The Road Hammers are back at it with new EP and some post-COVID reopening anthems

The Road Hammers are back at it with new EP and some post-COVID reopening anthems

For a couple of years, The Road Hammers’ Jason McCoy kept what he called a “guilty pleasure” on his computer.

It was the song Hillbilly Disco, a slick sing-along co-write with Blackjack Billy’s Jeff Coplan. McCoy would call it up and listen to a demo now and then but figured it would never be a Road Hammers song. In fact, he was initially reluctant to even play the song for his bandmates, guitarist Clayton Bellamy and bassist Chris Byrne.

“Hillbilly Disco is certainly a bit of a left turn for us,” says McCoy, in an interview from his home in Barrie, Ont. “I love the track, it’s fun. I just always thought ‘It’s great. Too bad it’s not a Hammers song.’ But put Clay and Chris on it and ‘Oh, yeah, it is.’ It just takes that little secret sauce to make it our thing.’ ”

At the time of this interview, the Road Hammers were about to leave for Alberta to film a video for the song, which they eventually punched up with horns and turned into a duet with country singer Meghan Patrick. It is the closing track on Back At It, the trio’s new EP released last week.

Hillbilly Disco and Give’r, a catchy co-write with Tim Hicks, were both tracks that McCoy has had on his computer for years before introducing to the band. At the record company’s insistence, Give’r became an early single from the EP.

It’s certainly more in line with what fans have come to expect from The Road Hammers (“It sounds like a Red Bull commercial, it’s kind of what we do,” McCoy says.) It also fits into the general feel-good, party vibe of the EP, which also includes Stay Wild, a celebratory, mid-tempo duet with  Hicks, and All My Friends, which had McCoy, Bellamy and Byrne recruiting a gang of notable singers, including Terri Clark, Dan Davidson, Jason Blaine, Cory Marks, Aaron Pritchett and Big Sugar’s Gordie Johnson, to collaborate on a hard-rocking ode to hanging out with your pals on a Friday night.

In fact, Hillbilly Disco aside, the songs on the EP don’t stray too far from the general aesthetic the act has been cultivating for nearly two decades now.

“It’s a hoot, it really is, like all-things Hammers,” McCoy says. “It’s a fun band. It’s really fun on and off stage. We get to stretch a little bit. We’re not spring chickens but we get to have a lot of fun. We don’t take ourselves too seriously but we dig the music.”

Which made the band’s first summer gig after a lengthy pandemic break all the more appropriate. The Road Hammers were among the bands playing the Calgary Stampede’s raucous Nashville North stage. Alberta has always been welcoming of the act. In fact, Byrne still lives in Calgary, while Bellamy lives north of Edmonton.

So the band is used to having geographical distance between them, which made their separation during the COVID-19 lockdowns a little easier to handle.

“Sometimes you’re not on the phone for weeks at a time and then you get an idea and you jump on a Zoom call and write something and then you’re jaw-wagging every day or every five minutes texting ideas and then everybody’s off to another thing,” McCoy says. “It’s ebb and flow. But the good thing about Zoom is that when you have an idea, you can jump on it right away. You don’t have to wait.”

McCoy got a taste of long-distance collaborations early on during the lockdown in 2020. In April, he co-wrote the song We Are One World and enlisted musicians from around the globe to record the song as a fundraiser for the Unison Benevolent Fund, which provides emergency relief services to the Canadian music community. More than 40 artists were involved, including his Road Hammer bandmates, Calgary’s Raghav, the Barenaked Ladies Ed Robertson, members of the Harlem Gospel Choir, Australian Idol star Hayley Jensen and Jackson Browne’s guitarist Mark Goldenberg. The individual pieces were sent to Calgary’s Russell Broom, who mixed the song. Footage captured on GoPro, iPhones and webcams were sent to Calgary’s Sean Smith for a music video.

“It was really a special time and place,” says McCoy. “The urgency for unity and support at that time was a much different thing than perhaps it is now. Looking back it was a very interesting time. It was so new to all of us. It was reassuring to know we can have people from different communities around the world experience the same thing and raise money for Unison.”

With the world is slowly emerging from the pandemic, Back At It offers a few tracks that could be seen as reopening anthems. That includes opener The Boys are Back At It, which was written long before the pandemic but now seems like an appropriate primer for those itching to get back to better days.

“It was written before we started the EP and before the pandemic,” McCoy says. “It just sounded like a real Hammers song so of course we were going to put it on the EP. But as things went on and we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel and things starting opening again coinciding with this release, it was an obvious choice for a first single. So it became top of the pile, our best foot forward. It really does speak not just to what we want to do as musicians but all of society wanting to get back to getting our masks off and just be done with it. We can’t wait for everybody to be in a position where we can do that.”

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