ATWOOD ON TOUR
Keeping Together With Hunter Hunted: Michael and Dan on Ready For You and the Duo’s Yin-Yang Relationship
Listen: “Lucky Day” – Hunter Hunted
Indie rock/pop band Hunter Hunted have a lot to be excited about: In July, the duo consisting of college buddies Michael Garner and Dan Chang released their long-awaited debut album Ready For You via RCA Records/FreeSolo Entertainment. They also set off on a twenty-date co-headline tour with Interscope-signed Young Rising Sons that found them lugging their stadium-sized music across America on some of their biggest stages to-date – including an incredibly high-energy performance at New York’s Highline Ballroom.
Fans may recognize Hunter Hunted best for “Keep Together,” the anthemic single off their 2013 self-titled debut EP. While “Keep Together” certainly highlights the band’s penchant for harmonic vocals and their expertise at crafting catchy pop music, Ready For You offers a fuller, well-rounded look at Hunter Hunted, presenting them as a hard-hitting indie pop vehicle with far-reaching influences. Songs like “Ghost” and lead single “Blindside” pay special attention not only to rhythm, but also to melody and tonality. Hunter Hunted’s mastery lies in their ability to create larger-than-life music in a variety of settings: Whether it’s the vocal harmony-swathed, constantly forward-pushing “Gentle Folks” or the ukulele-led “Lucky Day,” Ready For You thrives in a world of sonic possibility.
Ready For You is a long-awaited release, but the album’s finely-tuned verses and hyper-detailed choruses affirm that Hunter Hunted were well worth the wait. Two years later, Hunter Hunted are ready: For you, and for the world.
Atwood Magazine sat down with Michael and Dan backstage at Highline Ballroom before the band’s set. Amidst an average chaos of drinks, shouts and pre-show prepping, we dug a little deeper into Hunter Hunted’s story: The who, the why, and the how.
Keeping Together with Hunter HuntedAtwood Magazine: How's it going, guys? Great to meet you!
Dan Chang: Good man! How’re you doing?
Michael Garner: Nice to meet you!
Two LA boys in New York! What's it like?
Michael: It actually doesn’t feel to foreign because we’ve been here enough and we have, I feel, like a family of people who know our music here. Honestly, sometimes LA feels crazy because you have a lot of industry people that come, so… I feel like LA and New York are pretty similar; it feels like home.
It's been nearly a month since your full-length debut has been out; how does it feel?
Michael: It’s been a month?! Wow!
Dan: Yeah –
Michael: Oh yeah – we’re on a tour! I keep on saying two weeks.
Dan: It’s a major milestone for us, and a culmination of a lot of years of writing songs. We’re really proud of it, and it’s something that we actually love showing people, and sharing with everyone. It’s a huge accomplishment.
Listen: “Operating” – Hunter Hunted
There was a long period of time in there between your EP's release and this one now - almost two years! That's a long time to be playing the same songs.
Michael: For us, it felt like it was forever. But in terms of the audience, I think… It’s not like we’re this huge band and the entire world is waiting for that full-length. The way we saw it is that we wanted to make sure we did it right. There were also so many people involved in the process, so there was no way we could rush it. We have, like, 100 songs that are not on the record! And we could have put out ten records, you know? But it’s the nature of the beast – I guess it feels that much better to now finally do it.
So much I keep reading about Hunter Hunted is that you guys are a 'feel good' band - not necessarily all 'sunshine and rainbows,' but that the music is all about the smiles you're getting from the music, and from the audience.
Michael: I was thinking about that the other day, because some of our songs are not lyrically “happy,” but they’re all emotional in a way that, I feel like… Emotion is what drives our music, and so… I think generally, we are positive people, and so that comes through the music, but even in the darker songs, you still can get a sense of the silver lining. All the feels.
What's the songwriting process like between you two?
