With the way he gushes about specific chords and classical compositions, it’s easy to see that Hamond has more tools at his disposal than many DIY multi-hyphenates. He’s a skilled producer, now a music-video director, and a multi-instrumentalist who admits he doesn’t mind playing on a child-sized guitar he got as a gift when he was 12.
But no matter how well-versed he is in Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie No.1” composition or how to make songs that feel just like the his favorite movies (with an instrument intended for a tween, at that), those are only tools. They aren’t the art itself. What actually matters is what he’s going to use those tools to create.
“They have to take the backseat,” he says. “It just becomes subconscious knowledge that you can pull from. But it should never be the main thing, it’s really about the idea and not the technical [aspect]. You can talk all you want about theory, like, ‘Oh, it works because it’s a major to a minor seventh,’ but it’s all about the feeling at the end of the day. Those are just tools for you to get there.”
Brian Hamond is going to get there. Born in Houston and now making a home for himself in LA, the young artist sees a whole new side to his hometown outside of whatever rules the airwaves. He’s bringing his classical background, which is in his lineage thanks to a grandfather’s time in the Chicago Symphony, to show Houston off as the utopia he’s always seen it as, and welcoming listeners into his analog futurist world on his upcoming full length project, due out in June. It’s a long way from his days of asking high school rappers to hop on his beats, but when we catch up with Hamond over Zoom, before he’s even finished with the project’s final mixes, he’s already learned a lot from his first full-length effort.
“Don’t overthink shit. Let things be what they’re supposed to be,” he says. “You can try to sit and tweak, which I definitely did with this project. You can tweak and tweak, and you don’t make things any better. Let things be what they were meant to be in the moment that you made it. Make it the best version of that and not try to turn it into something else.”
You just got back to LA from Turkey. How was that experience?
I haven’t gone on a trip or left the country in a long, long time. I really only left once when I was younger, but my sister lives in Amsterdam. So I went and saw her first and then my girlfriend is from Turkey. So I went and met all her family. That was crazy.
Are you inspired by a lot of things when you’re out and about like that?
In general, yes. Being around LA, I write most of my stuff on the move, in the car, actually. But even just coming back from Europe, I am so regenerated. The way I’m working on things now, just even the past day, has been so energized. I feel like I needed that break. And so moving around Amsterdam and listening to the project in a completely different environment made me think about certain things that I want to do with this mix and with the video. So it 100% influences everything.
Do you drive around with a pad and pen in the passenger seat?
No, I have my phone, which is probably not good. But really, what I do is I’ll have just a voice memo or something like that. I think of something as I’m driving, because I really like to bounce out a quick idea that’s on my computer, so that I can go and put it in my notes app and then listen to it in the car in an actual world environment, instead of just sitting at my desk. You get kind of caught up in overworking things and then go and step away from it and listen to it in the car, it changes everything. Half the project, I came up with the melody or a line or something while I’m driving.
This is an introductory feature for the P&P audience. What’s the first thing you’d like listeners to know about you, Hamond?
My MO more than anything is trying to push boundaries and cross-pollinate genres, that’s what my thing is. Not really being the best singer or musician, all those things matter so much. And the musicality matters so much. But my overall goal is to push boundaries, musically, and to create something new.
I think this project is a step toward that. My first EP, Source Material, from two years ago, it was all the different things I like. And you can hear it kind of jumped from one to the other. After that project, it was about how I could take all these things and make them even more cohesive. Put more boundaries on myself, almost.
Looking at your Instagram, you had a clip with Trainspotting playing while you were making a song right in front of it. Is that normally how you operate Do you try to soundtrack movies with your songs in a way?
I had watched Trainspotting at the time, when I was also working on a song. It inevitably influences what you think about how you see things. If you really like something it trickles into your subconscious. But especially with that, I realized that the song I was working on felt like the movie. So we just put it in the background. It definitely served as inspiration for some of the lines in it, for how it sounded, what we’re choosing, things like that help a ton.
I know you direct too, as you directed the “Angels” video. Do you take inspiration from film when you go into video mode?
I have favorite directors, for sure. Like, there were certain shots in “Angels” and the video for “Badget” that were inspired by Wong Kar-Wai and some of the choppy stop-motion stuff he did. When we’re working on a video, references are everything. So pulling references from videos for color and lighting, and just learning what I like and don’t like. Studying movies is like the main source for that, for sure.
What’s been the most inspiring film you’ve seen as of late?
I would say Fallen Angels was a big reference for this. And Trainspotting. I really love Wes Anderson. It’s just in practice, a lot of the things I loved about Wes Anderson didn’t end up working for the videos that I shot. I would study the cinematography of it, like what makes Wes Anderson, Wes Anderson. So it’s very symmetrical shots and soft lighting… I want to be able to develop my own style, not just like, oh, this is an ode to Wes Anderson or Wong Kar-Wai. Same thing with music, where you pull things from different genres and people that you like to make your own sound.
