Page Hamilton is a lightning-fast guitarist known for his stop-on-a-dime, almost jazz-sharp precision. That talent instantly separated his New York combo Helmet from the post-punk pack in the early '90s, with its definitive Strap It On debut and equally frenetic follow-up, Meantime.
And while the group splintered in 1998, then re-formed in 2004 for Size Matters, then Monochrome and the recent Seeing Eye Dog, Hamilton is much more than the sum of his agro-riff parts. In fact, he's built a bustling side career that would surprise most of his metalhead fans.
It all started years ago, Hamilton recalls. Before Helmet inked a deal with Interscope, the band had been seriously wooed by Warner Brothers. So when film composer Elliot Goldenthal was searching for musicians to play on his Warners soundtrack for the Pacino/DeNiro epic Heat, the A&R department kindly suggested the Helmet helmsman.
"That was the first big one that I did," he recalls. "And Elliot was looking for something new — new textures and new colors — so it worked out great. And since then, it just makes more sense for him to work with me."
The duo forged an unlikely partnership that has continued through flicks like Neil Jordan's In Dreams and The Good Thief, as well as work by Goldenthal's significant other, Julie Taymor, like Titus, Across the Universe and her recent gender-bending take on The Tempest.
"I love Julie and Elliot, and I'm so flattered and honored that they like what I do," he sighs. He's even converted his Los Angeles living room into a sprawling home studio, complete with movie pedal board, pre-amp, delays, compressor and a 16-channel mixer. "When you walk into my house, there's no place to relax, really — it's just where I either work, sleep or eat."
There have definitely been a few nightmare projects for the guitarist, films where he was uncomfortable or not enjoying himself, and he graciously bowed out.
"But I've been really fortunate, because when you're working with somebody like Elliot, you're protected," Hamilton explains. "Because he's the one who's dealing with everybody, and I'm just a hired gun. So I'm kinda like the hero — you just come in and you're the guy doing this cool guitar shit, and everybody's like, 'Whoa! So you're the guy doing that weird guitar shit? We love you, man!' There's no pressure, because I'm not the composer or the producer."
Hamilton is no glory hound, and he rarely attends premieres. But if his Hollywood material just happens to bleed over into Helmetdom? So be it. On Seeing Eye Dog, he says, "the song 'Morphing' was directly inspired by my work with Elliot. We were working on S.W.A.T. several years back, and there was a nine-minute gunfight scene, and I did six guitars on it — I really got to go to town. And we were sitting there listening to it, and Elliot said, 'We should do a guitar concerto!'"
And with "Morphing," he did; there are nearly a dozen six-strings layered throughout the velvet-plush arrangement.
Hamilton has even taught himself orchestration. He's also not afraid of jazzing up his band's anthems with, say, fluttery oboe and samples.
"I know the Helmet fans — the 14-year-old fans — are probably bummed out about that, because they're like, 'I just wanna rock!' To which I respond that it's my job to open your little pea brains just a little bit!"