Van Hunt is sorta sly. Not sorta sly as in sorta Sly Stone â though the comparison is often made. Rather, he's sorta sly as in sorta elusive, sorta intriguing, and very clever.
So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised a week ago when his label rep said I'd have to settle for an e-mail interview. The plan was to post his responses before his scheduled performance at Sugarhill on Sept. 16. But doing a post-interview gave me the chance to check him out with his new band that night, hear some new material and pinpoint my future wife (his drummer is bad as hell, more on her later).
We also talked, er, e-mailed about his third full-length scheduled for a January release, his switch from Capitol to Blue Note Records and the back story that he sorta regrets revealing in hindsight about his dad formerly being a pimp.
Of all the questions I wish I could've followed up with, here's one I should've asked him from jump: Dude, why the e-mail interview?
Look for an expanded Creative Loafing story (no e-mail interviews) on Hunt around January, when his third full-length, Popular, is scheduled for release. In the meantime, you can download his recently released smokin' digital EP, The Popular Machine from his website, or preview the songs on his MySpace page.
(photo by Clay Patrick McBride)
What other three cities have you played warm-up shows in? Did the Atlanta show at Sugarhill feel like a homecoming since you were based here for so long?
we've played 3 other warm up shows. but, all were in santa monica, ca. there's a longer answer to the second question. uhhh, i did not feel like the show yesterday was a homecoming. the crowd was receptive, generous-as atlanta audiences tend to be. but, i have always been on the outside looking IN to the "atlanta music scene." i have never felt at home in atlanta.
i've tried to. i've wanted. i've said i do. people assume i do. even my band was nervous about playing atlanta because they felt as though this was home for me. but, the show yesterday was just good fun in front of a warm, familiar crowd.
How has L.A. affected your songwriting in ways that Atlanta didn't â assuming that you are L.A.-based now?
i've been to LA so many times and worked here on so many occassions in the past that the affects that moving here has had on my writing have probably inched their way in undetected.
Your band was quite tight and in the pocket to be new. How long have you been working with them to get them ready?
thank you. we've only been working-from auditions to this past sunday night-about 45 days. they are extremely talented, young and mature. i sometimes forget they are so young until they ask me questions like, "will i have time to study for my final exams this week?...or, what's this i hear about six flags?"
i have george gordon-the guitarist and musical director-to thank for helping prepare them so fast and efficiently. but, we still have a ways to go.
Where did you find a black female drummer who can play like that? She was beautiful.
...miss ruthie price. she's from oakland. when i saw her play at the auditions in LA i called george immediately afterwards and told him "hey, i saw ma rainey on drums." she is a gorgeous woman with a diesel engine. we sometimes have to ask her not to play SO hard. all of the men love her. all of the women love her; and she makes everybody jealous. what a time she has ahead of her.
What's her name, along with your lead guitarist, keyboardist and bass player?
the keyboardist, peter dyer-fraggle rock, was my first prize of the auditions. it's funny. the bassist, dr. lance tolbert auditioned for me on keyboards first. i was sold on him until i saw peter play. and then lance came back and auditioned for me on bass.
we're still finding a place for their hancock and jaco inside of my monk and jamerson. but, it's working quite well.
Did you notice the chick in the crowd (near front left of stage) with the big ass 'fro who kept closing her eyes while mouthing your lyrics?
no, because i kept closing my eyes-trying to REMEMBER the lyrics.
Do you consciously try to keep your band composition diverse? It's sort of reminiscent of Prince or Sly.
i purposely avoided having any pre-conceived notions before i started auditions. my only criteria was that the musicians be talented and hungry. youth was a secret wish that came true. diversity was a surprise that i didn't even think about unitl [sic] you just mentioned it.
Speaking of Prince and Sly, how tired did you get of the constant comparisons, especially during the last album?
it's only annoying because they sell more records of their 20, 30 and 40 year old catalogue than i do of my newest and best works. it makes somebody look like they're lying...or, may want to find a new promotional angle (smile).
You've said some interesting things on MySpace lately ("the announced intellectual renaissance") regarding the way the industry marketed you in the beginning of your solo career and how you may have played into that. Was there a straw that broke the camel's back in terms of your frustration with it all?
i grew tired of pretending to be younger than i was. other than that there were no issues of integrity for me, personally. i regretted ever bringing my father's contribution to my music to the press. it has opened old wounds and found new ones. but, i did realize that i don't have to have a predilection for history without judgement [sic] of it. that meant that i had to be prepared to BE judged; which i am. the announced intellectual renaissance was more my maxim and challenge to the future.
I take it the switch from Capitol to Blue Note is giving you more room for creative experimentation without the demanding commercial expectations. Is that true? What else do you hope to gain from the move?
i do think that is true. but, no one-especially me-should under estimate blue note's desire to sell a lot of records.
the only thing i hope to gain from the move is a chance to make my next record; which i think will fit quite nicely with blue note's legacy.
Have you challenged the industry more or less than it has challenged you?
i told jason orr yesterday when he asked me about the legacy of his festival-funk jazz cafe-and it's lasting impression on atlanta: "i don't think you should measure your success by the impression that you have left on the city." the question should be posed, "what did the city do for you?" did it embrace your attempt to enrich its culture? to me, that is the true measure of a CITY, of a civilization... what does it do for the artists who are the vanguards for what its culture should aspire TO? but, the measure for personal satisfaction and success with your own work should start and end at the finish of its creation-in my opinion.
What sort of surprises should we expect from the new album?
because i don't know what habits you walked away with from the first two albums. i don't know what would surprise you about the new album. all i know is that it is good work.
Lyrically, you explore that dichotomy in relationships between pain and pleasure, passion and profanity a lot. I get the feeling they're almost one in the same for you â is that true? If so, why?
i wish i could dissect my work the way you can. i really don't have the luxury of objectivity before it is done. i work from the inside out. i really do not have concepts that i work from-only fundamentals. i wish i could. i get so jealous when i hear artists talk about their albums as if they were in a college class room.
Is there anything you have trouble expressing lyrically and/or musically? If so, what?
i have trouble repeating myself. i have trouble repeating someone else. which, essentially means i have trouble bullshittin'. if i weren't allergic to it, i would be a very rich man by now.
Is the title of your EP, The Popular Machine, a reference to the music industry? If so, how do you see yourself fitting into the popular machine?
that was the start of a stillborn concept! LOL! i had a song about a guy who mutilates himself for his adoring public. that song didn't make the album but that's where 'popular machine' started. the title 'popular machine' was a play off of the title song on the new album, 'popular'...something the album art designer ingeniusly arrived at.
i fit into the popular machine. i have to make a living. i like the finer things. selling my wares amidst the mess is a better option than death; or running off into the woods like thoreau-waiting for the encroaching greed to find me there. and, let's just face it. it would be hard to navigate a bentley through the amazon (smile).
Will you come back to Atlanta before January?
i doubt it. i don't want to experience the grind of a tour like the one i would have to endure if i started touring now. i will give blue note a chance to state their beliefs in me through other forms of promotional grinding; which i hope will provide me with enough of a buzz to support a healthy, thriving tour.
thank you for your time and i really enjoyed the questions.
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