On his inspiring solo debut, Portraits of the New-Old West (Vol. 1), Hunter Stone stakes his creative claim by examining the mythical theme of westward expansion in the United States. Taking his imaginative cues from literature and film, the 33-year-old Boulder resident comes up winning with a sonically eclectic batch of offerings that highlight his instrumental prowess as well as his outstanding vocal and tune-penning abilities.
Westword caught up with Stone to talk songs, art, guitars and what it's like to be living his Colorado dream.
Westword: Where's home base for you?
Hunter Stone: I've been living in Boulder for about six years now. I was in Asheville for a year before I moved here, but I grew up in Massachusetts.
How was Asheville?
I liked it a lot. I migrated there for the same reason I was drawn to Colorado — the music and the mountains. I wasn't really catching my stride there, though, so I wound up jumping in my van with a buddy and heading this way.
Did you attend college?
Can you tell me a bit about your new release, Portraits of the New/Old West (Vol. 1)?
I've been writing songs on acoustic guitar, and a lot them are inspired by some of my personal journeys. I'm big into history, and I wrote the songs through the eyes of people in the Western frontier. The idea for me was to bridge the past and the present and tap into the idea of manifest destiny and westward expansion; and how there is still this American dream, or allure, of the great Western frontier. It's been idealized and captured in movies and literature and in various landscapes. When you get out here [in the West] and feel it, it really comes to life.
Were you checking out particular books or movies that got you going down this path?
It wasn't just one thing that inspired me, but if you've ever read James Joyce's book Dubliners, it's a mix of vignettes or short stories that all pertain to people from Dublin. So I kind of borrowed that theme and applied it to people in the West. I love nonfiction, too, so I was reading a biography about Sitting Bull. I also read a lot about Native history, including the Cheyenne tribe. I also love spaghetti Westerns, like The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. If you listen to my song "La Madrugada," which is one of the tracks from the album, it's completely inspired by Ennio Morricone, who is the guy who scored the music for a lot of those classic Westerns. It has some of the same kinds of things going on — eerie human voices, bullwhips, whistling and that kind of thing. I also took some inspiration from the movie The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. This is the first collection of my songs with these themes, but I have another collection of them that I plan to release this fall. So I'll release two volumes, and then print them both on a vinyl record.
Are you playing with a full band when you perform these tunes?
No, but I'm planning to bring is some different people over the course of my upcoming show at the Roxy. I'm going to start off the night with a songwriters' round kind of idea, with me and my friend Marc Townes. He plays with a band called the Kindhearted Strangers. We'll go back and forth playing acoustic songs and adding a little bit of embellishments to each other's sets. For the second set, I'm going to invite some of my bandmates to play on songs and build it a little bit more. I'll play all these songs in Denver.
So you have a larger group that you play with sometimes?
Yes. It's called Famous Men. It's more on the rock-and-blues side of things. The material on Portraits didn't really fit with the band, but during the pandemic I was able to get into these songs and work on them. They are more subdued story songs. So they don't really work in the sports bars as much.
What guitars are you playing for these songs on Portraits?
I play my acoustic guitar for the most part and then switch off to electric using my Tele, and I also have a semi-hollow body. I also play a bass VI guitar that sounds really good. It's basically a six-string bass. It gives you a cool tone that's really snappy and plucky-sounding.
Did I see you with a resonator guitar on your website?
Yeah, I have a resonator guitar that I bought when I first moved to Boulder and I was busking a lot. I wanted something that could really cut through and be heard really well. My song "War Cry," which includes two parts, was done on the resonator, in an open-G tuning. I still have that echo of the resonator style that I was into when I first moved out here, though these songs are less in that blues vein and more in the story and singer-songwriter vein.
On the song "War Cry," I was trying to mimic a Native chant, like a Native war song. In the second part of the song, the U.S. Cavalry comes in, so I use my slide to channel the Native warriors coming in. The second part of the song is a battle scene. I tried to re-create it all using my guitar.
Do you use any backing vocals on the album?
Yeah, my friend Lyla Yaner sings on "La Madrugada," which means "the dawn" in Spanish. It's a ghostly song about lost love. The song includes two voices, one male and one female, who speak to each other during the song, but they aren't really hearing each other. It's an echo-y thing. The male sings "I'll wait for you," and the female sings, "Don't wait for me." It's sort of this hopeless conversation.
Hunter Stone (with Marc Townes) performs songs from his new release at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 27, at the Roxy on Broadway, 554 South Broadway.
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