Dan: It’s all over the map – we have moments where we’ll be completely separate, have an inspiration, and develop the song to maybe 50 or 75 percent, and then the other person will take it to the goal line, so to speak. Other times, we’ll have a moment where we’re in the same room and something comes up, we start jamming, and the music will hook – appeals to both of us – and then we just keep developing it. For the most part, it’s very symbolic of our relationship in the sense that we complete each other and fill in the void where the other one’s lacking. It’s kind of a general theme amongst our band and our relationship.
Michael: The “hunter/hunted,” if you will.
How did the name come about?
Michael: Honestly there are many reasons behind it, but actually what he was saying is part of it; it’s all about that balance. I think that you can have a balance by being centrists, or you can have a balance by having these oppositions work together, and that’s where we feel connected, coming at music and at life in different ways. It’s that balance that makes us “us.”
That's actually really cool - you're one of the few acts I've met who have said, 'Neither one of us is the principal songwriter; we're both pretty significant.' That's a unique situation for any band to have two co-contributors.
Michael: It’s the same thing with performance and the vocals – it’s not just with songwriting; it’s also with every aspect of the band. I think neither Dan, nor myself would consider a solo career or anything like that… I’ve said the before, but our vocals – singing together is always much better than singing alone.
That's so romantic!
Michael: [laughs] No, I mean – like even just the quality of the tone improves a lot! He has a very pure tone, I have more of a raspy tone, and I think collectively, it’s much stronger.
You originally met at UCLA, which you both attended. What were you studying?
How did this come about?
Michael: We actually met in an a cappella group, but then we had some classes together also. We were writing some papers late at night – I was an RA – and he came over, and we were just writing, but really we wouldn’t write – we would just jam. We weren’t trying to start a band, or really do anything; we were just like, “Oh, you play music, I play music, let’s just have fun!” So it started in a way that, I feel like, is the best way to start playing music: Not trying. And then there were a few years there where we didn’t really have a formal band; we just played music together. Eventually, we were like, “Oh wow! People are responding to it. We should make this something that’s real.”
When did you have that aha moment, like, 'This is something we should take seriously'?
Dan: After this talent show that we played at for UCLA, where like 5000 people attended the show. We played one song and got a great reaction. We then scheduled an LA show on Sunset Boulevard, and all of our friends came out – we sold out this venue, and the promoter was like, “Where did you guys come from?” So that was like, “Whoa! Okay.” We had a following; let’s keep giving people what they want. It was a supply/demand type of thing.
Of course the polisci major would say that!
Michael: Right, but it’s true – we were both studying to be professionals, in a way. Music was always going to be in our lives, but never in a way that we were going to drop the other stuff. Eventually, it got to the point where we… When we stopped recognizing the people in the crowd, then we realized it wasn’t just our friends who were coming.
Do you still see yourselves one day going back to those professional goals?
Dan: It’s not something that I’d be surprised about. For me, I enjoy both –
Dan: – and I think that the interesting thing about us is that when you look at us, you wouldn’t really be able to say right away, “Oh my god! Those guys are in bands.” You know? I don’t know, I feel like our personalities are very malleable, and we can fit many different roles and wear many different hats. It just so happens that right now, at this phase of our lives, we are writing music that people are enjoying, and that is the role that we’re taking on, right at this moment.
Michael: And, like before we started a band, after this band, when we’re old and grey, we’ll still play music. It’s just whether or not that will be our career – that’s less of a consequence, than the fact that we will always play.
Earlier you said that you didn't feel rushed with the record itself. What's behind the name, 'Ready For You'?
Michael: Well, that actually does relate. Personally, we did feel that we wanted to get it out – we were ready for –
Dan: Yeah, the two years it took to release that album wasn’t just about writing songs. There’s a bunch of politics involved – things that you need to do. There’s administrative stuff, and a lot of things like timing. For the most part, we’ve been ready for a while. I would even say that when we had the first EP, the songs that followed it weren’t that far behind. So yeah – we’ve been ready for awhile.
How do you feel about being the 'Keep Together' band?
