by: Thomas D. Mooney
After releasing the EP Worrying Kind in 2014, Texas-Americana outfit Hunter Rea Band will be releasing Lovin’ Ain’t Free, their full-length debut, this Friday, July 07.
With singles “Memories,” “Find A Way,” and “Somebody Got It Wrong” leading the charge, the four-piece–Hunter Glaske, Adam Rea, John Allen Davidson, and Mason Hightower–deliver a promising, smooth blend of Country Blues-tinged sunbaked heartbreak anthems with delicate, down-home heartfelt confessions. With Pat Manske at the producing helm, they were able to forge a temperate sonic palette that bends, but never breaks. There’s a consistency within the 11 tracks of Lovin’ Ain’t Free that allows the band to move off in different directions without ever feeling out of place or foreign.
For the most part, Hunter Rea Band’s Lovin’ Ain’t Free breathes the same crisp and cool air as the likes of Grady Spencer & The Work, Erick Willis, and Prophets & Outlaws–a Country-Soul base with a pop of contemporary Blues-Pop. At their best, they delve into foot-stomping Americana singalongs much akin to the likes of The Wheeler Brothers and Jamestown Revival.
Below, listen to the New Slang exclusive premiere of “Woman to Hold,” a gritty slow-burning duet with singer-songwriter Jane Ellen Bryant. We caught up with Glaske, Rea, Davidson, and Hightower this past week to talk about the making of Lovin’ Ain’t Free–which you can pre-order on iTunes here.
New Slang: Y’all released the EP Worrying Kind a couple of years back, but with Lovin’ Ain’t Free being your first full-length, it’s really like your proper introduction to people. How important has it been taking your time and really honing in on what you want to say with this full-length debut rather than jumping the gun and releasing something you’d maybe look back at as being half-baked?
Hunter Glaske: It does kind of feel like an introduction for us. The Worrying Kind EP was a big learning experience, and we still love playing some of those songs, but this album gives a much better look into who we really are and our style of music. We started recording this album while we were finishing up college. So between classes and graduation and work, we had to spread out recording dates to fit everyone’s schedules and day jobs. From start to finish, the album took about two years to knock out. We all knew if we could hold out and keep knocking it out song by song, that we’d be put out the best album we could, and we’d be proud of the product.
NS: You guys did this record with Pat Manske. He has quite the resume. What drew y’all to him and vice versa?
John Allen Davidson: The Zone was close to home for us, and we were big fans of some of the guys who had recorded there in the past–Robert Earl Keen, Walt Wilkins, Jason Boland, Ryan Beaver. But it wasn’t until we showed up that we could tell we were lucky to be working with Pat. He was with us from the beginning on Worrying Kind and became a huge part of our growth from Day One. He knew how to pull some stuff out of us that we didn’t even know was there, which was really cool.
NS: Was there a specific album or artist he’d worked with before that resonated with y’all–something that you felt would highlight, elevate, and/or properly capture what you wanted with Lovin’ Ain’t Free?
Adam Rea: I remember when we were getting close to going to the studio for the first time, Hunter and I were on a huge Ryan Beaver kick and had his albums on repeat. Some of Beaver’s songs get up and go, and others hit you right in the heart. We knew that we had both types of songs that we wanted to record. Once we spent some time with Pat, we would hear about other projects that he was working on that started to inspire us as well. One was K Phillips, who had this great Van Morrison feel.
NS: It seems as though you all really enjoyed the recording process with this record. How much of the album was built while in the studio? Or did you guys walk in with clear-cut ideas on what wanted to happen on each song?
Mason Hightower: We would go into the studio with a pretty good grasp on each song, but would usually walk out with something that either turned out better than we imagined, or something that was totally unexpected. We wanted there to be some magical studio moments in there, and I’m really glad we let those moments happen.
NS: What song ended up changing the most–from original & early conception to how it’s being released on the album?
HG: “Memories” was one of the tracks that evolved the most. We found some lyrics that John Allen (bass) had been working on, but were originally put down to a slower tempo. It started turning into a jam every time we played it live, so we followed that direction in the studio. We loved it so much that we released it as our first single.
NS: In many ways, this album lends itself more towards closer to a country blues album than anything else—somewhere in the Prophets & Outlaws, Erick Willis, Grady Spencer & The Work, and Zac Wilkerson, etc realm. There’s a slow burn in songs like “Champagne & Roses,” “Dark & Light,” and “Woman to Hold.” Where’s that laid-back slow-moving groove come from?
MH: It’s really cool hear that, we’re big fans of each of those guys. I think it’s the product of each band member’s different styles coming together. Our rhythm section likes to keep it simple, while I have a more traditional country background, and Hunter has a this bluesy voice that seems to fit into whatever style of song we come up with. Those laid back, slow burning songs represent us both growing as musicians, but also getting older and singing from a different perspective.
NS: So far, the three singles released–“Memories,” “Find A Way,” and “Somebody Got It Wrong,”–all have these anthemic choruses with sharp guitars and crisp upbeat grooves to them. Feels like a lot of up-and-coming artists these days are picking up on the pop sensibilities and the crisp, clear, and refined vibe of artists like John Mayer, Ray LaMontagne, etc types. Has that been an influence on the Hunter Rea Band sound?
JAD: Definitely. We wanted to have some songs that we could move around to and were fun to play live. It was fun to let Mason loose on those tracks and see what he came up with.
NS: A lot of Lovin’ Ain’t Free is really counting the missteps, miscalculations, and dead-ends in the dating world. Figuring out the difference between love and lust—and being on both ends of that. Is that, in part, what you mean by love not being free–that the trek and journey takes part of you along the way?
HG: That’s how we see it. When you’re roommates for six years like we were, you see each other go through a lot, and that became the theme of our album. Whether it’s falling in love, a relationship ending, or even losing a loved one, there’s always a sacrifice involved.
NS: Despite the album being filled with heartbreaker moments, it’s capped off with “Champagne & Roses,” which is filled with optimism, hope, and belief. Where’d that song come from?
AR: I wrote that song for my wife and for the day that I proposed to her. The band and my friends and family were all there, they helped me surprise her at her parent’s house. It started pouring on us while we were setting things up, so we had to make some last-minute changes, but it ended up going great. The guys took the lyrics and gave it this great acoustic direction that really rounded out the album.
NS: How did the duet “Woman to Hold” come together with singer-songwriter Jane Ellen Bryant? Was it always thought of as a duet or did that come in later?
AR: We had been playing around with the idea of the song for a while and knew that a female vocal would be a great touch. My wife and Jane grew up together, so we’ve been fans of her music for a while. When we finally got out to one of her shows in Austin, we were blown away. That girl can sing. She agreed to come to the studio, and we co-wrote and recorded the track that same day.