HUNTED (Steven Barberini & Jonathan Letson) INTERVIEW
The United Kingdom has been at the forefront of Heavy Metal since its very inception back in the early 70s, and it is really encouraging to see more inspiring young bands coming out five decades on. Cardiff may not be the most ideal city in terms of access to recording studios and vast Metal audiences but that didn’t stop the Progressive Power/Speed Metal quintet Hunted to work on the material that eventually became their impressive debut album “Welcome The Dead”, first released over a year ago. Now, under the protective wings of the German label Massacre Records, and with global distribution available, these lads are finally able to do a proper promotional campaign – part of which is the Interview you are about to read. I prepared a few questions which were forwarded to the band and which were kindly answered by guitarist Steven Barberini and bassist Jonathan Letson. Enjoy!
1. Hi Guys. Let’s start this interview by you introducing the members of the band for us and how you came together as a unit.
Steve: Hunted is composed of 5 members: Jon Letson on Bass, myself on Guitars, Dan Owen also on Guitars, Chris G on vocals, and Matt Thomas on Drums. Hunted started a while ago but Jon is the only original member left, I joined sometime in 2004 I think, followed by Chris G. At this point we were just playing covers but slowly started writing our own material which lead to recording a demo (or two) but we then suffered some line-up changes and Matt came onboard; as a four-piece we recorded our debut album ‘Welcome the Dead’ but in order to really do the music justice live we knew we needed another guitar player, after a couple of changes we now have Dan Owen who is a great guitarist and a great addition to our line-up.
2. Forgive my ignorance, but I am not aware of many Metal bands coming out of Cardiff. Is there a local vibrant scene of which you are a part and which we need to be aware of?
Steve: Nothing to forgive mate! They aren’t really many metal bands in the area, I mean, the hardcore scremo genre seems to be present but I guess it depends on how you define your Metal; certainly when it comes to Metal in the vein of traditional melodic or prog or Thrash there aren’t any. We’re sort of alone I guess, but there are a couple of bands emerging around the UK playing proper Metal which is great, just not on a local basis.
Jon: Not a huge scene to speak of to be honest – I mean, there are plenty of trendy ‘Deathcore’ bands around at the moment (although I think that’s true pretty much everywhere!) but there’s not a lot of METAL Metal, so to speak, although there’s another Welsh band called Anterior who are doing quite well for themselves on Metal Blade at the minute… We actually recorded “Welcome the Dead” in the same studio they recorded their first album in, so good luck to them!
3. Based on the information I have been provided with, Hunted began its existence as a cover band and it was only last year that your debut album “Welcome The Dead” was first released. Did you find the transition from performers to composers to have been an easy one and, most importantly, how confident are you that you have found a sound and style that are both unique to you?
Steve: The transition was slow, I guess at the beginning it took a while to put together an orignal composition, especially as we were new to it, but slowly you start learning little things about songwriting and how to put things together and now we can do it a lot quicker and better, as an example I think the first original song we worked on was ‘Shadows’, but the difference between that old version and the one on ‘Welcome the Dead’ is immense – when we started off ‘Shadows’ was around 11 minutes long and we thought that was fine and we even played it live once (or twice) but it was a total mess and the song lacked structure and energy. For me at least though, I was only interested in writing and playing original material, I had played enough covers in the past and was adamant that I wanted a stab at writing my own stuff. So, despite a very slow beginning, we kept pushing our creativity until we ended up with probably half-a-dozen original songs – funnily enough, of those songs, only 3 I think are now on ‘Welcome the Dead’, albeit much improved versions – but it demonstrates our progress, and if we weren’t happy with a song we’d either drop it or try to improve it if there was potential. I think this has helped us find ‘our sound and style’, we do seem to have stumbled across a quasi-unique sound which we really like – we try and mix the genres we are interested in, which are mainly trad, power, Prog and Thrash, but similarly we also have (or some of us do) a love for Doom, Black and the darker side of Metal. We are confident we have a unique sound, yes, but that doesn’t mean that the sound won’t keep evolving, we are aware of certain flaws in our approach to writing music and we are sure we are still learning. To be honest, the new material we are currently writing already sounds better and we are very happy with the direction our music is heading in!
