BOB Magazine’s Nick Cucci interviews Wire Train’s Kevin Hunter

Wire Train is a new band on San Francisco’s 415 label. They are Kevin Hunter- guitar and vocal, Kurt Herr-guitar and vocals, Anders Rundblad – bass and Federico Gil-Sola on drums. Their debut album, In A Chamber, has recently been released, and they are currently on a nation-wide tour with Big Country. Not bad for such a young band.

In early February Wire Train made it’s Philadelphia debut at The Chestnut Cabaret. I talked with Kevin Hunter before the show at Chez Cucci.

THE BOB: Your album was produced with David Kahne. What was it like working with him?

KEVIN HUNTER: His speciality is making albums for no money. We only spent 22,000 dollars on our record. It’s so cheap, God, Duran Duran spends 150,000 on a three-minute video, and we’re making the whole project for 22,000. But we’re not in that ballpark. I mean, who’s to say that Duran Duran’s album is better than ours. I think a good amount to spend on an album 60,000 dollars. 60,000 is a relaxed thing.

What would you need, what would that extra money afford you in the studio?

What more money would buy is…instead of making an album in seventeen days, sixteen hours a day. It would mean that we could have twice the number of days and work when we felt we had our “ears” about us. We had to be there as many hours as we could stay awake. I remember going into the studio, and it would be me and David and Kurt, Anders and Federico didn’t go to most of the recording because they didn’t have any overdubs to do. They did a perfect job the first time. So, we would go there and whoever was most there (mentally) would begin working on something. David would start to think about an arrangement, or Kurt would do an overdub, or I’d do some singing. Whoever was the most together. That’s no way to make an album. You should work on the songs one at a time and get it all perfect.

I remember reading that you and the band couldn’t wait to get on the road. Now that you’ve been at it for several months, is it still as interesting as you expected it to be?

Well, the funny thing is, as it turned out, it was exactly as we thought it would be. The only difference was we weren’t prepared for not having an audience sometimes. We’ve done two shows that have had practically no people. Like maybe forty. So, that was something we weren’t prepared for. As far as going into a room, looking at the people, knowing we weren’t necessarily what they wanted to hear – and then at the end getting them to admit to themselves that they had heard some music tonight. That kind of excitement. Now, it’s even more exciting. Before it was a kind of paranoid excitement, we didn’t know we could do it but we kind of knew what was going to happen.

If you had to describe your music…

We play a non-form-oriented music. That is we focus on content – tone and lyrics. But form is some thing else. We don’t use a million different time signatures, and we don’t fuck with the basic form of pop and rock music. That’s not where we put our energies. It’s with the lyrics and Kurt’s guitar tones.

How did you and Kurt meet?

It’s a really weird thing. Ever since I was a little kid my uncle would say to me, “You’re going to do a lotta things, but you’re never going to be able to do anything by yourself.” And he would say, “Do you know why you’re going to be successful?” I was twelve years old. I said, “Why?” He said, “Because you can pick people. Every time you get an intuition about someone, go with it.”

I met Kurt at school. He was standing next to a wall. I walked up to him and introduced myself. The first thing out of my mouth was “Do you play music?” and “Do you want to be in a band?” He said no to both. I was very incessant. I just knew that when I saw this guy and talked to him a little bit, that he would be just perfect. We work now because of a whole bunch of different reasons. I have a certain aspect of my personality – I’m outgoing, but when I’m working I’m quiet. Kurt Is quiet all the time and when he’s working he gets aggressive. We compliment each other very well. From the very beginning, from the first song we wrote, we spent the time to try to learn together. Every time I would make a little progress as far as writing the lyrics, Kurt would make equal progress on guitar. I I would kind of tug him, and when he would take a step I would take a step. We’ve been working side by side since the beginning. As a result, if Kurt and I didn’t play, there would be no Wire Train. That’s not to say that Anders and Federico don’t do anything. They certainly do…. They add tons! It’s funny that things have come such a long way when Kurt never touched a guitar until only a couple years ago.

