Published on July 24th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann


The Punch List with Mechanical River’s Joel T. Hamilton

Metronome Charleston‘s weekly Punch List puts local musicians on the spot with a questionnaire that touches on music, venues, gear, records, vices, and more. This week, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Joel T. Hamilton — the mad genius behind the unique one-man band Mechanical River — has a go.

1. What is your favorite local hang and why? 

“The Tin Roof is run by the most wonderful people in the world. But be nice; they don’t have time for your attitudes.”

2. You know you’ve played an excellent show when…

“One thing is if the atmosphere of the room totally changes; that can go in a slew of different directions, but most likely, you’ve executed something fine if this happens. Maybe a chatty, hostile room becomes peaceful and attentive, or a clean, deodorized group leaves sweat-soaked and rank.”


Mechanical River at the Tin Roof (photo by Ballard Lesemann)

3. What was the last show you attended that really got you fired up in a good or bad way?

“I had the opportunity to open for [New York-based musical collective] Turquoise Jeep last fall. Those guys are sexy. I can’t tell if they’re using their powers for good or bad.”


4. Define your musical style in exactly 10 words. 

“Many times I have felt love from strangers without words.”

5. What’s your theme song?

“Kenny Loggins’ ‘Highway to the Danger Zone’ [a.k.a. “Danger Zone”] because I heard it once, and it was like loud and awesome and the highway is a really dangerous place!”

6. Gear-wise, what’s is your irreplaceable baby?

“My cigar-box guitar has become my favorite instrument for many reasons. It’s small but not too tiny. Portable. I love the sounds it can help me make. It’s been surprisingly durable. I’ve survived a bear attack with it around my neck. It has taken me around the world unscathed. But irreplaceable? Naw … if I say that, it’ll disappear.”

7. What’s the most overplayed album in your collection?

“Probably Ram by Paul McCartney [from 1971]. It’s like he went into the future and saw where music would go and went back and wrote all these songs that covered so many of the future bases of incredible music. It’s overplayed because I don’t really listen to it much anymore … because I overplayed it.”

8. When was the last time you were genuinely star-struck? 

“Last Christmas, I was happily helping with the fat family Christmas tree when the trickety tree-topper slid off the top of that heaping powerful perennial and struck me just across the right loin.”


9. What’s your poison?

“Poison slows you down.”

10. In 10 years, I will be…

“10 years more experienced.”

Charleston native Joel T. Hamilton has been writing and playing various styles of pop, rock, and experimental music since his high school days in the early 2000s, when he formed and fronted Charleston-based alt-rock band The Working Title. Over the last few years, Hamilton has collaborated with various local colleagues on recordings and band projects, and he’s independently produced a handful of unusually arranged, joyfully lo-fi solo albums.

As Mechanical River, Hamilton plays a homemade cigar-box guitar, a Casio keyboard, a bass drum, and a helmet equipped with a small microphone.

Hamilton recorded and released Mechanical River’s 10-song debut album Astral Castle in the spring of 2012. Copies are available at Monster Music, Earshot Records, and the Early Bird Diner in West Ashley and online at

On stage, Mechanical River is a visual experience as much as it is an audial experience.

Hamilton performs as Mechanical River at the Tin Roof on Fri. July 26 at 10 p.m. as the opening act for Filmstrip. Admission is $5. Visit for more.

      1. ‘Pomelos’ by Mechanical River




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About the Author

Ballard Lesemann

is a musician and writer. Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., he spent years playing in bands and working for Flagpole Magazine in the bustling music town of Athens, Ga. He returned to his hometown and served more than seven years as the Charleston City Paper's music editor. He's better at drumming than he is at playing guitar.

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