Phone Interview – November 30, 2011
Kelley Hunt is a piano player from Kansas City who has been gaining fans the hard way, through touring. Her piano playing is out of boogie woogie by way of rhythm and blues, with a touch of blues bravado. Her singing is charged with the fervor of gospel (a nod to her gospel singing grandmother), and more than a match to her ferocious piano playing. As a songwriter, Hunt eschews victimhood and addresses social issues, the need for independence and being true to one’s calling. She has earned praise from daily papers and musician’s mags, and has been on Prairie Home Companion a number of times. All in all, the combination of her talents has helped her build a strong fan base in the Twin Cities, where she’s been a regular visitor for the last few years.
Hunt was in town recently to play at The Dakota Jazz Club, her second appearance there in as many years. As a prelude to her appearance, she kept busy calling the blues-oriented program hosts at KFAI. Though I normally host a jazz show, I happened to be subbing for Harold Tremblay, a long time Hunt supporter, on his House Party show, and was fortunate to talk with her. This is a slightly edited version of that talk.
LE: How are you doing this afternoon?
KH: I’m doing really well. I’m happy to be on the planet, looking forward to coming to Minneapolis, and really enjoying my day.
LE: You’ve developed a large fan base here in the Twin Cities. I would bet the KFAI phone number is on your speed dial.
KH: (Laughs). Fortunately, for me. I love KFAI. You guys play such cool, eclectic, interesting music, and I’m honored you play my music. I really appreciate that.
LE: Well, we’re excited that you’re coming to town and are going to be at the Dakota this coming Friday and Saturday. I’m sure you’re planning a great show for us.
KH: I sure am. I’m flying my whole band in from LA and Nashville. We had such a great time last time, we could hardly wait to get back. It’s perfect timing for me. I’m excited to be there.
LE: Before we get into the new album, just to give folks a bit of your background, what was the earliest memories of music for you, especially those that got you interested in a career in music?
KH: Well my earliest memory of music is hearing my mother’s voice. Besides the fact that my mom used to be a singer at one point in her life, she sang to us a lot when we were kids. I mean, this woman can sing. It wasn’t just humming little tunes.
The other thing was, all of the music that my parents and my older brother and sister played in the house.Everything from Kansas City Jazz to blues, to New Orleans music, which is part of my family heritage, to things that my siblings brought home. – Motown, Howlin’ Wolf, great songwriters, Bob Dylan, juicy stuff like Ray Charles… I just was steeped in that from the moment I hit the planet.
LE: And at what point did you decide that this was something you were going to do for a living, as a profession?
KH: I feel as though I was born a musician. There was never a time in my memory, as far back as I can remember, when I was really little, that I wasn’t drawn to music, that I wasn’t singing. I started playing piano by ear when I was three. And I started composing my own little songs when I was in kindergarten. It was never a question in my mind. I felt like that’s who I showed up as. It brings me so much joy, and always has that I was fortunate to live in an environment where I was supported in that train of thought.
LE: What a blessing.
LE: Over the course of your last few albums you have become more and more focused on your songwriting. In the new one, Gravity Loves You, you talked about the idea that whatever direction people feel pulled in, that’s what they should do. That sounds a little like what you’ve experienced.
KH: It’s exactly… It’s exactly what I’ve experienced, and I think that all of us have that pull. It’s just a matter of being aware of it, and also, taking that leap of faith, and jumping into what makes your heart beat the wildest. I think you’re absolutely right. It’s part of who I am, but I think it’s part of who we all are, really.
LE: It seems that sometimes society puts barriers in the way of jumping towards the things that give us the most passion.
KH: it can, it can. I think we have to be brave, and we have to be very strong in our convictions, and be able to focus on what it is we want, and to make the best life for ourselves that we can because, I don’t know about you, but I really love to see someone who’s passionate about the way they spend their time, whether they’re a doctor, or a sculptor, or someone who plays music on the radio. I mean it just lifts me up as a human being to witness that in someone else, and I think everybody benefits when we’re living out dreams.
LE: Certainly, the way you’re living your dream comes out in the joy of your performance. Let’s talk a bit about Gravity Loves You. This one, as you’ve done with a number of your CDs is recorded in analog, not digital.
KH: Correct. There’s really only one CD that wasn’t done completely in analog, and that was the live CD, Inspiration, that came out in 2000. I’ve always been drawn to that sound, using two inch tape. Not only warmth in the sound of it, but the immediacy of the performance. I love live performance, and when I go into the studio to record, I love to have all my musicians there at the same time. As much as possible, and play that song together, and feel it, and feel the pulse of it. I sit at a piano and I sing at the same time, while I’m playing, because I think that gets to the root of the song. For me, I’m certainly not against recording digitally, and I think it makes a lot of sense when it’s appropriate to do so, but I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to tape. I just like the kind of delicious, rich quality – the sound quality of it. I’ve done both and I think good music is good music no matter how you record it, but I’m so happy that I’ve had the opportunity to do that.
LE: What can we expect from your show this weekend?
KH: Well, you can expect that my full band will be there, and we’ll be playing songs, no only off of Gravity Loves You, but some selected songs off of the previous four CDs. The thing that I most love about playing Minneapolis are the audiences is they’re such great music audiences, you know what I mean, and it kind of brings us to life as performers. I mean, we’re going to be there 110% no matter what, but it just gives us that extra layer of… chocolate (chuckles). Jump up there and really go all out for people. They can expect, hopefully, a great time and the goal is for people to leave feeling great – better than when they got there.
LE: Sounds like it’s going to be great fun. I know you have many fans here. Harold often gets requests for your music when he’s doing his show – even when you’re not in town
KH: That’s wonderful, I’m thrilled
LE: It’s so terrific that you support KFAI and recognize the passion that everyone has. It’s a mutual admiration society. Thank you so very much for calling in.
KH: Thanks so much. Thanks to your listeners, and thanks to KFAI.