Set 22 | Mike Hamilton
Some time has passed since the last Sounds from the Keep session, and boy how things have changed in such a short amount of time. Part of the reason for taking a break from the interviews was due to me moving out of my house on Live Oak known as “The Keep.” This is where I was recording all of the SFTK interviews. However, this was not the only reason for putting the series on pause. In less than a year, I had recorded 21 fairly intimate interviews, and I was beginning to notice sluggishness in my writing, and quite frankly it scared the hell out of me. My goal with this series from day one has been to highlight local musicians and to truly get to know each musician as a person. At the end of February, there was so much chaos in my personal life that I felt I wouldn’t be able to do the interviews justice and give them the apt attention they deserved; quality over quantity forever and always. Now that I’m feeling refreshed and focused, we’re back with a slightly altered format, a different venue, and a new co-host! This year Sounds from the Keep will be recorded over at Nickel and Rye thanks to the subject of this interview, Mike Hamilton, and I’ve brought on my good friend Will Latham to co-host the series with me. The fun factor has already increased ten-fold.
A few months back I reached out on the book of faces for suggestions for a new place to host Sounds from the Keep, and almost immediately Mike responded offering up his place of business, Nickel and Rye. I barely knew Mike at the time, and for him to present the opportunity to me speaks volumes about his mindset. This is not the first time Mike has lent a helping hand in support of the local music scene. He is often passing along pertinent information to other musicians making an effort to connect other people to the sources they need, and for a period of time, made Nickel and Rye a home for live music. After a while, he unfortunately met with a problem that many bars and venues seem to be running into – the music wasn’t bringing in enough people. The cost of having live music wasn’t balancing out. “No one was really drawing anyone, more than four or five people, so it wasn’t really equating to making a whole lot of sense to spend the money,” Mike explains. This is the game, and it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to play. As Dallas is experiencing a revival in the local music scene, musicians and venues alike are struggling to find the equilibrium between money spent and money made. Mike has the rare advantage of insight on both sides of the coin, as the owner of a venue and a gigging musician in his own right. “You can’t promote five shows a week locally when you’re playing 80% covers… when everyone knows that in 48 hours you’re playing somewhere else that’s within five miles of where you’re playing.” Which is why he and his band Gray is the New Black have changed their approach to playing shows.
Back in February, Gray, the New Black played a show at City Tavern downtown in which they personally curated the bill. “I think if you’re a promoter at a venue your best bet for getting somebody who’s there to see one band, to either come early or stay late, is to put another band that’s similar to that band on there. It’s similar to the YouTube algorithm. But I think if you’re a band and you’re putting that together, getting on the same page with the other groups is more important. Talking about what kind of show you want to put on and the flow of the night.” In that sense, it becomes less about what genre of music is being presented to a crowd and more about the kind people or the mentality of people that will be there. In Dallas the scene is very tight with one degree of separation. Everyone knows or knows of each other which makes it all the more important and possible for the scene to elevate itself above the local level. Over time we’ve discussed the myriad of possible ways to succeed in doing this, but one avenue continues to resurface – community support. That tactic is what led to such a large turnout at GTNB’s show at City Tavern. The groups on the bill Mike put together were all in sync in terms of promotion and movement of the show throughout the night, and this is difficult to sustain when you’re a musician playing several gigs a month or every night of the week.
While the business side of playing music is an essential element to master, it is only one part of the whole. There is also the ever-important presence of passion and production, something Mike has always loved about music. There is a component to music that has the ability to transcend its original arrangement. “You can soup anything in the world up with sounds to make it neat, but if you can arrange it 10 different ways and it’s still super strong – that’s a good song. I’ve always been obsessed when full bands do the acoustic thing.” This outlook is apparent in Mike’s music as he describes the evolution of “Counting the Holes in My Heart,” a song that has gone through several iterations over the years. This reaffirms a concept that has been ubiquitous throughout all of the SFTK conversations over the last year – the malleability of music and art. It’s ability to morph and change over time depending on setting and mood. Mike has never shied away from that sonic flexibility, and it has allowed for a lot of added depth in the music he’s made over the years.
You can catch Mike playing with Gray, the New Black at one of their upcoming shows:
May 17th – Intrinsic brewing (Garland)
June 2nd – Gingerman (Uptown)
July 3rd – Cantina Laredo in Addison