A year and a half ago, Ryan Hamilton — along with his backing band, the U.K.-based Harlequin Ghosts — had achieved a newfound level of success. His latest album, Nowhere to Go but Everywhere, found itself charting in the United Kingdom — not “charting” in the sense of often misleading online stream counts but in the legitimate rankings of the Official Charts Company, England’s equivalent to Billboard, nestled between the likes of Taylor Swift and Neil Young. Though the career momentum the Fort Worth Americana stylist sought here stateside was still lagging, the boon overseas was encouraging. Enjoying selling out midsize theaters in London was sure to lead to a similar reaction at home, he felt. Then, of course, COVID-19 changed everything.
“It was really hard, and it continues to be hard,” Hamilton said of the sudden shutdown that wiped out almost instantly the achievements he’d been building toward for years. “It was like, ‘Boom! This is all happening, and it’s happening in England, which is cool.’ It looked like bigger tours, bigger festivals — the dominoes were really starting to fall in my favor finally. And then, it all went away. I had this thing happen that I had been waiting for for so long, and now it’s like it’s been forgotten.”
Though the pandemic in essence took away the means for musicians to make a living, Hamilton wasn’t content to sit idle and wait for it to be over. Part as an attempt to continue the progress begun on Nowhere but just as much to simply keep busy, he had the crazy notion that he would release a new song on the 12th of every month for the entire year and then combine the tracks into what would be his fifth album, appropriately titled 1221.
“A lot of it was tied to sitting at home with nothing to do,” he said with a laugh, “but it was really trying to keep some sort of momentum from this thing I feel I have this god-given ability to do and which I’m very thankful for. I thought, What could I do? I needed to do something to stay sane, to stay relevant, to stay successful.”
Working with his producer, Dave Draper (Paul Terry, Cellarscape), Hamilton actually accomplished the feat. With Draper located in the U.K., he and Hamilton would collaborate remotely, sharing files through the cloud or via “Zoom recording sessions.” With standout tracks like “Do the Damage” and “Deja Vu I Love You,” Hamilton offers hook-riddled, blues-tinged pop-rock with the up-tempo frivolity of the Old 97’s and the earworm-y singalong melodies of Matthew Sweet.
When a particular month seemed daunting or Hamilton wasn’t pleased with the song he was working on, he enlisted help from other songwriters like Bob Schneider (The Ugly Americans) and Chuck Prophet (Alejandro Escovedo, Green on Red) or even turned to a few covers like January’s contribution, the Spin Doctors’ 1991 hit “How Could You Want Him (When You Know You Could Have Me)?,” or Catherine Wheel’s “Satellite.”
1221 was released as a whole the day after Thanksgiving.
Hamilton has nothing but praise for his label, the Little Steven Van Zandt-founded Wicked Cool Records (Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, Steve Conte, Jesse Malin), saying they were “so awesome — you could imagine they may be like, ‘Wait, you want us to promote a new song every month? And then release all the songs everyone’s already heard as an album?’ But once we got the ball rolling, they were fully on board and encouraging.”
Despite a lost year, response to the singles and the album so far has seemed to pick up right where Hamilton left off almost two years ago. So far, in little more than a week, 1221 has been streamed in its entirety more than 125,000 times.
Though he won’t perform live in front of an audience again until he plays New York after the New Year, Hamilton is offering a pay-per-view livestream of his annual Holiday Hoedown at 3 p.m. Thursday. Traditionally taking place in London every year, this year’s version will be at the Historic Church in Stephenville. Tickets to view the multi-camera solo-acoustic concert are $12.21 and will include a downloadable copy of the album in the form of Live & Acoustic in Stephenville, Texas.
After a U.K. run in February, Hamilton will be back for a tour in the states to support 1221 in May.
Ryan Hamilton’s Annual Holiday Hoedown
3pm Thu. $12.21. Ryan-Hamilton.myshopify.com. Livestream link will be sent an hour before showtime.