In Music

Sean Williamson and Velocihamster will release a cover of "Misirlou" in honor of Dick Dale this Friday. (PHOTO: Greg Vorobiov)

Local musician Williamson combines lap steel, metal and "Misirlou"

Milwaukee's Sean Williamson is a polymath in several creative fields. A devastatingly distinctive guitar player, Williamson also acts as a producer and engineer, and he edits his own video work. With his project Velocihamster, Williamson is now showing that he can seamlessly step into the role of a lap steel playing, metal-music head, fronting a band with robust results.

In regards to the unique and beguiling name, Williamson is succinct and cryptic.

"Everyone wants a pet project, and this became mine," Williamson says.

Williamson is currently working toward a summer release for Velocihamster's second offering following 2018's record, "Wheel of Steel." Titled "Balls to the Wall," the new record leads off with a tribute to surf guitarist Dick Dale with a heavy metal version of the classic song "Misirlou," which obtained worldwide popularity in the '60s and then regained steam in the '90s with the movie "Pulp Fiction."

This coming Monday, March 16, is the one-year anniversary of Dale's death, so Williamson will honor Dale by releasing his version of "Misirlou" this Friday, March 13, online.

Velocihamster's version of "Misirlou" is a driving attack of a song. It displays Williamson's prowess as a musician with driving intensity – and also comes with a hilarious surf-inspired video. The juxtaposition is striking and daring.

"This is my ability to have a creative expanse and escape the norms of being a sideman," Williamson says, explaining that being the front person for a band allows him to take liberties that he might not take inside of someone else's album. Although he also credits everything he's learned from being a sideman for informing his writing and vision for Velocihamster.

"It informs how I approach original music; I've learned what not to do for a long time, and this is a good way to work out creative bugs," he notes.

For this project, Williamson turned to some familiar names in the Milwaukee music scene to fill out his ambitions. Matt Turner of the Erotic Adventures of the Static Chicken ably holds down the pummeling and agile bass parts. Chris Oelke of the band Reflections of Flesh is brash and assaulting on the drum kit during "Misirlou."

Over the top of that mighty bedrock, Williamson is unencumbered and able to soar to great heights of technical virtuosity and just plain fun fireworks through his lap steel. For this project, Williamson also had veteran engineer Paul Kneevers assist with the recording.

Velocihamster's genre is known as slidecore. It is a name that Williamson made up with the help of the well-known guitar pickup manufacturer EMG with whom he's been on the roster for about the past three years. Velocihamster is actually the first predominantly lap steel-based metal project in history so Williamson had a lot of latitude to define it.

"(Velocihamster) is progressive metal on the original stuff with a steel guitar twist, and everyone knows steel guitar when they hear it – though I still get asked if I'm playing keyboards," Williamson says.

Williamson has been garnering praise for his work in the area. He's nominated for a few Wisconsin Area Music Industry awards, which will culminate on April 19 at Turner Hall Ballroom. Williamson is nominated for Guitarist of the Year as well as Best Recording Studio for the playfully named Subsidized Housing Records.

Williamson is also a part of a few bands that were nominated in their respective genres. On top of all of that Williamson was featured in Guitar World Magazine and Guitar Player Magazine for his work on the first Velocihamster album.

"I guess (being in those magazines) solidified the flag in the sand as the first metal lap steel band in the world," Williamson says, tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Williamson has been and is dedicated to the craft of making music but also to the recording process. When asked if he considers himself a perfectionist, Williamson says, "Almost too much, when edits become hours and hours become days. When you sleep in your studio, it doesn't help."

When asked what the best-case scenario would be for Velocihamster, Williamson jokes "mailbox money" coming in. But then Williamson gets more serious.

"Anyone would want to tour everywhere – like playing live in Pompeii," he laughs.

Williamson mentions David Gilmour of Pink Floyd – from whom he learned knowing what not to play – as a huge inspiration for him. Gilmour was actually one of the first musicians who led Williamson to play lap steel. When asked how it differs being both the artist and the producer, Williamson says dryly, "It's very cost effective."

Williamson has obviously utilized many different situations to manifest this current project. The future for Velocihamster and Williamson is bright like ten suns, with work that's somehow both challenging in its boundary-pushing but also a just plain highly enjoyable listen.

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