‘The new Prince’ talks about stardom, cash, Alicia Following very deliberately in the path of soul legends from the past, 26-year-old Van Hunt has honed a finely crafted sound unique and distinctive in today’s pop music. The Georgia native literally bedazzled the crowd at Indianapolis’ Jazz Kitchen this summer, creating excitement which lasted for days. Nationwide, exuberant critics are falling over themselves in comparing his Capitol Records debut to Prince, Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield and James Brown, the greatest names in R&B history.

Hunt will appear this Saturday at Birdy’s in one of the most eagerly-anticipated club events of the year. NUVO chatted with Hunt on the phone recently, as his band’s van traveled the highways of America.

NUVO: They’re already saying Marvin and Sly and Curtis and Prince about you. Is that too much pressure on a young artist? The second people feel you’re not as great as them, then they say you’ve fallen off.

HUNT: I know I’m not as great as them. There’s no pressure on me. This is just my first record. Now, I do think that my first record is better than a lot of peoples’ first records, but, still, I got a ways to go. You’re talking about people with 30-year legacies. But I still got some time.

NUVO: You’ve obviously studied the classic soul albums ...

HUNT: I’ve spent a lot of time on Prince. And, lately, I’ve spent a long time on Curtis Mayfield. I never really listened to Al Green or Marvin Gaye until recently. Other people in my band have gotten me into them. But I was always into Sly and Thelonius Monk.

NUVO: My favorite Sly disc is There’s a Riot Goin’ On, and I can hear some of that seeping into your album.

HUNT: Yeah, that’s probably my all-time favorite record, along with Iggy’s Funhouse. I just think it’s magnificent. When I heard it, it justified everything that was going on in my head and that’s what really made me decide to want to do a record. I’ve been trying to duplicate this for the longest, and now I’m just stepping out into my own. For a while, I was trying to make the 12 songs of There’s a Riot Goin’ On, and now I’m coming into my own as an artist. When I set out to do the album, the two models, if you will, were There’s a Riot Goin’ On and 1999 and how they were laid out, in terms of — there’s a little bit of everything on the record. Yet there’s a consistency to it. Prince and Sly were similar in that way, in that whatever they did, whether it was funk or country, there was always a hint of soul, there was always a hint of song craftsmanship in it. That’s what I’m about. I can’t help the soul part. But the craftsmanship is something that I’m working on.

NUVO: What was it about Prince for you at first? The grooves? The virtuosity? The songs? The passion?

HUNT: That’s it. All of them. It’s the fact that he was 19 when his first album came out, and the fact he was just as much a professional in attitude then as he is now, at age 46. And I think that says something, for his passion for music and the respect he has for himself as well as his audience. And that’s what I want to be about. Prince is a perfect example, along with Sly Stone and Ray Charles. In terms of the focus they had at their best, it’s just incredible.

NUVO: You’ve worked with Alicia Keys, everyone’s favorite female. Tell me something about what she’s like.

HUNT: She is an inspirational person in that she’s really a great woman. I mean, she really, really is. And so somebody who’s had so much success and is still grounded, that’s incredible to me. You don’t see it that often and I’m lucky to have her in my career.

NUVO: How did you put together the band? Seems like it’d be hard to find people doing exactly what you wanted to do.

HUNT: It took a while to get all the pieces together, because what I was doing was something that people don’t play every day. I’m not a “Go see that dude play, and then decide whether you want to play with him” guy. Most cats are playing modern music and that has nothing to do with what I was doing, which is, taking something from the past and interpreting it to the future. And so I actually had to meet dudes, get to know them, jam with them and then they made a decision. It just took awhile to get the band together. Most of us are from Atlanta, one cat is from Augusta, and our organist is from New York. It’s all working now, we’re really a tight, tight unit. We’re all young and hungry, and it’s exciting. I feel like I’m just beginning to sing, and I’ve got a ways to use my voice before I’m done.

NUVO: Those sad love songs of yours — from experience or imagination?

HUNT: Everybody draws from experience whether they admit it or not. With a little elasticity, you can embellish on reality, but that’s really what it is. What you’re going through or have gone through. It’s hard to draw any kind of poignant feelings out of it if it’s something you haven’t been through.

NUVO: What’s next for you?

HUNT: There’s a whole bunch of touring and we’re gonna cut some more videos and we’re going to do a lot of concert filming in Paris. That should be fun. That’s it. Just hopefully sell some more records so I can send my son to school. My only thing going into any record is that it has to have the best possible songs on it and that it’s tied together with something. Hopefully, that’ll be my voice, my personality, my character. That’s it.

NUVO: People keep saying you’re going to blow up worldwide, global. What happens to you if you get the cars, the cash, the mansions, the yachts? Some people can’t keep their lives together after that.

HUNT: I’m sure it’s gonna change it some way. I’m looking forward to seeing it. [Laughs] I’d love to be able to sit here and tell you that I won’t change in any way. I will tell you that the people around me are very, very honest and brutal. They break me down every day. As things change for me monetarily, things will change for them, too, monetarily.

NUVO: So, the first big check you saw. What did you buy? A car? A house?

HUNT: Nah, man. Education. Education for my child.

NUVO: Good luck, man and I can’t wait to see you in N-A-P again.

HUNT: Thanks, man. We loved playing that place we played last time and this show will be great, too.

Who: Van Hunt

When: Saturday, Nov. 6

Where: Birdy’s

Tickets: $13 in advance, $15 at the door, 239-5151

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