You might not know exactly who Van Hunt is yet, and I can tell you that you’re missing out. He’s toiled away producing for and touring with some of the hottest acts of this generation, all while creating some of the most soulful and creative R&B music in recent years. Four years since his last release, Van Hunt has just dropped his fourth studio album, The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets. If you haven’t heard the album yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t regret it. The music speaks for itself. It’s funky. It’s raw. It’s deep and it’s soulful, but the man behind the music, well he exudes pure cool.
We had the pleasure of listening to the album before it came out, and speaking with Van Hunt in the days leading up to his release. Hunt is never short on words or unsure of his feelings. From his feelings about being compared to other artists, to how he decided to start performing, to his thoughts on streaming music and the changing music industry, we got to know the man behind the soul-shaking music.
On Gearing Up For the Release of His New Album:
“It’s been rather stressful but it’s a fun kind of stress. I know artists complain about the work that goes into putting together a record, but for me that’s the easy part. As I’ve been told by other people, I’m a true creator, I’m constantly turning over ideas. Just from assembling one record I assembled almost 4 records total, in terms of number of songs that I really liked. So that part is easy, the hardest part is trying to find a way to pull all the pieces together to build an album release.”
On Being Compared to Other Artists:
“I used to fight it hard and I feel like it hurt me more than it helped, battling against something like that. Part of putting your wares out there for sale is someone needing to label it. After some years of maturing, I realized that I needed to stop battling against the labeling. There is a presentation that I put forth on what I do but I try not to worry about where people start with their personal branding of what it is that I do. I think that people will listen to it and they have their own issues to work through in order to even access my music. We’re all dealing with anxiety, neurosis, happiness, sadness, so however you catch someone that day that’ll influence the response you get."
On the Effect of the Success of The Weeknd, and Resurgence of John Legend and D’Angelo:
“For sure, it’s helped already. To be honest, before today, people had only heard two or three songs (from the album), and with every one of them, somebody mentioned D’Angelo’s name. That automatically helps if they attach his name to a tweet about me, some of his fans click on it and have a chance to experience me for the first time. Some of them will say they love it, some of them will say they hate it, but that’s a part of performing.”
On Who He Listens to and Inspires Him:
“I listen to so much stuff, but I can tell you that this album process started for me when I heard the first A$AP Rocky song. I was up late one night and it was a Clams Casino produced track and I really liked it and I said ‘wow’ if this element is moving towards what is essentially a slow song that is definitely up my alley. It just got me feeling like I could compete with a broader swath of other creators, as opposed to just being lumped in the same place with the people I’m usually lumped with. So it started there and then I jumped to James Blake and I got into artists that you might more lump me in with like St. Vincent. But I listen to a bunch of stuff, King Krule, I really liked his record, his first EP”
On Moving from Producing to Performing:
“I think that it was the fact that I just couldn’t find enough people to work with to do the many songs that I was writing. When I left high school, I went to college for a year, and basically flunked out. My mom was basically like, ‘this isn’t what I had planned for you and I don’t want to see you become a bum.’ I didn’t want to disappoint her but I knew exactly what it was that I wanted to do. I knew that if I was going to not become a bum, because she was a smart lady and if she said there was a chance I could become a bum, I believed her, so I was like, ‘I’m gonna bust my ass’. So I just wrote and wrote and wrote, and I had so many songs. Eventually I just realized that I had a little bit of a voice and maybe I should just start performing. To be honest it’s not a natural fit for me. I enjoy performing but I get scared to fail.”
On the Role of Fashion in His Music:
“I watch fashion documentaries kind of the same way that I watch documentaries on how music is made. That’s really where the correlation is. I watched this documentary on Yves Saint Laurent, which was nearly all without script. He would say something every now and then on the camera but for the most part it was just him and his staff milling about, putting together his pieces and it was so interesting to me, the time that he put into the product and the quality with which he was doing it. It was the same with Givenchy when I watched a documentary on him and how he talked about meeting up with Balenciaga and learning just how to make a dress flow and that it all started with the seams. The most important part of the dress is the part that you don’t see and it’s very similar to anything that you do. For me it certainly was with music, I spend most of my time on things that seemingly, ostensibly, no one pays attention to but of course they do, because it’s the underpinnings of what you’re actually listening to.”
