An Interview with Charlie Hunter

(Charlie Hunter - Credit:
Charlie Hunter is a phenomenal bassist/guitarist who currently plays a custom 7-string guitar. He came through the Bay Area a few weeks ago, playing in both Mountain View and San Francisco's Independent. We had a chance to catch-up with him for a quick interview before he heads to Japan for the next leg of his tour.

SFBAC: I've got to ask first about your custom guitar.  What's the origin behind the guitar?  How did you get introduced to it?

Charlie Hunter: I don’t know if… I didn't get introduced to it... I was just good at playing guitar... for many years...  When I was in my early twenties I was like, it'd be nice to have a guitar that had more capacity... Guitar is just anyone's instrument.  You can do whatever you want with it, generally.  So, my attitude was man, I could do something different with this.  So, I just felt like I'll put some different stuff on this instrument and I had one made for me, and it's been like, who knows, 24-25 years ago now.  Something in those… maybe a little less, 22-23 years, and I've been evolving the concept ever since.

SFBAC: You started with an eight-string, didn't you?

Charlie Hunter: Well, I started, obviously, playing six-string and I played 7-string, different versions of the seven-string for a little while before I played eight-string and I played eight-string for a number of years and I switched to the current guitar that I play now... this iteration... seven to eight years ago, something like that.  I sure like it a lot more.  It's definitely a lot of fun.

SFBAC: How about your live rig?  Did I see two amps?  A Mesa and a...

Charlie Hunter: Uhuh!

SFBAC: Okay.  So, how does that work?

Charlie Hunter: You need a bass amp and a guitar amp 'cause it's just too much range for one amplifier so I've got two sets of pick-ups and… that's how I get that to work.

SFBAC: Interesting.  So, each pick-up goes to a different amp. 

Charlie Hunter: Uhuh!

SFBAC: Okay, so you're a Bay Area native, you've been playing for a number of years --

Charlie Hunter: Well, I'm not a Bay Area native.  I grew up in the Bay Area.  I don't live there anymore.  I haven't lived in the Bay Area in, boy, 16-17 years, something like that.  I live in Jersey.  I've been on the East Coast for quite some time. My family is originally from the East Coast and... So it just was natural to come out here at one point. Also, because the whole music thing back then, it actually mattered.  The music scene out here, so that's why I relocated.

SFBAC: So of all the places you played, do you have any interesting stories? What stands out?

Charlie Hunter: I wish I could say that I have that but I've played at so many different places and I really can't say... it's always different all the time and it depends on the crowd that comes and some places are really more consistent.  But I love going back to every place that I play.  I'm not just saying that to be diplomatic.  Most of the places I play are probably smaller than The Independent too.  Coming in the Bay Area is always really great for me because I came up there and I play there so often and the people come out to see the music while I'm there.  So it's always fun.  But it's always different and it depends on what kind of music you're playing, what group you're playing with.  So it's just really hard to be all to specific about that.

SFBAC: Any favorite venues in the Bay Area?

Charlie Hunter: Yeah, I like to play... Dana Street Roasting Company in Mountain View; The Independent has turned into our new fun place to play.  There's a new place in Oakland called Duende that we played that was really fun. That's gonna be fantastic.

SFBAC: Who would you say your influences are?

Charlie Hunter:  Oh, too many to name.  I'm just a music listener so there's just so many great players that spent so much time with me to... It's too hard to say.

SFBAC:  So, how about this.  If you have a chance to play with anybody who you haven't already, who would that be?

Charlie Hunter: Well, they've all passed away.

SFBAC: So nobody still alive?

Charlie Hunter: No, I'm lucky, man.  All my peers that I love playing with, I get to play with.  I've had the chance to play with a few of the older ones, and when I was a kid I played with people who were a lot older than me and a lot better than me.  Yeah, I'm really lucky in that.  But hey, you never know what can happen and if someone wants to play and it ends up in a really cool connection then you just go there.

SFBAC:  How about studio wise.  Do you prefer commercial studios? Do you have a home studio?  How's your studio?

