By Anita Stewart, Tampa Correspondent
INTERVIEW: Grammy-award winning artist, Van Hunt
Van Hunt spoke with Rock At Night over the phone for a half an hour on June 5th, 2015; we had a great talk. We covered so many issues and of course the music and the music industry was first but also fashion, boxing, astro-sciences, winning a Grammy and more. He is a true Renaissance man, mysterious about his private life and outwardly an enigmatic master of so many talents when it comes to singing, playing, writing, and producing music for himself and for other musicians. He has been encouraged throughout his career by other fantastic singer-songwriters in the business such as Shelby Lynn, Questlove and Meshell Ndegeochello to name a few.
Van lives outside of Los Angeles and we briefly spoke about the music scene in both Atlanta, his prior home and Los Angeles. He called Atlanta’s music scene more segregated. Los Angeles audiences are completely different; which means more exposure for the music and the culture is definitely more diversified in LA.
Van Hunt has noted before that he also loves the audiences in Washington, DC and I asked him why. He said the audiences there are more interactive during shows; the fans and musicians seem to become one during performances, both become the entertainment similar to a show at a comedy club. Laughing at jokes, yelling out songs, feeling in synchronicity. Great energy!
When he writes music, he is not really influenced by anyone in particular. “I definitely have instincts and ideas that come to me subconsciously…as far as influences from other artists, that is really something I have not done, certainly not since I was a young kid when I was listening to learn…[influences are] from the Funkadelics, Thelonious Monk, even Richard Pryor. Just listening to his albums over and over again; I am sure some of that has filtered into the music in different ways.”
I asked why the song on the new album that some say is deep, “Old Hat” would be considered “deep” and why. Van explained that the song lyrics were made up of complex ideas interacting with one another; fashion, homogeny, industrialization, mass production, feeling out of place in the modern era. A lot of underlying themes.
What does he think about the recent inventions in electronics and the new modes and methods of staying connected? He mused that he did not have a problem with the use of electronics and gadgets, but he noted that he could definitely see the benefits of not being connected at times. Streaming music or popping a cassette into a player or typing a letter or sending an email for examples. Just the use of different tools.
Corporatism in music, how is all of that different from 20 years ago? As far as radio, big changes in just how much one can spend trying to get on the radio and into regular airplay. “Cost is prohibitive to most independent artists…marketing and promotions, those costs have gone up a bit. In the digital era, you wouldn’t think that was necessary but it is. And they have essentially replaced major drivers like radio. It’s really expensive. There is more music than ever that is being released now. Those people are making records at home on their computers. And one can argue the quality of the music, but the fact is the traffic is there for artists to fight through to get heard. It is a very difficult climate right now.”
Is regular radio a dying platform? Terrestrial radio is dying. Streaming and internet seems to be how people are listening. “Until they get the regular radio, the ones we grew up listening to out of the cars, it [the radio platform] won’t go away completely.”
On his own marketing and promotions: he is not a big fan of the individual. He is more fond of teams and teamwork and working with strong people with strong personalities. According to Van, mass production has caused musicians to mostly be independent. They are all not great at doing everything. Because of human frailties, time management, lack of time and other things that have weighed heavily on the quality of production. Individualism seems to be what he argues with people about most of the time. It can outshine the team, team work and the long term efforts of the team.
The album Popular from 2008 and has ever been released and I asked him about this work. He did say that at some point in the future it will get an official release. Most of his fan base considers this his best work besides the new album, “The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets.” Check out the single “Dust” from the album Popular.
In the next 5 to 6 months Van will be writing songs, producing for other artists, perhaps working with movie industry people. When I asked him about touring, he said he wanted to make sure that there was a market for his music. He did not find lugging equipment around to be something that he wanted to do for long periods of time. We spoke of Randy Jackson of American Idol fame. I mentioned that I thought Randy was the nicest of all the judges on the American Idol program. Randy is Van’s manager and a personal friend. “The best musicians are always the nicest guys. They don’t have much to be insecure about. Randy Jackson is also not willing to help me lug around heavy, expensive equipment.”
We talked about creatively finding a niche and I mentioned Daryl Hall (from Hall & Oates) and his program “Live from Daryl’s House.” I encouraged him to watch these shows on YouTube or Daryl’s website. This is amazing work by Daryl Hall and the fact that he found his own niche by having artists come to visit him at home so they can jam, collaborate, record and livestream the performances. And I told him, Daryl Hall is in his 60’s and by doing this all at home and not touring, therefore he does not have to lug heavy equipment around.
When I asked Van how he felt the moment he won the Grammy: “I felt satisfied.” According to Van, the Grammy is acknowledgement from the music industry for being one of the best, the highest official award besides accolades and support from the fans.
In Van’s spare time when he is not doing music? Van boxes. He says he likes the science of the sport, the defensive and offensive positions, the movements. And he has watched it on TV for years. Van also likes to troll UFO sites online. He noted that one side says the alien ships are being guided by aliens and the other side says demons are operating them. Why would either explanation not be disturbing? He does check out Area 51 regularly and he also likes to peruse the NASA site. He studies Astrophysics and Astronomy as well.
Van is a Pisces and the closest he gets to spirituality is subconsciously which is typical with Pisceans as their dream state is their creative state. Van says the songs come to him in his dreams and not during his time while wide awake. They form as beautiful ideas in his head and he feels like he does not do them enough justice in his attempts to get them from his head and onto paper.
Check out his latest album, his earlier works and his behind the scenes work with other artists. Van Hunt is a musical force to be reckoned with.
Please see Rock At Night’s review of the album The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets.
“Vega (Stripes On)”