|(Shalon Goss Photos)|
Genre-defying singer, songwriter and musician Van Hunt is committed to making music “he’s never heard” before.
The creative chameleon performed a slew of his hits at Fete Lounge in Providence, R.I., on Saturday to promote his new album “What were you Hoping For?”
On his latest effort, Hunt delves into punk, rock and blues all mixed up in psychedelic soul. His crazy guitar licks and vocal riffs are sure to raise eyebrows as well as spur the tapping of listeners’ feet.
The first track “North Hollywood” is a guitar-heavy track where Jimi Hendrix meets funk at church, “Watching You Go Crazy,(Is Driving Me Insane)” gives a lesson in rock and “Moving Targets” is a slightly ethereal ballad.
Hunt—who grew up with a part-time pimp/painter/factory worker father—hails from Dayton, Ohio. He’s had two major label releases, including his self-titled debut album in 2004 and “On the Jungle Floor” in 2006.
After his second album, he switched from Capital Records to Blue Note, where his third project “Popular” was shelved. Despite that setback, diehard Hunt fans nabbed tracks from “Popular” (arguably one of his best efforts yet) and “Use in Case of Emergency” (released in 2009) online.
The Grammy-winning talent has written tracks for singer Cree Summer (best known as Freddie from “A Different World”), co-wrote for Rashaan Patterson’s “Love in Stereo” and wrote and co-produced “Hopeless” for Dionne Farris, former member of Arrested Development. “Hopeless” appeared on the soundtrack for the movie “Love Jones.”
Now, he’s back again with a new sound and his own record label Godless Hotspot.
On a warm Sunday afternoon in between tour stops, Hunt talks about his musical journey.
Hi, thanks for talking to me on a Sunday.
No problem. I’m willing to talk on Sunday or any day at any time. This is helping me.
Last we spoke, you just released “On the Jungle Floor.” What else has changed in your life besides your sound?
Well, my life has been through a complete upheaval. Everything that you can imagine has changed. It’s been nearly six years.
I don’t look at the changes in my life as though they signify something bad. But that [change] is inevitable. Whether you’re at the top of your powers or not.
I have to tell you that the guitar in “North Hollywood” is nasty. I can’t believe it.
(Laughing) Thank you. That’s one of the few tracks that I worked the guitar.
How do you decide the creative direction of each album, or do you decide?
I think there’s some deliberation before I deliver the sounds. I’ve heard artists refer to incubation periods or being pregnant with an idea. That really isn’t my style. I have ideas that I can access and develop. They turn into these little pieces that you can turn into a composition.
What do you hope your music accomplishes?
I don’t have those kinds of hopes for it. I would like to be able to feed my family and myself from my work. It’s so time consuming. If I could go get a regular job and pay the bills and still make music I would, but I feel like I would be cheating. It really is just an expression. I like how it affects people positively and negatively.
Tell me about a really good day you had recently?
Well you know, it doesn’t really happen for me that way. I wish I could keep track of time that way. Calendars are something I could really enjoy (Laughing). It’s all one long day. There’s always some funnier moments or some where all the moments are uncomfortable.
But, every moment should at least have a joke attached to it. My sister would say that I enjoy laughing most at pink elephants. You know, the things people don’t want to talk about. People like to avoid telling what’s awkward or uncomfortable about them. I can always tell what that is.
Are there any social causes or nonprofits that are near to your heart?
No. But, I don’t think people should scramble around looking for things to eat or places to lay their head. I did enjoy Occupy Wall Street. I like that people were out there saying: I’m sick of this.
In your bio it says you took to photography when you were in between record deals. Did you continue with your photography after your started making music again?
Um, I did. But I don’t want to make it seem like I’m Gordon Parks. I just wanted a way to express things that I saw. I wanted to make that a part of the album artwork. I was able to come up with a photography company because I couldn’t pay to use a photographer for the album.
Ok, so that’s one of your pictures on the cover? What’s the name of your company?
Yeah, that’s mine. The company is called Awful Gazelle Photography.
I’ve noticed that you have released music online and some things independently. You seem happy. I have a friend who was signed, but later decided to do it all on his own.
You’re absolutely right. I’m really happy. But having said that, if I had to do everything on my own, it would be so boring. I love the process of creating. It would be a disservice to try and build a website and everything.
Ok, if you woke up and couldn’t sing, write, play or produce, what would you do?
I would learn to cook and get a job in a diner. I would try and be a good parent.
I’ve always thought that people who worked in diners were so interesting. They must meet all kinds of people.
Right, have you ever been to the Waffle House? The short order cooks, they come in at 11:30 a.m. and work 12-8 shifts. Just sit there and flip waffles, no solving problems.
Is there a place where you get most of your writing done?
Yeah, usually in the car. Particularly after I’ve had a double espresso.
Man, I lived abroad for a bit and couldn’t believe how good the coffee was in Italy and France. It’s so much better than what we drink here.
I agree, but if you tell your friends that, they think you’re an elitist. I try to tell people that. I say to them I have taste and you don’t. You have to go and get your taste.
When I hear a new Van Hunt album is coming out, I never know what I’m going to get, but I’m guaranteed to love something about it. Is that on purpose? Sometimes I’m listening and I say: OK, I don’t know about this one. But that one’s hot. Later, I find that the album will grow on me, even the tracks that I was initially skeptical of.
That is a part of the craft. [I approach a project like] This is going to be a little bit different, but I keep the fundamentals. Once [the listeners] get accustomed to what’s odd about it, they will get comfortable with what is fundamentally sound. That’s how good craftsmanship should be. I like to watch people get through that process.
Sometimes, as a writer, it’s easy to get pigeonholed. It can be difficult to cover events or artists that aren’t typically associated with African American culture. Do you find that to be the case with your music?
Yeah. What I do best traditionally isn’t connected to black American culture. If I’m the best at delivering the best soulful punk music, I will do that for everyone, everyday. But I won’t only do that. Just like I won’t do only R&B. Categories are for other people. Call it what you want, as long as you call it something. I want people to make a decision. I can’t stand when it’s on the fence.
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