I knew this girl who had an imitation Stratocaster. I went over to her house one day and said I have a friend who I want to teach guitar. I didn’t know how to play guitar. I knew the C,D,E, and A chords. I gave it to Kurt. I said, “Go on and take it and see what you can figure out.” In a week he knew all of the Clash’s first album and the whole Sex Pistols album. He has a total knack. I’m always talking about Kurt’s guitar playing. It’s just something that blows you away. Just listen to the album and tell yourself that’ two years before the day this album was recorded, this guy had never played a guitar before. There’s stuff on the album that’s really, really good. And it’s fun to listen to. Everyone has different motivations for playing. There’s something about me that makes me want, maybe it is a personal paranoia but there’s something about me that makes me want everyone’s lives around me to be valuable to them. Because, I think that if I’m surrounded by people whose lives are valuable to them, then mine will be valuable to me. The reason -that we make music seems to be, and It sounds so fucking dumb. is to have people be more self actualised. You know, just enjoy it. If you can sit down and listen to the song, and you’ve had a really hard day at work and nihilism is creeping in, or you’ve read too much Jean Paul Sarte, and you hear something real, that Isn’t death, that isn’t negative. It seems like the reason we’re playing is to make people happy. I walk up on stage and I say, “We’re gonna play some songs for you and we hope that you enjoy them.” And all the hip inner-city kids go. “Oh, another fun-time party band.” And we play and usually what we do is enough to convince people that our attitude is acceptable. The way Kurt and I relate and the way we want to relate to people is that people should just enjoy music. If us being there could heighten an evening for some people, then we’d love to do it.

Now San Francisco is your inner city. What were you doing before Wire Train?

In 1976 I moved to L.A. from Europe. I went to high school there for a year and a half. I bought the Damned’s first single, couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on. I listened to it and it was so bad. About that time I found a copy of the New York Dolls’ second album. I couldn’t figure out what was going on with this music, but I loved it so much. I was too young to really understand what made rock great. It was all just music to me. I didn’t know that trashy guitar sound and real energy was what I liked about it. But I kept on listening. I started a band called The Snot Puppies. I moved to San Francisco and lived in an art gallery in the nastiest part of town. So I watched the whole thing happen. I remember reading magazines about the day that Siouxsie went on with The Sex Pistols on TV…

The Bill Grundy Show.

I remember seeing the headlines and going down to a club that night and talking to people about it. We went on tour with a band called the Screamers out of L.A. It was a total inner city thing for me. And now, I think I’m getting old.

And how old would that be?

Twenty-two.

You mentioned living in Europe. Where you born there?

No, I was in boarding school in Europe when I was younger. I was born in San Francisco. In Children’s Hospital.

I was born in the Bronx.

I’ve been to the Bronx. I’m surprised you make it to Philadelphia. But I realise something on this tour. People aren’t afraid of their on environment. If I lived In the Bronx…

You would think it’s fine…

I’d think it’s fine. I drive through neighbourhoods and I see real confidence, real ease in people’s faces as they co-relate on the streets. In places I wouldn’t get off the bus.

Or on the bus for that matter. Did Wire Train make the trip to Europe that I’ve read might take place?

The record company wouldn’t let us go. See the thing is they didn’t expect anything to happen with the EP. They gave us a month. They tell you where you can be and where you can’t be. They said, “You have a month and you can go to Europe during this month.” They imported 2000 copies of the EP, and the day It was released In Europe we were supposed to wait a week and then tour there. But three days before we were to go to Europe, sixty college radio stations had added the EP to their playlist. CBS said, “You’re needed here; you can’t go to Europe.”

That must have been pretty disappointing.

Big let down, but we kind of fancy that we play American music anyway.

I’m intrigued by some of the lines in your songs. Like in “Slow Down”, there’s the line “The dreams you have tonight are on the market tomorrow.”

It’s about why you do things. There’s all these guys out there that wanna get you to do all these things. With “Slow Down”, what I was trying to bring out was the fact that everything you do is either used by someone else or promoted by someone else. You’re on this track; you’re not in control of it; you can’t turn off unless someone pulls a switch for you. Also, if you think about the song very specifically, it relates to record companies. It has to.

I wake up in the middle of the night with my girlfriend and she’s screaming at me. I grab an acoustic guitar and write something down. Go back to bed; get up in the morning; write the rest down; work it into a song; take it to the band. Within a week it’s something that someone is selling. It’s not as precious as it was when my girlfriend was yelling at me. It’s used. They are going to use that area to curve someone else into a path; they want you to buy that record. It’s a question of control. I see it in two ways. The record company has their job to do, and whether or not it’s prostitution, it’s still their job. You write songs – a musician’s idealism comes into play. But it’s an easier life than, say, than for a guy in a steelmill.

