When Denver musician Hunter James wrote the song “Where We Land” five months ago, he thought about his first intimate encounter with death. He was eighteen years old, and a close friend's boyfriend had died by suicide. While comforting his friend, James sorted through his own confusion about how people can just disappear one day.
How can a person, filled with dreams, thoughts, complications and desires, cease to exist, especially by choice, he wondered.
“Watching the effect it had on my friend was devastating,” James says. “She just checked out for a few months."
Since then, James has had some very close friends pass away, including Chris Hunnicutt — who played with him in Hunter James and the Titanic — from pancreatic cancer. “Where We Land,” which dropped April 10 on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and other streaming platforms, has become a tribute to Hunnicutt and others who have died.
“I guess losing people makes you want to embrace your life more and make time spent with others engaged, present and meaningful,” James says. “I like to think about the ghosts of people I miss joining me on stage or when I'm writing or recording. It makes me miss them less…
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“It's also motivating to think of life as finite: Even if we come around again, we have to make the most of this particular life, because we don't know," he adds. "We all have lost people, and I think that depth of pain can unite us and liberate us to try and live more, and really appreciate the nuances and experience of life.”
While “Where We Land,” which recalls some of Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit's more energetic material, deals with dark subject matter, the song rocks with a fierce buoyancy, thanks in part to George Horn's propulsive drumming and Taylor Marvin’s slide guitar work.
James is a prolific writer, but since Denver went on lockdown over COVID-19, he hasn’t been writing much in isolation.
“We recorded a couple albums' worth of material in 2019, and it feels like a time to take a little break and relax, wait for this rain cloud to pass over,” he says. “I've been banging on the drums a lot. We had all these shows planned for spring/summer of 2020; we had really been booking our asses off, and it looks like most of them aren't going to happen. Well, I guess we'll see. There are more important things to think about right now.”