Kelley Hunt's last album, The Beautiful Bones, was released in 2014, but the veteran singer says the wait for new material is almost over, as she's hard at work on at least one new recording at the moment. Hunt will bring plenty of songs from her past and a few new ones with her when she performs at The Cotillion Ballroom Saturday night.
Jedd Beaudoin: Can you tell me what the difference, for a performer is, between writing your own material and relying on outside writers? Because that's a world of difference in many ways.
Kelley Hunt: When I was much younger and starting out, just cutting my teeth on being a musician, I did do a lot of other peoples' music because I had to. I was writing songs back then but I wasn't a seasoned writer. It also helped me find my own voice. Literally and on another level.
As a songwriter, the world is always changing around us. As a writer, I see things through my own lens. I reflect on what's happening around me, not all songs are about me personally but every song is a commentary on my own experience, other peoples' experiences. Current events. There's a lot to write about, especially these days. But I think another way to look at that is music has always been really pivotal in how our country experiences change and how it inspires change.
If you look at somebody like Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers, when they started working in support of Dr. Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights movement, that was a pivotal moment in history. She is still doing that. We've actually done shows together and she's as dedicated now as she ever was.
As a writer, there are challenges involved. I feel very, very lucky to be able to say the things I want to say in the way that I want to say them and have them be out in the world and have a career because of that.
How often does it happen that you've revisited a song from earlier in your career and said, "Oh! That's was 23-year-old me was actually writing about. I know this now because I'm 36-year-old me"?
That's an interesting question. I've never been asked that. As somebody who is getting ready to do my seventh album and possibly the eighth in the same year, from time to time I do go back into my song catalog and I do cull through things and bring a song or two back into the current repertoire and it is interesting. And you know what else is interesting is that there were some observations I was making when I was first started out that kind of surprise me that I was having that to say at that time. As a songwriter, I think one of our hopes is that some of our work will seem timeless. I hope for that as well.
You are known to do brand-new songs in the live setting, which I think is very cool because the listener is getting something that they don't know. They're getting something special.
It's like pulling the curtain back and being an insider and saying, "Hey, you guys, I'm getting ready to do a new record and here's something we're considering for it!" I might not even say that much. I might just say, "Here's something new" and people tend to perk up. It's like you're letting them in on your process.
That's a real important part of it for me. I know that's not the way that some artists do it but it's a vital part of what I do. It breathes new life into the material that we're considering.
Making a new record at a time when so many people are saying, "Why bother creating new music because nobody's buying it" and "Live performance is where it's at, you have your catalog, just draw from that"… so, why do it now?
I've never stopped being a touring artist, that's always been part of who I am. I've never stopped writing and releasing new music.
I think people are so hungry for new music no matter when that's occurred. You're right, we have so much access because of social media and the Internet and the business has changed a lot. I think there's a heightened awareness that there's a lot of cool stuff out there if we want to discover it, we want to see what it is. For me, as someone who's been an ongoing touring artist, there's still a curiosity about what's going to happen next. The format might be different. It might be released as a single, as a digital download, it might be packaged with a DVD to go with it. Who knows?
As long as you're engaging your audience both online and in person, I've found that, for me, I don't know why it works but it does. I think a lot of it has to do with the rabid support of my fans, both brand-new fans that have just heard of me and fans that have been along for the ride since I first played The Cotillion.
If somebody's interested or they feel like they've discovered you they become part of your artistic journey.