The Midnight Reruns and Sundial Mottos member builds up his so catalog while settling into Madison. (Photo by Claire Nelson-Lifson.)
Graham Hunt released his album Leaving Silver City back in February, and still seems to be mulling over the decisions that shaped its blend of solo-project intimacy and collaborative maximalism. Hunt had a batch of songs that he otherwise would have brought to his popular Milwaukee-based band, Midnight Reruns, but that band has been less active lately, with members divided between Milwaukee and Chicago. He had access to a Milwaukee studio space (the album’s namesake), a lot of time to experiment with his recording software, and a rotating cast of friends from across that city’s music community pitching in various parts, and to Hunt’s mind it added up to almost too many options.
“You just have unlimited time when you do that, and you never know when it’s done, and there’s just like 80 tracks of Pro Tools stuff in every song,” Hunt says. “I benefit from having someone to work with to be like, ‘Let’s try to find some similarities between the songs, instead of putting on all these different hats.'”
It’s true that he wears a lot of different hats on Leaving Silver City, switching up arrangements and production approaches from song to song. Even so, the 10 tracks here flow together nicely, thanks to the combined tenderness and power-pop briskness of Hunt’s songwriting, and if there are sometimes a lot of elements jumbled on top of each other, he tends to shape each one with a tasteful ear and a shaggy warmth. “Every Person” and “Natural Pace” are among the more straight-ahead, jangling moments and boast a couple of the album’s strongest choruses. “Kendall’s Gonna Love It” builds on watery guitar hooks, which echo over a beat that contains as much rustling white noise as it does actual percussion. “Small Town” launches Hunt and friends into full-on chaotic psychedelia, girded in dizzy spirals of reverb and delay.
In the time since he recorded Leaving Silver City, Hunt has also moved twice, first spending a year in Chicago and then ending up on the east side of Madison this past summer. Hunt has some ties to Madison already—he was actually born here, before spending most of his childhood in Milwaukee, and Madison label Rare Plant issued a tape last year that combines the first two EPs from another band Hunt plays in, the excellent psych-rock quartet Sundial Mottos. Both Sundial Mottos’ releases and Hunt’s solo releases so far feature original art from Hunt, who began experimenting with painting in 2017. Hunt is currently working on an as-yet-unnamed collaboration with friend Travis Schiro, which he says will have a new recording out in early 2020, and will be playing on December 21 at Communication with Claire Nelson-Lifson of Proud Parents, in a set that will likely feature duo versions of both musicians’ original songs.
While Hunt offhandedly refers to his solo album tracks as “dressed-up version of my demos,” they capture a lot more craft than that, and the process of making Leaving Silver City helped him learn a thing or two about his own creative tendencies. “It made me realize how I go about things and be more self-aware about that, and realize that I have a way of doing things, when it comes to writing and recording, that a lot of people would think is very disorganized,” Hunt says. “But it made me more comfortable accepting that that’s how I do it.”
The album also features one cover, of Milwaukee musician Marielle Allschwang’s “Dead Not Done,” which took root when Midnight Reruns was asked to participate in online publication Milwaukee Record‘s “Local Coverage” project in 2017. (Full disclosure: Milwaukee Record and Tone Madison occasionally collaborate on cross-posted stories.) The band chose to perform Allschwang’s songs, but never ended up recording those efforts, and Hunt revisited the idea while making a solo record. Allschwang’s version of the song, from the 2015 album of the same title, begins with a sparse acoustic approach and gradually builds up around a stamping kick drum and rattling bass clarinet. Hunt gives the song a more exuberant treatment from the start, but still honors the graceful melodies at its core.
Hunt’s version of “Dead Not Done” also uses a rhythmic feel that manages to deliver some punch while still maintaining a feeling of openness and swing. That’s true of a lot of Leaving Silver City‘s tracks, and of “Change Their Mind,” a euphoric single Hunt released around the same time that he moved to Madison. When asked about that rhythmic through-line, Hunt explains that it has a lot to do with keeping his options open.
“If it’s a pop song and the same thing is happening for 30 seconds, I’m already bored, especially with my own music. I just need something different to happen,” Hunt says. “I guess that is why there’s a lot of rhythmic changes and stuff, but trying to do that and keep it interesting and always changing and have it kind of weird, but also keeping everything tight and together, it’s still a balance trying to do that. I guess maybe the middle ground is what you’re describing.”
Hunt is still settling into Madison and figuring out where he might fit into the music community here, though he has played his solo material a couple of times here, including at an August show at Mickey’s in a power-trio format. While he’s a bit self-effacing about his solo work in the studio, Hunt says that playing live reinforces the basic rule that he brings to his material: “This has to be a good song at the base of it.”