“So that’s where the connection is and of course I have a song on this record, ‘Old Hat’, which essentially builds from there. I was watching another documentary on Halston and I just came up with this song, ‘Old Hat’. ‘Highway killed the village, Highway killed fashion’. (It’s about) how homogeny is killing off the imagination.”
On Homogeny Killing the Imagination
“Where I live you can walk down the street and see that everyone and every building has begun to look the same, and it lacks a certain amount of imagination. I’m not trying to be derogatory when I say that but it seems to lack a certain level of thoughtfulness in the way that things are put together and the way that people even approach listening to music. The fact that I spend so much time mixing a song and putting all these frequencies together and someone listens to it on the speakers of a laptop, it’s kind of demoralizing. To be honest, if you put on a pair of headphones and listen to a record it would probably be pretty difficult to do anything else because you begin to hear all of those frequencies that would affect you the same way that they affected 7, 8-year-old Van Hunt who knew nothing about music, but I was stopped in my tracks by the nuance and that is the same thing that would happen to anyone, even an adult who isn’t a musician.”
“You can tell me that person has ADHD, whatever, they can have all kinds of things going on. Even if they’re imbeciles, all of that, I’ve heard all of that but it’s absolutely true that if you give a person a chance, give them some solemnity, a little time alone with a little bit of nuance, they will find their way to it. It’s all in the way that you utilize the forces of nature, that has been done for literally thousands of years. It just drives me crazy when I hear people say ‘man you know, the public is dumb, you gotta write dumb music,’ it just drives me bananas. You could argue whether a person can read or write, but I’m telling you everyone has a level of emotion that will allow them to connect with any other individual. The smartest man on Earth, Albert Einstein knew that."
On Streaming Music and Changes in the Industry:
“It’s all semantics, you can call it streaming, you can call it downloading mp3s, buying CDs, cassettes, vinyl. People want to hear the music and that has been proven in the last decade. That has borne out more than anything else, people want to hear music. So, the way that they get their music isn’t the problem, it’s always been the greed. The major label system was fine. What’s wrong with a system where you have scouts that go out and find undeveloped talent, they take that talent, they develop that talent, they show that talent how to dress, how to finish a record, how to communicate in an interview and they link that talent with a producer who can pull the ideas out of the head of that talent and turn it into something that’s communicable to an consumer base? Then they go out and they market it, and they put all of that money upfront.”
“Now, the issue becomes, what cut will they get for doing all of that. Should they get 95%? Probably not, and if they do all of that work, granted, they should get their money back first, no problem. But if you’re taking 95% as opposed to maybe a 50/50 cut, to get your money that you invest back first, you’re putting the artist in a much more comfortable position. They have leverage; they can spread your wealth around to the people who helped them and in the economy at large. And no, the record company doesn’t make as much money but the record company makes really solid art that moves into the common good and makes the society stronger. No problem there at all. But no, that’s not the way it works; the greed took over.”
“When I signed my first record contract the guy that signed me told me that if he doesn’t spend a half of a million dollars on a record, he worries about a record. That is an incredible statement to me because I was going in there afraid to spend $50,000. But that’s how out of hand the greed has gotten, and everyone had their hands out, including artists who then ran from or were dropped from the labels and decided that they were going to be ‘indie artists’. It was just a ruse; every minor wants to be a major. It’s all a bunch of nonsense but here we are with a different set of semantics, but it’s the same game. Guys and gals who want to make music and guys and gals who want to hear it, and if everybody, just like the society at large, learned how to treat each other with some integrity, man this thing would be easy.”
On Weathering Changes in the Music Industry:
“I don’t spend a lot of time bemoaning the changes. Having said that, I also don’t go with the flow. I’m not a person who’s just going to start tweeting 1,000 times a day just because someone says that’s how to get noticed. Before, social media, it was, ‘Hey man, if you want to get noticed, you better go in that grocery store and sit in the middle of the aisle and start singing your song.’ Silly shit like that. I feel like there’s a certain amount of inner confidence that you have to have in yourself, and it can’t be faked in order for it to really help you in those moments when things are changing and you need to find some kind of foundation. Luckily, my mom gave me what I needed in order to have that kind of self-confidence. As things change, I do adapt, but I don’t lose who I am just because the circumstances are different. The struggles come with the victories and I just keep pushing.”
By: Roberto Henry - Music Columnist
You can check out one of the tracks off Van Hunt's album below or better yet head over to iTunes and buy the full album.