Canned Hamm is not funny. Okay, maybe they are, but they are definitely not comedy. Or so they tell me. Big Hamm and Lil Hamm have decided to set the record straight by meeting with the Straight over green tea at Cuppa Joe on the corner of Main and Broadway. For those not in the know, the duo's recent Erotic Thriller release is a non-stop, full-pop, boogie-down, no-time-to-clown, dance album. It's got more substance than the average four-on-the floor shaker, so much, in fact, that it verges on a classic. Erotic Thriller is a record that deserves repeated visits, like trips to a magical buffet, making it safe to file between Can's Tago Mago and Alice Cooper's Easy Action in your CD collection.
Big Hamm (aka Stephen Hamm) and Lil Hamm (aka Robert Dayton) have a way with words. They riff off each other like wizened jazz cats blowing gold. Big-time music lovers who aren't afraid to share their muses, they've displayed no shortage of panache and pizzazz over the last five years.
"It started with a love of karaoke that Lil Hamm and I shared," says Big Hamm with nostalgia. "We each rose to the top of the karaoke scene."
"Let's just say that after the trophy, there's nothing," adds Lil Hamm.
Big Hamm jumps in with: "Why compete when we can join forces?", to which Lil Hamm immediately responds with: "After we joined forces in karaoke, that's when we took it to the next level."
That level was Canned Hamm. Inspired by their love of karaoke, pure entertainment, and the art of timeless songwriting, the two released Karazma! in 2001 followed by Karazma: Reimagined, which featured reinterpretations from their debut by the likes of Destroyer and the New Pornographers.
"We want to bring back the old vaudeville and marry it with what the kids are doing today," explains Big Hamm.
"Give it a healthy sheen," notes Lil Hamm.
Big Hamm: "You don't want to live in the past, just draw from it."
Lil Hamm: "It's amazing that we drew from the past the idea of being in the moment."
Big Hamm: "If you live in the moment, you can live in the past. You take Richard Harris, the great Jimmy Webb, you take "MacArthur Park", Giorgio Moroder, Donna Summer, and update it. That is what is going on with Erotic Thriller."
Lil Hamm: "We name all of these influences, but one thing that Big Hamm is forgetting is our own personal life experiences. What we have learned on this planet. That's very important when writing the lyrics and music."
Big Hamm: "Influences are inspiration."
Lil Hamm: "No one is a vacuum."
Influence aside, Erotic Thriller was designed to make people dance. It's the kind of album that you could throw on at a party for kicks, but also one that has enough detail and nuance to be savoured when your feet are ready for a rest. A disc that endures frequent listens, it explores paranoia, cinema, nightlife, love, relationships, and food with equal aplomb. Powered by an insistent disco beat, it's hard to resist. Canned Hamm in the flesh is no exception.
Vancouverites can be a lethargic lot. When Lil Hamm is asked why people should get off their asses and come out to a Canned Hamm show, the plaid pants-wearing showman flips the script.
"There's a lot of reasons why people should see us, but you should really ask 'Why shouldn't people come to see us?'" he puts forth. "Let's say they have a relative that's dying in the hospital and they have to go see that relative as they only have hours to live."
"If the relative can make it to the show, that would be great," offers Big Hamm.
Extensive costume changes, dazzling dance choreography, sly banter, and healthy audience interaction make the Canned Hamm live experience one to catch, or at the very least, not to miss. Along with the self- described punk-rock custodian of comedy Hugh Phukovsky and the mysterious spiritual stylings of Johnny Karate, the duo launches Slight Night Live tonight (May 5) at Celebrities.
"We've even upgraded to microphone headsets to free up our bodies to dance and sing at the same time," says Lil Hamm.
While Canned Hamm calls Vancouver home, it's but a dot on a map for this outward-looking team that, in addition to touring heavily, plans to explore television and film possibilities.
"We're in the modern age, the world of global entertainment and multimedia," states Big Hamm. "Multimedia is what the greats were doing years ago. They're singing and they're dancing, acting, and they were filming it. It's back to the vaudeville thing."
"It's a case of basically having the resources at our fingertips and trying to make that happen," continues Lil Hamm. "If anybody else out there wants it to happen, make this happen, make us happen, make it all happen, we can work with each other. It's all about the art of collaboration."