INTERVIEW: Atlanta, GA folk duo Heart Hunters

Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

We’re doing pretty well now, but it’s been a winding road since we left Portland three and a half years ago. We lived in a lot of places and struggled with this and that, we’ve done some healing and some reckoning. “Raising babies, paying rent” like one of our songs says 😉 We’ve been busy!

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Cristo”?

When we left Portland, we moved to Bolivia. We were living on a mountainside on the outskirts of Cochabamba. We hoped to stay longer, but a few months after our son was born, we ran low on cash and were having some difficulty getting everybody a visa, so we had to return to the US. But we all learned a lot about what it’s like to live in the poorest country in South America – to have a baby there, even. Part of that, of course involved our daughter going to a local school and learning Spanish, and Bri studied a lot. I (Drew) am fluent. The Muses blessed us with just one song en español that really insisted.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

On one of the hills around Cochabamba, there is a huge cast concrete statue of Jesucristo with arms outstretched, as if offering blessing, forgiveness, compassion… Say what you will about the Church, but there is just something powerful about the massive figure floating high above the people below, struggling in the smoggy air. Who really deserves compassion and blessing? The people of the Global South deserve a lot. We’re not very religious, but Jesus seemed to want to find his way into this record. There are references all over the place. Somehow, I think, there’s some kind of bridge over the political divide in the US through those teachings nobody can disagree with: “Love one another.” “Blessed are the peacemakers.” “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” This is all the stuff America is missing, but it’s all right there in the core of what it means follow their Jesus. If only they could see it: the prophet who was against oppression and exploitation; preached equality and generosity; ran the bankers off from sacred space; lived among the poor and outcast…

The single comes off your new album American Eclipse – what’s the story behind the title?

We did this record in the summer of 2017. From pre-production at our place to our first days of recording in Nashville we were in the astronomic “eclipse window” of the great solar eclipse. The Moon shows up a lot in these songs and it is the Moon which eclipses the Sun. Furthermore, America has been eclipsed – darkened by a shadow. In some ways, that shadow is fearsome and awful. But it promises to go away, as these eclipses always do. Perhaps a kind of restoration is at hand. Also the eclipse was supposed to bode ill for #45’s astrology. Who knows? Maybe grander forces are already moving slowly and unavoidably to dismantle oppression, racism and the oil industry in the US. We like to think so.

How was the recording and writing process?

This one was written in Bolivia. I came down from a hike up in the mountains with this magical guitar figure and the two of us hashed out lyrics back and forth, finding the right combination of rhyme (not so hard in Spanish), syntax and meaning (maybe a little trickier). When we sifted through songs in pre-production with Peter, he was immediately sure he wanted this one. We tracked it live with Bri on the bombo (big, deep, goat skin drum from Bolivia) and voice, Drew on guitar and voice, and Fats Kaplin (he tours with Jack White!) on violin. It’s so delicate, it was not easy to run down the take we got.

What was it like to work with Peter Case and how did that relationship develop?

We met Peter in San Francisco back in 2015 and talked over coffee. We knew we wanted to make the record with a producer we respected and really admired the work of. When we approached Peter about a year later, he was into it. He was super-helpful in guiding us through the whole process. Pre-production was like a literary colloquium just for the two of us. He teaches songwriting. He’s a songwriter’s songwriter. He’s made records for decades. When you have a producer, you really trust them and accept their feedback, edits etc. That isn’t always easy, but it is the kind of process that makes art-making such a huge learning experience. Your innermost material is under such scrutiny… It’s an opportunity for growth and breakthroughs.

How much did he get to influence the album?

A whole lot. Really, the shape of the record – the sequence, the overall sound palette, the instrumentation… When you work with someone like him, you just treat it like a graduate-level seminar. We took the back seat and both learned a lot about songwriting and production. Also, I should say that my Mom gave me a cassette of Peter’s “Blue Guitar” when it came out – that was my 15th birthday. She must’ve thought I might like it. 25 years later, Peter is a trusted colleague and collaborator – how amazing is that?

How have your individual upbringings influenced your music?

We both bring what we are made of. Bri is a classically-trained singer, studied piano and later guitar, now bass. This isn’t only because her dad is a music teacher, but that was part of how she grew up, with a big emphasis on music in the home. He introduced her to stuff like Simon & Garfunkel, The Band, The Beatles. Growing up in Portland, she had all those rainy days to hang out listening to music. My Mom decided I should play guitar when I was ten, so she sort of pushed me out into the stream. I was lucky to have some great mentors in music, including a family friend in Memphis – the late Sid Selvidge – who was well-respected as a folk musician and folklorist and introduced me to country blues and other folk music, even steered me toward the guitar I play (an old Gibson J-45). And Atlanta’s music scene really nurtured me.

Do you tend to take a different approach when singing or writing in another language?

You have to. I mean, I’m fluent in Spanish – I am when I get to practicar anyway, LOL. But I’ve been studying the language for 20+ years. There’s a lot of vocabulary in there, and I’ve read a lot of literature in Spanish, lived in a few different places down there, so that helps. And I have listened to and learned a good deal of Latin American music. The thing about it is your sense of meaning really has to be kind of fluid when you write lyrics or poetry, and you can write with a sort of fuzzy, subjective sense of meaning in another language – so you combine those two and just kind of hope that your language comes off sounding pretty, meaning what you meant to say and hopefully you sound like you know what you’re talking about. Every songwriter should try writing in another tongue.

What role does Atlanta (or anywhere you’ve called home) play in your writing?

It’s all in there. When I first started out, I had been in Atlanta almost my entire life, so my first band was called “No River City” – it was kind of a sardonic commentary on the fact that instead of a river flowing through town, there’s an 8-lane interstate. But I love it here and so does Bri. I was really influenced by life in Portland. I really upped my songwriting game and my musical expertise while I was there. Some of the core compositional elements I use I learned in Portland.

What aspects of America did you get to explore on this record?

Mmm…religion, racism, Jesus, Standing Rock, homelessness, business-as-usual, the American Dream… DRIVING! Strip malls and genocide! I want to be clear that both of us also recognized the need to come back to America in 2015 because things were getting SO obviously bad here, we needed to help out in the work. I mean, we all admit society has to shift and change immensely to overcome our biggest political stumbling blocks. We love America (the concept) as much as we loathe America (the reality). We are very much Americans, and it is through the privilege we got but did not ask for in the richest country on earth, that we can see all the country’s flaws and shortcomings. …and even see our own complicity in it. We may make fun, we may criticize, we may call for revolution, but let’s be clear: we don’t “hate” America. There are also some not-so-political love songs or mystical songs – it isn’t all politics.

Any plans to hit the road?

Yes. We will start with a West coast tour in July and August, then play in the Southeast and Midwest in the fall. We told ourselves we weren’t gonna tour until we absolutely had to, and/or the money was too good to pass up, or when we can drive a veggie oil vehicle… We’ve mostly been off the road for the past year. So it’s about damn time!

What else is happening next in Heart Hunters’ world?

We made a video with an excellent director in Nashville. It is super cool! We’ve done some video projects before, and had some good experiences, but this one is a real-deal rock-n-roll video. It’s kinda 90’s, which is cool, but what do I know? Bri came up with a lot of the content for it. We had an absolute blast making it. Lots of costumes and masks and a fire-eater and it’s dark and sexy and sort of trippy… We will be sending that out into the world real soon.

Listen here

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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