Van Hunt: Funky Ride

Van Hunt’s debut self-titled album was critically acclaimed. He even earned a Grammy nod for the nod-worthy “Dust,” but people found it hard trying to classify the singer in a sea of R&B pretty boys.

Hunt’s newest effort On The Jungle Floor doesn’t sound like Prince, and it doesn’t sound like Jimi Hendrix. It is the singer/producer coming into his own sound, with his influences serving simply as a jumping board.

Initially known for producing Dionne Farris’ hit song “Hopeless,” Van Hunt is now on a national tour with Anthony Hamilton. The critics are still acclaiming, but are the people? Van Hunt gets down with Alternatives to explain his varied influences, his hometown heroes, and how he strings all of it together within his music. Alternatives: People who don’t know much about Ohio don’t know it as a place for soul music. Where do you think your sound comes from?

Van Hunt: I definitely got it from Ohio. Everything that Dayton is, is in my music. Those memories I have are in me everywhere I go.

AHHA: What is Dayton, Ohio sound?

Van Hunt: I never really tried to describe it before. It’s bluesy, and yet there’s a hint of sophistication. Every time I think about the Ohio sound, I think about Sugarfoot from The Ohio Players.

AHHA: Was it hard for you coming out of the Midwest having soulful music and having people respect it?

Van Hunt: Most people who are in the business know what is coming out of Dayton. They don’t necessarily associate that with me, until they hear my music. Then they make the correlation. I don’t think most people really care where I say I’m from though.

AHHA: How are you feeling about the album The Jungle Floor?

Van Hunt: I feel really good, I feel better about this one than the first one. I’m happier with this record. I know what it stands for, which is art, culture and good music. You got “Hot Stage Lights” which is straight Funk music. You got “Being A Girl” which is this Electro-Funk, Prince sound that I like or whatever. Some of the Rock stuff is a little more Hendrix like. It’s kind of all over the place, and yet it’s personal. There’s definitely a fabric run though it that is similar. That’s my voice and detail to the lyric.

AHHA: You said you are happier with this album, more than your first one. Why is that?

Van Hunt: I think because I had to go through more to get this one done. It was a bit more negotiation and compromise trying to get this one finished, and I navigated my way through it. I didn’t hide from that. I didn’t give in too much. I didn’t make many bad decisions, I don’t think.

AHHA: I remember the first time I heard of your song, “Down Here In Hell (With You),” I was a little afraid of the title…

Van Hunt: [laughs] Yeah, I can imagine upon hearing the title. It’s really just a love song though.

AHHA: You are touring with Anthony Hamilton and Heather Headley. What can your fans expect from your live show?

Van Hunt: Well, we try to keep it exciting. It’s pretty much up tempo. I break it down every now and then to sing a little love song to the ladies, allow the fellas to get something to drink.

AHHA: Is that what happens when you sing the slow songs?

Van Hunt: Yeah, and the men can’t go get a drink because the girls won’t let them because they want to dance. [laughs]

AHHA: What do you like better - performing live or making a song in the studio?

Van Hunt: There’s nothing like creating a song. It’s like the difference between being a parent and taking some kids on a field trip. It’s just completely different.

AHHA: Have you ever written a song for someone else that you wish you had not?

Van Hunt: [laughs] No, I haven’t. Not yet…well, actually I have. But I can’t let you in on that.

AHHA: I saw you on the Grammy’s. How did it feel to do the Sly Stone tribute?

Van Hunt: It was almost like writing a song. It was that buttery. [laughs] It was magnificent. I can’t even explain that. Being up there with Freddie Stewart, his brother, Nile Rodgers, and they’re giving me compliments. It was incredible.

AHHA: Was Sly supposed to sing?

Van Hunt: You know, I think Sly just wanted to come out and let everybody know he was thankful for the recognition. He wrote those songs 30 plus years ago, so he may not even feel like that anymore. I don’t think he was down for trying to relive it.

AHHA: What is your favorite song that you’ve written?

Van Hunt: Probably “Out Of The Sky” on the first record. It’s dark, challenging, smart, it’s silly. It just has everything. With my favorite food, I love the chefs that just put everything into a meal - so many different layers and flavors.

AHHA: Have you heard any songs lately that you wish you’d wrote?

Van Hunt: Not lately. But I do wish I’d wrote “Lady Cab Driver” by Prince.

AHHA: So you’re putting together the ultimate Soul CD. What five songs do you want on it?

Van Hunt: Umm, let’s see; Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me,” Al Green’s “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart,” Marvin Gaye’s “Flying High In The Friendly Skies,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Electric Lady Land” - and I probably drop in D’Angelo’s “Higher”.

AHHA: Okay, one more crazy question. If you had to describe yourself with a rap lyric, what would it be?

Van Hunt: A rap lyric? Let’s see. Man, I don’t know. But I would hope that it would be something that Count Bass D would have written. That’s my main man right there. Or something by Devin the Dude.