Interview & Gig Review: Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors, Cambridge, 2nd March 2017

I met with Ryan Hamilton on 2nd March 2017 before his gig at The Portland Arms, Cambridge to chat about his current tour and the new album Devil’s in the Detail.

Hi, Ryan. Good to see you again. So, what brings you to these shores?

We wanted to tour over here again after last year ended up in such a good place for us. Ginger Wildheart kinda scooped us up and said “I love this band” and once we got that kinda stamp of approval it seems like the sky’s the limit. So we did a new album and we knew it was gonna come out in February and we wanted to do a tour, but we wanted to do something different because I knew there was going to be a lot of press around the new album with things like radio station visits. So what we did is this acoustic thing where some of the shows are a full band (like tonight) and some are just me and some are me and my piano player friend Carol. Between all that we’ve got the radio station visits, a lot of promotional stuff for the album. So that’s why we’re here, it’s been just the best. Tonight and one more show in London – the album launch, which is sold out.

We saw you at the Portland Arms last July with Ginger Wildheart – how did your liaison with him come about and how did you find him to work with?

Ginger was at a party with some friends and they were doing a thing where they were playing new music and someone said “you gotta listen to this guy!” and put one of my songs on. The story goes – Ginger stopped and was like “hold on” and got lost in the song. He enjoyed it enough to really pay attention for 3 minutes – it’s just that thing that never happens anymore, he messaged and said “I love your band, I want you to go on tour with me” and I didn’t know him before at all. I wish more people were like that. If I get to keep on doing this I will try and do as much as I can – I hope to be that way.

What other projects have you done in the past before getting together with The Traitors?

I was in a band called Smile Smile who were a fairly big deal in America and Canada, but we never made it in the UK. I was in that band with my fiancée at the time. We had a moderately successful single on the radio, we had our first tour with a tour bus… and then she cheated on me. She then brought the guy on tour – this was all public knowledge and in the news back home. It was terrible, but it kinda fuelled that band even more – it was this mental thing where I was like “I’m living my dream but I hate this”. After we got home, she moved out of our house and in with the dude. I started writing these really dramatic songs about what she did to me and email them to her. Her response was not to get upset or anything (she’s very strange) – she wrote a piano part and sent it back, kinda like a middle finger to me. That turned into an album’s worth of material – I never thought it would be an album but I kept sending them and she kept sending them back. That album to date is the most successful thing I’ve ever done, even though The Traitors are creeping up fast.

In between, I was in a band called People on Vacation with Jaret Reddick who sings in Bowling for Soup. As much fun as that band was to be in, it basically taught me everything I didn’t want to be in music. It was full of managers and the typical music industry douchebags that I just loathe – greed, lying, cheating, all of that. It was like watching a movie and thinking “are these real people?”. My band mates in The Traitors were in that band with me, so when I made my exit I said to them “you’ve seen this too, stick with me please” – and they did. I’m fairly sure I did ok.

How did you arrive at the band name?

We’re all big Star Wars fans and The Force Awakens with the Storm Trooper who ends up being a good guy but they think he’s a bad guy. We had been throwing names around, Mickey and Rob had done one tour as The Traitors but it was kind of like an inside joke, then the Star Wars thing happened and the t-shirts saying traitor with helmet and bloody hand print were everywhere, and after everything with People on Vacation I left saying “I’m doing what I want, you don’t tell me what to do” so the traitor thing really rang true and it made sense.

What or who has inspired you to play the way that you do?

All the people you probably expect. Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, I love David Bowie. Anyone who did things their way, figured it out on their own and no matter what happened they didn’t deter, they stuck with their vision and believed in themselves and something inside them knew “this is what I’m gonna do and you’re not gonna tell me any different”. So those people – Andy Warhol, too – they were brave enough in themselves and they just decided they were going to be successful whether it took a year or 20 years. I’ve always loved music but didn’t learn to play guitar until my early 20s. A lot of my friends and acquaintances in this business started playing when they were teenagers in a high school band, so that was extra motivation for me as I was a late starter.

So what did you want to do before that?

I didn’t really know. I was a terrible teenager with drugs, alcohol, partying… I went to university to study advertising and marketing, I thought that was cool but I always really, really loved music. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do until I decided I wanted to do music, I was just kinda lost. A lot of people go through the motions and never really figure out what they want to do – they just end up at a job and I guess I was never programmed that way.

Your new album Devil’s in the Detail was released on Valentine’s Day on your own label Fannypack Records – how has that gone down?

Very well – it cracked the top 40 on the UK iTunes chart, got to number 39 which I’ll take every time. I make this joke though – people say “I’m number 1 on iTunes!” but you can actually change it where you keep going down the categories and then take a screen shot where it looks like you’re number 1 but it’s on contemporary, classical, Spanish spoken word – but you’re still number 1! So good for you, I guess! But our album is selling really well and we’re doing everything ourselves and we don’t need to ask permission – we just do it.

So tell me about your experiences with record labels before setting up your own?

Just the worst and the same story you hear time and time again, you’re just so excited to be signing to a record label and my first band signed to one that had a lot of money and a lot of big promises, and at the time I thought it was the best thing ever. I got a house that I couldn’t afford a year after and it was just ridiculous. You have this idea about what it’s going to be but really you’re just signing this big bank loan and hopefully you pay it all back. Thankfully, that band did well but I never made any money. Really all I ever did was pay people back which sucks. And they still own my songs – to the point where I can’t even go and re-record them, they own them for a really long time and it would involve getting a lawyer. They see something as a product that they can make money from and they made plenty.

Who are the other guys in your band – they came across as very seasoned players.

