The Sam Hunt Interview

Last updated 08:00 29/05/2009

It's nice to have a chat with Sam HuntSam 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".

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 alDavid Kilgourbum 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, " 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 sideDoubtless 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.

Post a comment
Don 1   #1   08:12 am May 29 2009

Glad you've managed to get Sam into this blog; a gentleman and a gentle man. I had the absolute pleasure of sharing a dressing room with him at a concert in Palmy many years ago and I haven't laughed as much. After the show, we drank cheap plonk (McGuigan's sauvignon blanc, from memory)and sang old Dylan and Band songs and just laughed. A truly magical evening; just to hear him talk about driving through the Mangawekas to get to the gig is to hear a man find "tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything."

Kirsty   #2   08:36 am May 29 2009

What a great read - loved it. Excellent way to end New Zealand Music Month.

Jill   #3   10:15 am May 29 2009

Really enjoyed this read and reminded me of a great evening when he performed at Te Mata...wonderful warmth and humour.

Tony   #4   10:42 am May 29 2009

Good blog Si... gotta say I think it was a mistake not to have Sam do the lyrics ... I'm a lyrics man of course, and listening to 'Chord' and 'River Plateau Song' I found it difficult to make any sense of them. I thought the musical interpretations on 'Baxter' and 'Tuwhare' albums created a much truer representation of the poems. On these two tracks the music was kinda catchy, but I kept waiting for Sam's voice to come drifting in on the wind... much prefer the recordings with the Warratahs, 'Fire Song' and 'Cape Turnagain'... but then that's me, maybe Sam will find a new audience through this project... cheers, Tony

Scott   #5   11:06 am May 29 2009

Ah, Sam Hunt. I'm picking most New Zealanders have some story to tell about him, and musicians in particular - he always seems to have been "there or thereabouts" where and whenever music was being made.

I was sixteen when chatted to me after a gig about my bass playing, singing, musical likes and dislikes, and he was so funny, raucous but also gently encouraging. One of those moments that made me go "yeah, I can do this thing."

As Don said, a gentleman and a gentle man.

Bella   #6   12:38 pm May 29 2009

She wore blue suede shoes in Kohukohu you parked next to the general store she said nice to meet you you said nice shoes she had to go you had a show she sat at the back and you filled the 'Waterline' with all of Sam.

A pleasure

ziggy   #7   02:01 pm May 29 2009

I love James K Baxter's poem about Sam Hunt. It is a classic!

Mark Twang   #8   03:21 pm May 29 2009

Have a listen to Sam Hunt at the end of The Warratah's Cape Turn Again. Magic.

Susan   #9   04:33 pm May 31 2009

The album is lovely, too. It kind of sneaks up on you with its subtlety but then hangs around in your head for a while. I'm a big fan of David Kilgour, and this is a very cool way to be introduced to Sam Hunt's poems. Good story, too, Simon!

Thomas   #10   11:56 am Aug 22 2009

In regard to Sam Hunt & his so-called poetry, honestly though, what in the hell is this guy on? His stuff is absolute garbage & rubbish, & my advice to him now is give it up before it gets any worse, but can it?

Show 11-14 of 14 comments

Post comment


Required. Will not be published.
Registration is not required to post a comment but if you , you will not have to enter your details each time you comment. Registered members also have access to extra features. Create an account now.

Maximum of 1750 characters (about 300 words)

I have read and accepted the terms and conditions
These comments are moderated. Your comment, if approved, may not appear immediately. Please direct any queries about comment moderation to the Opinion Editor at
Special offers

Featured Promotions

Sponsored Content