Burn Down The System To Build One Anew

Moving From A Major Label Reveals Van Hunts’ Heart

By Nick Schwab

“I just moved on,” says Dayton soul artist Van Hunt when he tells of his shift from working with a major label to being an independent artist.

If one were to research the story of the Blue Note label shelving his still-not-officially released third album, Popular, one might expect to find a great amount of bitterness at the corporate system for the debacle.

However, in the way Van Hunt answers the questions regarding this, he seems to be more open-minded and free, as if his very art is a bird out of the cage or a prisoner running from a chain gang. Van Hunt talks like he has taken off the shackles and can now do whatever he wants.

“It didn’t change my opinion of the major label system,” he describes. “In that system there lies a blueprint for success in its history.”

However, Van Hunt may understand that schematic for success but he does not necessarily want to be a part of it.

“The circumstances I found myself in allowed me to begin building my own system,” he says, and then continues about being independent, “Absent ruinous traits such as greed, ignorance and fear … the major label system is a viable way to sell art.”

Van Hunt then admits that while being an independent artist may not lead to riches, it certainly lets one come out swinging, to show what you are made out of.

“It costs money to gather an audience, and the major labels have more resources,” he says. “Technological advances allow me better access to my audience, but they also allow free access to the music that I create.  Until that changes, and it may not, I can no longer consider making music as a job.”

This brings up an important question: “Are the best artists the ones who do make music a fulltime gig or strictly as a way for capital?”

Van Hunt gives his view on this as well as the current trend of declining album sales in the industry: “In order to remain relevant [and] to protect their diminishing fan bases, some talented musicians have chosen to inflate the prices of their product and/or compromise their creations to suit the latest trends.”

He continues, “There are, however, a group of artists that refuse their skills to be led around by teen-aged tastes. They understand that artists should lead the evolution of the culture, not follow a culture’s submission to banality.”

So, how does an artist do this?

“They must adjust their expectations, tighten their businesses, stay open-minded and continue improving their skills,” explains Van Hunt.

In 2011, Van Hunt did in fact move on by releasing another album, What Were You Hoping For?, on his own label, Godless Hotspot.

Despite his struggle, Van Hunt remained unfazed when developing the themes of his new album. “There was no point in showing my teeth or my tears,” he says of pressing forward, and then adds that he does not feel like releasing an album independently worked as a response to his old label.

“I have made no response to my past,” he states. “But, I am using the past to find prosperity.”

As far as the lyrics go, they are semi-serious — or as he says, “tongue-n-cheek” — as they have always been in the past.

“They aren’t really sarcastic or ironic. I just try to say something honest — whether it is a hurtful [or a] happy subject for me — with a wry smile and hopefully a hint of wit.” He then adds: “Every moment comes with a humorous price.”

Van Hunt also believes that the song “Watching You Go Crazy is Driving Me Insane” is the best lyrical example of this, because he thinks that “humorous pink elephants are the tones of this record.”

The interview ends on the fan-base subject, and whether or not he believes his audience has changed with the transition.

“I was just expressing where I am creatively. Although while expressing myself I was aware that some people who consider themselves fans prior to [this 2011 album] would dismiss the record’s content as undesirable.”

However, Van Hunt feels that music is the key to evolving.

“Still, I looked at offering my expanded sound as an opportunity to expand my listenership,” he explains. “But it certainly is never my intention to alienate supporters of my earlier works. I am convinced that I and the audience can grow together.”

(Van Hunt will perform on April 11th at the Canal Street Tavern.  Door open at 8p.m. and the show starts at 9p.m.  Tickets are 12 dollars.  Rocco Deluca will also be playing.)

Reach DCP freelance writer Nick Schwab at NickSchwab@DaytonCityPaper.com.

[Photo: Shalon Goss]

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