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When Kevin Hunter formed Wire Train he was a punk rocker and his San Francisco-based band was, as he now puts it, a “fabulously hip Clash clone.” But now the shaggy-haired band leader comes across like an eighties hippie.
Hunter, 26, doesn’t live anywhere in particular and says that he’s into “this other kind of organic, fluid spirituality.” He’s all for smoking a joint now and then in order to take what he describes as a “a temporary vacation from your life”. Naturally he couldn’t care less about expensive clothes, record sales, popular success, money – what George Harrison once called “the material world.” “He didn’t eve have a bank account last year,” says 415 Records president Howie Klein, who discovered and signed Wire Train. “All he does is write songs.”
Hunter wanders into Café Flore, an artsy San Francisco hangout, looking more like a scruffy bohemian poet than the leader of a modern rock band. He’s wearing a long black fur-collared wool overcoat with the lining coming undone, a borrowed black corduroy shirt, tight black pants with a rip at the knee and a pair of pointed black suede shoes that could use a cleaning. He orders something to drink, then abruptly tells the waiter to forget it. He has neglected to bring any cash along.
Once seated at a corner table, Hunter is asked if he’s remained true to the punk spirit that inspired him to form Wire Train six years ago. “Punk is as out-of-date now as beings hippie was in 1977”, he says, slightly miffed at the question. “No youth movement has a corner on reality.”
“Punk doesn’t exist. It’s gone. It was just a collection of ideas that were floating around. There was postpunk and antipunk and then there will be – who knows? – the doorknob people. It’s not the name that’s important; it’s remaining sensitive to the world…. I don’t want to be grounded. I want to float down the stream and look at the scenery and interact with it.”
Don’t get Hunter wrong; he’s no space cadet. Sure he’s eccentric, naïve, hopelessly idealistic and out of touch by bottom-line 1987 standards. But who ever expected a poetic rock star to be otherwise? With the wave of a hand he dismisses musicians who are into the cult of ‘let’s have problems with the record company.'” He laughs about people who “want their artists to make sense for them. How boring to have your life make sense.”
Shimmering guitars, oblique lyrics, a rock-steady rhythm section and Hunters Dylanesque vocals define Wire Trains haunting, atmospheric style, which shows traces of Sixties folk-rockers like The Byrds, as well as Eighties New Wavers like U2 and The Cure. In addition to Hunter on guitar and vocals, the group includes drummer Brian MacLeod (formerly of the Sleepers and Group 87), bassist Anders Rundblad (formerly of the Swedish group Mötvind), and guitarist Jeffrey Trott.
U2’s Bono called Wire Train’s debut LP, In A Chamber, the best album of 1984, and their second album, 1985’s Between Two Words, was widely praised by critics. But it’s their brilliant new album, Ten Women, recorded during a three month stay in London last summer with help from members of the Waterboys, World Party and the Alarm, that may finally bring Wire Train commercial success. Hunter is not very concerned. “I’m not obsessed with having a hit,” he insists. “CBS [which distributes 415] knows that what Wire Train does may be very, very low art, but it is art. And they don’t expect us to be Loverboy or The Hooters.
Hunter, who grew up in LA., decided he wanted to be a rock star at the age of seven, the day his sister was born. “That day my mom got a baby,” he says, “and as a consolation prize, I got to see A Hard Days Night. They took me to see the movie, and that was it.”
Seven years ago – after playing in a couple of L.A. punk bands, including the unforgettably named Snot Puppies – Hunter moved to north, ostensibly to study poetry at San Francisco State University. He became friends with guitarist Kurt Herr, and they formed a band, The Renegades, after attending U2’s first San Francisco performance. “Seeing U2 actually do something emotionally direct and honest really touched me,” says Hunter. “That really triggered me and Kurt to say, ‘All right, let’s just go ahead and jump in.'”
The Renegades soon grew bored by the limitations of punk rock. “We couldn’t go on imitating what punk was, ” says Hunter. Musically inspired by The Jam, The Cure and U2 among others, the Renegades’ sound slowly metamorphosed into something quite original. Along the way they changed their name to Wire Train. “It has to do with having a train of thought that isn’t cemented into seeing things one certain way,” says Hunter by way of explanation. “Malleable.”
The makeup of the band isn’t set in stone either. Hunter and Herr went through several rhythm sections; then in 1985 upon the completion of their second album, Herr quit. Says Hunter of Herr’s departure and his own decision to carry on, “You know, you wake up every day, and you decide how it’s going to be. You decide whether its going to be ‘Oh my God, that phone bill is going to come in today, and I don’t have the money to pay for it’ or if it’s going to be a great day.”
“People have illusions about how things are going to be,” he say, “and the more you think about the future, the more you have a tendency to be disappointed. Don’t think about it. Go make the record, but don’t really plan how it’s going to be. Do the tour, and try to enjoy yourself all the time, every day, as though it were the first day. ”
Getting up to go, Hunter laughs. “I’m a hippie,” he says. “I live in San Francisco and I’m a hippie!”