In 2009, Lisa Hammer released her first solo album, named Dakini, which in the Buddhist belief is a female spirit, be this a goddess or a demon. Before all this, Hammer had already made a name for herself as the lead singer for the deathrock/goth rock band Requiem In White and then the more medieval based Mors Syphilitica. Since then, she has thrown herself endlessly into many different projects such as writing, filming, acting and producing both television shows and movies, but the music has always been there as well.
French label, The Circle Music, has joined forces with Lisa to re-release Dakini this year, with beautiful coloured vinyls and also three extra bonus tracks. The album features Hammer’s heavenly operatic vocals, which can dissolve, almost, into chattering demonic verse, and that is the great thing about Dakini…it is not formulaic but rather a spiritual journey you are following, that experiments with sound and voice, in a difficult time. With this in mind, we have the opportunity to ask Lisa about what has lead her up to this point in time, this re-release and what is in the future of this goddess/demon, plus you really need to know which dead people we will exhuming just for the fun of it.
Lisa Hammer, welcome to the lands of Onyx that time forgot… which is really a house and the lands my rather overgrown garden of scary delights.
Born in Salem, did you grow up there and do you think it had an influence on you artistically or was it more so your family?
Definitely both. I lived next door to Laurie Cabot, the famous Salem witch. It was the 1970’s so I remember seeing her walk around in her black cape with her big black hair. She often commented on my little lamb toy I pulled along. On certain nights I could see across the alley to her window, where there would be a red light illuminating a group of people in a magic circle. When I moved to another state I was convinced that I was also a witch. Musically, my family always had singalongs or “Hootenannies” and everyone played and sang beautifully, especially my mother Roberta Stockton. What a voice and boy could she play guitar! We took great pride in our harmonies and beautiful tones.
A woman of many talents, musician, actor, director and writer. Which of these first brought you into the gothic fold?
TV. It was the Addams Family, and film – my grandmother and I watched a lot of old silent films together, and that is where Siouxsie and Exene got their makeup from.. I identified with them at a very young age. But then as I got older it was music, but the term Gothic had not been invented yet. We were Deathrock or Deathpunk. My roots were in Punk music, mixed with Classical/Medieval and campy 60’s Pop/Mod.
Lisa, you have been in the alternative/gothic scene for a while and the front woman for the ethereal goth rock band, Mors Syphilitica and before that in Requiem In White. Requiem In White struck me as being influenced by Christian Death, while Mors Syphilitica was tapping into that blooming period of medieval/renaissance style music. What drove you to create these styles of music and do you feel it was a time of musical awakening, so to speak?
Yes, we all loved Christian Death and were so happy to open for them a few times. Requiem in White was considered Death Rock because of the hard guitars, we thought we were Black Sabbath with an opera singer, Black Sabbath being one of my favorite bands of all time. With Mors we wanted to explore as many alternative styles as we could, there are heavy rock songs, but also very lovely
Most of this was happening in New York, so what was it like living in that period of time and what was the scene like back then for you?
New York in the 90’s was so fun. There were so many music venues to play, you could draw a crowd any night of the week. Rent was cheap and time was unlimited. We played CBGB and The Limelight more times than I can remember. We all hung out a lot – no one really needed to work 80 hour weeks, we were free to create music, film, whatever we wanted. I remember one night at the Limelight very fondly. We were opening for Type-O Negative, at Peter Steele’s request. The club was so packed they had to lift me and carry me over the crowd to and from the stage! I remember looking up during our set and seeing Peter on the balcony with Kirk Hammett from Metallica watching us perform. The audience were writhing to our music, some were kissing, some crying, some lost in meditation. I will never forget that night.
In 2009, the first solo album, “Dakini” was released on the famous Projekt label and now in 2022, it is seeing a revamp in the form of beautiful vinyls and three previously unreleased tracks. What was the reasoning behind giving “Dakini” this new lease of life currently?
The Circle Music approached me about re-releasing Dakini, remastering it, and they asked for bonus tracks. I had recorded Alte Clamat Epicurus during the pandemic lockdown and thought it would make a great bonus track. That song is another one of the 12th century Carmina Burana Codec songs written by radical monks. I love vinyl and couldn’t resist the color vinyl!
When you brought forth this album, how important was it for you?
I recorded it and finished it while both my mother and my guitarist of Radiana/childhood friend Steven Deal were dying. The music is dedicated to them. I was too full of grief to fully enjoy or even promote the CD back in 2009. But now, years later, I feel like dedicating my music to them even more. I can see with more clarity and enjoy moments of celebration. It is hard to keep making music without them, but I have to push myself to do it. Especially after having cancer myself in 2016. Everything is harder now, but more urgent and important to me.
The production is flawless and the music certainly feels as fresh as when it was first recorded. Do you feel a certain amount of pride that it has weathered so well?
