For the past little while, Run On Sentence leader Dustin Hamman has been on the road with his lady friend, Kyle Durrie, as she offers up seminars and services with her rolling letterpress truck (learn more about that here). As part of this trip, Hamman found himself spending a week and a half in New York City, staying a block and a half away from the heart of the Occupy Wall Street protests. And while he was there, he found himself performing for the civil disobedients as part of an ensemble that included Sean Lennon and Rufus Wainwright. You may have seen the video already as the thing has gone viral, but it features this ragtag group performing a rollicking version of Madonna's "Material Girl".
After we saw Hamman's bearded visage in this clip, we had to know more and we tracked him down as he was visiting family in Kansas City to get the story behind this performance.
WW: How did this performance end up happening?
Dustin Hamman: Josh Fox, the director of the film Gasland...he knows Sean and he is a friend of mine. He sometimes plays in Run On Sentence whenever he's around. I met him a couple of years ago at a film festival. I was hanging out with him in New York and he got asked to speak at Occupy Wall Street. He said, "Oh, let's play a song. I called Sean Lennon to see if he wanted to play a song." We all went over to Sean's house to practice. Originally it was just me and Charlotte [Kemp Muhl, Lennon's girlfriend and bandmate] and Josh practicing. One of their roommates starting playing tambourine with us. We practiced a little bit. Not very much. The next day, they all come over to my cousin's apartment and we all ran through the song one quick time. And Rufus just walked up. "Oh hey, Sean, I just heard you were going to be here, so I thought I'd come down." Sean just handed him the lyrics a minute before we started playing.
Who actually worked out the version of the song you played?
We all kind of worked it out. Sean made the most changes, I think. I don't know we all just sat down and started playing it. We watched the video of the original and said, "Okay, we should keep that part" or get rid of another bit. Sean strikes me as a really good bandleader. He had really good ideas about the music. I started trying out different harmonies and I hit one where he said, "Yeah, do that." He would hear something and go, "Oh, can you try this?" He ended up directing a lot of that process. It still felt like a really collaborative thing.
What was it like being at the actual protests?
I stayed in my cousin's place which was around the corner. I was there for 10 days I actually went over there every day sometimes for a couple hours a day. It was interesting. I had some preconceived ideas because you get all kinds of things in the media. I was glad to go and talk to people and get a sense of where they were coming from. There aren't that many people living in the park. But there are days where there are thousands of people coming through there. A lot of people that live in the city come down when they can to show their support. The vibe is very mixed. I get why the media is making it seem like nobody knows what they want. You walk around and there are signs for a hundred different causes. But I think talking to one of the guys working the Help Booth...he said "The point is just to be here and start a discussion. Not to say we have any answers. Just that we know there's a problem and we need to talk about it." I thought that was a really great way of putting it.
Run On Sentence will be back on a stage here in Portland where he belongs this coming Sunday, November 13th when Hamman and co. plays the Doug Fir Lounge with On The Stairs and Lost Cities.