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Hunter Payne: Creating Timeless Music That's Not Just Country
By Daina Kazmaier
(more articles from this author)
2000-05-01
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After reviewing indie artist Hunter Payne's debut solo album, I had the pleasure of delving deeper into his career as a singer/songwriter. Located in Los Angeles, CA, Hunter is building up his resume not only by playing and promoting his live performances, but also through the many resources offered by the internet.

[Daina Kazmaier] Who inspired you to get into the music business?

[Hunter Payne] I grew up in a musical family - my dad was a jazz musician and both of my brothers were musicians. I was more into the pop, the Beatles, and blues legends. I grew up in Boston where there's many great clubs. Bands like Muddy Waters and Sunny Terry came around to play. I was actually in a band who played old-time jazz blues. We played tunes from Jelly Roll Morton. And in the Cambridge area, folk music was big.

[DK] When did you start performing?

[HP] I was 14 when I started performing and about 16 when I was paid to perform.

[DK] You mentioned that you were originally from the East coast, but you relocated to L.A. Do you see any major differences in the music scene?

[HP] It's been about 20 years since I've been on the East coast. Boston has a lot of small clubs and the people there actually went to hear the music. It was a real crowd and an actual scene. L.A. has a lousy scene - most of the clubs work on a 'pay for play' basis. You'd have to sell about five hundred tickets to play in a club here. I also play solo when I perform, so it was better in the smaller clubs. The places out here in L.A. are not very pretty, and they're not what you'd call a destination for people to come out and hear someone play.

[DK] Do you believe that Internet promotion has significantly improved your career?

[HP] Internet promo is absolutely critical to the indie artist unless they have a lot of money to work with. It's easy to get plenty of fans on the Internet. I love email. I recently reached number 1 on the MP3.com charts, and I could instantly let my fans know by sending them an e-mail. Promoting shows is also cheap over the net. I used to have to get postcards printed up to send to my fans when I was playing somewhere. It took forever, cost a lot, and was a real drag. I guess the only downside to the Internet promo is the quality of music. It's hard to hear exactly what a song sounds like on an album. But if you've got a good album, you can easily climb the ladder. Kind of like being a big fish in a small pond. Good quality, more fans.

[DK] What made you decide on country music?

[HP] That's actually a funny question for you to ask. I don't consider myself to be country. I'm striving for a classic sound that would've been popular within the last 25 years, and actually, it seems as if country is the only place that has that sound. So the critics just threw me into the country bag...and that's where I go. I tried to fight it the first few times I heard it, but now I accept it. If people like the music, then I'll go with it. My fans range from under ten years old to over sixty. I try to write music that a lot of people will like. I understand that someone who's into hard-core punk won't listen, but people who are into folk, acoustic, country, pop, and stuff like that will like it. My songs can be redone in different ways. "Private Hell" is a tune that can take on a modern sound.

[DK] How often do you perform live? What are your favorite songs to perform?

[HP] I try to play every week, but sometimes the gigs come in spurts. I could have three great gigs in a row, and then have none for a while. I don't really have a plan. I like to keep fresh and see new people. My solo performance sounds very different from the record, and it's got a different feeling. I received a letter from a fan who was shocked at how different the two sound, but both the album and live acoustic shows go over very well.

My favorite songs to play have to be "Private Hell" and "One Last Chance." "Private Hell" is very close to me. It's a good story and really connects with the audience. "One Last Chance" is easy for the audience to get into. A very accessible song.

[DK] Are your lyrics written from personal experiences?

[HP] All of them are, but the stories aren't exact. "As the Night Leaves Her Lonely" is written about a friend from Boston whom I don't see very often. I don't know much about her, I only hear stories through mutual friends. She was married to a man with AIDS but the couple wasn't aware of it, and soon after the marriage, her husband passed away. She ended up having a baby by another man. When I originally wrote the song, the baby was in it, but it didn't work. Then I found out that the child was from another man, so I took it out of the song. The song is basically about a woman aching for her dead husband. Garth Brooks recently listened to the album, and asked to hear this number twice. He could be considering doing the song.

[DK] What about the songwriting process? Do the songs come easy for you?

[HP] It takes quite a while to write the lyrics. I write the music first, which takes a relatively short time, but the lyrics seem to take forever to craft. I try to tell a story within each line, and each line needs to fall into the next. Kind of like a jump-cut fashion in a movie, where the scene changes but you know exactly what happened even though you didn't see it. The songs are a lot of work. It takes about 2 months to write a song, but I do several at one time. This album that I have out now comes from about six years of writing and several years of production and re-production.

[DK] I read that one of your songs was played on the hit TV show '7th Heaven.' What was that like?

[HP] The song was "Long Time Coming." The oldest son on the show was on a date with a woman who was deaf, and he turned on the car radio. My song was playing without anyone talking over it, so it was heard well.

[DK] Have you released any albums prior to 'One Last Chance?'

[HP] I put out two albums on a major label, but that's all you need to know. I hated them! I had absolutely no say on the way they came out, and I'm glad they didn't become popular. Being an indie artist is great, because you can do it all your own way.

[DK] What can your fans look forward to in the future? Are you working on another album?

[HP] Not yet. It takes about three years to put out an album. My new release, 'One Last Chance,' is taking up all of my time, so I'm not writing anything new at all now. You'll definitely hear more albums from me in the future though. We're working on a radio play campaign now, and I'm promoting my music on the Internet. It's getting a great response, so I don't see why it wouldn't on the radio. I've been trying to get major newspapers to write up reviews of my albums, but it's hard to break in there. These are the people who do the major artists. I sent my music to someone who just wrote up a review of No Doubt's new release. I'm just this guy who plays around town now, but hopefully I'll have them begging me for reviews soon.

Review of One Last Chance

For more on this artist, check out www.hunterpayne.com, or www.mp3.com/hunterpayne.


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