Powder Mill's Jesse Hammock Releases Solo Project
On the cover of his new album, “The Fall,” Jesse Charles Hammock II is pictured in a building that looks to have been hit by a tornado. Debris is all around – bits of fallen ceiling and fallen wall. Jesse is in the center of it, with a shell-shocked look on his face.
“That’s not far from the truth,” said Hammock.
Last August, a bizarre accident seemed to foreshadow coming trouble in Hammock’s life. He was driving home late one night and “out of nowhere” a horse appeared in the middle of the road. “The horse hit me, and both of us saw our lives flash before us,” recalled Hammock. The accident left Hammock shaken.
A couple of days later, he and his wife decided to divorce. Yes….the walls and ceiling were indeed caving in.
The musician and songwriter drew inward. He started spending a lot of time by himself. His mother was somewhat concerned about him.
But a solo project came out of it which is unlike anything he had ever done with Powder Mill, a Van Buren based, internationally acclaimed southern rock band. Hammock said he needed this solo project. It’s called appropriately, “The Fall,” and contains eleven songs written from a very personal perspective.“Right now, I need to be working all the time. That’s why I did this solo project. Everyone else in Powder Mill does not really need to work all the time, but I do,” explained Hammock. The need to work is both internal and external. It’s time to sort some things out, but with a 5-year-old daughter, Ella Rose, Hammock also realized he has responsibilities to someone other than himself.
“The songs on this album come from pure emotion,” said Hammock. “They say broken hearts build character. I’m building a lot of character.”
He said the experience has taught him a crucial truth about life.
“If you love, you are going to eventually have your heart broken. It doesn’t matter whether you love your dog, your mother, your wife, or any other member of your family. Eventually, you are going to lose that person you love. And there is no way around that other than you dying first,” he explained. That idea found its way into this latest album in the form of a song, “Love Will Break Your Heart.”
And he said there is a certain completion of a circle that comes with this solo project.“I started out solo, then picked up Powder Mill. Now doing solo again,” said Hammock. But that doesn’t mean Powder Mill is a thing of the past. Not at all. “I just needed to do this for myself.”
All of this shows a much more contemplative Jesse Charles Hammock, a huge departure from the hard-rocking, always drinking and partying Jesse. He’s looked back at where he came from, and is focused on where he is going.
He noted he really did not come from a musical family or atmosphere.
“My grandpa was a multi-instrument player, but he really was kind of what some people might have considered a hobo. He traveled the world via trains, carrying a banjo with him like today’s kids would carry an Ipod. Now I wish I’d had a chance to get to know him better,” reflected the songwriter.
His musical awakening, ironically, also began with an accident in Cape Girardeau when he was just 21. He basically slammed his truck into a building. It knocked the electricity out of a whole section of Cape.
Did alcohol have something to do with it? “Yep,” he answered simply. But it basically put him at home, again, alone for a while. He was on probation and couldn’t afford to get out and screw up again. So….he picked up a guitar, taught himself to play and began writing songs. He found he was surprisingly good at it.
He earned a business degree from SEMO University because his father wanted him to. “He was a practical kind of guy. I actually wanted to be an English teacher, I always loved words.”
He tried taking a guitar lesson, but didn’t like it. “They teach music all wrong. They try to teach you to play music you care nothing about,” said Hammock. But, despite that, he taught himself to play.
Since then, there have been a lot of interesting turns along the way.
Powder Mill developed with much critical acclaim. He’s gotten to work with some legendary musicians, like the North Mississippi All Stars and The Black Crowes, and producers. He recorded at the legendary Zebra Ranch.
Hammock started as a solo artist playing the road from Charlotte to Los Angeles. He would play for gas and beer money.
He said that road life is changing. “Now as a solo artist I’m playing more wineries and coffee houses,” explained Hammock. He said that it’s not altogether a bad thing, and probably a better lifestyle change for him.
In terms of positive changes, he also noted that there is a growing music community that acts more like family than competitors.
“Used to I saw egos and money get in the way of the music a lot,” said Hammock. “Now I am seeing people working together, which is a good thing. We really all want the best for one another.”