There are two things. For example, if guy works in a steelmill, what does he do for entertainment? Probably bowling. How much entertainment do they get out of bowling? A guy works in a steel-mill who, and we’ll use a cultural cliché because it is obvious, would rather knit than bowl. Now, if he takes five minutes and sits back and gets centred and reaches for the back of his head and say, “I don’t like to bowl; I like to knit.” That guy’s gonna be so much fucking happier. He’s gonna go to work, and he could say, “Oh. Bowling again”, or he could say, “Alright, if I work hard today and I earn enough money, I’m gonna have the time enough when I get home to do the things that I really want to do.”

So, it’s not so much the big fragments. I have all the time I want. What I do is I write songs; I play music. I love to do it. If they want to sell it, fine. That’s my perspective. That’s a big area. I have a lot of room to move around in. I don’t have to worry. But, another say has a small area, and what were talking about here is the glue between what you have to do and how you see that space where you don’t have to do something.

It’s all a matter of how much satisfaction you’re willing to inject into your life. If you spend the energy, you can have a self-fulfilling life. If you don’t spend the energy, and just complain and expect the union to get you more money, and you do a bad job at work, and because of the bad job you did the product turns out shitty and everybody buys Japanese, and because everybody buys Japanese, you get laid off. It all comes back to how much enjoyment you got out of your leisure time and how real you were with yourself. It all comes down to self – actualisation.

Big clichés again, but this country was built on people doing a damn good job at whatever the hell they were doing. It’s based on a principle no matter where you’re from. There are people who are going to do a good job, and there are people that just do not give a shit. If you can tell these people that if they invest a little time in themselves, instead of externalising all their problems, then life will just go through the roof.

You seem to have a pretty positive attitude toward life in general.

Every gesture you make should reaffirm the reason that you are alive. So, you get to the point where everything you do is a “yes” to everything you have done and all the decisions you’ll make in the future. I’m here with you, and if I wanted to be dishonest or pull a bullshit trip, that would mean I was saying “no” to what I wanted to do. But, I want you to understand what I’m doing, and that’s a “yes.” If everything I do is a “yes” then it makes my life more real. It validates everything.

But that’s not always possible.

No, it’s not, it comes down to this: you have to do something; you don’t think you can, don’t think you can do it; how hard do you try. How deep do you go into the pain level before you give up. The more you do it, the deeper you can go. If you’re just going through the motions then you’re not pushing yourself. Kurt, now that guy’s got a lotta nerve. Imagine what it’s like to get into band and have a hit song in the first three months. So, people would come to see us because of this song. He had to go up on stage every night and play guitar after only knowing how to play guitar for three months. It takes a lot of nerve to reach down inside and say, “yeah, tomorrow I’m gonna be a better guitar player.” To sit there, fingers bloody and eyes tearing doesn’t sound like the hardest thing in the world, but it is.

Even for you it must be hard. Writing the lyrics, you’re exposing your soul, your secrets. They’re out there for the world to pick apart and….

It is exactly the same thing. When I write a song, and its not two or three steps past what I’m comfortable saying, it’s a waste of time. I usually end up hating it.

You have a way of phrasing things without using the typical pop vocabulary.

The explanation for that is two parts. One is that I’m fucked up as far as writing goes. I mean, I’ve always written in circles. I’ve never been able to write a straight line. Two is that it occurred to me a long time ago that if you write prose, what you are running up against is nor only skill and people understanding an idea, but you’re also running up against a whole bunch of sub-textural biases that people have towards not hearing something.

You say, “I love you” to your girlfriend. You should be able to say it completely straight faced and it means something. But, it doesn’t. You’ve got to come in with flowers, roses, a smile and a twinkle in your eye and say it. And why is that? Because the words “I love you” have completely lost their value and they need help. Any straight prose phrase, anything you can say in a pop song, has been said. And again, and again, and again. It has no value. It can go right by them and no one will even hear it.

But, if you want to touch people, if you want them to feel something, I think you have to toss everything into a pot. All the words and phrases that remind you of that feeling. All the images that come to mind toss them into a song and arrange them until they feel exactly like that emotion feels.