Just before the Covid shelter-in-place order went into effect, B. Hamilton released Nothing and Nowhere, their last album as a trio. Ryan Christopher Parks, the band’s leader and songwriter, was unsure of what would come next. “I started playing these hour-long, Instagram Live ‘shows’ every Sunday night in my living room to stay sharp and perform songs that I didn’t really know,” he said. “I called it the ‘Howard Hughes Blues Cruise.’”
He continued, “People would throw tunes at me throughout the week. I’d have to learn them and play them, however I thought I should. The way I wrote changed, after wading through all those uncomfortable songs every Sunday night. I got to the point quicker, for better or worse.”
The band’s bass player dropped out during the shutdown, so Parks and drummer Raj Kumar Ojha began working on songs as a duo. “I started out playing bass and still play guitar like a bass player,” Parks said. “I’m always paying attention to Raj and the drums, more than flying off on some tangent. The process started pretty manic and crazy, but leveled off to me tracking an idea on my own, him tracking his drum parts by himself and me adding all of my parts.”
Parks and Ojah released three EPs this year—Other Lives of Magic and Wonder and Whatever; I would give songs numbers instead of names if I could. I can? Ok. Here I go, but not really and Saigon Market, released last week. The songs on Saigon Market are vignettes specifically about Oakland.
Ojah’s subtle Latin backbeat drives “Martin Eden Written Left Handed in Crayon.” It’s a coming-of-age story, highlighted by sparkling guitar work that melds elements of jazz, R&B and country music. Parks’ multi-tracked vocals blend harmonic elements to deliver a panoramic sound. “Martin Eden is a Jack London novel about Oakland, 100 years ago,” Parks said. “Eden wants to be a writer, but never succeeds. He’s so driven by his artistic desire that he fails to see the beauty around him.”
“Things I Learned at the Anti-Gentrification Bake Sale” opens with Parks playing acoustic guitar and singing, describing the interactions between the homeless and local residents walking around Lake Merritt. “Saigon Market” starts with a sample from a phone call between Parks and Joseph Lucas, the owner of Saigon Market, the art space that was B. Hamilton’s first rehearsal hall. It’s a midtempo rocker that brings to mind T. Rex playing with the Rolling Stones.
“Joseph passed away in August, and I wanted to make sure he was remembered,” Parks said. “He had a big heart, made me laugh a lot and helped out a lot of bands.”
Parks grew up in Yorba Linda, where music was part of his childhood. “My dad played the drums like Ginger Baker,” he said. “He always had a bunch of music instruments around the house. He never had the ‘this is mine, hands off’ thing that a lot of dickhead parents seem to have with instruments. He let me bang on stuff and do things the wrong way, until I figured something out.”
“He let me use his Tascam 4-track to record little songs or sounds, when I was around five,” Parks continued. “I recorded little incarnations of songs with bands when I was in 6th grade, and more in junior high and high school.”
Parks described how he and his father played music together. “My dad grew up playing drums in surf bands around Los Angeles’ South Bay as a teenager,” he said. “We’d jam on songs from the Ventures and Beach Boys. ‘Walk Don’t Run’ and ‘Stray Cat Strut’ are roughly the same chord progression, so those were around a lot.”
He added, “Then I heard Dick Dale. Everything reset when I first heard ‘Miserlou.’ It sounded psychotic and high-strung. Then, all of a sudden, a trumpet takes some Ennio Morricone solo, and the piano does this hypnotic Arabic arpeggio. I know these sounds, but not this chaotic and violent. Everything else seemed like nerd shit from there on, even Nirvana and all those bands.”
Park’s current music trajectory started on a dime. “Whatever I’m doing now began when I was 18,” he said. “Me and my friends, Jeff Song and Alex Spitz, made music in my dad’s machine shop at night. We were a power trio that sounded like Sleep, My Bloody Valentine and a lot of shitty marijuana. We tuned down to C and played 1970s Peavy full stacks turned all the way up. The sound bounced off of the concrete floors and bay doors, and spilled onto Imperial Highway. Good stuff.”
After high school, Parks moved to Oakland to study journalism at San Francisco State University. “I was recording in the laundry room of my house on East 15th and 5th Ave. for a while,” he said. “B. Hamilton started out as a bedroom/solo project, then it slowly became a band. As it evolved, it became a power trio with Raj on drums, Andrew Macy on bass, me on guitar and vocals.”
He continued, “Andrew left last year, so we’re figuring out what to do next. In the meantime, we’re finishing a full-length album that will come out in 2024.”
“Music is one of the things I love,” Parks said. “It’s a lifelong compulsion, but talking about it and spinning the story of the band into something extravagant makes me feel stupid. I write songs. I hope people like them. I do.”
Listen to Saigon Market and B. Hamilton’s other albums and EPs at: bhamilton.bandcamp.com and most digital providers.