The Sam Hunt Interview

21:04, Jul 30 2009

It's nice to have a chat with Sam Hunt about anything - he has presented himself, on and off, for the best part of 40 years as one Kiwi that every New Zealander feels like they know; feels like they can have a yarn with. So with a music blog, it's a bonus that I can talk to Sam about the release of Falling Debris.

The album is credited to Sam and David Kilgour but Hunt does not appear on the album. And yet he is everywhere. He permeates the recording. Put simply: Falling Debris is a record of songs made from Kilgour out of parts created by Sam Hunt. Or, put more simply: Hunt's words, Kilgour's music.

I chat with Sam on the phone - life is good, he's happy to be the guardian of his eleven-year-old, Alf. "Things are very good, yeah. Alf's teaching me all about computers and he's becoming a very good guitarist, and he agrees he has learned more than a few things from that Kilgour chap!"

So, Falling Debris is the new album by David Kilgour and regular backing band, The Heavy 8s. And it sounds like a David Kilgour album. I don't feel bad telling Sam this, because I'm sure he'll understand.

"Yeah, he's an excellent Psalmist," Sam tells me, using words that only Sam would use; making instant sense in that way that Sam does. "It's quite remarkable really, the way he has taken my words and made them work; he's given them his voice. But my voice is still there too. And yet there was a different method at work here. Sometimes David would focus on a phrase within a lyric - and he'd roll it around and give an emphasis that maybe I wouldn't, but I like what he's done and I understood what he was doing every step of the way".

It's nice to have a chat with Sam Hunt about anything - he has presented himself, on and off, for the best part of 40 years as one Kiwi that every New Zealander feels like they know; feels like they can have a yarn with. So with a music blog, it's a bonus that I can talk to Sam about the release of Falling Debris.

The album is credited to Sam and David Kilgour but Hunt does not appear on the album. And yet he is everywhere. He permeates the recording. Put simply: Falling Debris is a record of songs made from Kilgour out of parts created by Sam Hunt. Or, put more simply: Hunt's words, Kilgour's music.

I chat with Sam on the phone - life is good, he's happy to be the guardian of his eleven-year-old, Alf. "Things are very good, yeah. Alf's teaching me all about computers and he's becoming a very good guitarist, and he agrees he has learned more than a few things from that Kilgour chap!"

So, Falling Debris is the new album by David Kilgour and regular backing band, The Heavy 8s. And it sounds like a David Kilgour album. I don't feel bad telling Sam this, because I'm sure he'll understand.

"Yeah, he's an excellent Psalmist," Sam tells me, using words that only Sam would use; making instant sense in that way that Sam does. "It's quite remarkable really, the way he has taken my words and made them work; he's given them his voice. But my voice is still there too. And yet there was a different method at work here. Sometimes David would focus on a phrase within a lyric - and he'd roll it around and give an emphasis that maybe I wouldn't, but I like what he's done and I understood what he was doing every step of the way".

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Hunt and Kilgour bumped in to one another on a flight in 2007. Kilgour had first met Hunt in 1972 when he was performing in the Captain Cook Hotel in Dunedin. David was 10, and his father ran the pub. Flash forward to the 2007 meeting and Kilgour told Hunt that he had first wanted to make an album with the poet in the 1980s. Sam suggested they still go ahead with the idea. And from there things took shape.

Sam says "David has taken my words to places they would not have reached on the page."

But originally Sam was to narrate his poems with Kilgour providing backing. "We tried various things and in the end David wrote melodies and started to work with the words, creating music for them, rather than just backing a performance and so the album has found itself."

Here's the video for River Plateau Song.

Hunt, no stranger to working with musicians, says there are "all sorts of ideas" for tours. "We will do some shows with a bit of reading and a bit of music - the band doing its thing - and then some collaboration with me and the band". Hunt worked with Mammal in the 1970s - and has sporadically toured with The Warratahs.

He tells me a "second album with David is already being planned". There are irons in the fire...and he suggests that there will be more involvement from him on the second record, hinting at recitations with music as well as Kilgour building songs from poems once again.

But even without this album to speak about, a chat with Sam Hunt seem fitting for a blog about music. Hunt has always referred to his poems as songs ("my songs for the tone-deaf as I call them", he tells me with a chuckle) and his famous delivery of the words is as much a form of singing as it is speaking: sonorous - using timbre, instilling character, Hunt makes mantras, creates chants, sings his songs of himself (to nod to Walt Whitman) in his poetry performances.

And he has worked with musicians - opening for bands, appearing on the bills with friends, and, earlier this year, opening for Leonard Cohen.

When I ask Sam if this was a career highlight, he offers the gem: "No, because I don't consider myself to have a career. To me 'career' is just another six-letter word beginning with 'c'..." There's a pause, and then, brilliantly, he completes the thought, "Er...you know, like Cancer." He tells me that he has personal highlights ("my two sons, for instance") and then clarifies that it was "certainly a great honour" to work with Cohen.

After his set opening for Cohen at the Wellington show, he was momentarily blinded by the lights and fumbling to find the rail leading down from the stage. "A hand appeared to guide me down the steps - and, so, you know, I reached out and grabbed it. I didn't even know who it was, but I was grateful to have a hand to help at that point. And it was Leonard. He had been standing side of stage, listening and was there to lend a hand afterwards."

Sam has had a busy last few months with his first book in over 10 years, Doubtless, collecting new and old poems. "And I've got another book already written. Two, in fact. There's a book of prose - and there's another book of poems. In fact, I have a volume of poems that are complete that I don't think I'll release. So, yeah, I guess it's been a fruitful period." There is also Hunt's personal selection of favourite James K Baxter poems - with an introduction written by Sam.

He is fortunate to "be able to work when I need to". He tells me he "disappears off to do gigs here and there" but is happy being at home; being a dad. "Alf has me emailing - and opening attachments; all sorts of things...and so, yeah, I can see that people might see this as a period of activity on my behalf. And, yeah, I guess maybe it is!"

And here is the video for Chord.