day I heard music - maybe it was 'When Doves Cry' or 'Mary Jane,'
something I really loved - and it opened a whole other world for
me," says Van Hunt. "As a kid, the road is wide open,
and that excitement is what I want from a record. That's who I make
music for, that same kid in me."
With On The
Jungle Floor, Hunt unleashes a sound that contains both the energy
of youth and the wisdom of experience. The album is a follow-up
to Van Hunt, his widely-hailed, Grammy-nominated 2004 debut. The
New York Times described that album as "the perfect soundtrack
for any seduction," while People magazine called him "the
next great soul artist." Rolling Stone simply stated that with
the release of Van Hunt, "the bar has been raised." Artists
including Mary J. Blige and Adam Clayton of U2 lined up to sing
the young artist 's praises, and he was honored with a Grammy nod
for "Best Urban/Alternative Performance."
But Hunt wasn't
content to stick with that album's approach. Where the debut introduced
the Dayton-born singer/songwriter's organic brew of rock-laced R&B,
the fourteen songs on the new album add funkier, freakier new flavors.
"Some of it sounds like the Isley Brothers," says Hunt,
"and some of it sounds like the Smiths." In interviews
that followed the release of Van Hunt, he spoke about his love for
rock, punk, and blues; with On The Jungle Floor, he let those influences
rise to the surface.
his diverse tastes to a mother who supported his early interest
in music, to his "part-time painter/part-time pimp" father,
and to the Southern Ohio soil where he was raised. The Cincinnati-Dayton
axis - truly a unique spot on the American map where north meets
south, east meets Midwest, urban meets rural - has produced such
funkateers as Bootsy Collins, the Isley Brothers, Slave, Zapp, and
Hunt's favorites, the Ohio Players. "They really are the backbone
of it," he says. "They were jazz musicians, but sugarfoot
put the blues on it...made it smell right."
He took that
eclectic sensibility to Atlanta to attend Morehouse College, and
began writing and producing for a new breed of soul artists including
Joi and Dionne Farris. Hunt was working with super-producer Dallas
Austin until his manager, a pre-"American Idol" Randy
Jackson, encouraged him to step forward as an artist, and brought
him to Capitol Records. The result was the Van Hunt album, followed
by an extensive tour - both as a headliner and appearing alongside
such artists as The Roots, Seal, Angie Stone, Coldplay and Kanye
West - that received rave reviews. No less than Alicia Keys stepped
up to call Hunt "one of the most incredible musicians I know."
by such acclaim, Hunt went back into the studio with a new sense
of confidence and purpose. "The first album was more muted,
more shy," he says. "This time, I had more skill, confidence
and faith that I could step forward and take chances."
I learned to trust myself. On the first album, I realized that when
I stuck to my guns, those were my favorite songs. You might hear
some initial criticism of a song or an idea, but you stick to it
because you can feel that it's right; but, it's for you to protect.
And where I am right now, I couldn't go out any other way - I'm
going to live and die on the art and craft of what I do."
From the jagged
guitar grooves on the opening "If I Take You Home" (reminiscent
of classic Rick James-style "punk-funk") to the stomping
garage rock of "Ride, Ride, Ride," throughout On The Jungle
Floor, Hunt creates a brave new sound that's truly his own. While
other "modern" artists look back to a classic approach
they're trying to recreate, Hunt keeps his eyes pointed forward.
The album's most surprising moment is his sexy, percolating version
of "No Sense of Crime," by original Detroit punks the
Stooges. "If you do a cover, you want it to be cool,"
says Hunt. "I bought that record on a whim, loved it, and knew
that I could do that song justice."
The album is
characterized by a loose, raw feel that couldn't be further from
most of today's sterile, high-gloss R&B. "I love raw demos,"
he says, "and that's what I'd put out if left to my own devices.
I want to avoid getting too cute or too artsy, and make sure that
the spark that was there at the outset is still shining."
Hunt returns over and over to the idea that his job is to serve
the songs. He considers himself a "singer/songwriter at heart,"
and acknowledges the challenges of following an unconventional muse
in the contemporary marketplace. "I'm pioneering new territory,"
he says. "I come up as a young black artist and I'm not rapping
- I know it's a hard sell." Recalling the less-titillating
part of his father's work, he frequently compares the recording
process to painting, and concludes that, in the end, "people
just want you to excite them for three and a half minutes."
On The Jungle
Floor delivers that excitement, over and over. And for Van Hunt,
it's just the next step towards a greater goal. "I only hope
to get closer to the sound inside my head," he says. "I
generally miss the mark, but it's so much fun to try."