Brooklyn based Huntertones, whose self-titled debut album comes out November 20th, caught my ear with their quirky jazz sound. Their music blends multiple cross-genre influences to avoid jazz’s more arcane tendencies while creating music that remains very accessible.
The band was formed in Columbus while the musicians were studying at Ohio State University. Their early compositions allowed them to play free shows at a coffee shop in town. “Eventually we ended up playing house shows where we’d invite our friends to our apartment on campus, which had a basement where we’d play,” explains saxophonist Dan White.
By the time the band members graduated, these house shows had become legendary on campus. “The president of the University came down to introduce us one night,” says White. “There weren’t a lot of venues we could play at, and actually the name Huntertones takes its inspiration from our apartment on Hunter avenue.”
Huntertones’ music is written by Jon Lampley, (trumpet and sousaphone), Chris Ott (trumpet and beat box), and Dan White on saxophones, and while the band is ostensibly a sextet (the rhythm section will sometimes change depending on member commitments), they’ll adjust to whatever situation they’re playing in. “We’re kind of the three headed lead singer of the band,” says White. “We’re open to playing in any environment. We just finished a two week tour where we played anywhere from bars with no sound equipment, we were just playing acoustic, to pretty big rooms that were standing room only, and then also listening rooms where it’s very quiet, and everyone is encouraged to keep conversations at a low. Other times we’d play loud, noisy bars on a Friday night, and the next morning we’d be at a middle school playing for 400 six-graders. It makes it exciting for us because we’re able to play the same music in a different way, using different energy levels.”
About a year and a half ago, the band decided to pack up and move to Brooklyn. “We have had an unbelievable experience in Ohio,” White recalls, “but we’re looking to connect with a more national and international group of musicians and try to push ourselves to get outside of our comfort zone as much as possible so that we can grow, both personally and as a band. And I think it most definitely worked that way.”
Part of what makes Huntertones’ music stand out, is that willingness to push themselves and incorporate influences that aren’t always what you’d expect from a jazz band. I asked Dan how he’d define their music. “My least favourite question!” he answers laughing. “I would honestly say like nothing you’ve heard before. And that’s not me trying to be arrogant or overly verbose about the band. We take influence from so many different genres and so many different styles of music. We may be an instrumental band but we listen to Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong. When you think of instrumental music, or when you say ‘jazz’, people think it’s music just for musicians, and I don’t think that’s the case (with us). What we do is interesting and musicians will enjoy, but I also think it’s interesting for people who don’t consider themselves jazz fans.”
But this melting pot of influences wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the musician’s chemistry together. “The one thing that is constant is HOW we play the music,” explains White. “We like to push and do new original music, and a lot of times it pushes into different areas that we haven’t done before. We’ve been playing together for 5-6 years now, and we know when the music’s good and when it’s not. When the energy is infectious and what we’re sharing is a tangible, good thing and people leave our shows feeling better, feeling energized and inspired. That’s how we know it’s cool.”
I wasn’t surprised to hear that the band is inspired by singers because their music has this catchy, melodic element to it. I asked White if that was intentional. “We’re trying to write songs that people will remember,” he explains. “At times we even write songs with lyrics,” he continues. “Maybe we just don’t have a vocalist! The music has that phrasing and connectivity that people lock on to. In rehearsals, we’re always singing the lines back to each other; we try not to lose sight of that quality.”
But that’s not to say that their music is not going to appeal to jazz fans. “Just because it’s not swing doesn’t mean it’s not heavily influenced by the jazz tradition,” White concludes. “I think you can hear that in 2 seconds in any tune that we do: it’s not just us playing pop music.”
You can discover Huntertones when their debut album is released on November 20th. Check them out at www.huntertones.com