here is this old joke about drummers and songwriting that goes: "What will you never hear a drummer say?" The answer is: "Guys, I've got a song!" The author of that joke didn't have a guy like DON HENLEY in mind who has written enough songs to fill an entire seventies rock song book. In the very recent past, I've had the pleasure of interviewing quite a few drummers with considerable songwriting chops. Most recently, in-demand metal drummer LONNIE HAMMER has stepped from behind the kit and has taken center stage with his aptly named band HAMMER DOWN HARD. The musical pedigree is strong with HAMMER who has banged the drums for the likes of JACK RUSSELL'S GREAT WHITE, EVERY MOTHER'S NIGHTMARE and most recently with BLACK OAK ARKANSAS, and now the world will see and hear what he is made of as a front man and songwriter with the forthcoming release of his band's new album TOTAL ANNIHILATION - a collection of songs that speak to the struggles of a everyday life. Adding a little heavy metal thunder to the proceedings are performances from the likes of ZACH MYERS from SHINEDOWN, BRIAN QUINN from CANDLEBOX , JUSTIN RIMER from 12 STONES and LOU KOUVARIS from RIOT. ROCKWIRED got the chance to speak with LONNIE HAMMER while he was on the road for Cadott, Wisconsin for the 2018 ROCK FEST. Here is how the interview went.
For years, you've been an in-demand drummer but your new project HAMMER DOWN HARD has allowed you step to the front and now you are doing sow with the new album TOTAL ANNIHILATION. It' not far from getting it's proper release, and now that it's almost out there, how do you feel about the finished work?
Actually I'm very excited. I think this is the best record that I've done. This is going to be my seventeenth record that I've done in my life. The radio release is going to be July 27th and the street release is going to be August 3rd and in anticipation for the release, we're going to be playing in Cadott,Wisconsin this Wednesday for ROCK FEST 2018. It's actually going to be our first show for this new record and we're going to be sharing the stage with AUTOGRAPH, SKID ROW, ACE FREHLEY. A line up like that isn't too bad for a first show.
And talk about what it's like to get from behind the drum kit and be the focus of everything?
It feels like I'm free! I feel very fortunate and very happy with the success I've had in playing drums. I've played with a lot of major bands over the years and I am a member of the BLACK OAK ARKANSAS which has a record coming out this Fall. I've played drums and written music for many years. My whole life, really. I've always wanted to do this. I always knew that I could sing. I've sung background vocals and stuff like that and have played with many great bands and have worked with great singers. I just felt like I knew I could do it. In terms of moving to the front of the stage, the experience is very different. I'm able to express my frustrations through the lyrics and it's different from simply playing the drums. I'm able to vent more. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with my life but when I listen to my record, there is a whole lot of angst and frustration on it and I think that comes from being in the music industry for so long. It gets pretty stormy at times. Rugs can can get pulled from beneath you and you have to deal with this and that. A life in music is not much different from anyone else's life. There are so many different turmoils. Life can get frustrating for everyone whether you're a nurse, a doctor or whether you dig ditches. With this album, I was able to let hose frustrations out and I feel that it is the most exciting thing that I've ever done.
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Talk about the genesis of this project. What inspired you to form this band and put out an album?
Honestly, I always wanted to do this project. At first, I didn't exactly nominate myself to be the lead singer. I knew I could sing, given my experience singing background. This whole thing started with the name HAMMER DOWN HARD. I did some drum tracks and put some vocals on top of them and I wanted to get booked for this upcoming ROCK FEST, so I called up the promoter to see what I needed to do to get on the bill. He told me that I needed to send him an email. So I did and before I knew it, HAMMER DOWN HARD was on the bill for ROCK FEST. My manager KIM really started freaking out because I didn't have one song written and no band members, but I knew how diligent of a worker I am and I know my ethics and my manager's ethics. I've always had some great people behind me. To get some songs ready, I went into the studio with JUSTIN RIMER of 12 STONES. I told him about what I wanted to do and right away, he couldn't believe that there was a drummer that could actually sing. So we went into the studio and recorded a demo for the song WHO I AM back in November or December. When we got something done, we sent it to ZACH MYERS. JUSTIN told him it was me so ZACH gave it a listen and he did not expect what he heard. ZACH ended up playing guitar on WHO I AM. After that, JUSTIN and I started writing more material. I know a lot of people in the industry, so I started reaching out to friends and the whole thing kind of snowballed. I've got TONY CARDENAS MONTANA from JACK RUSSELL'S GREAT WHITE, BRIAN QUINN from CANDLEBOX, DONNIE WAYNE SMITH from WINGER, LOU KOUVARIS from RIOT and DEVIN HIGHTOWER from SURRENDER THE FALL. This whole thing has snowballed into this huge record with all of these heavy cats playing on it. I can't believe how lucky I am. I feel very fortunate and I couldn't be happier.