Is your first full-length project a learning process in terms of your own sound?
100%. With every project I want to get more and more cohesive toward my own thing. Pulling from electronic music, pulling from alternative music, all of these different inspirations that I grew up loving that are so far from each other, and pulling it in to try and create something that’s my own.
Your love for music began with your sister and her music taste. What kind of music did she put you on to?
We shared a family computer. I don’t even remember all the stuff. What sticks out is the first concert I ever went to was a Passion Pit concert that she took me to when I was around 11 years old. Everyone there was older and I got so claustrophobic. I couldn’t see the stage. But I still loved it.
MGMT is another one. I remember she really loved it and I fell in love with that album because of her. And then all of the pop music she was listening to at the time—she was in high school and I was in elementary or middle school. And it was probably Justin Timberlake’s Justified album, which then led me to the Neptunes and Timbaland, and then that just escalated and led to so many other things.
What does she think about this becoming your career?
I’m sure she loves it. I mean, I’ve been doing music since I was like a little kid. So it’s been such a gradual thing. By the time I was in high school, I had developed my own tastes and gone through so many phases that I had kind of gotten more into music than she ever was. But in hindsight, she was really a catalyst to me getting into popular music, because I was playing classical music as a kid. My grandfather played in the Chicago Symphony. And my uncle was a classical conductor. So I was always around classical music. But then she was the one that was listening to pop and alternative music at the time.
“Pulling from electronic music, pulling from alternative music, all of these different inspirations that I grew up loving that are so far from each other, and pulling it in to try and create something that’s my own.”
Did you find yourself trying to play the music that you heard around you?
The classical stuff in particular, definitely made me want to learn certain chords and songs. For example, there was one song that changed how I listened to music. [“Gymnopédie No. 1” by Erik Satie]. It basically was the first classical piano song I had heard that used jazz chords. So it’s like major, minor seventh chords. And it was a lot different from the stuff I’d been playing. And that led me to love jazz music. Then I would find similarities that the Neptunes used major, minor seventh chords that give you a certain feeling. And that led me to realize the style I really like.
And that got you into production?
I was trying to give beats to local rappers in middle school. And by local, I mean really local, like, at the high school. Kids would be like, “Oh, I can rap over this.” And then the whole time, I was secretly singing, but not confident enough to be like, “I’m a singer.” And it took a couple years until I would then sing on a hook of some beat I would give a rapper or something. And then, by the end of high school, I decided I was really going to do my own thing.”
When you started diving into music, did you ever think you’d be someone who is as on top of everything as you are now? Production, vocals, videos…
Over the years, I got really into all forms of art… The coolest thing about being a musical artist is that you get to really do every form of art if you want to. Being a director and being a visual artist with your album and single artwork, working with other people to help execute the vision. But loving every aspect of it just leads to being able to do all these different things. After a certain point, it’s like, how fun would it be to just pivot into a whole new creative outlet? Be a director when I’m 40 years old or something.
“Angels” is your first single following a couple loosies and the 2020 EP. What made it the one to come back with this year?
It was just about what represented the initial journey into the sound. So “Angels” kind of introduced it the best, because it combined all these elements of the project. It alludes to this kind of breakbeat, trip-hop, some people call electronic music, but it still felt really, really musical with the strings. And it was beautiful, the arrangement of it, that teej. [a frequent collaborator] had started on. It just felt like the right introduction to the project. And then when we started to plan all the singles, it built the world out a little more. Then the next one feels like it’s a building on top of that until you get the whole world with the full project.
You called “Angels” a love letter to Houston. What made it that way?
It started with teej. sending me this loop. It was not even a loop. It was literally a classical music arrangement that he had made like it was for a movie, on some Hans Zimmer shit. There was a certain part of it that felt very ethereal and beautiful. When I took that and started chopping it up, it kind of felt like this feeling of home, almost evangelical. It reminded me of this feeling of being protected by people you love and being really thankful for the people around me. And that led to being thankful for being from Houston and made me think back at that whole journey of where I’m from, and why it’s so important.
With the song, we were referencing Romeo and Juliet, the 1996 one with Leonardo DiCaprio. And teej. pulled up a scene. It was the Capulet party, it looks like Juliet’s wearing an angel costume. It just feels like what the song is to me and then I was drawing parallels to that in Houston.
With the video, I wanted to go back to Houston and go to places that I had grown up seeing and had a certain view of. I always saw Houston in this very utopian futuristic way. I don’t think anyone else really saw Houston that way but I wanted to think it was like the city from The Hunger Games. We always talked about doing something new and different from the city that people have never seen.
How would you describe this latest string of music you’ve been creating for the project?
Analog futuristic. Analog is very retro and vintage, it has the musicality and textures of vintage stuff. Tape machines and live instrumentation. But then you match that with forward-leaning production and synths and electronic music. Pulling from both the past and the future to make something new.