Jon: I think Steve’s just about covered everything there to be honest, but I would just add that it’s the love we have for the music that got us into playing metal in the first place that hopefully still informs everything we do. I hope that that’s what maybe shines through in our slightly ‘unusual’ style…!
4. You are gradually acquiring the reputation of a live act with a strong work ethic and the reviews I have read so far, especially from your performance in 2009’s Bloodstock festival, have been fairly positive. When you record your material, do you do so knowingly that you will one day have to re-create it in a live environment?
Steve: Definitely, as much as I Love being in the studio and recording new music, Hunted is all about the live perfomance and we, as a band, love playing our music to people – we tend to have decent crowds and its great seeing them go mental to the music. It’s very important to us to be able to recreate the music live as best we can, for this reason we knew we needed a 2nd guitarist – nevertheless you always end up adding more layers in a studio setting and it’s just impossible to play everything you hear on the recorded track live, but we do our best and based on feedback people seem to enjoy our live attitude!
Jon: For me personally, playing live is the ultimate expression of what Hunted is all about. I love working on arrangements, harmonies and layers in the studio and gradually seeing it all come together but, deep down, I think we all just want to bang our heads and make crazy faces on stage to a crowd of people who feel the same way about music that we do…or maybe that’s just me (laughs).
5. Your debut album “Welcome the Dead” was at first self-released back in 2010 and is now being distributed globally by the German label Massacre Records. How did you establish contact with them and what made Massacre the preferred choice for the band?
Steve: Yup, we started off promoting the album ourselves, at that point in time, as an unsigned band, we had to promote it ourselves, I believe if we had just waited for a response from labels and not taken the initiative to promote it ourselves we wouldn’t be in the position we are in today. As part of our promotional campaign we, of course, sent off promo packs to all labels and we considered several offers but we had to accept Massacre’s given their legendary status in the Metal Community – there are many metal bands that have been on Massacre’s roster that I really like and listen to constantly, so it’s an honour to be part of that roster now – it’s actually still a bit surreal to be honest!
Jon: As Steve said, we’re thrilled to be working with a great label like Massacre. There were other offers on the table but there was almost no contest, really!
6. How long did it take you guys to create these eight original compositions? Is there a main songwriter in the band or was this the result of a collective process?
Steve: That is really hard to answer man! Some songs like ‘Chosen’, ‘Silence of Minds’ and ‘Shadows’ had been around for a very long time but the problem was we never really studied our songs – it was only once we knew we were going to record everything for our debut album and dish our a lot of money for the studio we thought “right, let’s sit down and study the songs, record all the parts and see how we can improve them” and we really did!! We refer to it as our ‘pre-production’ period, and for six months before entering the studio we tried to make each song the best it could be, by testing different vocal ideas, different guitar melody lines, different harmonies, different tempos, etc, etc… it was a great and fun process, but also required a lot of hard work and time. So, to answer your question, we pre-produced all songs in 6 months, we recorded all the material in 16 studio-time days, but the actual ‘creation’ we’re talking years as the songs simply kept evolving and evolving. All songs on ‘Welcome the Dead’ were written by either myself or Jon – the booklet of the album provides all the details. But, there is no doubt that the final product is a collective effort, everyone in Hunted has an equal say regarding what sounds good or not and we test everyone’s ideas and its thanks to everyone’s input that usually a song reaches a satisfactory endpoint. In addition, since Dan Owen joined the band he is also now contributing to the song writing process and we are already playing one of his tracks, and it’s a belter! We’re really happy with how the new songs are sounding and we cannot wait for the opportunity to record them!
Jon: Steve and I are usually the guys who come in with song structures ready to go, but it’s definitely very much a collective effort by the time a song reaches the stage where it’s ready to be played live. After that, as Steve mentioned, we like to put the songs through another ‘pre-production’ phase of layering and arrangement-tinkering (!) before they’re ready to see some action in the studio, so I guess it’s a fairly detailed process, but it never really feels like it thankfully! We’re all really proud of ‘Welcome the Dead’ and the way it turned out but we’re well aware that there are things that could definitely be improved on, which is I think why we’re so excited about the new stuff we’re working on at the minute. It all seems (hopefully!) to be heading in a pretty cool direction and it’s been great to have Dan on board to bring some awesome new ideas into the mix!
