By Marty Rowe | April 18, 2023
What do you get when you mix Americana, pop ethos, and no-frills garage rock? Hammydown.
Abbie Morin, lead singer and guitarist for Hammydown, told us that they want to create an inclusive environment through their music that does not pigeonhole the band or the fans into a neatly siloed genre. Charlotte Anne Dole and Nina Cates round out Hammydown’s current lineup.
When not fronting Hammydown and rocking stages around the country, Morin works as a substitute teacher. It will come as no surprise then, that during a break in the set, they emphasized how much they identify with Jack Black’s character in the School of Rock. Black, as Dewey Finn, had a simple lesson for the students: “You could be the ugliest sad sack on the planet, but if you’re in a rocking band, you’re the cat’s pajamas. You’re the bee’s knees.”
We caught up with Hammydown before their show with Caroline Rose at Webster Hall where they answered a few questions for the groovement:
What was your first concert you went to?
When I was really young, I went to a 1964 Beatles reenactment tribute with my parents. The first concert I really wanted to go to was Mandy Moore when I was eight years old at a large outdoor venue in New Hampshire. She came out and played like four songs, and then went off stage. The crowd pretty much started to riot, and she ended up having to apologize and refund half of everyone’s ticket price. A little later on in life, when I had a bit more autonomy about what I chose, I saw The Donnas in 2004. They’re an all femme, punk rock band. They were a huge influence for me, and I got to meet them that night.
How did you first get started?
Caroline and I have kind of followed a similar trajectory. I think Caroline and I first met in 2014. We were both playing Americana music at the time, and for me, personally, it just kind of felt like my world was pretty saturated in, no offense, straight cis white dudes. Like all the time. At the time, I wasn’t out as trans yet. But it just felt very, you know, kind of acoustic. Kind of country. I didn’t really like being closed into a box in that world. I moved to Western Massachusetts in 2016, and while I was living in Northampton, which has a really robust DIY scene, I got my first electric guitar, and I just felt like it was time. What really started it was inheriting a drum kit from my great uncle. I started needing to write songs from a different place, besides my acoustic guitar. So I started writing songs on drums, and the songs that I was writing while I was sitting at the drum kit just felt like I needed an electric guitar. That’s really how I started. I got my electric guitar, and I started Hammydown, in 2016. So all of my Americana stuff, I just did under my own name, but then Hammydown was born. For the new record, there’s definitely a lot more acoustic elements. I think when you break free of molds, then you can kind of take the parts of it that you want to keep and you can reclaim them. Which, you know, I think is true of a lot of things. It kind of aligns with my gender journey and all the growing pains. There was a time when I used to feel like I was just going to throw my acoustic guitar in the ocean. But I don’t feel that way anymore. I bust it out a couple of times during my set now. It’s definitely coming full circle. I feel like I’ve got a perfect little collage going on of both edgier stuff, but then also going back to embrace the more folky sides of things.
What was the first concert you performed?
I was 14 years old, and I played at a coffee shop in my town. I recorded a cassette tape, and I brought it down to this cafe called Awakening in New Hampshire. I probably played like an hour worth of covers. I’m almost sure I played a Sublime cover, so it was a little cringe. I have to have empathy for that version of myself. But yeah, that was my first show. Although I was in every version of school bands that ever existed. I always joke that my first band was 70 pieces, and we marched.
Have you performed in New York before?
I love playing in the city. I played at Union Pool as Hammydown, and I performed with Caroline at Music Hall of Williamsburg this past fall.
What is the origin of your name?
Well…so the name Hammydown, people say “hand me down,” and I don’t think that’s right. To me, it means a couple of things like. I didn’t grow up with the most and just the idea of putting things together piecemeal. My first record was a lot about being poor, the grind and just working so much and still not really ever having anything new. I think it also means more in the sense of music too. There’s new ideas, but there’s not really. We’re all just kind of borrowing from the same set of things but you make it your own. It’s yours now, but we all just have the same. Let’s say you have a set of chords, and the same notes, and the same rhythm patterns, and you take what serves you, and you make it your own. We all love music. It’s because of the people around us that we love that have handed it down to us. I think that’s in a larger sense. Obviously we’re all influenced by things, and I try to think of my influences like a conglomerate block. Like you never want too much of one thing. I try to be influenced by things that are beyond just musical influences as well. The little pieces will stick out to you like, “oh, that does remind me of something,” but it’s still its own world. That’s really what I aim for. I really idolized Nirvana and Kurt Cobain and I try to channel them the best I can. I try to not take myself too seriously. I keep seeing pictures of myself playing, and I imagine that I look like such a badass, but every single one, I’m smiling. So I hope people are feeling that as well.
What is your pre-show routine?
I appreciate routine. I mean, it’s always a little chaotic. Before the show, there’s always a million things to think about, but I like to have that moment of being centered in a circle with my band before we get onto the stage. We were talking about how gorillas pound on their chest to release adrenaline, and we’ve been trying that out. It works really well. They’re trying to get into the zone, but I’m really going to keep things light. Light and fun. It’s really important. I can’t really think of another reason why I would do this unless I was having fun. There needs to be a payoff there. I slept on a Luxy last night, and I feel like I got hit by a truck. But this is so fun, and I really want to keep it that way. I want to keep things as light and silly as possible for as long as I can. Obviously things come up, there are super not silly on the road, but it’s just sort of my nature to want people to smile.
Do you have anything you want people to take away from your music?
With the new record, I’m trying to cultivate and create what I hope to be a sacred queer space. To have the audacity to do that takes a lot. But it’s really for me to be vocal about that, because I think maybe that’s not necessarily a problem in New York, but in some of these places we go when we go there, we are the queer space. And we might be the only one happening. I want my music and the live show and also the record to just be a safe place for people to come and feel connected. And I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I want people in the audience to just tap into the humbleness and the humanity of all of us being in this together. And, especially for my fellow trans people who are in the audience, it’s a really fucked up time to be trans right now. As we’re in the van just driving farther and farther south, and just having to question our safety at almost every turn. I just feel really determined to show my resilience, because I think of the queer artists who made it safe for me to come out. To witness that as a kid, it changed my life, and I feel completely indebted to those artists and really motivated to be that for other people now. On top of that though, it’s all around the show. It’s fun. It’s loud. It’s a little rough around the edges, but in a way that just feels really cathartic and genuine. I went to college for acting, and my acting professor always used to say, ‘there’s nothing more heartbreaking than smiling through the pain.’ And sometimes that’s much more real. Pain is one way to go, but smiling through the pain is like–there’s so much there, and that’s really what I feel like the new Hammydown record is. Getting out the songs that are fun, but it’s about my life as a trans person and my gender journey. It’s not all roses, but there’s hope in that.
What’s your dream venue to perform at?
This past summer I did two nights at Red Rocks with Caroline. Man, that was my dream venue, so I’d love to go back as Hammydown someday.
I’m really looking forward to these shows as Hammydown. I think we just played our fifth show as this new lineup for the band. And I’ve got a new record waiting in the wings. Caroline and I started working on it in March of 2020, right as our tour got canceled, so we’ve been working on it for three years. It’s really close to being done. We were going through so much, and then our lives had been canceled. We’ve been moving at such a pace that it just felt like we both had a lot to reckon with as soon as we both slowed down and stopped and took a look at where we were at. I think almost everybody had the same experience in the pandemic of when you can’t do the things that you’re obligated to do and do your normal routine, a lot comes up. And so, with Caroline’s new record that just came out and mine waiting in the wings, I think they’re sibling records in a way. So it’ll feel good to have them both out in the world.