Since Blue Note mothballed his album “Popular,” new music from the songwriter and guitarist Van Hunt has been hard to find. Now, the singer is back with a record (What Were Your Hoping For?) that might surprise fans of the modern R&b found on his first two releases. Here are the outtakes of my chat with him for Style Weekly.
This is your first album in a long time, so what are you hoping for?
The same thing that I hope for with every piece of work, I hope for the opportunity to do it again. To be able make a living expressing yourself is as pretty unique thing to do. I certainly enjoy it.
Talk to me about the album cover, there’s a picture of a lady with trash bags.
When I moved to Los Angeles four year ago, it was an very emotional time for me. I was trying to find something to do to take my mind off of changes in my life. I started writing short stories, I started taking pictures with my camera phone. It’s just a hobby that I picked up, I really enjoy doing it.
I started noticing as the economy went into recession, everybody started downsizing and moving and getting rid of all these couches. These couches were strewn all over Los Angeles. I would go around and take pictures of them because it was an opportunity for me to document somebody’s life, a moment in their life. There was all kind of things on this couch, you can just imagine all the things that had happened on this couch. The album cover is one of the shots that I took, obviously there wasn’t a couch in there, but along the way, I started taking pictures of people who were on the streets, homeless, people catching the bus, goin’ to work. Also that led into the song, “What Were You Hoping For,” the song, which is essentially,like I said, a collision of all these things happening in our society. Problems that have gone addressed and continue to go unaddressed.
What does that album title mean to you?
I have the actual song on the album called, “What Were You Hoping For.” It really is just about the things that I’ve noticed in the place where I live, and I’m sure other people are experiencing the same thing. But it’s just this convergence of all these unaddressed political issues in our society, how it all collides together. Poverty, Immigration, Racism, Politics, etc.
You did an album for Blue Note that never came out. What did you take away from that situation.
I certainly understood that I had just made what I thought was a really good record. I was happy, I’m still happy with it. I was grateful for the opportunity to do it. I was disappointed in the way I was treated.
You worked with Sly Stone on the Grammys a while back. Did you interact with him at all? Did he come to rehearsal?
I didn’t ineteract with him at all, but he did come to rehearsal. It was funny because, you know he came to rehearsal, he played and he left before we were finished playin’. Then he came the night of the show, and he did the same thing, and everybody just flipped out, like, ‘Sly he went crazy, and left.’ But he had done the same thing at rehearsal. I didn’t see what the big deal was about him leavin’ early, but man it was fantastic seein’ him. It was the biggest thrill for me.
You worked with Bill Bottrell. Did he share any Michael Jackson stories with you?
(laughs) He did share one. It wasn’t anything that I could repeat. It didn’t seem like a happy story. His unhappiness had nothing to do with Micheal, they seemed to have a really good relationship.
You mentioned in another interview that this might be your last album and tour.
Well, it seems there’s been a lot of interest in the new record and in peole seeing me tour. So, like I said, if this affords me the opportunity to do another record, another tour then I certainly will. It had more to do with the ability to afford these things then it does my own desire to be an artist.
One of my favorite songs by you is “Your Love is the Greatest Drug I’ve Ever Known.” It’s one of the few songs that make me stop what I’m doing and pay attention to it.
Randy (Jackson) and I we talk about that sometimes. He and I were picking out moments in my songs, we only found two, that he could play for those songs and people are going to stop and listen. And we only found two, but he was reassuring me that most artists and singers don’t have any.
Do you have any desire to write more songs like “Hopeless” for pop artists? I’m sure you could make a living at it.
I just have to be in that head space, you know. I’m sure I’ll go on and write all kinds of things, that’s why every album, the songs on the record are different from each other. I jump around, I like so many kinds of culture, food. I think it reflects in my personality and obviously in the work. If you pay attention to lyrics from “Hopeless,” to “North Hollywood,” I think the same guy is there, you know, I still write with a wink and a smile about troubling shit that I go through. It’s pretty consistent to me.
“A Time Machine is my New Girlfriend,” (A track from the new album.) is a pretty original thought.
Well thank you man, see, you’re the first person, to pick my favorite song, and like “Hey, That’s pretty original.” The song is just about happiness, bein’ in love man. Every guy in the world has felt this at one time. You can’t even imagine what your life was like before she arrived. It’s almost like being born again, so she’s a time machine.