7. Listening to the compositions on offer has generally been a very pleasant experience but I have to be honest with you by saying that there were a few occasions, such as in “Chosen”, “Impaled” and especially “I Want Nothing”, where I thought they were far too complex, resulting in them somewhat lacking coherence. What would be your take on this comment?
Steve: I think it’s an absolute fair comment and I appreciate your honesty, truly! It’s probably worth starting off by saying that every section in those songs are there because we wanted them there, they weren’t flukes. As mentioned above, we listened to each track and if we weren’t happy or it wasn’t coherent enough for us then we would change it; saying this I also would like to say we are very, very proud and happy with the end product. It’s really hard because I personally believe that everyone hears things slightly differently, and something coherent or progressive may not be coherent or progressive to somebody else – to my ears ‘Chosen’ and ‘I Want Nothing’ are quite simple straightforward songs but I completely respect if anybody thinks differently, music is ultimately a very subjective experience. ‘Impaled’ I can say is meant to be a frantic, almost schizophrenic song, that song was purposely designed to be excessive based on the emotions and the storyline it is associated with. I think ultimately you write music for yourself; when we recorded ‘Welcome the Dead’ we didn’t have pressure from labels or producers to sound like a specific band or follow a specific formula, we just wanted to record music we loved and sounded good to us. At no point did we say we’re going to sound like “X” or band “Y”. And I believe the incoherence you hear is exactly what we would refer to as our own personal musical bliss. No doubt though, we do take onboard everyone’s comments, and we can see where people are coming from, and at the same time we do want people to buy our music and follow us, so we will do and are doing the very best to keep improving our music keeping people’s feedback in mind but without going against what we want the music to be or sound like. It’s possible that if we lost the incoherence you are referring to, we run the risk of not sounding like Hunted anymore!
Jon: Again, I think Steve’s covered that point really well… From my point of view, I don’t think anything we’ve written has really been particularly wild or crazy structurally or arrangement-wise, but I totally understand that it’s all a matter of personal taste and perspective. One man’s ‘progressive’ is another man’s ‘straightforward,’ and I think that subjectivity is one of the truly wonderful things about music, musicians and audiences alike. I hope in the future we’ll end up finding a natural balance between the ‘craziness’ and the ‘grooviness’ in our song writing and I think that’s a process that any newish band has to go through if they’re serious about making real and genuine music. We really do appreciate all the feedback we’ve had so far about the album though, so please keep it coming – it really helps to get a good sense of perspective on what we’re trying to do!
8. Having mentioned the songs that I found difficult to relate to, I now want us to focus on those that I really warmed to, namely “The Silence Of Minds”, “Scars” and the Blind Guardian meets Iron Maiden opus “Shadows”, which I consider to be the best song of the album. Can you please tell us a few things about how these three tracks came to life?
Steve: That’s great man, it’s so rewarding to hear you say that, and you know what else, it’s great that different songs appeal to different people, seriously, thanks!! I think I mentioned quite a bit about the creation of ‘Shadows’ above; it’s a song we love to play and furthermore we love to play it at the end of our live set to close the evening, it just has a certain element to it that lends for this and people really seem to enjoy it. As said before, we’ve been playing ‘Shadows’ for a long time (since 2005 maybe?, Jon may be able to help me out there), and it started off as 13 min song (when I first wrote it), then an 11 min song (when Hunted first started playing it), and I think now its around 6-7 min long. If you compare the older versions you wouldn’t find any of the melody lines that run through the verses and choruses, and the bridge/mid section has changed a lot too. I’m really glad you enjoy ‘Silence of Minds’, sometimes I think it’s a bit longer that what it needs to be, but I’m very proud of the lyrical context of that song, it may be among the best lyrics I’ve written to date. That song has been around for a little bit too, probably from the mid-Hunted era (‘Chosen’ and ‘Shadows’ are ‘old Hunted’, ‘Silence of Minds’ and ‘Impaled’ are ‘mid-Hunted’, and ‘Aria’, ‘I Want Nothing’ and ‘Scars’ are ‘recent Hunted’)…I’ve just made that up by the way! ‘Scars’ is Jon’s song so I’m sure he can tell you about that one!
