they recorded their album: each song as a group and in one take.
"We played in a circle instead of mixing the tracks," The Kid says. "A lot of bands don't come from theater backgrounds."
"We don't mind not being perfect," E.Z. says. "When we had a take we liked, we decided to live with the mistakes."
As the group tells it, they fancy themselves more of an experiment in the musical arts. They produced the album themselves.
"It was a learning experience for sure," E.Z. says. "We had an engineer who was very agreeable. The CD is a snapshot of where we were when we recorded it."
The album was mixed and mastered by members of the OSF company.
"We kept it in the family," Cornhauler says.