Van Hunt Finds the Music In Moaning and Paying Bills

R&B artist talks life, children and love before Yoshi's performance

If you haven’t heard of Van Hunt, consider this your official warning: you will be perpetually whack if you don’t get on – right – now.  Now.  This funkaholic is performing live at Yoshi’s Oakland this Thursday, Aug. 20 at 8 p.m. only.  Tickets are $18 at Yoshi’s website.

“There’s no greater happiness than to be able to be yourself and pay your bills,” Van said, after what he calls a “tumultuous two-and-a-half years” following his parting with Blue Note in 2007 (which took over his former label of about five years, Capitol Records).

And now he’s reemerging. Waist deep in a new project he hopes to release in Feb. 2010, Van describes his mental spaces for creating this record as having an "extreme range with lots of up’s and down’s."

“It’s a vast project; I can’t imagine needing to make another record after it.”  Kind of a big deal. But!  To hold us over in between what seems to be a monumental project, Van just independently released a free compilation of demos, acoustics, and b-sides titled, Use in Case of Emergency.  Featuring work recorded between 1997 and 2005, it’s kinda the ish – and his original cut of “Hot Stage Lights” (called “Man of the Year”), I have to say – is sorta amazing.

It’s clear this man is a true artist at heart – first and foremost and without a doubt – so it doesn’t come as surprise when he says the album won’t be released unless it’s done completely right.  "Doing it right" this time around includes having a live band help with the tracks (instead of Van playing all the instruments like he usually does) – and that costs money.

I spent half an hour catching up with Van and getting a little peek into his world – all the way from his 5-year-old, to records he’s bought, to what keeps him waking up in the morning.

SEHER SIKANDAR: What’s your favorite non-instrumental, non-engineered sound?  Of everyday life, in the natural world.

VAN HUNT: My woman’s moan.  It doesn’t even have to be like a sexual moan, but you know you wake up in the morning and the woman’s voice is a little deeper?  I love that sound.  It sounds like her at her most natural – and without thinking about me or the world or what she has to do that day.

SS: What’s been your most socially awkward moment?

VH: The one we just had where I was just telling you about my woman’s moan [laughs].

SS: Besides being a musician, what was something else you really wanted to be or thought you'd be when you "grew up?"

VH: I never thought I’d be anything else.  My parents had other hopes for me, but I always knew I’d be making music.

SS: What’s the most recent thing you did that you've never done before in your life?

VH: Borrowing money [laughs].  I paid it back though.

SS: If you had to name one feeling, thing, or person that inspires your music what or who would it be?

VH: Now this may sound shallow but it is the truth: depositing a big fat check into my bank account brings on a lot of creativity.  I think once you relieve yourself of that stress and you know you’re gonna be fine…I like to write when I’m stress free.

SS: What’s one thing that makes you furious?

VH: When my child lies to me [he’s 5-years-old].

SS: Say there was an oracle and you had a free pass to have one question, any question answered - what would it be?

I don’t know; I don’t have very many questions.  I do have a wish [laughs] – I’d like to have the oracle make sure my son listens to the advice I give him, you know, when he’s older.

SS: First and last record you bought?

VH: Well, you know ever since all these record stores went out of business I haven’t bought any records.  The last record, though, was Led Zeppelin.  The very first record was The Black Hole by The Parliament Funkadelics.

SS: What’s one thing you would leave it all (music) for?

VH: Well, because music is what I love to do, there is nothing I would leave it for.  I mean, to me that would be like sacrificing myself for something else and I wouldn’t do that.  Obviously I would sacrifice my life for my child or for my woman, but I wouldn’t just give up something I love to do for anything.

SS: What’s one thing you must do before you die?

VH: Oh shoot, I wrote a list – it’s on my phone, nowhere near me…but I did write a list of things that I have to do before I die [laughs].  I think one of them was sailing around the world.  And I mean, me myself [and maybe others very close to him], not like being on a boat with a hundred people.

SS: What’s your mantra, life motto, or creed?

VH: It changes everyday [laughs] – I have all kinds.  Today, I’ve been laughing about George Clinton all day.  Somebody asked him ‘what was funk?’ and he said, “Funk is whatever it needs to be.”  He said, “Funk is that thing that keeps you from killing yourself; because as you’re about to jump out the window, funk is the thing that says, ‘What you gonna do that for? Aint nobody gonna miss you.’” [laughs]

SS: What was the first song you heard - not yours - that made you feel like it was written for or about you?

VH: “War of the Hearts” by Sade.  I was having some little spat with probably some little teenage girl I was dating at the time and I thought the song applied to me.

SS: Aside from music, what's another dream that you have yet to be realized?

VH: Astronomy.  I’d love to study string theory and parallel universes, and just understand space and time and distance.  You know, how they’re trying to get to all these different places – cause once you go fast enough you can actually bend time and space.  I would love to study that phenomenon.

SS: What makes life worth living?

VH: I do [laughs].  I make it worth loving.  I love my ideas, I love myself.  I love my jokes – I’m usually the only one laughing at them.

SS: Music is said to have strong psychological and spiritual qualities.  What’s the most profound experience you've had while listening to music?

VH: I have to say the most pleasurable experience I’ve had was while listening to the Bach Cello Suites.  And it was just an awesome experience to sit and hear what someone could do with one instrument and one composition.  It made me feel the power of creativity.  I mean, Bach was the person who essentially invented the modern keyboard and the way that it’s laid out.  And when you think about how much has been made, I mean, that’s pretty amazing.

SS: If you could personify one thing or feeling and have it kick it with you, what would it be?

WH: It would probably be some of my piano compositions.  I’d love to see what form they would take.  They would probably try and talk me into going outside somewhere but I’m much more a homebody, though.  Then they’d get on my nerves and I’d put them back in the piano.

SS: What’s your oddest, most random habit?

VH: Probably cleaning up; I’m a bit obsessive.  I’ve folded the towels five times [to get them perfect].

SS: What’s one form of conventional living or society that you've never understood and don't take part in?

VH: I don’t like collaboration, compromise – there’s a lot of that in modern society.  Usually, collaboration…not even usually – without fail – what it means is two people come together, let’s assume two of them have an idea they want to work on.  Well, I’m gonna give you my idea and then you’re gonna essentially throw your idea on top of it or change my idea or do whatever it is you do when you collaborate – well, for somebody that really loves their ideas, that doesn’t sound like much fun to me [laughs]. 

You take a band for instance, when you have four very strong individuals who are all very talented and each of them has a job – then that’s different.  I see that as a working unit as opposed to two people trying to write a song.  Inevitably, one idea is going to have to be compromised, you know.  And I’m not saying the end result isn’t a great thing; Keith Richards and Mick Jagger wrote a lot of songs that people love.

But for me, I like to hear my ideas uninterrupted.  But at the same time, when I finish an idea like a song, I love when some bass player comes in he starts playing a bassline that goes with my song.  Same thing with a drummer or string arrangement and that’s the unit I’m talking about – that’s fine.

SS: Who’s an artist you really love that other people might not expect?

VH: I think Thelonious Monk is off the wall but I mean – I adore his compositions.  I’m sure of people would assume Bjork is off the wall but I don’t know anything about her music, so – I can’t choose her [laughs].

[Happened across an answer to the opposite question here – “Who’s an artist you don’t really know much about that people might not expect” – haha!]

SS: What’s another little known talent or ability you have?

VH: I have short stories.  I box.

Seher Sikandar is a Bay Area-based photographer and writer who covers art and lifestyle events. Check out her portfolio at

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