Hooked on Semantics | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Hooked on Semantics 

Stoner rockers Hammergun prove a rose by any other name would smell as pungent.

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It’s crazy how words can mean everything and nothing. Take, for instance, “stoner” and “hippie.” Depending on your frame of reference, they’re either separate entities or synonyms. Usage, therefore, becomes an issue as people indiscriminately generalize and go about their day.


Over the past eight months, City Weekly has featured local bands Form of Rocket, The Kill and J.W. Blackout, and the question of accuracy in music labeling has come up. Gearing up for an interview with Hammergun, Salt Lake’s resident—here it comes—stoner-rock band, it rears its ugly head once more. And since “stoner” and “hippie” carry negative connotations beyond simple stylistic reference, it’s only fair to give Hammergun the opportunity to sound off.


“I have no objections to the term stoner rock,” says Hammergun bassist Sean McClaughtery. “It’s simply a way for people to identify the music. [But] I’ve never heard of a genre of music that’s identified by so many different titles: riff rock, desert rock, stoner rock, doom, sludge, Southern-fried … the list goes on and on and all of those terms basically describe the same style of music.”


Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to, it’s all the same. Each of those terms is applicable, but each is used with almost equal prominence as the main designation for the majestic, slow, heavy dirges cranked out by the likes of Black Sabbath, High on Fire, Spirit Caravan and Goatsnake. And, of course, Hammergun (McClaugherty, vocalist Adam Sherlock, guitarists Levi Lebo and Damon Smith and drummer Tyler Smith).


“Hippie” is altogether another story.


Such an easy generalization, hippie, to attach to stoner-rock purveyors and fans. Listening to Hammergun’s debut doom-sludge-desert-stoner-riff-rockin’ disc, Texas (StereoRecords.com), one imagines a bong-wielding, beanbag chair/black light/fuzzy poster-lovin’, hopped-up-primer-gray-El-Camino-with-a-skull-gearshift-drivin’ dude—what the ignorant would brand a hippie—playing or listening to the same. But stoners and hippies, says McClaugherty, are apples and oranges.


“I have never associated the term stoner rock with hippies, but that’s just me. What is a ‘hippie’ anyway? I picture a hippie wearing tie-dyed shirts and no shoes following the Dead or Phish or even Dave Matthews Band, resisting the status quo by not holding a job, heading down to Liberty Park on Sundays for the Drum Circle Extravaganza. You know, that kind of shit. Now, of course, we’re all guilty of generalizing and stereotyping, but it is my opinion that we should wear no social masks and our egos should be forgotten. I don’t think the person I just described is a bad thing; it’s just my personal view of a hippie. If one’s definition of a hippie is someone who’s conscious about social issues, human or animal rights, political issues, allows people to live according to their personal will, respects people for being themselves or generally attempts to be a good person, then I would think everyone should be hippies.”


Whoa! That’s deep, dude. But it is, after all, about the music. Screw semantics. Whatever you wanna call it, Hammergun’s stoner rock is good shit. Texas (named for a line in “God’s Country,” inspired by Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood) is a six-pack of mega-jams—many exceeding 10 minutes. Riffs rule, natch, but so does bottom; McClaugherty and Smith’s towering rhythms rock the trailer. Sherlock’s vocals are the broken-glass icing.


“We like to mix it up. We’ll have some straightforward, blues-influenced rock jams, but then we’ll throw some heavy fucking doom into the mix. We like to try to keep our listeners guessing and we definitely don’t want to be your average everyday stoner/doom band. Everything we do is huge. We’re loud. We use huge riffs. Big drums. Big, dynamic vocals. The sheer underlying definition of Hammergun is that size fucking matters and doesn’t get bigger than us. Hammergun, my friend, is the essence of the no-shit aesthetic. We don’t want people to simply listen to what we’re playing; we want them to feel it.”

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