Interview with Scattered Hamlet's Adam Joad
Q: How do you describe your sound to those who haven’t yet heard Scattered Hamlet?
We call it Honky Tonk Metal - it’s not quite full on southern rock and it’s not quite metal enough for the purist metal police to let us call “metal.” If you’re a guitar player its really just pentatonic based aggressive hard rock.
Q: Where did the name “Scattered Hamlet” come from?
I pulled it out of a Civil War book I was reading when I was working on the first demos for the band. It’s a slang term for small rural communities like the place I grew up. In hindsight I should have been more obvious, people seem to think it’s a Shakespeare reference which I think is funny, Do we look like we read a lot of Shakespeare?
Q: As a guitarist/singer/songwriter, what are your biggest musical influences?
Wow, for me there’s so many. Songwriting, I’m a huge Springsteen and Mike Ness fan. My favorite guitar player of all time is Dave Gilmour, I like his voice a lot too. For harmonies and guitar weaving I have to give it up to the Skynyrd boys: Gaines, King, Collins and Rossington. Tom from Boston is great guitar harmony player too, he taught me through Boston records the power of thirds.
Q: When did you first start playing guitar, and what inspired you to pick up the instrument?
I was screaming in a punk band at the time and one day the band leader and guitar player walked into rehearsal and said, “We need another guitar player but I don’t want to add anyone else to the band.” So basically that meant I needed to learn to play guitar. We found me an old SG - 1 with a single pickup at Johnny B. Goode’s in Pittsburgh, and I bought a fender red knob combo at a pawnshop in West Virginia. He showed me some cowboy chords and taught me the pentatonic minor scale and said, there, practice. It was the start of a great love affair. I love everything about the guitar. I’d rather play guitar than sing or front a band but it turns out I’m a better singer and frontman than I am a guitar player. If Mike Ness ever calls me to play second guitar in Social Distortion I’ll take a hiatus from being a frontman.
Q: What does your practice regimen look like?
It varies depending on my goals. Regardless, though, I play for an hour a day. I usually play a long to all the songs I play on in our set and then I usually try to hit something specific. One day I’ll pull out Spotify and only play along to open G slide songs and then the next day I’ll play along to all my classic rock favorites. I’m making a guest appearance with a friend’s band playing the Beastie Boys “Sabotage,” so I’ve been playing along to that, which isn’t rocket science, but it takes touch and feel. I tried to do the Steve Vai regimen once and made it pretty far in and learned a great deal. If someone really kept up with that they’d be amazing, you probably wouldn’t have much of a life but your skills would be incredible.
Q: What kind of strings and picks do you use?
I’m currently a Planet Waves/D’addario Artist, so I use their strings. Nothing special, just the Nickel Wound .10’s - .10-.46 regular lights. That worked out because I used their strings before I had an endorsement. I’ve tried .09’s but they are too light for me, it changes my bends. If I had to change at all I’d probably go up to .11’s, that’s what Adam Newell uses in Scattered Hamlet. My pick is planet waves glowing 1mm with a deer skull on it. I get glowing ones because I can’t see for shit and I can find them on stage when I drop them…
Q: How many guitars do you have in your collection and which is your go-to?
I don’t have a giant collection, I keep mostly work horses around. My number one is a Les Paul Traditional Standard, it has a truss rod cover that says “Hillbilly.” It’s a tank. My number 2 is an SG special from 2002, it has the moon inlays. It’s been gutted and worked on a lot. It has a 9mm shell selector switch, a leather pickguard and truss rod cover and Yuengling bottle caps for knobs. In the bridge it has a Dimarzio Super Distortion I bought before I knew anything because I wanted the same pickups Ace Frehley had back in the day - turns out that was a good choice. The Neck in that one is a gold 498 T out of Les Paul Studio. I also have a 72’ Reissue Telecaster, it’s a Japanese model. I try to keep all my guitars made in the USA but that one slipped past. I’ve taken it on tour before, I saw some pics online of me playing it but that single coil is a little too unpredictable for my needs in a live setting. The neck humbucker on that is basically useless to me, when I use it just pure mud comes out. Lately I’ve had have a rotating cast of Dean ML’s too. I usually end up selling them to fans as memorabilia and buying different ones - which is very Paul Stanley of me. For demos I have a 78’ Peavey T-40, I love that bass, it’s the heaviest instrument I’ve ever seen. I have a Martin acoustic electric, too, but in the early days I’d play a Taylor auditorium at shows, I had to give that back to Taylor because I couldn’t afford to buy it after it was leant to me for a year. I want to modify a 70’s Les Paul deluxe with P-90’s soon and that will become my number 1 or 2 more than likely - at the end of the day I’m a Les Paul guy.