Jon: Well, as the rest of the band will probably tell you, I write my songs in a fairly weird way (comes from being a bass player I guess!). It’s almost always a guitar melody or riff that strikes me first, and then the song structure, chord progressions etc kind of build from there, followed by lyrics, then vocal lines and finally (once all that’s pretty much sorted out) the bass line! With Scars, I think it was the tapping riff at the start of the song that kind of ‘appeared’ first and it just went from there, really… The lyrics are about how the wrongs done to you (even when you’re the innocent party) can end up defining you and your life if you don’t just one day say, ‘ok, this was totally wrong and I did nothing to deserve it, but I’ve got to let the bitterness go, for my own sake, or it’ll tear me apart in the end.’
9. The limited edition of the album will also feature a cover of Nevermore’s classic “The Heart Collector”. Now, though Nevermore are well known for their unique ability to transform the covers they do into their own songs (like their cover of “The Sounds Of Silence”) your approach was closer to the original. Were you not at all tempted to give your own take on this great composition?
Steve: Ahhh, its funny man, some people actually say we moved a bit too far from the original and say we shouldn’t have changed so many things… but you are right, we didn’t change much at all. The only things that did change are: we didn’t use 7 string intonations (but all was recorded on 6 string guitars), we added a couple more harmonies and guitar layers, we completely changed the ending, and Mr G decided to be a bit ‘rougher’ with the verse vocals. No, to be honest, we were never tempted to really change the song that much, we wanted to be true to the song and try and recreate it but in our own Hunted style – furthermore, we recorded the song as an unsigned band, and as such, we were also looking to demonstrate to listeners/labels that we could play the song relatively close to the original.
10. “Welcome the Dead” is an album graced with a good quality production. Who is the person responsible for the end result and how useful was technology in the overall process?
Steve: That is a great question, because it gives us a chance to talk about the master Tim Hamill. Tim runs Sonic One studios in Llanelli (Wales) and he is master of his craft, at least in our eyes (and ears). He used to play in a Thrash Metal band back in the day so he understands where we’re coming from but also knows what a decent recording has to sound like, in fact, several professionals have complemented the precision of his edits/engineering. Tim is ultimately responsible for the production of the album; we, Hunted, were there 100% of the time and we overlooked everything and made sure everything was to our liking but Tim was the man with the knowledge to make it happen. And it’s hard for us to even to start to comprehend the technology behind it all, Tim has all the gadgets he needs and knows how to use them all so if we had an idea he had the technology to implement it. In the album overall, technology was used a bit, some MIDI samples were included and effects were used I guess, but we like to think the album is still pretty raw, there are no keyboards, little use of crazy effects (just your standard stuff i.e. delays, reverb, compression, etc), just vocals, drums and a shitload of guitars.
Jon: Tim Hamill: master of sound, owner of eerily perfect pitch, provider of high quality ‘adult entertainment’ and connoisseur of well-made tea. Awesome bloke!
11. How much studio time were you guys allocated? Now that “Welcome the Dead” is more than a year old, are you still satisfied with the way it sounds or would you have done things differently, had you been given the chance?
Steve: We recorded and mixed the album in 16 days, sadly with full time jobs we only managed to stay out there for 10 days, and then we had to go back every now and then on the weekends. As everything was self-financed we did feel we were restricted and couldn’t take as long as we would have liked to, we could have done with more time to try out different ideas and different tones but that wasn’t possible. Yeah, certain things would have been done differently, we may have recorded a couple more guitar tracks for sure or maybe I wouldn’t have rushed the recording of the solos so much. I think it would have been useful to have waited a week or so before agreeing to the final product as fresh ears may have helped pick up things, sometimes we think the vocals and drums may be a bit high in the mix. Either way, these are little things that we’ll hopefully play around with for the second album, ‘Welcome the Dead’ is the best it could have been, and as I said before we are really proud and happy with what we achieved, we love the music we write and love listening to our debut album.
