Van Hunt

Pollstar interviewed Van Hunt on June 18th, the second day of his video shoot in California for the single “Down Here In Hell (With You).” He’d been up since 7 a.m. after going to bed late.

“I gotta have all the action,” he joked.

His manager, Randy Jackson (known on TV as an “American Idol” judge and inside the biz as former Sr. VP of A&R for MCA and Columbia Records) was getting off a plane and picking up a car, heading to the shoot.

“He’s probably my father in this business,” Hunt said. “He’s guided me through it all from the very first song … which basically came out because of him. Since then, he’s been like a mentor to me. He basically raised me to this point.”

Hunt will be on tour with Alicia Keys this fall, probably beginning in September. He’s also heading out on his own club tour in July, sprinkled with support dates and radio shows.

The most fun thing about Hunt is he’s dodgy. Not the man himself, but the music on his self-titled debut. As soon as a critic brands him neo-soul, a bluesy – yet not “blues”

song pops up. As soon as he’s branded R&B, there’s a catchy-as-the-flu pop gem like “Dust” to deal with. It’s like the weather in Hawaii.

“Yes! Yes, yes. Very well said,” Jackson concurred. “I just like the fact you can leave the album on and it’s interesting. Great songs, great lyrics. It’s about love, it’s about an interesting look at love. I love thinking, breathing people as opposed to the run-of-the-mill, ‘let me just write a song about a club.'”

Hunt has been compared to Prince because he is a multi-instrumentalist who plays most of the music on his album. He has also been lumped into some articles with a couple of the new R&B artists, but Jackson said it’s like comparing oil to water.

“It seems to be coming back again to real artistry,” Jackson told Pollstar, mentioning Norah Jones, Coldplay and Robert Randolph. He compared his client musically, no, spiritually, to Al Green, Sly Stone and James Brown.

As for Hunt, he defined his music on his liner notes with a dedication “to the pimps, hos and hustlers for whom I strive to provide background music.”

The musician’s father, by the way, was a part-time pimp as well as a painter and factory worker in Dayton, Ohio, and was also a friend of Ohio Players drummer Jimmy “Diamond” Williams. Hunt has credited his father’s lifestyle and the Players, also from Dayton, as two influences for his musical imagination.

Van Hunt

Hunt also acknowledges his love of craftsmanship, and called a hooky chorus nothing more than “Songwriting 101.”

“I try to make sure that each song has a verse, a chorus, a hook and if it needs a bridge, then it gets a bridge. Or, shit, just a funky breakdown. There’s been about a hundred years workin’ songs, so there shouldn’t be any excuse not having a decent one.”

Hunt played guitar in a rock band called Royalty and eventually found his way to Atlanta. Along with being a session man for Jermaine Dupri, the 27-year-old played guitar and keys for former Arrested Development singer Dionne Farris. His song “Hopeless” landed on Farris’ Love Jones: The Music soundtrack in 1997.

She was signed to Columbia, hence the relationship formed between Hunt and Jackson.

Eventually, Hunt was in his own minor version of a bidding war. He and Jackson were friends, but it wasn’t until the middle of 2002 that they actually shook hands as business partners. In the meantime, Hunt met CAA’s Jeff Frasco.

“I just kind of ran into him and he really liked the music and called me, called me and called me, like, ‘Dude! I gotta get you!’ And I was nobody then. I barely had a deal, and this was one of the biggest agents in the business trying to get me over to CAA. I didn’t really know it at the time but looking back at it now, it was like, wow, I was a person.”

One might think Jackson’s too busy to be a manager (he also shepherds Nikka Costa). After all, his affable persona is on Fox TV every week and, if one goes to Costco or any bookstore, there he is, pointing at you from the cover of his book, “What’s Up Dawg? How To Become A Superstar In The Music Business.”

But both artist and manager say that’s a wrong perception.

“This is what I really do, you know,” Jackson said. “Music is my life. That’s what the whole deal is. Real music. Real music is my life.”

Hunt added, “Just as a person, period, dude, he could afford to be a much bigger asshole, you know what I mean? But he’s actually a really great guy. Even his wife will tell you, whatever he says he’s going to do, he does.

“He always gives me updates. We talk every day. He’s got all kinds of things going on, but he still finds time to make sure that I know he’s supportive and there, handling business.”

Over and over again, Jackson stressed Hunt’s and Costa’s qualities that will keep them around a long time

they are real and make music their lives.

“Listen, Van is ‘The Truth,’ as we like to say,” Jackson said. “The next few months will define what the Van Hunt record is going to be, but I think Van as an artist is going to be around for a very long time. This is just Chapter 1 in a 28-chapter book.”