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With a harmony-laced take on alt-folk that’s both breathtaking and sweetly ethereal, The Hunts are a Chesapeake, Virginia-based band made up of seven brothers and sisters who’ve been playing music together almost their entire lives. Ranging from ages 16 to 24, twin sisters Jenni and Jessi and their five brothers Josh, Jonathan, Jordan, Justin, and Jamison all learned to sing and play violin as little kids and spent much of their childhood performing throughout their community. After widening their following and playing at theaters and festivals around the country—and teaching themselves to play instruments like mandolin, piano, ukulele, banjo, and drums—The Hunts started experimenting with songwriting and soon brought to life a batch of songs that reveal their sophisticated sense of melody and undeniably dreamy innocence.
The Hunts’ debut EP for Cherrytree Records/Interscope, Life Was Simple features lead single “Make This Leap,” a lilting piece of indie-folk built on layered harmonies, intricately textured acoustic instrumentation, and lyrics that gracefully shift from melancholy to triumphant. With Josh and Jenni taking turns as lead vocalist, The Hunts sustain that dynamic throughout Life Was Simple, often turning their shared memories into songs that capture heartache and wonder with a wide-eyed but wistful elegance. “Growing up the way we did, we had to learn to make do with what we had, so the stories from that time are incredibly special to us,” says Jessi, who explains that all seven members of The Hunts write each song together. “A lot of the time we write about what we remember from being young—the things we went through that have drawn us together and stuck in our hearts and really made us who we are.”
Raised in “a little tiny house but with lots of land,” each of The Hunts learned to play violin as students in the music school run by their mother (a classically trained violinist) and picked up guitar with the help of their father (an arborist who taught himself to play by ear). “Our mom and dad played together as a duo for a long time, and then they added each of us kids into the group whenever we were able to play along,” explains Jessi. “We started performing out in the community, playing everything from patriotic songs to Irish folk songs to songs from Disney movies,” she adds. As the kids grew as musicians and started exploring different genres, The Hunts began introducing new instruments to their repertoire. “If there was something that caught our interest, our mom was really quick to put that instrument in our hands,” says Jessi. “Like when Jordan realized he liked the drums, she found him a drum set at a yard sale, and he taught himself to play. She really encouraged us to pursue whatever we were drawn to.”
In 2007, after years of playing locally, The Hunts began landing gigs in other states and averaging about a hundred performances a year. “We’d pack everything into a van and drive hours and hours to whatever state, and after a while it evolved a bit, and eventually the van turned into an RV,” says Josh. Along with developing as a touring act, The Hunts began trying their hands at songwriting, gradually building up a selection of original songs true to their folk roots but infused with a fresh sensibility with elements of both Americana and indie-inspired folk. Rather than posting their music online, The Hunts created a demo CD that made its way through the music community and ultimately wound up in the hands of producer Mark Carman, who invited them down to Nashville to make an album in his studio.
Recorded live in just four days and released in late 2012, We Were Young features ten original songs that would soon greatly expand The Hunts’ reach. “When we put out the album, we sent a few songs to a radio station here that plays local bands for an hour every Sunday night,” recalls Jenni. “We were expecting to wait until that Sunday to see if they played us, but instead they put ‘Make This Leap’ into daily rotation, which was so exciting.” The track quickly attracted the attention of New York City-based Songs Music Publishing, which in turn paved the way for The Hunts’ signing with Cherrytree Records/Interscope.
Although their tastes now run from folk-rock to noise-pop, The Hunts hold true to a songwriting process that taps into each member’s unique strengths but remains intensely collaborative. “Everyone’s very much deeply involved every step of the way, everyone’s ears and hearts are in every single line,” says Jenni. As shown on Life Was Simple, that unified approach gives way to songs with an irresistible richness of spirit. From “Lifting the Sea” (a slow-building and soulful epic inspired by the siblings’ longing to bring their music to the world, a dream they’ve realized in part by traveling to Haiti to lead a music camp for local children) to “Remember Us” (a hushed and lovely meditation on “forgiveness and washing away old hurts and learning to let things go,” as Jessi explains), all of the EP’s songs prove artfully arranged but instilled with a graceful simplicity.
While getting seven strong-minded brothers and sisters to agree on every last note and lyric can sometimes be chaotic, The Hunts note that the synergy born from that chaos is what makes the band so strong. “I like to look at our hectic way of writing as actually really helpful to us as songwriters,” says Josh. “Each one of us is a filter, and after going through all seven of those filters, each song is so much better than it could ever be if we each just wrote on our own.” Now heading out on tour in support of Life Was Simple, The Hunts are thrilled to harmonize for a bigger audience than ever before. “One of our favorite things is for all seven of us to sing together at once, and I think people really like to see the special camaraderie that comes from brothers and sisters creating something together,” says Jessi. “Growing up, we didn’t really have much,” adds Jenni. "But we did have music, and that was the thing that always brought us together. I can't think of anything better than growing that relationship even deeper, through making more music that comes right from our hearts."