Multimedia artist Rollin Hunt first lead us into his self-built world a few years back with his Criminal 7″, luring us towards a low-pitched/lo-fi dystopian universe on the b-side, “Castle of Nothing“. For Rollin's first proper, full-fi album The Phoney; the Chicago by LA sound and vision curator takes the listener through the songwriting conventions, down haunted hallways, through open windows, passage way entries, and unhinging doors that lead through life's divisive barriers. With songs that feel like short film vignettes, we began our conversation to gain insight into a world informed and observed by video camera and captured by tape recorder.
Which came first for you? The music or production design? Did one lead to the other or inform it in anyway?
They both kind of came together at the same time. I’ve been making videos since I was a little kid, but I was also making radio type plays that had musical elements. I’d play the background music on a toy keyboard and sort of talk over it and the music would change with the points in the story. Also, I’d make music for my videos. I’ve always made movies and set design was one of the only ways I could tell complicated stories, though I didn’t realize that was what I was doing then or that it was a proper position or real job. I just did it cause it was the only way to make things make sense. For example, I made a movie in high school about a spaceship. I made a spaceship interior and a White House press room set, both in my bedroom. I think all kids do stuff like that. Not everyone presents it as a hirable service though.
Your 2011 NBA Draft Tease is a big production for such a brief spot, what for you is the key to concise creativity?
I worked under Adri Siriwatt on the NBA spot. She designed it. That was a weird one. The director yelled so much that it was actually sort of charming. He huffed and puffed for like 15 hours straight. Adri is a great production designer. She brought me into the industry and I worked loads with her. I would have never done half the things I’ve done in film if it weren’t for Adri. She gave me my first Art directing job. We shot all of that in the Congress theater in Chicago. I think the key to concise creativity is clear and practiced communication and an ability to see potential in your most accessible materials.
Thoughts and picks on the 2013 NBA Playoffs?
Do you have any further film, visual media works in current production?
All sorts of stuff are in different phases of production. I’m taking a break from movies for a while though. I’ve done a handful of great movies, but not all productions are cool, fun or worth the time/energy. I’m sort of entering a phase where I need to start choosing what I work on/who I work with more carefully. I tend to say yes to things that maybe I’m not best suited for. Like I’m not good at game show type shows cause the set doesn’t need to tell a story. I think I should only work on narratives. I’m mostly looking forward to working on Christopher Carbone’s next movie. I think he’s someone to watch, like he’s gonna make a real cool movie real soon and I’m gonna help him.
As an artist who works in media on multi-platforms, do you see your self constructing the “Beautiful Park” or directing the acting or character of “Criminal”?
Sometimes. I can see all the rooms. I feel like all of the songs have word clues to what the settings are. I think I talk about hallways, windows, passage ways, doors etc… a lot. “Beautiful Park” is really a description of a building, both inside and outside. I think almost all the songs are about dividing. Both physical and psychic divides.
I like how “Separate Ways” turns into an explosive guitar wail fest, and coupled next to “Castle of Nothing” make for perfect breakup jams. How do you stir the musical optimism within what would be otherwise cynical songwriting conventions?
I’m glad you hear optimism in there. “Separate Ways” is, in my mind, a motorcycle anthem. I think break ups can be exciting, the guitars at the end of that are meant to sound like “the bigger picture”. I really made an effort on these songs to stick to conventional songwriting as I understand it. I initially wrote “Castle of Nothing” as a song about a dystopian society. I think it still works as that, but it works so well as a break up song. You can hear the original version on the web somewhere, it was on my first 7” release. I think hearing the 2 together shows how much the music part can shape the words and literal meaning of songs.
With the “one against them and they will fall” Mellotron funereal process of “Shooter”, how did you develop this narrative?
I wrote the song in 2006, I remember there were a lot of ‘Army of One’ ads for the military. It always seemed like an odd slogan to me, cause one is the loneliest number, you know? I tried to take that same triumphant slogan and make it as scary to the listener as it sounded to me. In my song, it sounds like you’re in the head of a rogue madman killer but at the time it maybe was more clear that it was an almost unbearably cheesy political commentary.
Is it deconstructing the track too much to ask if it is a commentary on the psyches of today's gun culture? Is this too soon or not soon enough in the face of current events, and dialogues?
I think the song will always make sense in some way to a single person or a nation as a whole. Just “you vs them”. The gun sound effects I think are sort of a coincidence in that it relates to current topics. The guns are meant to be double entendre, both frightening and heroic.
You like to play around with conventions of criminals, public utility curated beautiful parks of plastic and from the perfect plastic lives gone wrong within the marital paradigm on ,”Husband”, where the anger escalates from the song's opening of: “Oh Saturday night on town with my wife, we're walking around, talking about things and arguing, about money and petty things, I don't care about those”. What draws your interest to these modern day conventions and how do you work within it as much as you move the cinematic and narrative lens zoomed outward to a larger picture?
That’s the hardest question to answer ever. Trying to explain what songs are about is hard, or why they were written. I don’t think anyone ever approaches a song too literally, I generally try to discover the song by messing around. But I’ll try my best to explain…I think I was trying to make songs that I’d call classic, or timeless in content, not necessarily in production. At the time I just wanted to try and write the most relatable songs I could. I was really into Joseph Campbell when I wrote some of these and I guess I was trying to illustrate some kind of journey. I think all of the songs have an apparent, or not, humor to them. All of the songs have a weird irony without being blatant about it. I think its all just me having a laugh at stuff. Except “Beautiful Park”, which is one of the first songs I ever wrote, it’s the only personal experience related song on the record. It’s about feeling like I was going to see my dad’s ghost and all the places I imagined his spirit to be.
Where did the title The Phoney develop, and is The Phoney a question of finding a meaning within the day to day drudgery of duplicitous existences and lives, the paradoxes of acting like someone we are not, etc?
I needed a good title. Also I feel like the whole thing is so phony, which is the point of it I guess. It’s me having a laugh and a go at music. I’ve always felt like music conventions are so weird. Like how songs need to be a certain way for them to be considered songs. I felt like I needed to make some proper songs but I have no idea why, thus they are phony. Like, why would I feel the need to spend so much time on making songs? But why does anyone do anything. Music is just weird to me. But you know, it doesn’t mean I don’t have strong feelings about music, like serious feelings. Music makes me feel weird or happy sometimes. But generally, I’m excited by the stories in songs.
The closer “11” is a big orchestral bit in barely a minute's time and is one of the most, if not the most uplifting song on the album. “You got time, to pick up the world, put it on your shoulder, and carry it up a hill” . Within the sisyphean metaphor of carrying your statue of accomplishment up the hill, how do you reconcile that with the omnipotent atlas imagery and sweeping finale arrangement?
I feel like this whole song is just another exercise in this contradictory writing style that makes up the record. I feel like this is just another song about arrogance. Like you can carry heavy burdens, try to control things and continually suffer for no good reason. At best, you’ll be a statue in a park that bums piss on. Just put it down, the world doesn’t need carrying.
Rollin Hunt's The Phoney is available now from Moniker Records.