I would like to welcome you, dear reader, to the first installment of the newest column at Quiet Lunch Magazine: The First Act! This column, penned by yours truly, is a comprehensive music feature exclusively for small, local music acts… local to anywhere.
Lesser known bands rarely get the press they need to expand their fan base and reach people in a way that can offer the band a way to make a living. The First Act column is my individual effort to make it possible for artists to reach out to people they may not have been able to otherwise, and to help make it possible for artists to make a living from their art.
The first installment of this column features the band Hunter & Wolfe from New Jersey. The self-taught duet, Michael Maffei and Sundeep Kapur, have been playing together since they met at a sweet sixteen party in high school. While both Michael and Sundeep bring their own very different sounds to this music project, their collective sound is wonderfully balanced.
Their first album, the self-titled “Hunter & Wolfe,” released over the summer and is available for purchase and streaming on their bandcamp site. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing one half of the band [Michael] play a few basement shows. I have always seen him as a spirited and heartfelt performer. So when I listened to the new Hunter & Wolfe album about a month ago, I was not at all surprised to hear how much heart is in this record. It starts off immediately in the imitation of Elliott Smith, but takes no time at all to evolve into a harmonious blend of passionate lyrics, emotive vocals and skilled musicianship.
A part of me wishes I could say one song or another stuck out to me as particularly fantastic, but the truth is, the whole album is excellent. Every song stands out.
Recently I sat down with the band to discuss their new album, their music and the experience of being a small act. We met in New Brunswick, New Jersey at a lovely little sandwich place called, Sanctuary. We got breakfast and coffee and sat down to chat. What ensued was a delightful and enlightening conversation, which I will now share with you.
Below you will not only find a music video of their song, “Build Me a Boat to Nowhere,” but our exclusive in-person interview with the band. Without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to introduce the readers of Quiet Lunch to Hunter & Wolfe. Enjoy.
THE BAND: The Name, The History, The Story.
Matia: How did Hunter & Wolfe come to be?
Michael: Deep, do you wanna field that one?
Sundeep: No, you go for it. You’re a better storyteller than me.
Michael: Oh don’t flatter me!
Matia: So, there’s definitely a story here.
Michael: Well the name was kind of funny. We were Calico for a while, but we realized it just wasn’t doing it for us.
Matia: That was your college band.
Michael: Yeah. The recordings were a little too sterile. It seemed like things were getting a little tense in terms of too many people, too many opinions. I remember one of of the last times we got together, we couldn’t figure anything out because we all disagreed so much.
Matia: How many people were in that band?
Michael: 4? 5? 5 technically. We had a bassist on and off. We butted heads so much that we couldn’t get anywhere, so we took a step back and realized it just wasn’t fun… We decided we just wanted to abstract from the entire process and see what happened if we just worked on our own and kept it simple. And it did turn out to be a lot more fun.
So as this was all coming to form, we still didn’t have a name and we were walking around Chicago ’cause we took a vacation to Chicago just absolutely shitfaced. When we go on vacations we realize we’re never going to see people again, so we just make up stories about who we are. So we decided we were going to go with, we were patent lawyers, but we needed to think of a firm we were going to work for, so we just started throwing out names and then Deep threw out Hunter and Wolfe with an “e” at the end of Wolfe and I was just like, that’s gotta be the name of our project. That was the birth of Hunter & Wolfe. And the patent lawyer thing worked out pretty well.
Matia: That’s a good policy to have while traveling: make things up about yourself when you know you’re never going to see people again.
Michael: Deep had the 5 second rule which was the best thing ever. You’re making a decision, you’re either going to make it or you’re not in 5 seconds. There’s no point in deliberating beyond that. The 5 second rule is just making up a decision and just going with it. So it’s a very spontaneous kind of travel.
Matia: So the band is just you two, right?
Michael: Yeah. Yes it is. We’ve actually had other people play with us. For our first show we had, like, a full band. I think the reason why we ended up deciding to just be the two of us was the whole, “too many chefs” idea.
Sundeep: Yeah. And we played a lot of basement shows too, which are always a fantastic mess. There’s a lot of sound and energy… everywhere we go, if it’s a basement show, or a regular show at a venue or whatever, we keep up the same performance, or the same quality I guess, because it’s just us two. It’s very stripped down; it’s easy. Everyone can hear everything that’s going on and it’s a lot more accessible.