Jon: I think we had around 15 or 16 days in total, including post-production and mixing. We’re all really happy with the final product (if you’ll forgive the little Nevermore reference there!) and what we were able to achieve in that time but, yeah, I think there are things we would definitely have done a little differently if we’d had a little more time and perhaps a little more experience. Hopefully, we’ll get the opportunity to do it all again soon!
12. Now that the album has finally been granted worldwide distribution do you have any specific touring plans for its promotion? Are there any particular bands which you would like to open for, given the opportunity?
Steve: We are currently in touch with agencies trying to get something together as we’d love the opportunity to play a tour or some gigs to promote our music, whether that be here in the UK, or Europe, or even further abroad. There are loads of bands I’d love play with, any of the greats would be amazing (Maiden, Priest, Helloween) but likewise bands such as Therion or Blind Guardian, would be great too, shame that Nevermore have fallen apart!
Jon: We’re just trying to sort things out with agents at the minute but hopefully we’ll be hitting the road as hard as possible very soon! In terms of support slots, wow, so many – but the ultimate would have to be Iron Maiden for me, with Dream Theater running a close second… definitely a shame about Nevermore too – hope they can figure it all out at some point!
13. I am not sure whether it is too early to ask but are you guys working on new material just yet and, if yes, how similar or different is it from “Welcome To End”?
Steve: Man, we are so excited with our new material, recently we’ve just been learning new songs and I do believe they represent the next step in our sound. We’re approaching the completion of a fourth new song and all four are a little different but offer new experiences and still sound like Hunted – maybe a slightly more mature Hunted than that presented on ‘Welcome the Dead’. The sooner we can start preparing for a second studio album, the better! Can’t wait!
Jon: Not at all man! We’re actually about four songs into new material at the minute, and I think we’re already really excited at the direction it’s all heading in. The songs are perhaps a little more ‘streamlined’ and arranged a little differently than they might have been before, but they’re definitely still Hunted!
14. With file sharing and downloading being the preferred choice for obtaining music by many people today, how do you value your chances of making a career as a band? What are your plans for the future?
Steve: I honestly don’t know mate. It seems like the music biz has suffered a lot but people love music so I’m sure there’ll always be ways of making a career out of it – and it seems like live music seems to be picking up a bit so hopefully there is still a future for music. We’d love to become full time musicians but we have to be realistic too, bills need to be paid! We definitely think we are unique enough to play with the metal bands of this era and hopefully gain the respect of the metal hordes out there, we just need the exposure and Massacre Records are helping us with that one. We will keep doing what we are currently doing, we practice, we play gigs and we’ll keep writing music we love, and as long as we keep writing music I’m sure we’ll keep recording it and putting out there for people to listen to.
Jon: The goal for all of us is to make doing what we love into a career and a living, but we’re all too aware that it’s nowhere near as easy as it might once have been. Of all the genres, though, I really believe that metal still genuinely inspires huge numbers of very, very loyal and dedicated fans (I hope I can count all of us in Hunted among that number!) to go out and buy/download/see the bands they love. So, even though the rules of the game have changed and it has to be played a little differently now, as long as there are metalheads that want to listen and bang their heads, we’ll be around trying to get our music out to as many of them as possible…
15. Guys, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I am really looking forward to hearing more music from you in the hopefully not too distant future and I wish you all the luck in the world! The last words are yours…
Steve: Thank you very much, and thank you for a great interview, some great questions and it was a pleasure trying to answer them!
Jon: Thank you for taking the time to interview us, and for giving us such thoughtful questions!
Band statement: We’d like to encourage any readers to pick up a copy (or download) of our debut album ‘Welcome the Dead’, available at most online retail sites and for anyone who wants to, to feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org with any feedback whatsoever. You can also find us at www.myspace.com/huntedrock or follow us on facebook & twitter for further information. Please come and see us play if we’re anywhere near you – it’ll be worth it, we promise! Thanks for your time. METAL REGARDS!
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