When you’re a professional in any field, there is a desire to be as successful as possible, often to make the most money and to earn the most respect you can. Those are the ambitions people are taught to strive for. But when you’re a professional artist, some of those profit-driven, more cutthroat goals can be looked down upon or feel uneasy. Or seem incongruent with your mission of making art, mining your soul, and metaphorically touching others. Therefore, what is one to do?
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Artists want their work to be heard but also to rise above the idea of commerce. It’s a tricky balance and one that Nashville-based songwriter, Phoebe Hunt, has wrestled with for many years. Yet, via Hunt’s forthcoming album (Neither One of Us is Wrong, out November 12) and newest single, “Some Things Change,” which American Songwriter is premiering here today (September 16), there is a solution for the songwriter: to embrace the idea of reconciliation.
“Every song on the album has a little message of reconciliation,” Hunt tells American Songwriter, “either with another human being or my own self. ‘Some Things Change’ definitely has that. That’s me reconciling with living separate from my band and trusting there is a bigger picture at play.”
Hunt had to recently separate from her New York-based band—aka the seven-piece group, The Gatherers—when she made the move to Nashville. In a way, the split felt like twins departing one another, they were all so close. Yet, as Hunt realized, the change was the result of a larger ambition. For Hunt, who came to music at a young age, learning at the foot of her classically-trained-nylon-string-guitar-playing-father, the journey toward musical prowess is akin to her journey of self-understanding.
She’d watch her dad play as he did so with the television on mute. Then her mother bought her a violin and Hunt began to study. She learned the Suzuki method, which focuses on memorization. She studied at school, took Saturday classes at the University of Texas in Austin, where she’s from and lives. She learned hard work from her dad, she says, starting early on.
“By the time I was in high school,” Hunt says, with a laugh, “sophomore or junior year, I was like, ‘Can I please have a Saturday off!’”
But as it usually does, the hard work paid off, set the foundation. With a strong bedrock of music knowledge and practice already, Hunt went off into the world and found her way. Eventually, after some 10-plus years, she found the people she loves most to play music with, the people who feel like family. It took a decade-plus to go through different band and lineup iterations to find her chosen few.
“These are the people I can trust with any song,” Hunt says. “I bring them a song and they bring it to life.”
Together, members of the band have traveled to India to study songwriting, they’ve recorded dozens of songs as a unit and multiple albums. Based in Brooklyn, though, Hunt had to leave the members when she traveled to live in Nashville. It was a difficult decision and one that came after much thought and time together. After recording a new record (Shanti’s Shadow in 2017) upon their return from India, Hunt knew the band was “hot,” meaning in the groove. She wanted to record another. So, she accumulated all the songs she’d always wanted to put on wax and she recorded them with her band, The Gatherers. Doing so, Hunt felt a cleansing. It also happened that at the time, she was undertaking a juice cleanse, too.
“The whole motivation mostly became about cleansing,” Hunt says. “We recorded 14-17 songs and then we had to leave to go back on tour. Then I moved to Nashville. So, I didn’t listen to anything we’d recorded for almost a year because we’d just been so busy.”
But when she did get to listen back to those 14-17 songs, Hunt found a through-line to many of them, this idea of reconciliation. The titular song is about removing blame, the track “Good Blood” is about wanting to mend fences, and “Some Things Change” is all about accepting the malleable world. In fact, the new single was the final track the band recorded for the record. It came to Hunt later, a moment of inspiration after her touch choice to move to the Music City.
“More than ever this song feels appropriate to bring into the world,” Hunt says. At the time, she adds, the song seemed so personal: a love letter to her band. Now, though, after nearly two years of the tumult around the globe, it feels pertinent in a big way. “Now, listening to the song,” she says, “it has a totally different meaning.”
That’s the mark of a good song, often. It begins small and personal and can blossom into the ubiquitous. For Hunt, music’s ability to reach people and heal them is one of its best qualities. For someone who loves the art of things but can get frustrated or mired in the mechanics of promotion and album release red tape, to reconcile that which doesn’t always seem important at the moment is crucial for Hunt. It’s the stuff that careers are built on.
“That honest truth,” she says, “of how difficult it is to have your voice be heard in the world, and what it takes.”