Hammering the point home: American Oi without the cliches

Ever wonder what happened to MC Hammer, the famous hip-hop artist ranked #15 ‘Best Rapper Ever’ by Vibe? Well, after a spell as a preacher in a Christian ministry programme, he suffered a serious spiritual crisis. In the end, he thought ‘fuck that’ and went on a crazy drinking binge. It was in an Irish pub in Boston, Massachusetts, that he met a bar-room folk combo named The Nails (actually called The Snails at the time, but the lads were too drunk to pronounce that). They discovered a shared love of Guinness and traditional British Oi music. Many pints later, Hammer and the Nails were formed, and the rest is history…

We sent Girth to interview Matt, drummer and backing vocalist for Hammer and the Nails.

HN2First of all, when, where and how? What’s the story of Hammer and the Nails?

Alright, Girth… bum-chums Brian, Lance, and Matt started the band in 2001 after discussing the idea at a house party. There weren’t any Oi bands in Boston by that time, and we wanted to start our own with very specific influences.

I notice you don’t have any songs called ‘Skinhead’ or songs about boots and football? What’s going on – are you doing it wrong?

Yeah, we wanted to garner a built-in audience using the Lonsdale font, singing about boots, birds, booze, and bovver, but then we said, nahhhhhh….

When we started out in 2001, there were various bands around the USA that were playing that uptempo generic ‘street punk’ stuff and shouting “Oi!” now and then, and we were pretty much trying to do the opposite. We don’t shout “Oi!”, we don’t really write ‘anthems’ per se, and our lyrical outlook is pretty bleak… but we have fun, so fuck it.

R-2936049-1523269406-9145.jpegIndeed, I’ve noticed your artwork on your album is pretty unique too. Is this something you’re trying to make a point of? 

Yeah, we’ve made sure to stay away from cliche crap. When you look at the artwork and the ‘aesthetic’ – ugh, bear with me while I crawl up my own bunghole – of the early Oi bands, most of them had a unique art style and didn’t all just rip off the Lonsdale logo, Fred Perry laurels, or beer labels, or recycle each other’s generic clipart. Sure, it happened here and there, but record cover art was a bit more original and unique. We dig that.

Your sound is pretty unique in a genre not noted for huge variation – I notice a few metal influences in there?

Yeah, I guess there’s a bit of metal in there, and a couple of the guys are into all that shit, but I think we all agree on the classic NWOBHM stuff as an influence. Aside from that, the major ones would be Straw Dogs (London) and their more-intelligent-and-less-cliche-than-most lyrical content, Komintern Sect and a lot of 80s French stuff, the early 90s Japan SSS bands, as well as the first Strong Style album, among other influences such as Iron Maiden, Slade, Mott the Hoople, Thin Lizzy, etc.

We were – and are even more so now – older and/or ex-skinheads, and we wanted to play ‘skinhead rock’, street rock, whatever. I mean, our sound sort of started off as pretty much Oi, but then we went a little wacky and less accessible just because there were enough bands singing about the stereotypical skinhead, hooligan, bootboy, whatever topics.

For simplicity’s sake, and not attempting to create some new genre by calling ourselves ‘pro-anti-bovver-skinhead-lad-rock-and-roll-genocide-music’, I guess you can sort of call us an Oi band.

HN1I see you’ve also played with a variety of bands rather than just Oi bands. Again, is this a conscious decision? I think you should do a gig with a rapper.

Well, it’s a matter of what band are around to play. Boston folk have always been into Oi but there have only been a few Oi bands, never more than a couple at a time. Plus, when I was a kid, gigs were varied. You’d have Sheer Terror with the Radicts and Only Living Witness – i.e. hardcore punk, Oi, and crossover – all on the same bill. It worked. It still works. Eh, rap? Only if it were the Colorblind Cutthroats, haha.

It seems today the Oi scene is divided into two scenes: the ‘safe’ ‘PC’ Oi scene and the ‘unsafe’ flag-waving scene. Do you necessarily agree with this – and where do you see yourselves?

You have those extremes but you have a lot of in-between, too. A lot of bands don’t align themselves with either extreme. I can safely say that most of the guys in Hammer are patriotic, but on the other hand, we’re also not trying to be edgy and offensive for its own sake. The Oi scene was never intended to be a ‘safe space’ for scared little douchebags, but it also ain’t the Third fucking Reich.

R-4779583-1412479637-2719.jpegHow important do you feel clothes are in making sure someone is defined as ‘skinhead’ or not?

Well, it’s a youth subculture…. yeah I think the clothes are pretty important. At 43 years old, however, it’s a lot less important to me than it was even ten years ago… I applaud the young guns who keep it proper and do the look right, but I like a more toned-down look these days personally.

Trump seems to have completely divided America and Brexit has completely divided the UK. How do current issues fare when writing your lyrics?

The band members span the political spectrum, so we don’t have a political stance as a band. We do this band because it’s an excuse to get together and shoot the shit, strum some chords, have a few beers, and there’s plenty of crap to write about without getting involved in partisan politics. We’re not an “activist” band by any stretch. We simply write songs we’d like to hear with lyrics that don’t embarrass us.

HN4Who for you are the essential Oi bands?

OK, these aren’t necessarily our influences, and who am I to say? but here goes for some “essential” Oi! bands: Condemned 84, Cockney Rejects, the Business, the Crack, the 4-Skins, Infa-Riot, the Oppressed, Indecent Exposure, Another Man’s Poison, I don’t know…

I note a lot of bands pretty much list the same influences or favourite bands. Is there much more for the movement and sound to digress in terms of sound and image?

Well, I think that even within those bands’ styles, there’s still plenty of furrows to plough.

R-9782346-1488373644-4871.jpegSo, as a Boston supergroup, were you around in the original Boston HC years? 

Haha, we were all very young in ’81-’84 when the original Boston hardcore scene was in full swing. I love all those bands and that scene, but it was over a good five-plus years before my time.

What do you try to bring to the table when you perform live?

Live, we’re pretty meat-and-potatoes… I guess we just try to have fun and bust each others’ balls… I don’t know, we don’t jump around like a bunch of clowns or put on a “performance”, we try not to fuck up our songs and just enjoy ourselves.

You’ve worked with a fair few labels – any horror stories? 

Nah, we’ve had good luck with labels. I think Rebellion has been the most efficient and had the quickest turnaround for releases, but Disco Nightmare and Spirit of the Streets have also been great. Rock ’n’ Roll Disgrace… they sometimes take a little while, but their hearts are in the right place and they’re our buddies anyways, so we all just bust each others’ balls.

HN5Am I right in thinking you guys dig black metal – you on board with burning churches and killing each other?

A couple of the guys like that stuff. Eh, I guess if I had a choice between black metal, country, and hip-hop, I’d go with black metal… but we already play in one ridiculous genre, no need to wear face paint and kill each other. The book Lords of Chaos was a pretty fascinating read, but I’m all set with that scene.

Anything else you’d like to get off your chest?

Yeah, always have a clean pair of underwear handy… you never know when you’re going to touch cloth – cheers!

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