Michael: I don’t know if it ever got big enough where it’s like, that’s the one song – which is kind of good because we don’t have to be defined by that. Yeah, for our EP, that was the song that really brought us into the spotlight. Honestly, I’m happy with that, because that song is a really positive song. Every time we play it live, it’s a reminder of the potential positive impact on an audience. People tend to sing along and stuff, which is great! It wasn’t this No. 1 hit, so we’re not that band that had that one-hit wonder; I think that’s still to come, hopefully. [pause] … A one-hit wonder in the future.
What was the hardest song for you guys to make on this record?
Dan: I don’t know!
Michael: I would say “Ghost.” Just in terms of the writing and rewriting.
Dan: There’s many iterations of that song, and every version is a good version! It’s all a matter of what version you end up going with on the album.
Michael: We originally wrote the record to be a theme record that was going to have its feet in mythology, and then when that started dissipating, we re-approached some of the lyrics and some of the songs. “Ghosts” was one that had several, several different iterations. It was tough – tough to nail that one down.
What have you been the most pleased with, in terms of your growth as artists over the past two years?
Dan: I think that live, we’ve refined our sound a little bit. We’re really dialed in to what works and what doesn’t work. I feel like our songwriting has evolved in a positive way, but I don’t know if there’s any one ‘thing’…
Michael: It’s hard to see yourself grow when you’re looking in the mirror every day.
Do you feel like that - in terms of being 'in the moment' so much these days?
Michael: Yeah! I think back to when we first started playing these songs, and how uncomfortable I was. Now, I’m like, “Whoa! That’s crazy!” I was so not in my skin, and now I think we’ve evolved so much, in the performing aspect – like, Dan’s played literally every instrument for every single song, depending on the tour, depending on whatever. So now, we’re sinking into that.
Do you feel like the record is a reflection of the past two years and the live show, or do you feel like the record itself is the standalone and the live show is more for the record?
Michael: I think the live show and the record are super in-sync. We even rearranged some of our live songs to match record, just to make it definitive that ‘this’ was what we were putting out, and people know what to expect. At some point, we had to make decisions on how these songs live and whether or not we were seeing eye-to-eye with the producer, or anything. This is how it is out there, so let’s commit to that.
It’s hard to see yourself grow when you’re looking in the mirror every day.
In terms of the future of Hunter Hunted - and congratulations, by the way, on the end of our tour - what are you guys doing for the fall?
Dan: Possibly more touring? I know we’ll be writing – I’ll be writing, enjoying home for a little bit.
Michael: Yeah, we’ll be back on the road in a little while, but that’s sort of a tbd on what, when and where.
Do you enjoy those times off the road?
Michael: Yeah, it’s a little bit of an adjustment period, but we love being home and writing, and being with our loved ones. Having that balance of being crazy on tour and just being home is nice, and we’re lucky to be able to have that in our lives.
Speaking of crazy, I've been seeing all the shenanigans going on here in the green room prior to your set. Cruisr did some ritual chanting, and the other members of Hunter Hunted have been pumping themselves up as they get ready for your set.
Dan: We actually contribute to a healthy amount of the shenanigans.
Michael: Yeah – we’re pro-shenanigan! We have our rituals and things… We can’t tell, of course; it’s private. We used to be a little looser with it, but now it’s like – it’s the locker room talk.
What do you typically find yourselves doing when you're off tour?
Michael: Honestly music is my main focus, so I like to see shows and write, do that kind of stuff… Run, and be outside.
What other artists have you been listening to recently?
Michael: It’s so funny – Dan and I have been both talking about how we don’t listen to music while we’re writing stuff. Personally, Other Lives‘ new record is fantastic, On An On is a band I think is really great, and the new Tame Impala record is awesome. Yeah, I think there’s a lot of good stuff coming out recently, but I haven’t been ‘discovering’ new stuff of late. You also just want to get away from it – after being in it all day, you want silence. Silence is golden.
Dan: It’s like how a professional football player on the offseason doesn’t want to play football.
Michael: You don’t even want to go to games
Dan: You want to dabble in something else.
Any last words for fans in New York?
Michael: I would just say thanks for sticking with us. I know a lot of these people here have been with us for a long time, and finally, we’re ready for you!
Watch: “Keep Together” – Hunter Hunted