Q: What’s your rig run-down for your live shows?
Live shows I use a 79’ Peavey Mace head, those are the 6L6 heads they made for Skynyrd to replace their Marshalls on tour. They came out of the USA factory there and are hard as hell to find. I had to go to Virginia and buy mine off a dude who plays in a Skynyrd tribute band. They are 160 watts but the way it’s wired you can run 4 tubes instead of 6 to control it a bit. That’s what I do, I have a matched set of Eurotubes powering it. I play that through a Marshall 1960 angled cab that has a custom Large Mouth bass picture on it. It may look like a standard Marshall cab but it sounds way better because it has a largemouth bass on it and other ones don’t.
Q: Can you tell us about the leather pickguard and guitar legend Joe Satriani?
I have a friend that does drum engineering or something for Joe. He also did our drums for “Skeleton Dixie.” Anyway, I was posting pictures of my leather pickguard on instagram (I custom carved it myself) and he kept asking me questions about its sound etc and he mentioned something about “Joe” and then it occurred to me, “holy shit, are you talking to Satriani about my pickguard.” After, I was stoked about the prospects of that conversation but then I was like, wait a minute, tell Joe if I end up seeing an Ibanez Satriani model come out with a leather pickguard I’m going to be beat his ass." My buddy then just wrote back “Ok.” So I'm not sure if he told a guitar legend that a random hillbilly D-list rock star was going to “whoop his ass” if he took that idea, but that would be hilarious if he did. I wouldn’t put it past him… Of course no, I would not hurt the Satch man if he stole that idea, because I stole the idea from Waylon Jennings.
Q: For the record, how does the leather pickguard affect your tone?
I think it would dull it on an acoustic - Elvis had one and I can’t find how it sounds anywhere. He and Waylon had full covers though, that has to do something to the resonance. On my electric though, I honestly can’t tell the difference. I did have to cut it down a bit because it was interfering with the action. Now it’s like a leather SG half pickguard mounted on the regular full SG pickguard. I love that guitar but I just can’t get the sound I want out of it like I do a Les Paul, that’s why there’s been so many mods over the years on it. I also use that guitar to shoot off smoke bombs when we go redneck Kiss on everyone.
Q: Can you tell us about the shotgun mic stand? Is that a real shotgun and is it difficult to travel with?
Oh yeah, my original shotgun mic stand was my grandfather’s sawed off single shot 12 gauge. I actually shot a deer with it before. We took out the firing mechanism, though, and that one is actually in my studio only now. it’s been retired. We took my old Turkey gun and converted it into my new camo shotgun mic stand. That one has several gobblers on it. Traveling hasn’t been bad, in liberal states people sometimes get uptight but usually the response is that people are excited when I pull it out. I used to carry it in a gun case but that really gets people worked up so now I carry it in a guitar case.
Q: From start to finish, how long did it take you to write the new album “Swamp Rebel Machine?”
We wrote it over time while we were doing a lot of touring. The oldest of the bunch was “Stonewall Jackson.” I had that riff while we were on an off day and we were staying somewhere where the person had an electronic kit. Jake and I used that and an iPhone recorder and hashed that one out. By the time we stopped touring we had like 8 tracks ready to go and we ended up working out four more, we ended up dropping one of those and making the other three happen. One of those ones I just hated, the other guys were willing to keep working through it but I knew it was a bust. When the producers said it was the “weakest track” during pre-production that got cut, we didn’t need a 12 song album. I didn’t want a filler track on this one. The last one we did for the album was “The Lesson” --- I guess the whole process from start to finish with the album was like a year. We did a lot of preproduction so we could record the bulk of it live.
Q: What was the inspiration for “Battle Hymn?”
That one was just supposed to be a straight up rocker. I used a drop D tuning on that one and I wanted to make an epic march intro like “Am I Evil” or Maiden’s “Alexander the Great,” something that made the music seem like it was coming up from the swamps. I spent some time camping on a civil war battle field near Bull Run that folks said was haunted. All night the sounds of horses, gun shots and people talking kept me up all night even though no one else was around. When I asked people about it from the area they said it was the “ghost army” and its well documented in lore. So I wanted that march to be like a ghost army. Rich found some voodoo movies from the 60‘s and 70‘s and grabbed some samples that built on that whole theme. Guitar wise I took some tricks from John Fogerty on the verses and we did some wah sounds Morello style on the choruses. There’s a lot of layers even though the basic structure is pretty straight forward. The musical theme is basically our story, we’re the drifting roadhouse band. The whole “Don’t Fuck With Me” came from one day when we just decided we weren’t going to take people’s shit anymore on the road -- since we started being our own advocates and pushing back when pushed we really started to get more successful. The meek only inherit an ass whoopin’.
