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.
02.01.01 | No Moore | NYC|
©2001 dino perrucci
Read Part I | Read Part II | Read Part III
Adam: How did you choose the vocalists appearing on your album? How did that all come together?
Charlie: It was totally serendipitous. I had wanted to work with some of these people. I had wanted to work with Mos Def. I knew I wanted to have Theryl [de Clouet of Galactic] on the record. Kurt [Elling]’s an old friend.
When we went into the studio, we had four days to record the instrumental tracks for the record...
Adam: (interrupting) And is everyone laying down the tracks at the same time?
Charlie: Oh yeah! Definitely. It’s all live.
We went in and essentially recorded all of the instrumental tracks on the first day. Then, my manager, who was there, said, “Oh, you know, Theryl is in Philly. And he said he can come up.” So the next day he came up and we recorded his two tracks that day. We didn’t know what we were going to play when he arrived. We just got some music together and we did it.
Then, we heard Norah Jones’ demo CD. And I immediately thought, “I’ve got to get this lady on my album.” So we called her up and she was actually working waiting tables when we called. So she said, “Yeah, I’ll come down tomorrow.” Norah came down the next day and we worked her tunes up and did them.
And that night, we got a call in the studio from Mos Def: “Oh yeah, I’ll come down.” So he came down. I had an idea for the song “Creole.” I had already written that tune, more or less as an instrumental, and then I said to him, “Man, try to put something on this.” And he sat down and wrote the lyrics in about twenty minutes.
Charlie: Yeah. And, boom. We had it. And by four o’clock in the morning we had a record.
Adam: I particularly enjoy the feel as “Street Sounds” segues into “Rhythm Music Rides Again” and as the Kurt Elling tune, “Close Your Eyes,” segues into “Percussion Shuffle.”
Charlie: I really labored over the sequence. I always do that.
Adam: It has a nice effect. In both cases, you are literally put into one mood with the vocals and suddenly the mood shifts into the instrumental tunes. There is literally a launching off, an airy release, into instrumental space. I think it works pretty well.
Charlie: Oh, good! I’m glad.
Adam: You like taking contemporary songs and rearranging them. Each time, your interpretation is completely different from the original, yet the essence of the particular song always remains.
Charlie: I think if you start out with a good tune, you can do whatever the hell you want with it. The song just has to have that structure-- a real solid frame that can take a lot of beating. That’s why that Bob Marley record came out good. It takes a serious beating, but you still know it’s his music at the end of the day.
Adam: So, is there a lot music out there that you feel can’t hold up to that?
Charlie: What do you mean?
Adam: How do you decide on a particular tune? How do you know “Fly Like an Eagle” and “More Than This” are songs that can take that beating? Why not...
Charlie: (interrupting) Go for it. Give me an example.
Adam: Give you an example. Um...(at a loss for words) How about, um, “Thriller” by Michael Jackson?
Charlie: Um... that, to me, is the weakest part of that whole Thriller album. That’s the weakest tune. Most of his tunes have really good hooks. They are really old school and have genuine Motown style. They have great chord changes, great hooks, great countermelodies, and great backing parts as well. For instance, the bass line is not usually an accompanying bass line, but rather is a melody itself.
Some of those songs have been heard so much, but some of his tunes you could do great stuff with. I wouldn’t choose “Thriller” because it is not my favorite tune.
Adam: Yeah, it’s not mine either. But you put me on the spot there.
The last thing I wanted to talk to you about was how various rooms influence your playing style. For instance, when you walk into Bimbo’s versus when you walk into the Elbo Room versus playing at the Greek [all Bay Area venues], is there anything about each of those rooms that impacts what you are going to play or how you are going to play it?
Charlie: Definitely. As far as setlists go, we just take our song lists on stage and play.
The Greek Theatre is a big place, but is still as close as you are going to get to the audience while playing in such a big place. You can play some quieter stuff than you would imagine, but you most certainly have to play some hard-hitting stuff.
If you are going to play a place like Bimbo’s, which is a much more intimate place—although it can hold 900 people--your dynamic level can really be elongated to the point of being a little more dramatic.
As for a place like the Elbo Room, it just feels really loose.
Adam: Are you talking to the band about the room? Or do you feel that they are all professionals and can figure it out on their own?
Charlie: Oh yeah—we know what we are supposed to do.
Adam: Where do you think your music is going from here? Each album seems to have a completely different feel.
Charlie: Yeah. I don’t know.
Adam: So you figure that something will come up and you’ll just follow the passion?
Charlie: Yeah. We’ll just see where it goes logically.
Read Part I | Read Part II | Read Part III