THE SCENE AND THE SOUND.
Matia: You had said the music scene in Brooklyn is a bit more accepting than the one in New Brunswick.
Michael: We have a limited experience there. But that’s not to say that things haven’t gone over well in New Brunswick. There are people here that recognize me, which is kind of cool. So there is a group, but the basement scene isn’t exactly catered toward us because we’re not very danceable, first of all, and we’re a lot more the kind of scene where you sit and listen, as opposed to dancing. I wanna use the word cerebral, but I don’t know if that will accomplish that.
Matia: We use the word cerebral all the time at the Quiet Lunch.
Michael: Awesome. Yeah I like to think we’re much more for listeners, I guess, than for dancers.
Matia: Music enthusiasts…
Michael: Yes. Yes. Yes. Because that’s what we are… When we play in Brooklyn, we get much better returns. We haven’t played that much in Brooklyn, but we’re trying to make the move out there. The crowds are much more receptive and you can tell, like you said about Boston, there are some people that are much more into the idea of supporting the local arts and I love that. We both love that. We both love the scene.
Matia: So eventually Hunter & Wolfe will operate out of New York?
Michael: Absolutely. That’s inevitable.
Sundeep: Yeah next year we’re going to get an apartment in Brooklyn, not exactly sure where. Yeah, and then take over the world.
Matia: Mm. One city block at a time!
THE ALBUM AND THE CREATIVE PROCESS.
Matia: So let’s talk about the album a little bit. You guys recorded it this summer?
Michael: Oh geez. When did we start? We started last August right?
Sundeep: We started last summer. August of 2011.
Matia: So it took you almost a year to put it together?
Michael: Yeah, well we ended up releasing it in July. We kind of did a whole bunch of different releases. At first we released 3 songs… because we kind of wanted to get people interested. We didn’t just want to just say, hey no one knows us and release everything all at once. So we released a few songs and tried to get some buzz from that and then slowly we released the next 3 or 4 by July.
The next release we do we’ll do in a lump I think, but we thought it would be better to keep more content going. That’s the way the internet works these days. You need a stream of content. It’s not just that. You need people to know you’re still alive.
Matia: Yeah I know, if you don’t post for 24 hours then you’re dead.
Michael: Yeah, and people forget all about you. So it was kind of a rolling process. And a lot of the songs that we ended up releasing this July we had started in August. For example, the song “Everything”– that was the first song we started recording and it was the last one we finished because we were working on that guitar solo for I don’t even know how long. We were arguing back and forth as to how we should make the tone. I mean anything you could possibly imagine.
Sundeep: We did at least 6 or 7 different iterations of it.
Michael: Easily 200 takes.
Sundeep: And what we ended up using was the first take I did of it. The first time I did it in Mike’s basement… we’re like, let’s just use that and just release it. It would never have been released if we had just kept agonizing over it.
Matia: Are you satisfied with the final product?
Sundeep: Oh yeah, definitely, absolutely. Going back, I wouldn’t change anything.
Michael: Yeah, me neither.
Sundeep: Which is good. It’s a very, very rare thing for us. There’s always something that we like to agonize over.
Michael: It’s funny because the stuff we used to record was always perfectly in time, everything is mixed perfectly, and we were never happy with it. Then we have this thing that we, you know, I don’t want to say we threw it together, because we certainly didn’t throw it together, you know, it’s certainly not perfect… I guess part of it is when you’ve done it all by yourself, there’s pride that goes into it and you feel a lot more married to the product I guess… We were able to put more of ourselves into it, which I think really does come through.
Matia: Yeah, there’s a lot of heart.
Michael: And all of our goofiness.
Matia: Yeah, like the talking in the background… I can’t remember which song it was, but it’s a great song.
Michael: What was that… it was “Ebb and Flow.”
Matia: Yeah! That’s a fantastic song. In fact, as the album goes on it just keeps getting better and better and better. I listen to it at work during the day. I just go onto your bandcamp and stream it on my headphones.
Michael: That’s something that we found actually. People who do actually know us, they… we just have the best fans. I know a lot of people say that, but we are nobodies. The people who listen to us, they listen to us religiously.
Matia: The lyrics are fantastic. They are very personal in a lot of ways, but still very universal, or relatable would be the right word for it.
