Van Hunt returns

 

Van Hunt, Anthony Hamilton Sunday, May 21, 7:30 p.m. The Murat Theater Tickets: $47.50, 317-239-5151 In 2004, a newcomer named Van Hunt set the music world abuzz with a brilliant self-titled debut album that seemed to channel the spirits of Sly Stone, Prince and James Brown. His live show — first witnessed locally by attendees at the Midwest Music Summit — was a tour de force and an homage to the R&B greats who preceded him. The industry seemed ready to anoint him as the next great soul star. Then, just as quickly as he appeared on the scene, he vanished again. Rumors of record label problems and band squabbles were published in the press. For a minute, it seemed like Hunt was another flash in the pan. But, just as quickly as he disappeared, he returned this year with an amazing album, On The Jungle Floor, a collection that includes a harder, more rock style along with his stylish R&B. “Some of it sounds like the Isley Brothers and some of it sounds like the Smiths,” Hunt says, and his love for punk and blues comes through much more distinctively on this album. Despite the wash of critical acclaim about the album, Hunt claims he hasn’t read any of it. “I don’t read any reviews. I don’t know what they’re saying,” he says. As far as the breadth of Jungle Floor, he says, “There are a lot of different directions that the album takes. To be honest, that wasn’t on purpose. When I realize where a song is gong, I don’t hinder it by trying to keep it within a certain frame of reference sonically. I think that’s stupid.” One of the more surprising treats on the album is a cover of “No Sense of Crime,” an obscure nugget by Detroit punk legends the Stooges. “After becoming a fan of Iggy Pop and the Stooges, I kept exploring their music,” he explains. “Each time I’d see their name in the store, I’d buy a new record. I actually went backwards, because I bought Funhouse to Raw Power and I still haven’t even heard the first record. But I saw the Kill City record with Iggy Pop and James Williamson. I was just attracted to that song. I remember that it’s No. 9 on the album.” Yet he doesn’t see the new album as being much of a departure from his debut album. “Had I been bolder and more confident, the first record would have sounded more like this one,” he says. “We had some rock songs, or what people would call rock songs, on the first album. That’s really the only difference between the two, that extra layer of rock music. On this one, the rock influences were more open.” And while the holy trinity of funk — James, Prince and Sly — still have a predominant influence on him, the rock and roll edge also has its place in his heart. It’s just that he’s hard-pressed to describe what he likes. “I can’t really describe what I like as rock and roll,” he says. “What some people call rock and roll songs are idiotic, and others I just really like. There’s some Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry music I like, some I don’t. Little Richard all the way to the White Stripes. Some I like and some I don’t. It’s the same with me for R&B and soul. Some I like, some I don’t. I just like good songs, man. There’s definitely certain sounds that I like.” A career highlight came for Hunt earlier this year, when he was nominated for a Grammy and, more importantly, was invited to take part in a special tribute to Sly Stone at the awards ceremony. “How can you not be excited, if you’re a fan of music, to see Sly Stone?” Hunt asks. “Of course, Paul McCartney played later that night and he was great too.” He laughs at recounting Stone’s blonde mohawk wig and his early exit from the stage, after only a few bars of “I Want To Take You Higher.” “He had to come out looking the way he did and he had to make the exit that he did,” Hunt says. “He’s the man. He did the same thing in rehearsal. I know there were some people on stage who acted surprised, but maybe they missed rehearsal.” But being nominated for a Grammy was a mixed blessing, he says, particularly because it showed him the underside of the music business. “It wasn’t as big as a thrill as people would assume, being nominated, because of the way it came about. I won’t go into it, but it did kind of take away the glamour of the event, knowing how things were done. I was like, ehh, whatever. But at least Sly was there. Being nominated at the same ceremony where Sly was at, that was the high part for me.” And, along with his decision to stop reading the music press, he’s also decided to stop playing the music industry’s game. “I don’t follow the music industry at all. I cut it all off with this album. I just decided that I didn’t want to know anything. I didn’t want to talk to the record company. I didn’t want to read the [sales] summaries. I didn’t want to know. I wanted to focus on the music and get the band out there and play.” His band shuffled members and the change forced Hunt to become more proactive about his live show, a change that was good for him, he says. “Certain things happened within the band and so I had to become a leader, moreso than the last tour. So I needed the focus after all. The front line is the same and the back line is different. It’s a younger band, which is why I really felt like I had to be more of a leader on this tour.” As for the current tour with Anthony Hamilton, Hunt says, “It’s fun. We really enjoy ourselves. I won’t say this is a better live performance than before, but I’m a better performer on stage.” Always active, always writing songs, Hunt already has material ready for the next album. “I never stop,” he says, laughing, and lovers of soul, R&B and rock are glad that he doesn’t.

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