Last month, I received a nondescript album submission from Huntronik, an electro-infused trio from Brooklyn. It was the type of email that typically gets buried in the siege of PR spam that floods our inbox on a daily basis. If I was a more intelligent man, I would spend my days designing an algorithm that filters e-mail based upon whether it was sent by a press agency or the band itself. Unfortunately, I only recently learned how to spell algorithm, so that venture will have to wait until a later day.
Within the submission was Huntronik’s debut, self-titled LP. The album features nine, concisely crafted, imminently danceable tracks that straddle the line between krautrock and more traditional, synth-heavy electronic fare. From the initial listen, it was apparent that Huntronik had more going on than the typical bedroom DJ and electronic dance output that has become so trite since multi-track home recording became the right of the everyman a decade or so ago.
The tracks combined textures and tones from a wide swath of influences. The lyrics were both cerebral and playful, growing in depth as each sonic layer was peeled back. I was immediately taken with the release, and wanted to know more. So I reached out Huntronik’s architect and lead vocalist Greg Hunt about doing an interview.
Below, you’ll find the culmination of two chats with Hunt. For readability’s sake, I’ve combined our two discussions. During the interview, we talked about Hunt’s recording process, his goals for the release, his influences – music and otherwise. We talked at length about Hunt’s fascination with the theories of scientist and designer of artificial intelligence, Hugo de Garis. De Garis is a mathematical physicist and leading researcher in the field of evolvable hardware, which uses genetic algorithms to evolve neural networks using three dimensional cellular automata inside field programmable gate arrays. You know, just your everyday music chat. Stream Huntronik’s debut LP, and read the bulk of our interview below.
How was your vacation?
I went to some, random. exploited Carribean island, and drank some girly drinks with big umbrellas on them. I went with my girlfriend and my family. It’s good to be back in our studio. I’m here now – in Greenpoint. I live in Brooklyn. Steve lives in Jersey, I think he’s moving to Brooklyn. John lives in Brooklyn. I’m originally from a town called Acton, right outside of Boston.
What brought you to New York originally?
I moved here four years ago. Just music. I had always played music my whole life, and I just really wanted to buckle down and grind it out in New York.
What kind of music were you into initially?
Initially, I was playing piano when I was about eight, and I played jazz music off and on. It would start and stop from eight to twelve, and in high school I started up again and kinda got into electronic music. I dunno. I listened to maybe like Chemical Brothers or something in high school and was kind of fascinated with two guys and these strange terminals and consoles that were actually kind of conducting this dance music, which I wasn’t at all familiar with. But I started getting into a combination of rock and electronic.
What made you make Huntronik a full band project, as opposed to something you’re just trying to accomplish on your own?
I really wanted to play everything as instruments. Even the electronic sounds. When we play live, we play those with our hands. There is actually only a few loops. Like two drum loops. I’m not a fan of loops or looping anything. It’s like 70s rock. I like that. But I do really like electronics that are kind of grimy and old and kind of feel like they grew out of something. I don’t like clean sounds. My favorite synth is EMS 50 from 1970. It’s like the greatest thing ever. It’s one of the first synthesizers ever made.
Talk about your writing process a little bit. Are these songs that you pretty much construct on your own and take them to the other two members?
Maybe half of the songs, I would just do on my own. Some of them were slower than others, as the process goes. When it was slower, we would tend to do a group thing. But that also worked really well. The song “Rabies” was definitely a really slow, group process that took a few months and the same is true for “Deeper Watts” which went through a number of different versions. It started out as something completely different, and then it just became this kind of groove-oriented song. But most of them, like say “No Deceiver” for example, I just did pretty much on my own and then we just framed it as a group.
Talk more about the various versions of “Deeper Watts” and how the band wound up settling on the end result.
Originally, the song had words and it was structured in a difficult way. In other words, I think we all agreed that it wasn’t enough of a song as it was when we started. And then we just decided to take the elements of the song that we enjoyed the most and re-work the song. So it ended up being kind of a more mellow. It worked as something to put in between songs with words. Cause we do like instrumentals. We like a lot of scapes.
A lot of people talk about music as math in language form, or something like that. And I’m not a musician, but music doesn’t register in that way for me. It’s more of a combination between creativity, technical skill and somebody’s ability to effectively communicate. You said that you don’t like loops, and prefer these dirty electronic sounds that feel like they grew out of something. Talk more about what you mean by that, and where that gets lost with most electronic music.
A great example is Conrad Schnitzler. He’s this guy who was one of the founding electronic composers back in the late 60s and 70s on up to his death a few years back. And, what he did was use these really obscure synthesizers to make music that sounded like some kind of alien communication or something. It’s very strange. It sounds completely organic. I think that there’s a certain sense of wonder that come from that kind of electronic music that you’ll never really get from that more mechanistic stuff. I also like German minimal house or something. But it’s almost like a different thing completely.
I mean, this term electronic to me is confusing, because there’s an argument that you could make that guitar music electronic. So it’s a confusing distinction to try to draw. But it just means more that I want to hear something that sounds like it’s alive I suppose.