Michael: I think when I write songs, there’s certainly… I’m not one of those songwriters who are storytellers. I’m not much of a storyteller. I’m very personal, but at the same time I do believe that a lot of personal experiences are relatable to most people. We don’t live in vacuums. We’re not all that different. Our way of thinking is we’re going to do what we do, you know, because what else are you going to do but you and just hope that it sticks. And it looks like with a lot of people it has. It is really encouraging. That’s one of the best feelings you can get.
There was one guy who actually posted on one of our videos, who said he listened to “Build Me A Boat” and went and told this girl he had a crush on for a long time that he really liked her and she returned the feelings and that just made my day.
Matia: Wow! That’s so great! So you’re fans write to you and tell you about their success stories when they use your lyrics?
Michael: Actually if you buy the album, or even if you buy it for free, you can comment to us, send us an email. Or people have been commenting on our video channel, like our Youtube channel and we get great responses. Some people are just so nice! So it’s definitely, you know, you do it for the art. Any artist will say that. You do it for the art, but it doesn’t hurt… when you know you’re actually making a difference, and when people are actually affected by what you do, it feels great.
Matia: Well you guys work very well together. I really like your album and I’m looking forward to hearing more from you.
Michael: We’ve got a couple of really good ones waiting in the wings. We still have quite a few songs that were going to make this record and didn’t because we were still fleshing them out. I think the next songs going forward are going to be a lot more interesting. I’m really looking forward to it.
Matia: So listening to your music, there are some influences in there that I thought I was picking up on, but I wanted to ask you about them instead. Do you listen to other bands while you’re recording your albums?
Michael: The way I am… when I start listening to an artist, I get so involved in that artist that I will only listen to one thing at any given time… like one album. Throughout the period that we were recording I listened to a whole lot of Beirut. I mean, that’s why I learned to play the trumpet, pretty much. Beach House–”Teen Dream” is, like, one of my favorite albums. And then, Elliott Smith, obviously. That’s where I learned to finger pick. It’s funny because I tried to learn to fingerpick and I couldn’t do it for the life of me. Then I started learning to play Elliott Smith songs and then just accidentally learned to fingerpick. Elliot Smith has always been… he’s just my God. And then Grizzly Bear is another one I’ve been into. But their latest album is just unreal. It’s so good.
Sundeep: I guess I’ve always been really obsessed with details. I like things, like I said before, floating in the background. I’m really into electronic music and pop music… which I guess you wouldn’t really get that impression when you listen to the songs. I like stuff where… if you take it away, you notice it, but if it’s there, you don’t really notice it, kind of thing. I really enjoy the production. I like things that make you feel small, like big sounds. I like Radiohead, and the big kind of sounds that they have. Pink Floyd, and that kind of guitar sound. Um… what else, what else, what else…
Michael: John Mayer!
Sundeep: [Laughing] I am a huge John Mayer fan. I’m not gonna lie! But yeah, I like the production and… I like to use sound and texture and stuff like that. It’s a very good balance. Mike is very rooted in tradition, I guess, and I’m just like tinkering away in the sound factory making wacky noises.
Michael: Yeah, I think that’s why we work so well together. And I will say our new material is going to be much more diverse, at least the stuff I’m working on is much more diverse.
AWKWARD MOMENTS AND LEARNING EXPERIENCES.
Michael: Yeah our sense of humor goes very misunderstood. We are very hit or miss when we play live. People either love our personality or they’re very bewildered by us.
Sundeep: We’ve had some of the most awkward show experiences with banter. What was that one venue, Mike, that we played? It was like the second floor…
Michael: Oh, The Living Room!
Sundeep: Yeah, The Living Room. Oh my God. I was sweating balls it was so awkward.
Michael: Yeah, that was horrible! This was the first show we ended up playing in the city, really. And it was The Living Room. So, you know, we played a small acoustic set and the guy who came on before us was a folk singer, right, and he brought his whole family from Connecticut. So we’re playing and we think we’re doing okay, and you know it’s really tough when you play and you think you’re doing well and you get no response. And not just that, when we’re having our little banter on stage, and just nothing. Just dead silence.
Sundeep: I’m talking dead, dead silence. Even after a song–dead silence.
Matia: Like pin-drop silence?
Sundeep: Yeah, pin-drop silence.
Michael: Yeah, that would be, like, ear-splintering-ly loud. It was really uncomfortable. I think, you know, sometimes… Sometimes people don’t realize we’re joking about things. And it’s either you get us or you don’t, you know. Because we’re kind of quirky and we’re huge music nerds. I mean, we laugh about minor seconds, which is probably the most embarrassing thing.