Charlie Hunter:  Oh no, I don't have a home studio.  I just have a garage with some sheet rock in it.  I practice in there everyday but I don’t record at home or anything like that.  ‘Cause what we do is so immediate.  Our last track that we made in two days, just recording direct to tape.  I'm not one of those people that put up a recording studio in his house.  I have two guitars, a couple amps, and a drum set and that's about the extent of it.  I know a lot of people, that’s how they do their thing, but I'm just not one of them.

SFBAC: Back to when you started playing.  Did you start on the bass and moved to guitar or the other way around?

Charlie Hunter: Well, I started on the drums, actually, and then I moved to the guitar and I played a lot of bass as well.  So, I played acoustic bass on the streets for a while in Europe.  So that was a big thing for me, and then I just slowly put the things together.

SFBAC: Looking at the audience when you tour.  Do you notice any differences at a macro-level for example, the US versus Europe versus Asia or even within the States - West Coast, East Coast?

Charlie Hunter: Definitely you would notice stuff when you're travelling to different cultures for sure.   It’s not in the States; it's not that different.  It's definitely...  there's small differences in the States, but we've become such a homogeneous society that the differences are pretty negligible. When you go to Europe, it's different in different parts of Europe. Northern European, Scandinavian people have a different way of dealing with music than the Southern Europeans do versus Eastern Europeans.  Then Japanese, they have a very... their whole idea... decorum... and people being at the concert is very different than ours. They're very, very respectful and you'd think that they're not being... they're just ignoring you or something and being incredibly quiet.  Then you realize, no, they're really into it.  They're just being really respectful.  Then you go to South America and people are super buoyant and really flippin' out at the music.  Those things are definitely different.

SFBAC: So looking back over your career, do you feel like you had... what was the point where you think you feel you finally made it or you hit the, maybe, an inflection point where you reached that level?

Charlie Hunter: I don't think about it like that because when you get in there and you get in the whole mix of everything, it's always been about the music and trying to always better myself in that respect, and that's the most important aspect of it.  The concept of kind of making it is really... it's just not... whatever I've been able to do in this music thing, it's just more than a function of following the music.  Then there were times where there have been, kind of, economic success which is great.  And there were times when it's been a total bust. The music success and the economic success don't always coincide with one another; nor do the busts and the music successes. So, I just don't think about it that way.  I think there are definitely people in the more kind of pop world.  And then you're not really dealing in that. Music is just a very small part of what they do. Their thing is more about physical, visual performance, and the music plays a small part in it.  What people like myself do, it's just all about the music.  Some years I'll do well and other years I won’t.  But hopefully, the music is always evolving and if the opportunity to present themselves and it makes sense, you take them.

SFBAC: As far as the shift of distribution over the years from vinyl and tape to CDs and now digital, do you have any thoughts about where the industry is going, or the impact of what's happened?

Charlie Hunter:  I don't even think about it.


Charlie Hunter:  Yeah, because I am such a small business that I did that thing with the major record labels and I did that whole thing when it was still kind of a viable option.  And what I found out was really... there's two ways to go.  You can try to be enormously successful in that world, economically.  But then you really don't... then you make the music when you can, and you have lots and lots of people who were helping you and getting paid and you have the stress of having an organization and you're paying all these people.  Or you can go the other way which is you follow the music and then the economic successes, hopefully, will present itself enough that you can make a living.  And that just means you have to be really, really good and really practice all the time. There's ups and downs and you just… when you're a guy like me, you just try to keep it as small as possible and to keep the music, that's the most important thing that you're doing.  And let everything else take a back seat.  And that means you do everything yourself.  You drive to all the gigs yourself. You set up everything except for the booking, you do yourself.  I have a booking agent.  But everything else you do yourself.  And I gotta say, I'm much happier now doing everything myself than I was when I had a manager and a road manager and a record company and all of these external functions that were complications that on a daily basis were infinitely more frustrating than the one or two mistakes I make everyday myself.  And also, they used up all the money.  There were years when I generated a lot of money and I saw none of it.

SFBAC: Well, that's it from here and thanks again for your time Charlie. We're looking forward to catching your next show in the Bay Area!

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