Hammock spoke highly of his Powder Mill family as well. They came together through the production work of Jeff Chapman and his Trumble Hill Studios in Carter County. Friends Pat McSpadden and his cousin Andrew Bedell helped bring the Powder Mill sound to life and give them an identify. Even their name, ‘Powder Mill,’ came from the name of a favorite spot on Current River.
They became major players in the Southern Rock/Outlaw movement. They did a European tour and Hammock was pleasantly surprised at the warm reception.
Chris Richards of the Washington Post described Powder Mill’s “Money, Marbles and Chalk” as one of the best rock albums of 2010. He loved the authentic feel of the album, describing the not always pleasant way of life in the Ozarks – a life sometimes “stinking of meth and misery.”
Their rough and raw sound brought about a new musical description: “Slopbucket,” meaning a sometimes messy combination of rock and country.
Because of their image as hard-living Ozarkians, there are not too many listeners on the fence. People tend to love or hate Powder Mill. Political incorrectness tends to periodically rear its ugly head.
“In terms of my frustrations of the business, that is probably one of them,” said Hammock. “People have a tendency to think we are the characters in our music. That is not altogether true.”
He has been surprised at the number of people who expect him to play the role of an ignorant hillbilly. And he sometimes had to fight the urge to comply with those expectations.“We even had some Hollywood people interested in doing a reality show about us,” said Hammock. “They had seen our video for ‘Trailer Trash’, and they asked me if that was my trailer.”
When “Meth Lab Blues” started getting notice, even his own mother admonished him for taking part in a “druggy” lifestyle.
“Mom…..I’ve never even seen the inside of a meth lab,” he had to reassure her.
To watch the videos of Powder Mill’s songs shows that the group recognizes the multitude of characters of the Ozarks.
“When we started this, being a hillbilly was not considered cool,” said Hammock. He added that with the advent of reality television hillbilly culture has gotten more recognition, and even more respect.
“Really, we are writing about the things writers have always written about,” explained Jesse. ” We write about people and their lives, love and death. “Those are the stories of all humanity. Sometimes people are a mess.”
The group was accused by some of being anti-women when “Knock Down Drag Out Love” was released. “It’s not about the abuse of women,” said Jesse. “I actually play the role of a rescuer in the video.” And the truth is, said Hammock, that love and every human relationship, can get messy.
Powder Mill videos get a lot of notice because of the humor.
“Neal and Deanna Rosenbaum of Somewhereinthewoods Productions do our videos. They now live in Mountain Home, but used to work for Discovery Channel. They are very good, and they believe in what we are doing, so it has been a perfect match,” he explained.
Lately Hammock has been doing some songwriting in Nashville with other writers and artists. As a matter of fact, he says he thinks “Americana” best describes his brand of song writing.
“I’ve been very surprised at how hospitable Nashville is,” said Hammock. He expected snobbery.
He said there is an assumption that the Nashville artists and songwriters have “sold out.” But after being there, he has a different perspective on it.
“There are a lot of Powder Mill fans in Nashville. They love what we do,” explained Hammock.
As a matter of fact, he has learned that he now writes differently for different purposes. He said he always has songs in different stages. “I have a file of ideas. I have a file of partially done songs. And I have a file of finished songs,” he explained. In addition, he has learned that his songwriting style can differ depending upon how he sees it being performed. “I write differently for Powder Mill than I do for just myself. I write differently for Nashville than I do for either Powder Mill or myself,” said Hammock.
Not even Hammock really knows where his music will lead him, but he knows his faithful companion, 10-year-old English Bulldog, Morris, will be along for the ride. During Hammock’s most recent performance at The Boat House near Bloomfield, Morris wandered out on the stage for his own applause.
Hammock is busy picking up the pieces of his past and building a new future from the wreckage, proving that good things can emerge from painful experiences. And every songwriter knows that great songs that touch so many hearts come from brokenness and the openness to share it honestly. “The Fall” is a work born of the raw, yet real, life of the Ozark’s own Jesse Hammock.