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Former doubleDrive Singer Donnie Hamby Rocks Again with Violent Plan

By BRIAN HEATON

Donnie Hamby performs with Violent Plan (June 2009)Few would-be vocalists have the talent and hunger to hit the stage, make a record and tour the world. Those who do might get one bite of the apple and if it doesn't pan out, a return to "regular" life awaits. Fortunately for his fans, Atlanta, Ga.-based singer Donnie Hamby hasn't let a couple of sour bites dictate his appetite for music.

After a six-year absence behind the microphone, the former singer of doubleDrive and Still Rain is back, this time fronting Violent Plan. Joined by his ex-Still Rain bandmate and Switched bassist Corey Lowery, Brad (B.C.) Kochmit of Switched on guitar and Dan Richardson on drums, Violent Plan released its first demo track, "Underneath," on MySpace. The band also played an impromptu gig at a small bar in Birmingham, Ala., in June to test the waters.

The experience was a success, according to Hamby. Violent Plan performed nine new songs and received a good reaction from the crowd, but Hamby was quick to add that the band was taking things slow.

"Violent Plan has to convene when schedules allow," the vocalist explained. "Dan is in Miami and Brad is in Cleveland, so it makes it a bit tricky sometimes, but we allow ourselves time to find a groove and work on material from a performance standpoint."

When pressed about the band's future, Hamby maintained that he really had no expectations, just a desire to write songs and see if they resonate and create opportunities for the group to do something more. With a nose for the business side of music however, the singer admitted he was enamored with the changes in the record industry, and what Violent Plan's place in it could be like.

"I have ideas about how I'd like to move, but mine's not the only voice and I have to consider that," Hamby said. "It's a new day with the music business and I've had plenty of time to think about changes and new approaches. I enjoy the interaction of planning and developing new business ideas … but we'll have to see where this band goes and how it gets there."

Lessons Learned

Hamby's patient attitude isn't surprising when you consider the lessons learned from his previous two bands. Dropping out of college to form Still Rain in 1989, the vocalist cut his teeth on the road for almost seven years, garnering the group a cult following. Based out of Fayetteville, N.C., Still Rain featured Hamby, Lowery, guitarist Troy McLawhorn, drummer Bevan Davies and Lowery's brother Clint on guitar.

Still Rain was a trial by fire experience for its members. In a span of two weeks, the band was put together, a crew was hired, and they were out touring immediately. Although the band was immensely popular on the local circuit and self-financed two albums, it was never signed to a label, which led to its demise in 1995.

"We were all restless," Hamby recalled. "The guys thought they could become something else if I [wasn't] holding the mic, so they asked me to let them roll and I didn't fight it."

Instead, Hamby began thinking about his next move. In late-1996, he ended up in Atlanta to record song ideas at a friend's studio. Ironically, he tapped his former bandmate Troy McLawhorn to lay down some guitar tracks and the sessions paved the way for Hamby's next band, doubleDrive.

Promotional image of doubleDrive, courtesy of Roadrunner Records.Joined by bassist Josh Sattler and later by drummer Mike Froedge, the quartet bonded over their "road warrior" experiences from the past and similar music interests. About a year later, the band was noticed by a number of record labels, with MCA Records ultimately signing doubleDrive.

Unlike Still Rain, doubleDrive was quickly picked up by mainstream radio. The lead single, "Tattooed Bruise," off of the group's debut album 1000 Yard Stare, received good airplay and the band opened for the likes of thrash metal titans Megadeth and progressive hard rockers Queensr˙che.

doubleDrive, circa 2002. Image courtesy
of Roadrunner Records.

It seemed the success everyone in the band had been working toward for years was finally just around the corner. But just as doubleDrive completed its second album with renowned producer John Kurzweg (Creed, Puddle of Mudd), MCA Records informed the group they would not be releasing it.

The news was crushing to Hamby and his bandmates, but they made the best of the situation.

"[MCA] didn't know if we would break or not, so they just sat on us while they mulled it over," Hamby explained. "Meanwhile, we did what we could and found tours and wrote [more] songs. Eventually, Ron Burman at Roadrunner Records made some progress for us and found us a way to restart."

Restart they did, with the aptly titled Blue in the Face. Released on Roadrunner Records in 2003, the title was an obvious statement to how the band felt dealing with their label-imposed stoppage. Unfortunately for Hamby, it wasn't the last time doubleDrive would receive a damaging blow.

After coming home from an Australian promotional tour (one of the band's career highlights, according to Hamby), doubleDrive was on the road again in the United States, when the band's vehicle was hit and flipped over. While no one was seriously hurt and doubleDrive played its gig as scheduled that night, it was the straw that ultimately broke the band's back.

While Roadrunner Records' support for the album waned just like MCA Records' did with 1000 Yard Stare previously, Hamby took responsibility for helping drive a nail in doubleDrive's coffin.

"I was kinda manic in the way I wanted things to run," the frontman admitted. "Although we were always a band, I was trying to control things too much in some cases. It's not the way you would want it to end, but … I consider myself incredibly fortunate [and] … I learned a lot from those guys and I know I wouldn't have achieved any amount of success without [them]."

Coming Full Circle

Donnie Hamby performing live with Violent Plan (June 2009)After doubleDrive called it a day, Hamby went a different direction, but still kept his toe dipped in the music pool. Going to work for Motley Motion Films, Hamby did some graphics and DVD-authoring projects for artists such as Edwin McCain, Nickelback, Dolly Parton and Sevendust. The latter featured old friend Clint Lowery.

When asked about collaborating with Sevendust (given his ties to Clint), Hamby revealed he already had, writing a melody for the Sevendust track "Seasons" back in 2003. In addition, Sevendust drummer Morgan Rose played on some of the initial Violent Plan demos before Richardson joined the band.

Singers, however, tend to stick together. Not surprisingly, Hamby, who cites vocal icons such as the late Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Plant and the late Freddie Mercury as major influences on his writing and performance, has an affinity for the singing of Sevendust vocalist Lajon Witherspoon.

"LJ is a friend and we dig each other's style and work," Hamby said. "But the opportunity hasn't developed for LJ and I to work yet."

Although the job with Motley Motion Films offered Hamby a creative outlet, career musicians have that itch to create and Hamby felt the need to scratch. The Sevendust experience was followed by a guest appearance on the track "Erased" by The Alien Blakk. While the album remains unreleased, the project spurred Hamby into revisiting his craft.

Back in a band with Violent Plan, Hamby is also considering doing additional guest appearances and taking more musical risks than he has in the past. While the singer's personality lends itself to creative control, his career experiences have him in a different headspace these days.

"Music is the vehicle and sometimes it's nice to be the driver," Hamby admitted. "But I can ride too. Just let me handle the AC and radio."

For more information on Violent Plan and Donnie Hamby, visit www.violentplan.com. All concert photos courtesy of Donnie Hamby and Violent Plan.


Copyright 2009, Brian Heaton. All Rights Reserved.