Joel T. Hamilton's latest project Mechanical River recently released a 10-song debut album titled Astral Castle (Shrimp). It's another self-produced effort for the Charleston-based songwriter, on which he sings and plays a homemade cigar-box guitar, keyboard, and percussion.
Hamilton spent all of June touring the country as a headlining act and an opener for Dave Dondero and Combs in support of the new album. He headlines a local show at the Circular Congregational Church this week.
Hamilton spoke with City Paper this week about Mechanical River and the making of his new collection:
City Paper: What's the story behind the band name?
Joel T. Hamilton: When everything was coming together, it described what I was doing and feeling better than anything else did. I like those words, and together, they capture a certain juxtaposition that lives in the music.
City Paper: Tell us about the initial ideas behind Mechanical River — what sparked this music detour from your solo work? Or is it simply a natural progression along the same track? And what's the story behind the gear and instrumentation?
Joel T. Hamilton: For me, it feels natural. I'm simultaneously playing a cigar-box guitar, Casiotone keyboard, kick drum, high-hat, and a microphone attached to my head. I've been playing all these instruments for a while, but last year, I put all of them together and made something cohesive that turned into an album, and then a name emerged. There's a visual experience that has grown with the live aspect, and it's still being realized. Everything is still being realized. All that stuff makes noise. It's very exciting and fun.
City Paper: When, where, and how did you record Astral Castle? Where is it available for sale?
Joel T. Hamilton: I recorded everything in a finished converted garage. It's kinda dark and windowless, but there are nice colors and a window to paradise. The album is physically at Monster Music and Earshot Records in West Ashley, and at the Early Bird Diner, and digitally at mechanicalriver.bandcamp.com, as well as iTunes, but go to Bandcamp.
City Paper: Much of the music on Astral Castle sounds reverby and roomy. What effect were you aiming for with this sound quality?
Joel T. Hamilton: I did this record almost entirely by myself, which is a silly way to do anything, but I had a vision. For the same reason, I can't describe to you what I was aiming for with words. I couldn't at the time explain to anyone who might actually know how to realize what I wanted, so I did it myself, and I came out alive and proud enough to not trash it. But I haven't listened to it in a long time. That's the secret.
City Paper: Astral Castle is pretty different from the full-band sound of the Working Title a few years ago. How do you describe the difference in style and direction?
Joel T. Hamilton: To be honest, I really don't.
City Paper: Lyrically, it seems like Astral Castle is inspired by spiritual and romantic experiences. What is the real concept behind the bulk of the songs?
Joel T. Hamilton: Well, you're right. Most of the album is inspired by the new hit television show Game of Thrones. I've never seen it personally, but people constantly tell me all kinds of fascinating things, and lately, it's been my primary source of inspiration.
City Paper: Are you becoming a mad musical genius or a cantankerous curiosity?
Joel T. Hamilton: I am becoming what I will be.
Mechanical River shares the stage with Timbre at the Circular Congregational Church at 8 p.m. on Sat. July 21. Admission is $10 ($7 for students). See facebook.com/mechanicalriver for more.