By ROB DUGUAY There are some musicians who can really catch your attention with their voice. The way they sing becomes the trademark of their sound, and each time after listening to a tune of theirs you're left stunned and impressed. It's the most
There are some musicians who can really catch your attention with their voice. The way they sing becomes the trademark of their sound, and each time after listening to a tune of theirs you’re left stunned and impressed. It’s the most natural way a singer-songwriter can stand apart from their contemporaries.
With a blend of full-bodied soul and a bit of a twang, Cranston resident Jake Hunsinger is able to pull this off in excellent fashion. The past couple of years have seen him go from playing open mics to becoming a fixture in Rhode Island’s music scene.
We recently had a talk about how he wound up in Cranston, his musical heroes, starting a band, his girlfriend being his muse and a new single he put out.
You’re originally from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, so how did you end up in Cranston?
My dad is from Hazelton, Pennsylvania, and I kind of consider that place home. My mom married my dad in Williamsburg and I was born in Harrisburg, then my dad got a promotion with Pitney Bowes and there were two places he didn’t want to work. He didn’t want to work in Wisconsin and he didn’t want to work in Rhode Island, and of course he took a job with better pay in Rhode Island. My mom’s family, even though she grew up in New Hampshire, is originally from Rhode Island, so on top of dad getting the promotion, my mom got to be near her family. It just made sense for us all to move to Cranston. I came here when I was around 2.
Who do you consider to be your No. 1 musical hero and why?
I was actually thinking about that the other day because I was working on a song and I can’t help but compare myself to people I admire. It definitely manifests so much in my work that I notice. One of my favorite musicians, Father John Misty, says that you have to kill your heroes if you’re going to make something mostly yours. Once I started taking that philosophy to heart, I stopped sounding like Bruce Springsteen and I really wanted to be like him for a while. He was my big thing in high school all the way through when I started college, and then I really got into Bob Dylan but it was more of a study than it was an influence.
I will ultimately say Bruce Springsteen, but my relationship with him has changed to where it’s more enjoyment now than it is inspiration. I just love his whole story, I love everything about him, what he means and what he meant to me as a kid. Bruce Springsteen’s whole ethos and what he talks about in his songs just makes sense when you’re in high school, it makes sense even now, actually, but it really resonated with me during that time.
Bruce Springsteen has a way of telling stories with his music that a lot of people can’t really match. It’s a borderline lyrical mix of the beat generation style and stream of consciousness but it’s in a story structure that gives you visuals of what he’s singing about. Not a lot of musicians can do that.
You've recently gone from being a solo musician to having The Rock Bottom Band become your backing band. How did you get all of the members to join you and do you prefer playing with a band versus playing solo or does it depend on the gig?
In high school I played in this little alternative rock band that I took way too seriously, definitely more seriously than anyone else involved. I didn’t really work out, but it’s a high school band so it’s not supposed to. I didn’t want to hear that, so I swore off playing with a band for a while because I would only get frustrated with what other people were doing. Then my friend Zack Wedge, who is one of my best friends, and I were talking about music and while we have different tastes we also have similar personalities. I wanted to record my debut EP at the time and I realized that I’m not satisfied hearing just me on the recording.
So I asked him to play drums on it, and of course Zack jumped at the opportunity. I love playing, but he does it every day. I can go a couple days without playing my guitar and I’ll eventually get burnt out, but he can’t not play so he signed on really quick. I met Andrew Donnelly at a show and we bonded over John Prine and ancient history, which is weird. We were in the bathroom and I noticed that he was wearing a shirt with the Roman Republic symbol on it and we were talking about that. We kind of fell down that rabbit hole and we really bonded over shared interests.
I needed someone to play guitar and I asked him. What I didn’t know is that he and I could do harmonies so well. I was really happy when he joined up. We recorded that first EP with George Dussault at Galilee Productions in Cumberland and he played the bass on that while filling out all of the instrumentation. Jaime Doyle, who’s the bass player now, became friends with me through theater at UMass Dartmouth and after he heard my acoustic demos that I personally can’t stand anymore, he kind of tracked me down. He caught me outside my apartment and he was really intense about it while saying, “Jake, I love your demos. We need to jam, like soon.”
That was a year before we actually played together and I asked him to play in the band out of necessity. We had the band’s debut show coming up and I realized that I didn’t actually have a full band yet, so I asked him if he wanted to do it. Jamie was down and he’s awesome, he’s an active entertainer which is something you don’t see with a lot of bassists. He has a lot of dynamic input as well, so it’s kind of like a thing where I picked up one person at a time. It was always the lineup I was trying to make for the record.
It was very natural, very organic, and I think that’s why it worked so well, because I wasn’t trying to force something to happen and trying to make something that wasn’t. I very much love playing with the band, we had our first practice a while ago and it’s like we’ve never stopped. I’ve had so much fun, we lost a lot of shows because of COVID-19 but I feel like my acoustic performances and my band performances have a different quality to them. I don’t prefer one over the other because they feel different to me when I’m playing. When I’m playing in the pocket, I feel good.
When I’m playing acoustically, I feel electric. I feel magnetic. I feel cool and I feel like I’m captivating by myself, but there’s something about playing with the band that always delivers for me. It makes me feel like I’m doing what I should be doing. It depends, I play mostly acoustic shows before COVID-19 largely because it just pays better and I’m trying to do this for work.
That’s awesome how much can give you so much of a rush like that. A few weeks ago, you put out a new single titled “Lady Of The Wild Moor” with The Rock Bottom Band. Was that also recorded with George Dussault?
Yes it was.
Who created the cover art for it? It’s kind of like something you would see in a church window while also having a medieval vibe to it?
That was my lovely girlfriend, Abigail. She drew that for me. Abigail is really instrumental to my work. She’s an editor for the songs when I’m not feeling sure about it. The first EP’s artwork is a painting from the ’40s that her friend almost threw out. She said that I would love it so she saved it, took it and gave it to me. With “Lady Of The Wild Moor,” it’s really about her. It’s a stream of consciousness thing that came to mind when I first started dating her.
Can we expect a new record from you and the band to follow up the single?
We have a whole song catalog and I’m trying to figure out which is the best way to go forward because of the changing music market and because I can’t play shows until there’s a vaccine, or so we think. We don’t fully understand the nature of the virus and the name of the game now is staying relevant and getting attention, which is really hard for anybody. It’s purely a business move, there will be a bunch of releases over the course of this year. I don’t know if it’s going to be a single after single because we’re recording a new song in July. The current mindset now is to have another single out by then, but is it building to a larger release or is it just throwing out content so people can remember that we exist? It kind of depends. I will say that there will be more music this year, but I don’t know what it’s going to look like.