CHARLIE HUNTER INTERVIEW | PART III

02.01.01 | No Moore | NYC
©2001 dino perrucci
The 8-string guitar master, Charlie Hunter, certainly has left audiences rapt with his unique style and that crazy instrument of his. His newest album, Songs from the Analog Playground, is now out on Blue Note Records. Long time fan Adam Gensler, had the opportunity to discuss all things Hunter with the master himself in this multi-part series.
Read Part I | Read Part II

Adam: When you tour with your latest quartet, how does your mindset, preparation, or role differ from when you are playing in a side project, such as Garage a Trois or back when you were involved with TJ Kirk?

Is there a different way of thinking? Is playing with your quartet more structured?

Charlie: Yeah.

Adam: It seems that your playing with Garage a Trois is very loose and necessarily spontaneous. It seems that you are willing, and required, to turn on a dime.

Charlie: Well, Garage a Trois is essentially four leaders. We come together and say, “Let’s play this. Let’s play that.” But everybody is very giving and very open. And everybody just lets it happen. Someone takes up the thread and someone takes it somewhere else. There is no bully in that band. So everyone kind of lets it go, and at various times one of us takes the initiative and takes the song different places. And it is great fun. We always have a real blast with that. It is also a great outlet for me to do all kinds of stuff that I never get to do as a leader.

09.16.01 | BB King's | NYC
©2001 dino perrucci
When I take my band out--and I’m the leader--I feel like we are all on a wheel. And I’m the hub in the center of it all. The spokes kind of have to be attached to me. So, to make it work, I’ve got to put myself in a different kind of position.

And that, to me, is always the most important thing—doing whatever it takes of you to make the concept work the way it should work. Which means, if I play with Garage a Trois, I just have to make sure that I’m keeping the groove together and being creative and I just do my part. If I’m playing in Mike Clark’s band, I just have to make sure to make those bass lines happen and to keep it all together. In a duo setting, that means I’ve got to get really creative and take the stuff to different places and be very communicative with the drummer. And, you know, if I’m playing in my group now, especially with a vocalist, I feel like I’m the glue that keeps everything stuck together. I just have make sure that the feel is right, the vibe is right, the dynamics are happening, I’m making the vocalist sound really good, or whatever it is. I feel like I’m not so much of a guitar soloist on this record that I just put out.

With each different group you have a different set of responsibilities. And that’s what’s fun--being able to morph yourself into the person that is going to make the band sound as good as you think it is supposed to sound.

Adam: When you are playing live with your band, how structured are the songs? Do they ever go places that you hadn’t anticipated when the song started?

02.01.01 | No Moore | NYC
©2001 dino perrucci
Charlie: Yeah... it should.

Adam: I was hoping you’d say that.

Charlie: Hold on one second

(the conversation diverges...)

I’m digressing. Where were we?

Adam: We were talking about you.

Charlie: That’s boring.

Adam: (laugh) No offense. It does pale into comparison to what is going on [read: the September 11, 2001 attacks, and their repercussions].

Charlie: You got that right. But, you know, I think we are going to need music and the creative arts a lot more than we had. I’m tooting my own horn here, but I feel we are going to need the kind of stuff that we are offering--from an honest place that is not about a lot of posturing. I hope that we can do some good with it, you know?

We need people like musicians more than ever right now. It becomes much more important to make people feel that they are still human through all of this.

Adam: That was an interesting aspect about this particular event. I think most people associate music with something that can make them feel better when they are feeling down. And I totally agree with that perspective. Music has been a major source of happiness and learning for me—all of the good things that I want to become.

But when this last thing happened on Tuesday, strangely, I didn’t feel like seeing or hearing music. I remember listening to something in the car that I always enjoy, something I consider to be one of the finest pieces that I’ve ever listened to and as I started to get into it, I actually felt hollow, a little bit, for feeling good about music. It was a really bizarre feeling.

09.16.01 | BB King's | NYC
©2001 dino perrucci
Charlie: Nah... you should feel good about music.

Adam: I don’t know. This has been a really strange 10 days. The impact it has had on me has been quite profound and bizarre.

Charlie: Yeah, well, it is only starting.

Adam: That’s for sure.

I want to talk about the vocals on your album because it is obviously a major departure from where you have been. I read something from either a press release or your website where you said, “This is what I listened to growing up” and I think you made a comment to the effect of, “When you are playing on the streets, you gotta have vocals or you starve.”

Charlie: That’s right.

Adam: ...which is a good response to incorporating vocals into your overall concept, but it begs the question: why did you wait so long to incorporate them? Was it that you wanted to find and define your own musical voice before introducing someone else’s?

Charlie: I don’t know. It just happened when it was supposed to happen. I just wasn’t at that point in the road where I wanted to do something like this yet. Now I think I was. I’m glad I did.

Adam: Did it require anything different as far as your approach to the album?

Charlie: Yeah. I think I became a lot more of a producer and probably a lot less of a guitar player. (laughs).

Adam: What is the difference between both writing and producing the album versus writing the songs and not being involved in the production aspect?

Charlie: Well, a producer is all about vision. When you bring in a producer, you are dealing with someone else’s vision of what you are, which can be very cool. However, with a record like this I knew exactly how it was supposed to sound before I even go into the studio. And I just tried to get after that and make it sound even better.

I’d like to work with different producers at some time or another, but I feel good playing that role now.

Adam: Do you think you’ll ever produce another artist’s record or CD?

Charlie: I’d love to. If anybody wants to call me, I’m ready.

Adam: I’ll see what I can do.

Charlie: Go right ahead.

Read Part I | Read Part II

Thanks to Dino Perrucci for the photos.
Check out more of his Rocktography at DinoPerrucci.com.
[Published on: 10/2/01]

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