Sundeep: It really, really is hit or miss. We were playing and someone from the audience screams, ‘You’re the next Damian Rice.’ And like Mike is all flattered, and like I’m sitting there, and I’m just like, “Who’s Damian Rice?”
Sundeep: And some people are laughing and some people are like, is he kidding? Is he not? It was… we’ve had some pretty nose-dive banter encounters. That Living Room show was by far the worst show we played.
Michael: No, no! How about the Blues Club? That was life-changing.
Matia: Was this also in New York?
Michael: No, this was in Jersey. We played this Blues Club because we thought it was just a jam. It was called, ‘Blues Jam.’ So we showed up and we thought it would be a great opportunity to just hone our skills… not a show. We show up. We’re the youngest people there by like 20 years, which is fine. You know, I’m sure we’re going to get owned because these people have been playing longer than us, but that’s the point. You want to learn. As it turns out it wasn’t so much a jam session as it was an open mic night… and an open mic night for bands.
And here we are, myself, Sundeep and a drummer and we get on there and Deep and I are all like, fuck, what are we gonna do? So we just start doing generic blues jam. And he’s fantastic on guitar, you know, and I can hold my own. So we’re playing and it’s going well… Deep’s skill level is up to par with these guys, so it’s not like we’re embarrassing ourselves, technically.
All of a sudden the lead singer from the house band just starts shouting something and we can’t hear him. And it turns out he’s shouting, “Wrap it the fuck up!” So we’ve got a bunch of these middle aged people telling us to stop playing, but it gets weirder because they told us to stop playing and we’re like, okay… so we just stop and everything comes to a stop, and we’re like, “Alright, thanks, goodnight.” Then the guy’s all like, “No, no, play another!” Like in all earnestness, asked us to play another song.
Sundeep: Yeah, it was like some sick sadistic scene from “Reservoir Dogs” or something. He was like, ‘Wrap it the fuck up.’ Then we stop. We’re all nervous. And he’s like, “No, keep playing!” It was some sick freak show. It was really scary.
Matia: It sounds like they were fucking with you guys.
Michael: We thought so! But after we played, everyone’s coming up to us like, ‘Oh you guys are really good, you need to play, like, songs. You can’t just jam.” And we’re like… “Uh.”
So when you play live, you’ve got to do it for you. It’s not just that, but all the times we played to no one… you know, you want to connect with the crowd, but sometimes you just can’t so you’ve just got to enjoy yourself.
Matia: Learning experiences! There’s always a silver lining, right?
Michael: Honestly, we’ve learned a hell of a lot. Now we’re so much more comfortable because, you know, you realize, well, I’ve been through this. I know that if I make a mistake, that it’s not that big of a deal. I know that it’s part of the experience and I know that worse things could happen. And once you’re more comfortable, it’s fun and you do better. It’s kind of a self-fulling prophecy… if you think you’re gonna do poorly, you’re gonna do poorly.
I feel like you can’t succeed unless you fail at some point. Otherwise, your first failure will destroy you. No one goes through their entire musical career knowing nothing but success. Maybe someone does. I’d like to meet them and then I’d… hate them.
Matia: I wouldn’t like to meet them. They’d be so arrogant.
Michael: [Laughing] Yeah, you’re right.
Matia: What do you want people to know about you? If you could tell them anything, what do you want them to know? About you guys personally, about your music. What do you want people to know? What’s important to you for people to understand about you?
Sundeep: Mike, this is one of those deep introspective questions that would be best you leading on.
Michael: One of the things I wish we could get across… if we could get heard a little more because lord knows we put a lot of work. We take pride in the work that we do. And I think we really do like sharing. Because… I’ve said this before… anytime you want get up on a stage, you are immediately supposing that what you have to say is worth sharing. And I think we definitely feel like we have a lot to give…
We want a chance to fail. It’s hard to communicate, but we work our asses off. We just want a chance to succeed or fail. That’s really what it is. I say chance to fail because I’m trying to be as…
Michael: Yeah, I mean it’s one thing to ask for a chance to succeed. It’s another thing to ask a chance to even fail. You know. We want even that chance. Because I’d much rather be heard and fail, than to not heard at all.
**If you know a band you think would be great for this column, then send their music to Matia Guardabascio at firstname.lastname@example.org.**