Yes, thank you. Every artist I know is full of doubt about their music. But the original recording by Dan Kohler (with Steven Deal on guitars) is already so lush, and the genius re-mastering by The Circle Music and the gorgeous artwork has renewed my pride. I credit the label with reviving my spirit of creation.
For me there seems to be influences such as Dead Can Dance and Autumn Tears through to Diamanda Galas, mixed with a spiritual searching, would you agree?
I have never heard Autumn Tears, never really got into Diamanda even though she is insanely talented, and I remember hearing Dead Can Dance’s first album being played at Newbury Comics in Boston, getting really mad because Requiem in White was exploring this neo-classical style and they beat us to it, lol. But eventually they won me over and I became a big fan. Dakini is a mix of my influences, it is a hybrid of classical, folk, world music, experimental and ambient.
How important is spirituality to you?
I am fascinated by spirituality, it is really fun to explore. But I don’t claim to know anything – how can we know until we die where we will go? Is it spiritual or is it science? Is my mom in another dimension or is she in heaven? It is mind-blowing to contemplate, I even get chills looking at photos of outer space, does our consciousness float around and get sucked into black holes then spit out again? I DO believe she is somewhere nearby, as my aunt is a spiritual medium and received messages from my mom that she would have had no knowledge of unless they were directly from her.
Why did you decide the 3 unreleased tracks should see the light of day?
They were requested by the label.
Who or what bands and musicians first got you into this dark and beautiful scene?
Black Sabbath, Klaus Nomi, Nina Hagen, Lene Lovich, Christian Death, The Sisters of Mercy, The Damned… Too many to list.
Who do you find yourself listening to now?
Still going strong with Black sabbath and the 60’s-70’s classic rock bands (Radiana even did a Kink’s cover song for WFMU and now for Wicked Opossum Records) All my old Punk favorites, Opera, Indian and Nepali Classical, lots of Shoegaze and Britpop, King Crimson (Just saw them perform last year!) all the Gen X indie rock from The Pixies to Stereolab…Black Metal, world music, ska, campy 60’s pop – whatever mood strikes me that day.
Your vocal talents on this album are powerful, beautiful and on occasion….terrifying. Is there one particular track that you are particularly proud of the vocals?
I had a lot of fun with Alte Clamat Epicurus. The singer is overindulging in wine and food and by the end of the song is completely debauched. I love the hymns, I love singing the Indian classical ragas (I studied with Michael Harrison who was a disciple of Pandit Pran Nath).
You have definitely made the arts your life in a way, pursuing many aspects such as creating the Blessed Elysium Motion Picture Company to produce German Expressionist styled films, writing movie scripts and even voice acting, with one of your most famous characters being Triana Orpheus on The Cartoon Network’s Venture Bros. Is there one of these things that adore over all else or do you need all of it?
I think right now I’m more obsessed with film-making, but I also really need the music. Voice acting/acting is not my favorite. I was just doing it because I was married to Doc Hammer. Now I make films and music with my husband Levi Wilson. We are working on several film and music projects all at the same time. We need to take a break but we can’t stop ourselves.
We have heard on the grape vine, which creates a fine wine, that a new Lisa Hammer album is in the works as well as another album for your other project, Radiana. Is this true and what can we expect?
You heard correctly. The Circle Music has asked me to record a follow-up album to Dakini for next year, which is 1/3 recorded, and they will be releasing all of the Requiem in White music on vinyl, possibly Mors Syphilitica as well.
I am also halfway done with the new Radiana album, which, without Steven Deal’s indie-pop sensibility, is going to be much darker and post-punk-shoegazey than our debut album. For both albums I will be working with musicians from Wheatus, Late Cambrian, Paul Ash will be appearing again (Unto Ashes), a tabla player from the Nepali group Sur Sudha, and my husband Levi.
If you could make a music video anywhere, where would it be and whom would you get to direct it (we don’t mind digging up famous corpses or going back in time)?
I insist we dig up Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali and make them direct my music video, in the spirit of Un Chien Andalou.
What else is in the future for Lisa Hammer?
A TV series called Great Kills, where we portray documentary filmmakers who follow a hitman around Staten Island, NY as he does his jobs, callously ignoring the pleas of the victims – Streaming soon. Our film “Luke and Emma” which is in development, we have a short excerpt film in post production now and will submit to festivals. More and more music, and hopefully live shows in Europe, starting in Greece where our record label resides. So many projects, I hope we have time and energy to do them all.
Thank you Lisa for joining me in the garden of good and evil for this chat. Be careful of the ley lines on your way out!
The ley lines should be careful of ME on THEIR way out 😂. And thank YOU for supporting indie music artists and keeping the dark passions alive.
(What is there not to love about this fierce demonic goddess?! ❤ )