Robert Hunter and a Rooster for Little Feat
Lyrics to me have always been a hallmark of a Little Feat song. The band has introduced to its fans so many characters and vignettes, “Representing the Mambo” to use one example, the songs are almost like travel guides to your world. Was there any concern or reservation about turning over something that is so much a part of Little Feat to someone outside of that? Granted it’s Robert Hunter, but did you wonder if he could capture that Little Feat essence?
In the beginning I did. I was worried about if I was starting to connect with the lyrics, could I do what I do musically beneath it, which was take people on a journey. Sometimes what happens, though some people do it brilliantly- where the music matches the intensity, the music is a perfect handshake- sometimes I hear people dress up in a far-out fashion but the music is pedestrian. “Representing the Mambo” is a perfect example, where you are leading people down this path.
How difficult was it for you to match the music to the lyrics?
Because I wasn’t talking to him- I’m just sitting there writing this stuff- the challenge was the freedom. I’ll make the decisions to do something and then present it to him later and he’d say, ‘Yeah, sounds great.’ Robert works from his own place. He’s certainly not huge on dissecting anything, so I don’t want to put words in his mouth. For whatever reason, we seemed to have a good read on each other. It was really complementary at the end of the day. Anybody that has written songs with Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan, I kind of had to pinch myself a couple of times, thinking, ‘Gee, I’m writing with this guy?’ But I couldn’t let that get in the way of what I was doing. This was about creating something. It’s Little Feat, and your inclination to ask that question is spot-on. We don’t let a lot of people into this club.
I can imagine writing a Little Feat song comes with its own set of unique qualities.
Most people that come in think, ‘This is what a Little Feat song sounds like to me. Does it sound like one to you?’ By virtue of the fact of taking that approach, they have already lost us. I don’t want to go down a hallway of mirrors with people. I have to say, Fred Tackett came up with some really nice things on this record. The concern I have as a writer is to be able to sing something, and this sounds crass though it isn’t meant to, and sell it. To believe in it.
When you say sell, I assume you mean deliver it truthfully.
Exactly. Thank you. It’s having a belief in what you are putting forth. That was paramount for me. I don’t want to have a disingenuous ego.
You are also a photographer. A parallel I see between photography and art is the aspiration to try and convey a thought or emotion through a medium to an audience.
When I write something or take a photo of something, I’d love for some people to get what I’m saying, to get it on a level that I feel, and sometimes they do. Other times, people say, ’I really love those lyrics you wrote. This is what it meant to me.’ It was like 180 degrees from what I meant it to be, but they translated it to their baggage. That’s always a component. If you set out to write something or take a picture of something that is universal, that’s much harder to do than putting out an image that people can read into. I don’t mean that either one is easy to do, but it is all about intent. I’ve done things that allow people to read into it. A song I wrote, “Voices on the Wind,” the engineer didn’t get what was going on, and I said, ‘You don’t have to. Just make it sound great.’ I may have insulted him a little bit. Later the same song was used by the Los Angeles Lakers in a tribute to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Recently a group in Africa recorded a version, beautifully done. These things morph into different areas. Generally speaking I don’t worry about it. If I like it, then that’s okay if other people don’t. It’s subjective.
Do you ever stop the bus, literally, to get a shot or do you like to plan your shoots?
If I see something, I grab a photo of it. I won’t stop the bus, though. It may not be technically correct, which is to say the photo is overblown, maybe I didn’t get enough exposure, but with Photoshop I can go in fix, change, do whatever I need to do. There are purists out there who say you should’ve stopped the bus, or set it up just right, and I say, look, one of Ansel Adams’ most famous photographs, and there were many, is “Moonrise over Hernandez.” He took a STOP sign out of the photo. So, if you want to debate purity, let’s do it, but it’s up to each artist to approach that subject and deal with it as he’s see fit, not the way you see fit.
If an artist has to stop and take a poll of what the audience thinks, I’m not sure it remains to be art.
No, it doesn’t, and it’s done all the time. It’s called pop. I don’t denigrate it. I grew up enjoying “Alley-Oop” as a song as much as I enjoyed what Ray Charles was doing.