And talk about songwriting with JUSTIN RIMER. What is it that he brings to the table that makes this thing work for you?
When JUSTIN played with 12 STONES and BREAKING POINT, he and I worked with the same producer SKIP MILLS. We were in different bands from each other, yet we're kind of family in they way that we think and how we approach things. When we started writing together, it was the strangest thing in the world. I would do a part and he would do a part and it was like we were completing each other's sentences. He's just a very intuitive songwriter. He'll play a riff and we;ll build a song around it. Working with him was the best time of my life.
And so far, even though the album hasn't been released yet, has their been any reactions to the album that have surprised you?
Yeah, I've had the guys in the band like RANDALL X and DONNIE on guitars and and drummer CHRIS COOK tell me that I'm onto something. I did a pre-release party for TOTAL ANNIHILATION in Wakefield, Michigan, where I'm from. One the record, there is even a song called WAKEFIELD that has to do with me growing up and being where I'm from. It's a salute to my friends an family up North. They have supported me over the years and have meant so much to me. This song was my chance to give back to them. When I did the pre-release album signing on July 3rd, it was fantastic and I was humbled. I ended up signing albums and t-shirts for about an hour and a half.
And just for some biography, how did music get started for you? What inspired you to play drums? That is usually the one instrument your parents don't want you to play.
That's the truth. It all started when I was in Kindergarten when there were two things that I wanted to be. One of them was a lion (laughs). You got to remember I was like five years old. There was this lion outfit that I wanted to get. The other thing I wanted to do was play drums. I knew from an early age that I wanted to play drums. Incidentally, I never got that lion costume. When I was about six or seven, I made a drum set out of tinker toys and used paper plates as cymbals. Finally my parents got me a drum set and I started practicing diligently in the basement. I love playing the drums, so with this band, it was hard to move up front, but I wasn't scared. I enjoy something new. It's good to do something different.
From the forthcoming album, what songs off of it stand out for you the most and why?
I would have to say that one of those songs would be the title track TOTAL ANNIHILATION. There is just so much angst on that track. Its like kick-the-dog heavy metal. There is so much passion in the music and the singing. The song has a great message about perseverance. WAKEFIELD is a song that is close to my heart. It's all about where I'm from and I'm glad to have that one out there. CHRISTINE is a song about my tour bus. It's a song about being on the road. People always think it's about a girl or an ex-girlfriend. When I was growing up I loved the band SWEET and they had a hit with this song FOX ON THE RUN. Before HAMMER DOWN HARD came together, I always wanted to do a cover of that song. I love having that song on this album. It's a great cover and it comes off fantastic.
And what can people expect with the roll out for the album TOTAL ANNIHILATION? Will there be a music video? A tour maybe?
We're going to be doing a music video soon. When we're finished with this ROCK FEST in Wisconsin, we're going to cut a music video for the song TOTAL ANNIHILATION. Right now, my manager is working on the touring stuff. I've got a lot of good people behind the band. At the moment, we're just doing a show here and there and the promotion stuff is starting to happen. We're going to have radio promo start to kick in by the end of the month. People are really going to be hearing form HAMMER DOWN HARD in August and September.
What is the big idea behind this album? What would you like for people to come away with after they hear it?
With this album, I want to give people a chance to release the frustrations that they have in their life. Life is a struggle for everybody . It doesn't matter what you do or what class you come from. Everybody struggles and this album speaks to the frustrations of breaking through. I think the reason people are able to move forward is because they are able to release their frustration. This album is for those who are struggling and to reassure them that they've kept going and that they're still here and still going strong and to keep fighting. Life isn't easy for anybody. Just because it ain't easy doesn't mean you can't pull through.
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