Charlie Hunter on the harrowing time he got handcuffed in San Jose for jaywalking
Guitarist Charlie Hunter and drummer Scott Amendola teamed up in the mid '90s as part of T.J. Kirk, an outfit that played the music of Thelonious Monk, James Brown and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Amendola, who also appears on a few of Hunter's mid-'90s Blue Note recordings, has worked with a number of musicians since then, including the Nels Cline Singers. Last year, the two teamed up again to record the duo album Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead, and Hunter says they'll be recording another duo album featuring Amendola's songs.
We caught up with Hunter, in town this weekend with Amendola at the Aggie Theatre, and spoke with him about how his guitar technique has evolved, working with Amendola over the last two decades, the challenges of simultaneously playing guitar and bass parts and studying with Joe Satriani.
Westword: I know you and Scott have a long history over the last twenty years ago. Have you guys been playing together a lot since then?
Charlie Hunter: Yeah, off and on. We had a long time where we played constantly. I moved out here [New York] and went our way for a way and then connected on occasion here and there. Then the last four or five years we've been starting to actually play quite a bit.
Your latest duo album is the first thing that you've done in a while, other than the Ben Goldberg album?
We're getting ready to do another one, but this one will be Scott's record with his music.
Is that going to be a duo record as well?
Yeah, it's a duo and we're going to record it exactly the same way, but the difference is that Scott's fitting the bill for this one, and it's all of his music, which is going to be cool. It's going to be really fun. I'm looking forward to it. He's writing some good music because I told him that if he didn't, I was going to throw him down a flight of stairs repeatedly until he wrote good music -- again and again and again -- like that Marcel Duchamp painting, "Nude Descending a Staircase," except he'd be nude, and he was going to descend a lot faster than he wanted to.
Man, it's funny, I actually interviewed you in 1996 for a local music magazine here in Denver, right after I moved back from the Bay Area. I just remember you were funny as hell. You were going to play at Red Rocks and open for...
Oh, Tracy Chapman. Boy, that was awful. That was a horrible tour. Oh my god. But I'm sorry, man, what happened?
We started talking about Red Rocks and John Tesh and Yanni and stuff, and it was pretty damn funny.
Those are some blasts from the past right there, right? That's funny, man.
So, what is it about Scott's playing that you really dig?
He does everything I tell him to do without so much as a whimper. Print that. No, you know, we just came up together, and we were playing together for so many years that we have a thing when we play. We have a certain thing we get to when we play.
A telepathic kind of thing?
I don't know if I'm smart enough to be telepathic, but I try not to embarrass myself, and he helps me not embarrass myself.
With your latest record, Not Getting Behind is the New Getting Behind, it's sort of about your travels around the country, right?
Yeah, more or less. It's interesting doing this interview with you now because the record came out not so long ago, but long enough ago that I felt like had done all the interviews for this record already. So it's kind of interesting to get the questions again. I'm trying to think, "Now what the hell was that record again?" [laughs] No, you're right. Most of it is about as thematic as an instrumental record can be.
Were the tunes inspired by different places?
I've spent the last 25 years touring this country. I don't know if they were inspired by specific places, but, you know, I've spent so much time in all these places that, yeah, the music's got to be inspired by it. That's where I come from. I'm an American musician. That's where my whole thing comes from. I spent a majority of my time touring the States. That's just a big part of who I am. If I'm being honest, it's going to come though in the music.
When you guys recorded the album, you did it live in studio without headphones, and just laid it down.
Boom! Yeah, right to tape. I don't even think we used an EQ. I can't remember if we did or not, but I have a feeling we didn't even use the EQ at all. The guy who recorded it, Dave McNair, is a serious badass engineer.
Was it a lot of first take stuff where you just nailed it?
Yeah, you're right. It's not like we're trying to. We would do two or three takes, and a lot of times, it usually ends up being the first or second takes, even with whatever mistakes are there, just because the overall feel of it is good. And that's what I'm going for -- the overall feel and the performance not necessarily a sterling, technical, you know, technical virtuosity. Just for the feel to be good and the flow to be nice and the pocket to be good. That's about all I look for, and hopefully everything else can fall in to place in there within that.
I guess you guys just crowdfunded that record with Omaha Diner project, right?
We did, and it worked. We're all super excited about it. Pretty much, we crowdsourced the record, but we crowdsourced the songs that we're going to play on the record.
Yeah. So what cuts are you going to be doing?
Oh, it's a secret. You're not going to know until it comes out, but, one thing, they're all going to be number one hits. That one thing is true. It's just really fun playing with those guys, and, yeah, it's a blast. Maybe we'll be coming through your neck of the woods.
That would be cool. I'm definitely a fan of Skerik, Steve Bernstein and Bobby Previte.
Yeah, well, screw those guys. [laughs]
It's all about you, right?
Yeah, and not even that. It's just all about angst. That's all we need. That's all we're talking about -- angst and that's it.