What are some examples of stuff that you’re listening to these days?
Well for rock, I like bands like Iceage, The Men, and Cave. Cave actually came out of Indiana, I believe. It might’ve been Illinois. It’s either Indiana or Illinois. [They’re currently based out of Chicago] For older rock, I like kraut bands like Can. For electronic stuff, I like this guy Pole, whose name I think is Stefan Betke. For older electronic stuff I like guys that were using really big, strange boxes. I have a bunch of really obscure records that are just crazy sounding today that people don’t really make. I guess Oneohtrix Points Never is like one example of contemporary electronics that I dig.
I remember when we were exchanging emails you mentioned Super Meat Boy, are you a gamer?
Yeah, a little bit. I played Super Meat Boy, X-Com. That was fun my friend has that. Yeah, you know. It’s fun.
On tracks like Deeper Watts, I get like subtle influences of video game sounds. Are those conscious influences at all or not so much?
I think so. I like 8-bit type sounds. I just like texture a lot. It’s odd, because I like melody a lot, but I also like texture. It’s one of those things I think people who are 30 or under grew up with. They were around video games and I think it permeated their brains or palate if you will.
Are there any other non-musical influences that informed this record at all?
Definitely. This guy who is a professor of computer science named Hugo de Garis. The song “We Can Build You” is basically just me trying to deal with a lot of his ideas and theories about computers. It’s hard really to articulate this, but I think today people do not associate rock music – at all – with computers. I guess if you say “computers and music,” most people are thinking of electronic music, and that definitely plays into it. But when you say computers, you don’t really think of rock music and I was trying to make a serious rock album that dealt with the future and what the future might be about for humans. I think Hugo de Garis has an interesting approach to rock.
I haven’t read his books, does he address something about music specifically. Or how did you apply what he was talking about to music?
That was the big challenge. It wasn’t all him. I don’t think he ever talks about music, but my big challenge was that if I want to approach taking this seriously. If I want to write a song like “We Can Build You,” for example. If I want to write a song about a higher intelligence and put it into the framework of rock music. Is that even doable? Will it still be interesting? I thought it turned out okay. I think, maybe it’s not something people will get all the way. Like, a lot of people will say, maybe this means something else. And that’s part of the fun. I don’t ever want to put something on a silver platter and say this is what this is. I like when people have their own interpretations.
I watched like two-thirds of that 21-part interview with de Garis. It’s fascinating stuff.
I remember when I watched that, I was pretty disturbed by it. I dunno. I work through a lot of ideas anxieties and problems through music. So, now I actually feel nothing about it. But yeah, I remember feeling really disturbed. But yeah, it’s interesting.
He’s most concerned with this issue of species dominance and its potential to inspire mass violence, but you said that you were less concerned with the pros and cons of what this technological evolution is causing. And that you were more interested in how it’s affecting our interactions with each other right now. I just wondered how you were able to push off that “threat” for lack of a better term.
That’s a great question. I think, for me, the way I see looking into the feature. I think the scientific community, generally the rule is, if you can view it, it can be done. So I just kind of internalized that, and said forget it. Whatever anxiety I have, there’s really not much to worry about, because whatever is going to happen will probably just happen. In other words, if I feel fear or anxiety about where technology is headed, there’s no point in me fighting something that can’t be stopped. I feel, not complacent, but I feel content that the direction technology is headed. But I don’t feel good about the way that people see themselves or see others, necessarily?
What do you mean by that?
For me, I know that there is a tendency now to be distracted and to lose focus on one thing, simply because there’s more distractions and there are more things coming at us. So, in that light, interacting with other people can become sitting in a room looking at a screen rather than being physically present. It’s that thing you’ve heard over and over: Oh, give a person a call and go hang out. But, I’m not necessarily sure that technology’s not good for socializing with people. It’s just something I wonder about.
You wrestle with some serious topics on the debut. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of people who hear the record, or see the band play live are not going to be digesting these songs on that level. So why do you think Huntronik’s music resonates beyond the heady stuff? What do you think allows it to reach listeners on other levels?
Mostly because it’s not a joke. The music is rhythmic, but the instrumentation that we use is a little strange. I use synths. I play a sampler like a keyboard. But I think fundamentally, it’s because the song structures and the grooves resonate on a musical level. I think you’re absolutely right. If you’re just casually listening to some band and you’re hearing these songs, I don’t think you would necessarily make the connection of what I had in mind. But it’s possible to come up with your own interpretations that will satisfy you as a listener.
How did the band come together initially?
Basically, it was me and this other guy playing bass originally. The other guy left, and John – the drummer – joined up, and then Steve joined up. Now, we have to swap out John because he can’t afford the band – he has to go and work. But there’s been a few different members. But it was originally just a duo, and now we’re a trio.
You said the other member has to go to work, does that mean you don’t have a day job?
Well, I vacillate between walking dogs and working at restaurants. Anything I can do to pay the rent.
Keep fightin’ the good fight. What are the plans for 2013?