Q: What’s the inspiration for “The Lesson?”
Musically that one was the other guys’, they were hesitant to send me a 7 minute song like that. They thought I was never going to go for it. I’m usually the poppy hook in the pre-chorus guy - Mutt Lange and Def Leppard style. They sat on it for awhile but Jake finally sent it over. Right away I had two ideas for it, one was too dark. I had been watching the Muscle Shoals documentary and it got me thinking about what southern rock and country was versus what it has become in Nashville and it really bothered me. So anyway, I took that supernatural theme and thought about what would happen if I got to play cards with all the ghosts of outlaws like Waylon, Gregg Allman, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Ronnie Van Zandt. In my imagination, I decided they’d think there were no more outlaws left in Nashville and that made me think if I’d baptize and drown pop country artists in the Tennessee River they could be purified and bring things back to era of real outlaws.... So yeah, a very high Adam Joad decided to use their 7 minute stoner rock epic to tell a story about drowning fake outlaws in the Tennessee River after he played cards with ghosts.... Imagine the video, us dragging some bro country jabronis to the river and their bedazzled jeans getting all muddy while we hold their heads under water… My mind is a terrible thing.
Q: Do you have a favorite on the album and why?
I have a couple - for me I think “Green Bastard” is one of the best tunes I’ve ever written. It makes me remember my punk rock days. My personal favorite most people probably won’t be as attached to, but it’s definitely “Outlaw Breed.” That one just hits home for me a lot and I like to play the guitar harmonies on it with Adam Newell, it makes me feel a little Thin Lizzy-ish, not that awesome of course.
Q: What was the process like for tracking the vocals for the album?
For the instruments, we used all these fancy studios, some of the best places in Los Angeles and I just felt that I really needed to get out of the city and be true to the roots of this album. It also sucks because the place recorded in the Hollywood Hills isn’t anywhere near a place I can buy chew and that drives me batshit. I need my Redman to rock properly. Anyway, I decided I wanted to record the lyrics in my Appalachian bunker (aka my house). My really awesome and patient producers flew here from LA with a pair of vintage Neves preamps and two killer mics, one was used for some tracking on Rob Zombies “Hellbilly Deluxe” and they turned my office/bar/practice room into a vocal studio. We spent a week tracking the main vocals there. We did backups and gangs mostly back out in Los Angeles. It was great for me, I think that’s some of the best vocal tracking I’ve done to date. I’m not Freddy Mercury, I have a zone I generally stay in but they pushed me and got my best, I thought.
Q: Where did you track the guitars, drums, and vocals?
The drums, rhythm guitar and bass were tracked live at NRG Studios in North Hollywood. They did the last Lamb of God and Motorhead albums there. Their hallway of gold and platinum records was inspiring to walk past every morning - some albums I love and grew up with were recorded in full or in part there. That was awesome. When that was done we went to Perfect Sound Studios in the Hollywood Hills and did a lot of the overdubs, gangs, leads, harmonica and little touches. We had everything at our disposal to make this record, if it sucks its totally our bad. We made the album that we wanted to - that’s why I passed on a lot of labels that wanted me to scrap the album and make jabroni radio rock so we could make forgettable music that sounds like everyone else that the stations will play because they drop a shit ton of money into radio campaigns - aka the modern day payola. No thanks, that’s really not what we’re about. Like Geddy said, that shit “echoes with the sound of salesman!” The “Swamp Rebel Machine" single got some solid radio play and we never intended for that to happen. It was awesome and humbling.
Q: What do you do to unwind between tours?
Fishing is my thing, I like to watch The Walking Dead with my wife and my two pugs too. Not Fear the Walking Dead, [because] I want that whole cast to get eaten by zombies. I judge people I meet by whether or not I’d take them on my zombie apocalypse team.
Q: Where exactly is your fishing spot, and what’s your go-to bait?
Dunkard Creek on the PA and West Virginia border, there’s a spot my uncle caught a Muskie back in the early 80’s and I landed one in the same place a few years back. I have a specific spot there, I only tell people I like about it. If you know Greene County fisherman we are all very protective of our “spots.” We’ll lie to each other about where we caught stuff to keep people off our trail. It’s like using dummy pedals on your board. The go to lure is the Rebel Wee Craw, it’s a smallmouth killer....