I didn’t know them before People on Vacation – Jaret and I started the band, we had the opportunity to tour the UK. Jaret knew Rob (I didn’t), Rob knew Mickey who was doing drum lessons at the time. Mickey did really well in the music business in his late teens/early 20s in a hair metal band but it never quite got as big as he wanted. He then got married, had 2 kids and made a great life for himself. 10 years went by and Rob called him asking if he wanted to play drums for this band, so he’s getting a second chance that not many people get. He’s a great dad, but now he gets to finally do the thing that he almost got to do. I didn’t really know the dudes until Jarret reached out to Rob, who contacted Mickey, we ended up in a room rehearsing then went on tour over here.

What are the highlights of your career with The Traitors so far? Do any particular gigs stand out for you? Who else have you shared a stage with?

Some of my favourite shows ever are a couple on that Ginger tour, just because it was a new audience for us. We knew we’d have a handful of people who knew us but Ginger’s audience is very Ginger-y – you know what I mean? They’re there to see Ginger, so we knew that if we could win that crowd over they’d be very loyal. We loved playing for that crowd because they’re music lovers and appreciators. They aren’t just there to say “we were at the Ginger show”, they’re there to hear the music and have an experience. So on that tour the Glasgow show, the London show and here at the Portland Arms were good ones – I remember that show because I passed out that night, I was sitting here and Ginger was here – there was a portable fan, Ginger put the fan right in front of me, took his shirt off and was wafting the air, it was very strange because he was shirtless – but what a sweet man.

Other than that, we did our first tour as this band under just my name. We got to the first show in Edinburgh and it was sold out – we were like “holy shit!” – I will never forget that one, people were singing these brand new solo songs and it was very satisfying. Just like anything, you want to get to the next level at your job so for me it just feels like a promotion.

So, how does this all fit in with family life?

Well, I met my wife in Newcastle – she’s a Geordie girl. I didn’t even know what a Geordie girl was, someone should have given me a handbook! I think because I’ve been through so much shit and made all kinds of terrible decisions with substances and women and whatever else, it took somebody as challenging as my wife – entertaining is probably the word. It doesn’t hurt that she’s beautiful, way out of my league – I still look at her sometimes and think “Really? Good for you!” But I don’t have the urge to have kids and Holly doesn’t either – maybe that will change, but right now it’s way too easy to go on tour so we just go.

Has anyone come over here with you?

My parents are here! They’ve seen me go through Smile Smile and everything else. I keep telling them “seriously, things are happening in the UK” so come and see for yourselves! So they flew over for the last few shows and it’s cool to have them here.

What’s next for you guys?

So now it’s been 2 years since starting over, re-establishing after pissing all the industry people off… but now we’re at the point where we’re selling out medium sized shows over here. Tomorrow is a big venue in London which sold out pretty quick.

Here’s something else people don’t think about. You can break down my life by the size of vehicles I’ve toured in. So, at first it was an SUV, then a van in the Smile Smile days then a tour bus. Then I was back in a van with People on Vacation then back on a bus again. Then that ended. We were then back over here in a rental car for a house party tour, then back up to a van – we’re in a little larger van now, a nice van and we’re doing a tour over here later this year back on a bus. [Fi – so next – your own plane?? Ryan laughs]

Well, thank you for chatting to me – have a great show tonight and I hope the London show goes really well, too!

Thanks, this was fun!

Gig review…

This was the penultimate gig on Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors’ acoustic tour. Last time Ryan was at The Portland Arms, it was to support Ginger Wildheart and was a tightly packed crowd. This time, there was a group of dedicated followers up front and interested parties dotted around the rest of the venue. Sadly not sold out, but a lovely atmosphere nevertheless.

First up was Danny Gruff, an acoustic singer-songwriter with a great sense of humour – he had the crowd laughing, doing dance moves (yes, even us photographers did as we were told), singing and bantering throughout his set. A genuine delight – hoping to see him again.

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Next on stage was Chrissy Barnacle, who hails from Glasgow. She also features on Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors’ new album in the form of backing vocals. An inspired choice as support, when I was chatting to her before the gig, she described her music as “evil freak folk”. I was intrigued, to say the least. She didn’t disappoint – her lyrics are honest and sometimes scathingly so.

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Her voice is unique (although reminds me a little of Joanna Newsome in places) and her guitar playing is mesmerising – she’s a very talented young lady and loves what she does. Her stories about the songs are amusing and make her very personable. She also wasn’t deterred when a couple was heavily making out stage left – she gave a wry, knowing smile and then got on with what she was there to do. A true professional. I’d love to see her again.

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The headline act finally made their way to the stage, to suitably approving cheers from a very happy crowd! In comparison to last time I saw them, this was a more relaxed set with an additional chat between songs from Ryan and great banter with the crowd. Ryan and The Traitors are so at ease playing together, even making a joke after playing one of their tunes for the first time in a while and getting it a bit wrong. This band are so down to earth – although they’re popular, they don’t have the massive ego some bands have which makes you feel like you’re truly with friends.

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Highlights of the show for me were the delightfully uplifting Be Kind, Rewind, new songs We Should Never Have Moved to L.A., Heavy Heart and old favourite Ode to the Idiots. All of the new songs go down really well – indeed, a lot of the crowd know them already which is a great sign – people have been buying the album! Result!

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Ryan is very anti-bullying following a bad experience of his own where he was targeted online by one man who had a vendetta of him. He supports the Ditch the Label charity and it was great to hear him talk about it during the gig – he really wants people to know there is always someone you can turn to. He finished by saying that if you feel you have no-one else you can send him an email and talk to him. He’s a wonderfully kind man who has got through his own personal battles and wants to help others who need it. This very much comes through in his songs, too – what a great message for people who are struggling for their own personal battles.

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If you’ve not heard of Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors yet, then now is the time. They are touring again in the UK later in 2017. Buy their music. Get tickets. You won’t regret it.

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