For 2013, I’d like basically to get the album heard by as many people as we can, so that we can tour. I’ve got a lot of ideas about new music. I hope the other group members will be into it, and we can work on that. But pretty much, just playing shows and trying to get people to hear the record.
Are you planning to continue to explore this theme of technological evolution? What kind of ideas are you wrestling with?
I think I’m going to move away from the technology thing. Aesthetically, I think it will be similar. This is just guesswork at this point, but I think we might grow in a way, harsher. Not more abrasive, but I’d say more attacking or aggressive. I keep hearing these sounds, rhythms and stuff and I want to try to get to them. But I think lyrically, there are other things that I may want to try to approach. More along the lines of just being a person, and not framing it with science or theories or anything like that.
Interview and introduction by Rob Peoni
Willie Green has remained the best producer in hip hop since 2010. His drums always crisp and rugged, his samples always chopped and flipped to perfection, and a musical range that allows him to craft songs for R&B and soul artists as well as rappers. When you factor in his reputation as one of the better studio engineers in the game, it becomes clear why he’s been able to become so prolific in such a short time.
I became familiar with Green through his work with the Super Chron Flight Brothers and later billy woods, but he has continued to branch out and work with all different types of talented artists. Keeping track of everything Willie Green has produced in the past couple of years would be overwhelming for any listener, so thankfully, he has assembled a “Best of” compilation – expertly mixed by DJ Mo Niklz. The sampler features names like billy woods, PremRock, Roc Marciano, and Open Mike Eagle, Days of Future Past is a great way to get familiar with several Thought on Tracks favorites while enjoying some of the best and most varied hip hop production around.
The compilation is free on bandcamp and the download comes with liner notes that detail the stories behind each of its 38 tracks. If you pay attention to hip hop and you’re not familiar with Willie Green, you likely will be in the near future. Use this free comp to get up to speed before his official album We Live In The Future drops next year.
With the type of year hip hop is having in 2012, it’s no surprise that the genre is opening more lanes than ever. So much so that it didn’t seem the least bit strange to me that New York rapper PremRock decided to release an album completely inspired by Tom Waits songs. While there might not seem to be a lot of similarities between Waits’s music and hip hop, PremRock and his cast of talented producers found a way to twist Waits’ words, concepts, and sounds into a cohesive collection of songs that both build on Waits’ legacy and firmly establish PremRock as one of the best MC’s in the game.
While I’m only casually familiar with Tom Waits’s music, PremRock is clearly a big fan. Every song title and the majority of the music on Mark’s Wild Years is taken from Waits songs, and it’s not just a bunch of random PremRock songs over Tom Waits samples. PremRock preserves the soul of every Waits song, simply putting his own twist on the established material. This style of composition, combined with PremRock’s intricate flow, give this project a lot of potential for replay value, from both the album itself as well as from the original Waits songs. The creative concept had me pulling up all the Waits songs I wasn’t familiar with on Youtube to hear how PremRock interpreted them. PremRock and his producers consistently manage to strike the right balance between creating something original while remaining true to the source material.
I featured the lead single “Step Right Up” in a Rapper to Watch post for Thought on Tracks last month, the song’s up-tempo feel and brilliant, straightforward use of the Waits original by Yuri Beats make it the perfect introduction to the project. Waits’s “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” is flipped into “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Prague” on one of the albums best beats from Steel Tipped Dove. PremRock strips the framework from the Waits song down and rebuilds it in an eerie setting that allows him to flex his improving knack for detail oriented storytelling. “Temptation” is one of my favorite Waits songs, so it’s fitting that PremRock’s version comes with a verse from one of my favorite MC’s, billy woods. Zilla Rocca supplies one of the album’s many, great piano-driven beats and woods cleverly namedrops Brandon Weeden in his expectedly excellent appearance.
The Yuri Beats produced “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”, with its sing-along chorus, is the most fun song on the project and also seems pretty central to PremRock’s live-in-the-moment message found throughout Mark’s Wild Years. PremRock shows off his versatility on “She Took All My Money”, metaphorically discussing the effects of alcohol abuse over yet another great beat from Steel Tipped Dove.
The album closes strong with possibly the two best songs in “Drunk On The Moon (Ain’t Got You)” and “Dirt In The Ground”. On the former, frequent PremRock collaborator Willie Green utilizes the melody from the Waits original perfectly and PremRock pens one of his best songs to date, sounding as comfortable on the mic as he ever has while reminiscing on lost loves from a pub bar stool. The song may be the best example of what PremRock has in common artistically with Tom Waits and shows why he thought (correctly) that this project would be such a good idea. The album closer “Dirt In The Ground” is a soulful capper to what amounts to an extremely ambitious project from the New York MC. The song and the album are both the type of music you’d expect to be made by someone more established in their craft. Even though PremRock is essentially giving this album away, its consistent quality in the wake of last year’s excellent collaboration with Willie Green. Both releases prove that he is here to stay. Listen and name your price for a digital download of Mark’s Wild Years below.
Written by John Bugbee