Q: If you had to give just one piece of advice to aspiring musicians out there, what would it be?
Get some thick skin, stick to your guns and really decide if your goals match up with what you’re doing to achieve them. No one is going to think you’re so awesome they give you the keys to the universe and your own jet, it doesn’t work that way. There’s no shortcuts or substitute for hard work. Also don’t focus on what someone else has or gets, focus on what you got, their path is not yours.
Q: Mustaine or Hammett?
Mustaine is a better technique player but I’m a Metallica and Hammett guy, to me it’s all about the song and the music and I just don’t think Megadeth is on the same level songwriting-wise as Metallica. Metallica’s album with Mustaine is my least favorite of theirs... well, I don’t really listen to much Metallica after the “Justice” album. Mustaine’s Metallica album is obviously better than “St. Anger.” “The Black Album” is a masterpiece though, I’ve just heard it too many times from civilians playing it a lot. With that said I’ve seen Megadeth live at the Golden Gods awards, and they were ridiculously tight and blew everyone away - if we were there we’d have gotten smoked, too. Not that music is a competition but sometimes some people just steal the show.
Q: Who did the artwork for "Skeleton Dixie" and "Swamp Rebel Machine?"
My wife, Melissa St. Giles does all our art. She kills it. She can capture the images based on the stuff we write. She knows me very well so she can get things out of my brain and onto art. It always exceeds my expectations.
Q: Having been in the scene for so long, and having auditioned countless guitarists in the past, what are some of the most common player deficiencies that you've encountered?
Before we had a solid lineup, auditioning guitarists was the bane of my existence. Besides ego, the biggest issue we had was people either not reading the requirements for the job or having a very deluded self image of how well they fit the parameters. In terms of general stuff though, being unprepared, simply not knowing the tunes, not being able to learn the tunes solid enough to play through them by ear, not adjusting their rig/guitar to the band’s sound, showing us how “it should be played” or “how they can make it better” before they even demonstrate they can play them as written and jabronis wanting to “lead the band” before they ever even do a tour with us. Picking a new player is more than just being able to play the stuff, I assume you can when you walk through the door or you shouldn’t be there. It’s about chemistry, touch, getting along with everyone and is this a person you want to share a living space with for many months out of the year. You also have to consider how they will represent you when you aren’t playing music or in interviews/press. A lot of people don’t understand that stuff and get butt-hurt when they don’t get picked or when after two songs I stop you because it’s clear you’re wasting everyone’s time. I’ve had players we didn’t pick go on the internet and trash us, even though I couldn’t imagine them getting any job after the way they presented themselves and their attention to teamwork and the craft in general. I’ll never forget, I had one guy come up to me and ask to audition, he proceeded to explain that he’s not very good with bending or feel, he’s not much into blues scales but he can playing anything really fast and he has a music degree - Ok, I’m sure there’s a job for you in a band but have you listened to this band?. It’s fascinating, I could tell stories all day.
Q: How much time do you give yourselves to rehearse prior to touring?
At this point we’re pretty honed in. We all practice ourselves and get together a few days before tour and work the show out and transitions etc. When we have new tunes it takes some more time. Generally no more than a week though. We do full days though. The internet makes things much easier.
Q: When does your Fall tour kick off, and when will "Swamp Rebel Machine" be available?
Fall tour starts the last weekend of October and ends before Thanksgiving. “Swamp Rebel Machine” comes out Nov 4 and preorders start Oct 10th. Bands in Town has all the most up to date tour dates or so does our website.
Q: Where can people go to find out more about Scattered Hamlet?
Google that shit, like us on Facebook, go to our main website or visit our general store. We’re also on Twitter, Instagram and all that. We’re easy to find.
Many thanks to Adam for taking the time to sit and answer all of my questions (and the patience to answer the less serious ones). Also, a special thanks to both Adam and Perfect Sounds Studios' dynamic sound-engineering duo, Jay Donaghy and Jake Rodenhouse for being so gracious in granting me special behind-the-scenes access to the Appalachian bunker to witness some of their awe-inspiring work, and for satisfying my many sonic curiosities.
Be sure to check out the Appalachian Apostle and the rest of the Scattered Hamlet crew, and be sure to preorder "Swamp Rebel Machine," because from a player's standpoint, no rock guitarophile will be left disappointed.