Catching Up with Ross Hammond as He Readies the Release of His New Album, Flight
Ross Hammond stuck out like a guitar player’s sore strumming thumb sitting in front of the Old Soul coffeehouse at the Weatherstone. Wearing one of his signature golf caps and sleek black eyeglasses, with a guitar case resting up against the brick wall behind him, he was unmistakable even from a distance.
With each step I took toward him, though, the more I surveyed the scene for a blonde little girl wandering about somewhere nearby—his daughter Lola, I’ve heard, isn’t usually too far from his side. Apparently, I had just missed her. Darn it.
And with that, Hammond and I stood up and took a stroll around the blocks of 21st and I streets, spiraling outward in concentric circles as we discussed his latest solo acoustic album, Flight, his recent departure from the annual Midtown In the Flow concert series and how his family continues to be a constant source of inspiration in his music.
Since completing his collaborative quartet album Adored in 2012, Hammond recorded three other joint projects prior to Flight—due out April 14—all of which are about as free jazz and experimental as anything he’s ever done. Flight, however, is much more in the same vein as his eighth-posted album from his Bandcamp page, Music from “Cemetery Rose,” where he also used six- and 12-string guitars to evoke more of a rural, outdoorsy sentiment through traditional country-like twang and discernible folk melodies.
Much like “Cemetery Rose,” Hammond says he wanted to take Flight back to the basics of acoustic, which his teacher Jimi Butler once described to him as the bedrock of all guitar playing.
“He told me a long time ago. He said, ‘Hey man, if you can’t play on acoustic, you can’t play shit,’” Hammond says with a smirk on his face. “So, you know. I mean, I agree with that. But I’ve been wanting to do an acoustic thing for a long time now.”
Still, Hammond’s newest record truly feels like it belongs in a league of its own, if not for its rejuvenating spiritual aesthetic—where each track unpacks like a bindle with a sense of reflection and, at times, even adventure—then just for the unfiltered homegrown recipe of a man, his guitars and a portable Zoom recorder. That’s all Flight is. Nothing more, nothing less.
“It’s like, ‘How bare bones can I get? How minimalist can I get? And will it work if it’s just one instrument with no overdubs, no real processing?’” Hammond says. “I want it to sound raw like it sounds at the kitchen table.”
A recurring theme in almost all of his works, it comes as no surprise that Hammond’s family life seeps its way onto the record in some of the most endearing ways. In “When Cows Face the Same Direction,” listeners can actually hear echoes of his daughter Lola playing with her mother in the background while Hammond sits at home and records live around his loved ones.
“I’m a sentimental dude,” he says. “I like that kind of stuff.”
The song “You Are My Sunshine” is also dedicated to his daughter, standing as the only track on the album to receive a music video treatment, which portrays a fragmented day in the life of the Hammonds in super-slow motion.
“For me, the best music you’re gonna make is not because you’ve been sitting at home and practicing your scales all day, or learning all these freakin’ chords and stuff,” Hammond says. “The best music anyone’s going to make is music that resonates and music that is related to how they live. And the message that they’re trying to send, and how to channel their life through sound. To me, that’s the most important thing.”
Between being a family man, running his live music studio (Gold Lion Arts in Land Park) and trying to succeed as a full-time musician who distributes his own records, Hammond has had to let go of some of his former booking duties here in Sacramento—primarily for the In the Flow festival that he’s hosted annually since 2008, which incorporated live local music, local art, spoken word and open mics throughout different venues in Midtown and Downtown.
Hammond says practically all the responsibilities of running In the Flow were being bounced off of him in one way or another, despite having volunteers. At its busiest, In the Flow was juggling about 35 local bands over the course of five days.
“So that was a lot of fun, it was really cool. But for me, it had kind of—it was just getting to be too much work for one person,” Hammond explains. “I just felt like we did it. We said what we wanted to say and it was cool. And now, it’s like I have a space [in Gold Lion] and we can basically do something similar to In the Flow over the whole year.”
In other words, Hammond is just trying to be responsible—both to his family and to himself. Nothing wrong with that at all.
Feeling as though he’s done his fair share for the local jazz and creative music scene in Sacramento, Hammond says he’s at a point now where he wants to pull back a bit and focus more on furthering his own life and career goals, which are not necessarily tied to this town.
“I mean, at this point, I like living here. I like that I can make a living here and stuff. But after so long, I don’t really feel a responsibility,” Hammond says. “And one of these days, you know, one of these days we may just pick up and, ‘Oh, let’s go check out what Chicago’s like. Or let’s see what New York’s like.’”
Hosting the same kinds of shows and cycling through the same sorts of gigs in Sacramento, he adds, tends to create a “revolving door” effect for artists here. It’s a phenomenon he hopes to avoid by following his music down whatever path it may lead him—wherever it leads him—and, of course, taking his family along for the ride the entire way.
“It’s trying to fit everything in,” he says. “I’m trying to be a dad and trying to be a husband and trying to be a guitar player and not suck at any of those things. That’s the trick.”
In the midst of the juggle, Hammond ponders his next move.
“So the next thing? I don’t know. I mean recording-wise and then long term, who knows?” he says. “I’ve got a two-year lease on Gold Lion, and then if we renew our rent might go up like $40. So we’ll see—we’ll just see how it goes. As long as I’ve got the family happening, I’m not tied to anything.”
Ross Hammond’s Flight is available for pre-order via his website, Rosshammond.com. He’ll be celebrating the release of the album with two shows: The first will be a solo show at Gold Lion Arts (2733 Riverside Boulevard, Sacramento) at 4 p.m. on April 12, 2015. On April 13, you can catch him at Luna’s Cafe (with Alex Jenkins on percussion) as part of the Nebraska Mondays series. Go to Lunascafe.com for more info.