Page Hamilton has spent a long time under the rock radar since his revered alternative metal band Helmet disbanded in 1998 after five studio albums. Since then, the singer/guitarist has contributed his talents to movie scores, remixes with such renowned artists as David Bowie and Trent Reznor, and even some guitar work on a couple of new Limp Bizkit songs. But Hamilton is hoping his new band, Gandhi, will generate a little more buzz.
“I’ve been writing songs off and on since Helmet split up,” Hamilton says from his Los Angeles residence. “But I was at my wits end practicing with musicians and not playing my own songs live.” Once solely identified with the New York music scene, Hamilton now splits his time between his former hometown and the City of Angels. “I’ve been in New York a long time and I just needed a change,” he adds. “I went through a lot, divorce, and Sept. 11. I just decided in January [that] it was time.”
Gandhi played a few club dates this fall, including at the annual CMJ Music Marathon in New York. “When I put the band together with all these friends in New York we just called and said please book us some shows as soon as possible,” Hamilton explains of the impromptu shows.
Judging from the three songs posted on the band’s official Web site, Gandhi bares a hereditary resemblance to Helmet, although here Hamilton tries out actual melodies and singing instead of the trademark screams and almost spoken cadence of the past. The guitars on “Everybody Loves You” sound straight from the Helmet catalog, but Hamilton broadens his reach on the climatic “Just Like Me,” which begins with a short piano intro and features a variety of unorthodox guitar effects.
While the band that played these first gig featured old friends not known to many in the industry, the artists Hamilton is working with in L.A. have a bit more of a heavy metal pedigree. “I just started playing with John Tempesta out here now that White Zombie is broken up,” he says. “And I’m going to play today with him and Rob Nicholson [Rob Zombie’s former bassist, who went by the name Blasko].”
Gandhi’s progress has been further impeded by difficulties in finding a label to release the band’s debut album. “They’re more reluctant to sign someone who’s 40 years old and known for this certain thing,” Hamilton says. “‘We think you’re the greatest. We respect you so much, but how do we market this?’ You go see a band and they’re playing a riff I wrote 10 years ago and they have a wallet chain and a load in their pants and they’ll get signed.”
Hamilton has pondered signing to an independent label, in a move similar to what Paul Westerberg’s deal with Vagrant earlier in the year. “That’s something that I’m discussing right now,” he offers. “There are a couple of people we’re talking to, but oddly enough this brings up a conversation I had with Ian MacKaye of Fugazi 10 to 12 years ago. I had been sitting in Steve Albini’s house about to record ‘In the Meantime,’ the demo that ended up being on the record. Steve was saying, ‘Don’t sign to a major label. Here’s the math, here’s what happens.’ A week later, talking to Ian, he said. ‘You could be on an indie label and be treated like s*** and not get paid, or be on a major label and get treated like s*** and get paid.’ Unfortunately there is no guarantee you won’t hate the people you eventually sign with.”
Of course, none of Hamilton’s recent work has gotten more attention than the tracks he recorded with Limp Bizkit. MTV VJ Iann Robinson called Hamilton a sell-out on the air for working with the reigning kings of rap-metal, to which Hamilton retorts, “If he wants to pay my bills I’ll hand them over to him. I’d love to sit here all day and write art rock. I work hard enough at what I do to have earned the right to not have to apologize.”
“I’m acquaintances with the Limp Bizkit guys because they were the opening band on the tour with Korn and Helmet four or five years ago, so I got to know them,” the guitarist explains. “And I have no problem with them whatsoever. I don’t pay attention to any of the press details about what Fred [Durst] does or says or doesn’t do. He’s always been nice to me. In August, I got a call from their manager about playing on their record and I said, ‘Sure, of course I would.'”
Hamilton says he recorded one song and then some “experimental noise” for another, but doesn’t know if any of it will end up on the next Limp Bizkit record, due in April. “They have 31 pieces of music they were considering,” he says. “I have no idea of what they’ll use if any of it.” Hamilton also reveals the band had earlier approached him about joining Limp Bizkit as a permanent replacement for departed guitarist Wes Borland, but he was in negotiations to release his own material and declined.
Hamilton’s long hiatus from playing in another band since Helmet hasn’t been helped by recent events in his personal life, and he admits to taking his time when writing. “It’s just taken me a long time,” he says. “I’m slow. When I was working with David Bowie, he would be complaining to me. He complimented me many times, too. One of his compliments was ‘you remind me of Phil Manzanera,’ who was the guitarist from Roxy Music. ‘Your music seems abstract but is thought out.’ Than the next day he’d say ‘That’s cool what you’re doing but why are you so slow?’,” Hamilton says with a laugh.
While he hopes to see a Gandhi record released in the next six months, Hamilton confesses there is still some Helmet material he’d like to see the light of day. “There’s a bunch of stuff, but it’s so disorganized,” he says. “I have a ton of live stuff. We recorded the whole tour in 1994 with Rollins Band. I have a couple of cool bootlegs. I was trying to work out something to track down all the Helmet bootleg stuff to put out a bootleg release. I have four or five bootlegs just from doing the Gandhi shows and people handing me CDs. I know from the Albini sessions there were a couple of songs that came out on a bootleg 7 inch [single]. I wish I could find all that stuff. Eventually we will.”