Interview with Robert Hunter and Greg Anton, August 25, 1997
New York Stories
- The album seems to have a lot of New York in the lyrics, at least in
that song and in Pits of Thunder.
- Yeah, I wanted to do some New York stuff.
- I think it fits. Maybe it's the funkiness, but Zero always sounds like
a city band to me, like a street-smart band, so that New York, urban, street
scene thing fits like a glove. Maybe it's just my stereotypes of funk.
- We do a lot of blues, you know. The roots of a lot of the music is blues.
A Genre is Just a Label
- A lot of your music, Hunter, seems to have grown out of folk, out of
the language and sometimes the structure of folk music, although a lot
of other rivulets lead into the stream. And "folk" isn't the first word
that comes to mind when I think about Zero or their sound. Is that just
a musicologist's distinction that's meaningless because it's all just music
or rock and roll?
- I don't know if it's meaningless but I don't examine myself from that
point of view. What I liked about folk is that the lyrics lasted, made
sense, and they made sense for a reason, whatever that might be. I never
had much use for lyrics that only kept the rhythm or only had a nice tag
line. I just never concerned myself with that stuff. So I'd say that the
sense in good folk lyrics, in good old-timey lyrics, has come through,
and that's what I consider a good song to be, but I also understand I'm
working with rock and roll, and you can get a lot snappier.
- You can't have 20 verses each with twelve lines?
- You can.... I do. (Greg and Robert laugh.)
How Lyrics Work Live
- Robert, you performed Pits of Thunder at your last Fillmore show and
you were halfway into the first verse before I connected it to the versions
that I'd heard Zero doing for the last few years. On the chorus it's unmistakable,
but even there you take that chorus with a very different feel from the
way Zero does it.
- I did it to favor the lyrics.
- It was nice because I actually hadn't discerned them before. Until you've
heard a song a few times or in a few different contexts, it's hard to learn
the words. Getting Zero's latest
album just last week, I finally understood
what the lyrics were about for some of those songs.
- You only need to catch a few lines on a song. I've realized that over
the years. With a stage-performance type song, the lines aren't cumulative.
Each line is a song, almost, in its own right. The audience will get this
one, and then while they're thinking about this, a couple of more lines
pass by before they "come to" again and stop thinking about that one. Or
they're grooving to the music and all of a sudden a line will jump in.
So you've got to stack the deck that way, and you can't depend just on
- You mentioned that you don't take to songs that have just a hook, but
some songs need a hook, don't they? I've been in the audience where people
did not know the song Pits of Thunder when it started, and when it re-coalesced
again out of some incredibly spacious jam or some percussion thing, everyone's
singing along with the chorus.
- Oh, yeah. Especially down close, where it's not a mosh pit-- it's a
hippie audience-- but it's kind of a pit down there, lots of people making
eye contact, and there's a kind of feel that the song is narrating the
events. You must have noticed that the song does get a great response?
- No, I never really noticed that.
- He's back behind those cymbals.
- Yeah. Yeah, I don't know. I can't really tell what's going on out there.
- I can't either. As a soloist performing, I can't really tell what's
going on. Except for in Portland, playing during the day. I could actually
see the audience, at Furthur. That was one of the few times I've been able
to see my audience, see what effect I was having. I don't know if I like
it or not. I did like it that day.
- Yeah, it's a myopia or something that happens. I've noticed that. People,
a lot of times good friends, have said "I came to your show, and you were
looking right at me, man. Didn't you know I was there?" It's kind of a
survival necessity, in order to do your work. It takes such concentration
right then just relating to those people on the stage.
- You're probably interacting but you don't know it, because if you know
you're interacting, then you're doing something other than performing your
song. You start being mirrors on mirrors: me watching them watching me
watching them watching me, that you can finally forget your lines and blow
your chords. You've got to concentrate on your music.
We're an Accessible Band
- I went to one of those Steve Kimock & Friends shows and I saw you
pop out of the backstage area at one point. I wonder if that gave you the
feeling of being in an audience?
- I think that's something that fans appreciate, the way they may run
into Martín hanging out in the audience before a show or just the
sense that you guys aren't up on some 20 foot stage.
You seem like real
- You've got to make a button that says "Martín Told Me to Shut
Up"! You'd sell a lot of them.
- Yeah, I went to one of Martín's Sunday gigs at New George's.
We got there early and I was shooting some pool with my friend Nick and
Martín came by and leaned over as I was making a shot. It happened
to be a good shot, thank goodness, and he went "Oh man!" and I said "You
gave me good luck!" and he said "Oh shut up." Nick turned to me and said
"Martín Fierro personally told you to shut up!" (Greg and
- Yeah, you've got to be careful with that, if you hang around with Martín.
Next thing you know, you're talking to some stranger, a waitress or something,
and you just say "shut up"!
Copyright © 1997