Dionne Farris grabbed the attention of music fans in 1997 when her hit single “Hopeless” appeared on the Love Jones soundtrack. However, few took notice of the person behind the lyrics, a soft-spoken musician named Van Hunt. Rather than jump and scream for attention, he calmly waited in the wings before making his grand entrance into the spotlight. Since releasing his self-titled debut on Capitol Records in 2004, all eyes are finally on this smooth Ohio native-turned-ATLien with a knack for spinning tales of love and all the frustrations that accompany it.
Though he has been on the road, Van Hunt recently gave AllHipHop.com Alternatives the opportunity to dig beneath his cool, calm exterior. What did we find? A multi-talented musician, songwriter, producer, husband and father who, though admittedly shy, has a sly, self-deprecating sense of humor and an optimistic outlook on the music industry. We got to the bottom of a few things, including why Van Hunt would choose to work with Neil Young over Prince.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Fill us in on what you’ve been up to lately
Van Hunt: We’re on the road finishing up a couple of spot dates that we had to cancel earlier. We’re headed to New Orleans now.
AHHA: What’s it like for you when you’re on stage? You seem very reserved, yet your performances are anything but.
Van Hunt: When we first started, to be honest with you, I would fall asleep in the middle of the set. Not literally, but I wasn’t there. I wasn’t present and it seemed like they [the audience] felt that too. Like in the middle of the show, my endurance wasn’t up yet. But now, it’s completely different. I’m there for every song and I know how to pace myself on stage. At three o’clock in the afternoon, it can be a little stressful to know that in just a few hours, you’re going to have to entertain people for an hour to an hour and a half.
AHHA: Why is it stressful to you?
Van Hunt: Because I’m a shy person. When I get up there, I’ll usually catch the brothers looking inattentive – and then sometimes I can tell they’re really into it, but just don’t know how to get involved.
AHHA: How did you overcome your shyness and connect with audience?
Van Hunt: Sometimes the audience makes it easier. It’s easy when everybody is familiar with who I am. It’s a lot easier when you’ve already broken the ice. But sometimes, like the shows I did in Europe, they’re just discovering who you are, and everybody still seemed a little distant. That’s when it becomes hard. I really like the audiences that are wild and ready to party.
AHHA: It’s hard to imagine them being distant when you and your band put out so much energy on stage.
Van Hunt: Well by the end of the night, it’s all okay – but when it starts off, there is a little space there and then you have to urge them to come forward to the stage. The last time I was there though, it was different. They all came ready to party.
AHHA: We know you worked with Dionne Farris on ‘Hopeless’ and you did a few tracks on Rahsaan Patterson’s last two albums. Is there anybody else that you’d like to work with?
Van Hunt: Well, I’d love to work with D’Angelo, but nobody knows where he is or what he’s doing. I can’t find him. I don’t know. Maybe he’s going through something or holed up somewhere working, but I would love to do some work with him. There’s a lot of rock artists that I’d love to work with too, like Neil Young. I’d love to do something with him or David Bowie.
AHHA: That would be interesting. What about Prince?
Van Hunt: I don’t know if I’d like to work with Prince. That might be too overwhelming for me. It’d be kind of like working with Stevie Wonder – just too much.
AHHA: Do you still enjoy working behind the scenes as a producer and songwriter, now that you’re a solo artist?
Van Hunt: I probably don’t do it as often as I could. There’s a level of emotional attachment to the project, and sometimes I’m not willing to take it on.
AHHA: So you’d say it’s a little hard to part with your work?
Van Hunt: No, it’s just hard to deal with people’s sh*t! [laughs] People go through a lot of things in the course of the week or however long it takes you to work with them. When you come into their lives like that, you become their realtor, their advisor, their psychologist. It’s a lot to take on, especially for somebody like me. I absorb everything and I’m really sensitive, so it becomes this whole investment that I’m not usually willing to make.
AHHA: It’s rare these days for a man to admit that he’s sensitive. Most men want to be seen as being ‘hard’. Is it easy for you to reveal your sensitivity?
Van Hunt: I think it’s just my personality. I do a lot of self-exploration, if you will. I’m definitely introspective and sometimes I can even be self-deprecating. But most times, it’s humorous and I just wanted to put all that in my music.
AHHA: Was that what you had in mind for your album?
Van Hunt: Yeah. I wanted to make an album that people could listen to all the way. The other intention that I had was that I wanted to make the 12 best songs that I could. Actually, I wanted to get it down to ten, but we just couldn’t. That was the main intention though.
AHHA: Your lyrics seem very personal. Are they based on personal experiences?
Van Hunt: Some of it is based on experiences, but some of it I make up. When I hear a song, it comes to me like a silent movie and basically, I’m just putting music to a scene. That’s how some of my songs come together.
AHHA: That sounds like a long process. How long did it take you to complete your album?
Van Hunt: It only took me a couple of months to record it. I actually pretty much had it finished by 2000, but I didn’t sign with Capitol until 2001.
AHHA: Wow. So what took so long for it to finally be released?
Van Hunt: The label had to get the administrative side together. And we argued a little bit about the direction of my record too. That took a while because there were just differences in how the label saw where I wanted to go, and whether they actually saw it as viable or not. They loved the Al Green side of what I do, but not so much the Prince side. It was kind of interesting.
AHHA: So are you pleased with the outcome?
Van Hunt: I am. It was a compromise, but I think it was in my favor.
AHHA: How do you think all the label mergers going on now will affect artists like yourself in the future?
Van Hunt: We’re in a state of transition right now, obviously, and there’s been a lot of shake-ups with the coming of the internet and all kinds of new revolutionary, innovative ways for art to reach the people. That tends to shake up the gatekeepers, but I think that once the dust settles, it’ll be a new business that’ll be based on talent and the money it takes to get it to the listener. I think that at the end of the day, everybody will be a little bit closer to happiness.
AHHA: Have you started planning for your next album yet or are you going to release more singles from this one?
Van Hunt: We actually did a promo video for ‘Dust’ before, but now we just did a real video for it in Paris. We’ll come out with that and maybe one other single, and then I’ll be ready to work on the next album.
AHHA: So what’ll be on your mind heading into the next album? Is there anything you’d like to do differently?
Van Hunt: Yeah, I just want to open up the sound a little and make it sonically bigger. And I want to incorporate the band more because we’ve been doing so much playing. It’d be shortsighted not to.
AHHA: When do you think fans can expect that?
Van Hunt: I’m doing a lot of writing now and working with the band on new ideas. Of course, the writing is the longest part of it all. But fortunately, it’s the cheapest part! I can do that for free. So once we have it all mapped out, I’ll go into the studio and it’ll be done in a couple of months. I’ll definitely be done before the summer.
AHHA: Good! We look forward to hearing that.
Van Hunt: Me too!