Joel Hamilton "Die" from the album Officina
Charleston songwriter Joel Thomas Hamilton jumped from modest local notoriety with alt-pop band The Working Title to near-national stardom in the early 2000s. On the heels of a lo-fi, stripped-down, and exotic solo album titled Officina (released over the summer), the young musician is currently in a period of transition of musical adventure.
Hamilton, guitarist Adam Pavao, bassist Chris Ginn, and drummer Ross Taylor put The Working Title together in 2001 during their high school years. Within six months of forming, the band recorded an independent, self-titled release, which is now out of print. In the winter months of 2004-'05, they spent just two weeks doing preproduction work in local studios with producers Brad Wood (Smashing Pumpkins, Placebo, Liz Phair, Jump) and David Bryson (of the Counting Crows) before heading to Allaire Studios in Shokan, N.Y,. for a recording session that shaped their major label debut, About Face (Universal/Motown).
Two years ago, the album's first single "The Mary Getaway (I Lost Everything)" — a pop-rock tune with acoustic guitar/distorted electric guitar interplay — was in regular rotation at former local rock station 96 Wave. They toured so heavily that they only occasionally made quick stops in their hometown. But things changed.
"Those guys have all left the band and are taking their own walks in life," Hamilton says of his Working Title mates. "We are all still great friends. I'm moving forward by myself right now. Luckily, we took the necessary steps along the way to retain artistic control. We had to deal with some big heads, but it was definitely not nearly as bad as some people had it."
These days, with the band amicably disassembled, Hamilton's not so concerned with tour dates, studio deadlines, commercial radio, and other music biz distractions; he's focusing on his song craft. At recent solo shows — small local bar gigs usually booked last-minute and barely promoted — he brings a bag of oddball instruments, a few guitars, and a rambling set list of new originals and reworked rock standards. Special guests, like vocalist Stephanie Underhill or songwriter Owen Beverly, occasionally join Hamilton on stage to sing harmony or tap a tambourine.
It's a pretty unglamorous, no-pressure opportunity for him to experiment with new songs and improvise.
"I'm just going with the flow of life and making the best of it," he says. "I've definitely learned a lot and learned to use what I know from my experiences. I've also learned that it's wide open and there's no predicting what life is going to bring."
Hamilton's latest solo studio projects are a major step toward "having as much control as possible." With his home studio assembled, he can sketch song ideas and experiment with instrumentation and arrangements without distraction.
"This is maybe something between The Working Title and Officina," Hamilton says. "I'm really excited about this. It's going to be a Working Title record that comes from a pool of Working Title song ideas from over the years."
On the new recordings, Joe Morin played drums and Jake Sinclair (of Charleston/N.Y.C. band The Films) played bass and helped produced the songs.
"I've been using a lot of old instruments that you can't get any more," Hamilton says. "There's a vintage vibe going on. I'm always developing ... and I'm never quite satisfied. I've written some songs that I've been happy with, but, for the most part, I get pretty bummed out about what I do pretty quickly [laughs]. I'm critical, so I just have to keep moving."
Singer/guitarist Joel T. Hamilton performs at the Village Tavern on Sat. Jan. 3 with support from local singer/guitarist Michael Trent and singer/string player Timbre Cierpke. See www.myspace.com/joelhamiltonband for more.