Interview: John Cobbett of Hammers of Misfortune 7/14/16



Interview: JOHN COBBETT – Hammers of Misfortune

“Barriers to Entry”

July 14, 2016 – T. Ray Verteramo

Old punks never change their spikes.

For John Cobbett, founder and engineer of Hammers of Misfortune, though he’s grown some strange and beautiful fruit with his art over the years from Gwar to Unholy Cadaver to Hammers, his roots still hold deep. “I love being a fan,” he said. “Being a fan is so much more fun than being a musician. You’ve got to hold onto that part of yourself or else you’re done for.”

He said, “If you lose the fan in you, you’re never going to write compelling music. You have to be excited…you have to have that little kid enthusiasm or you’re going to sound like you’re phoning it in.”

Hammers of Misfortune was born in the midst of the Grunge and Skater era, flexing its muscles all over the Metal gym, from Old School to Thrash to Prog to Folk to basically whatever the cooks decide to fry up in the kitchen. With this, the fans have learned to expect the unexpected. But, this was more for himself than anything. Cobbett understands that art needs to be egocentric to distinguish itself from product, so why set unnecessary limits? “I wanted a band that I can be interested in for a long time,” he explained. “And I wanted it to be something where I could do pretty much anything that I wanted – a sandbox, a creative vehicle where I could use choirs and harmony and counterpoint and keyboards and anything I wanted so, basically that’s what it is.”

“Interestingly for ‘Dead Revolution’,” the title track off their latest dish set to be released later this month on Metal Blade records, “I was listening to the title track from the Scorpion’s Blackout album. And I was like, ‘Man, I’d like to write a song like that.’ It’s such a killer song. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to write a song with just pure energy, just kick ass.’ And that turned into ‘Dead Revolution.’ In fact, the working title for that album was Whiteout…because it was a pun on Blackout.”

Dead Revolution touts to feature even greater versatility, which for a band like Hammers of Misfortune who is already all over the map, seems outlandish. But, his response to this was quite rational. “The way that people talk about versatility these days doesn’t make any sense to me because it doesn’t take much to be versatile in today’s climate where you have – look at the average Metal album; you have 10 versions of the same song. People want really specific ‘purity’ on their album, where they’re like, ‘This is a 40-minute slab of orthodox Black Metal’.”

But, then he added, “Which I love that. I love that kind of shit and I listen to that kind of shit all the time. But, that’s how records are marketed these days. You have one kind of album and it’s very strict within those boundaries.”

It would be easy to presume that establishing your brand as unsafe would be safe. But, there are two sides to that coin. “Safe is a double-edge sword,” he said. “Because ‘safe’ creatively, we’ve disappointed so many people already that I’m not worried about disappointing people.”

“Back in the day, the artist would do anything for their fans and the fans responded by really supporting the artist. That’s all gone. Bands now just do whatever they can, whenever they can, and then they go to work.”

And yes, work, meaning day jobs, which is an all-too familiar story, even for those who are playing arenas. Though technology certainly has its benefits, Cobbett sees the benefits do not outweigh the costs – one of which, the ability to make a living. “Google has monetized our energy as fans without telling us, without our permission,” he began. “My whole neighborhood [San Francisco] has been taken over by people who work for Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter, Dropbox, Snapchat…This is really the poster child for rabid gentrification. And I’ve had these people tell me to my face, ‘This is the future of music, adapt or quit.’ And these are people who have been in the music business before and ended up in tech.”


“If I was against anything right now,” Cobbett said, “and point out where the tyranny is coming from, the conformity and the hegemony is coming from, it’s coming from the tech sector.”

Socially, as well. “There’s a lot of bullying online that’s like, ‘If you don’t accept this band, you’re closed-minded.’ Okay, then I better accept it before someone accuses me of being Hitler. People feel there should be no barrier to entry and everyone should be accepted. Any scene that doesn’t have a barrier to entry is not a scene that’s worth being in.”

Not trying to sound like the old man in the rocking chair, he explains, “The barrier to entry is important. That’s how you know that the people give a fuck about the scene they’re in. So, the barrier to entry – and this is coming from me being in the Punk scene in the 80’s and in the Metal scene – the only barrier to entry was that you had to love the music and know about it. You had to be at the show. You had to be a part of it. You had to be able to get out the door and participate. And we got a lot of good people that way. These weren’t ‘keyboard warriors,’ these were people out on the street, willing to get beaten up by rednecks.”

“I love this music and playing this music gives me a great deal of joy. It’s art and I want to make a piece of art and I don’t care if it sounds tacky or pretentious. It’s, ‘Fuck you, man. Don’t like and subscribe’.”

Hammers Facebook:

John Cobbett Twitter: