Ian Hunter 2024 interview

Interview – Ian Hunter

Ian Hunter 2024

Few in the Rock-n-Roll world have a rich, expansive history quite like Ian Hunter. A singer, songwriter, and all around talented musician, Hunter’s unpredictable story in music spans over 7 decades with so many tales to tell. Recognized as the leader of Mott the Hoople, Hunter also built himself an impressive career as a solo artist, worked extensively with the great Mick Ronson, and continues to create new music in the present day. 

Truly a captivating figure, Hunter has earned the esteem of fans, as well as fellow musicians who pine for the chance to work with him. In fact, over the last few years many of Rock-n-Roll’s biggest names joined forces to record some music that would be enough to create two full-length albums. Inspiring, the list of those involved includes Ringo Starr, Johnny Depp, Jeff Beck, Todd Rundgren, Joe Elliott (of Def Leppard), Guns N’ Roses’ Slash, Duff McKagan, Robert Trujillo (of Metallica), Mike Campbell (from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Waddy Wachtel (Stevie Nicks, Jackson Browne), Brad Whitford (Aerosmith), Billy Gibbons (of ZZ Top), Stone Temple Pilots’ Dean DeLeo, Robert DeLeo, & Eric Kretz, as well as Foo Fighters’ late Drummer Taylor Hawkins. Just a few of the names involved in the works, the first batch of songs emerged in 2023 under the title Defiance Part 1, and now in 2024, Defiance Part 2: Fiction is set for release on April 19th. A truly exciting time, Ian Hunter himself graciously took the time to chat about his story in Rock-n-Roll, the state of the world, the importance of humor and humility, plus much more. 

Cryptic Rock – You have sustained a very long and interesting career over six decades. Accomplishing a great deal, with your music, as well as working with others, how would you describe this real journey to this point?

Ian Hunter – I remember being in a factory in Northampton when I was 17. If somebody had said to me then, this is what’s going to happen, I would have taken it.

Cryptic Rock – It’s a very unpredictable story, but life is very unpredictable.

Ian Hunter – Well, anything’s better than boring. I stopped doing it a couple of times. The music industry being what it was all the way through up until recently really it was tour, album, tour, album, tour, album. The last one’s better than the next one, and the next one’s better than the last one, and all this business. Very difficult to keep up with that kind of thing. It’s been off and on, and that is more enjoyable than just doing it non-stop. That to me would have been boring.

Cryptic Rock – And it is good to mix things up to keep everything fresh. In the times which you have been active, you have also kept it quite diverse; whether it be as a songwriter, working behind the scenes, or with your own band. You mentioned how things have changed in music. Six-plus decades is a long time, and it feels like over the last decade we have seen drastic cultural changes. What are some of the biggest changes you have seen?

Ian Hunter – Same thing. My record comes out the same day as Taylor Swift’s… I wonder who’s going to win that one. (Laughs) Every faction of music has its time span. Rock’s time span has been 50 years, or something like that. Before that, it was Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and all that kind of stuff.

Now you got Rap, you’ve got Country, sort of Pop Country, and Pop. Do I like it? No. This is different generations of kids growing up with different things that affect them on the way up. I wrote about what happened to me when I grew up. I would imagine that’s what rappers do; you just write your time.

Mott the Hoople - All The Young Dudes
Mott the Hoople – All The Young Dudes / CBS (1972)
Mott the Hoople - Mott
Mott the Hoople – Mott / CBS (1973)

Cryptic Rock – That is true; you are a reflection of your time. You mentioned it has been 50 plus years of Rock-n-Roll. Dating back to the ’50s you had pioneers like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, etc. It feels like some people are trying to keep Rock-n-Roll alive. It is sad to think about it… but do you think Rock-n-Roll is fading out?

Ian Hunter – There are a fair few people trying to keep it alive, yeah. The Def Leppards and the Mötley Crües of the world, and they can still fill stadiums. In the main, it’s taken a back seat; because suburban kids just grew up on Rap and that kind of took over. That’s the way it is.

I didn’t grow up in those situations at that time. I grew up in my situation at my time. Like you say, all my heroes were Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and all those people. That’s my history. Most of the lyrics ever since have been that and what I was doing at the time. Now is now; a whole different situation. AI, fictional politics, and all this kind of stuff. It’s difficult. It’s different.

Cryptic Rock – That is certainly true. It definitely is very different. In 2023 you release part one of a two-part album – Defiance Part 1. Setting up for part two, Defiance Part 2 : Fiction (which is out on April 19th), how did you approach part two differently from part one?

Ian Hunter – I didn’t. I worked with Andy York, who’s a co-producer. The checklist on the first one seemed easier. The second one’s denser, slightly heavier I would imagine. You’ve got Cheap Trick. It’s just heavier.

They were all written approximately around COVID time, 2020-21. As these people came in and wanted to join in, it inspired you to write more and more. I had a great run there for a while. A lot of these tracks didn’t fit the first one, but we sequenced the second one.

The only new, recent one is a song called “Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible,” which a lot of people are asking me, when I’m going out again. That’s the answer to that. That’s the only newer one.

When people like Ringo, Mike Campbell, Stone Temple Pilots, Waddy Wachtel and all these people go on your record… it inspires you to write more and more. I was on a roll there for I’d say probably a year. I’m eternally thankful for it, because I don’t go out and get it… it just comes.

Cryptic Rock – The music that came together is really inspiring. A lot of these songs have something to say and there is a lot of thoughtful context within them. You would expect that from someone who has lived life and earned the wisdom that you have living life. Obviously, these songs are a reflection of what you are seeing through your eyes in today’s culture. Is that an accurate assessment?

Ian Hunter – Yeah. It always was that way. What you’re seeing, what you’re doing, it just comes out in the writing. I wasn’t very good at making up stuff. It doesn’t give you the same satisfaction. Something like “Fiction,” from the new album, gave me some satisfaction. It took a while too lyrically.

Ian Hunter - All-American Alien Boy
Ian Hunter – All-American Alien Boy / Columbia (1976)
Ian Hunter - You're Never Alone with a Schizophrenic
Ian Hunter – You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic / (1979)

Cryptic Rock – The lyrics hit very hard too. These songs discuss topics that are at the forefront of people’s minds thinking about what is happening in our culture and the hypocrisy surrounding us. It is nice to have music to turn to like this. That is what music’s great about; you have these types of songs that at least make you think. It is not about telling you to think a certain way, but just to explore your thoughts.

Ian Hunter – Well, there’s always a reason for everything. There’s an ambiguity in “Fiction,” which I like. Some people are brought up in different circumstances than other people. Some people are brought up in more obscure circumstances than other people. There’s always a reason why this shit happens. I took a while with “Fiction” and I was trying to get that right.

Cryptic Rock – It seems like you did get it right. With these new songs set for release, are you going to do some live shows again?

Ian Hunter – I don’t know. I was going to, but there were a couple of things that came up that prevented that. I have tinnitus and it’s a frustrating problem. If I do, it would be acoustic, Q&A, that kind of thing. I can’t do a full band… it’s too loud.

Cryptic Rock – Understandable. These songs would be great to hear acoustic as well.

Ian Hunter – How I did them was downstairs in the basement with Andy York, just me and the piano. It developed from there. You send stuff out to various people and they add to it. I don’t think I could get on a stage with a full band. I have 84-year-old ears.

Cryptic Rock – Quite understandable. It is interesting how you said they came together in the basement. Isn’t that the way most songs usually come together; either with a guitar or a piano. With that, don’t they build from there? That seems to be the best way to write.

Ian Hunter – Yeah. The way it was done, I had a keyboard that had drums in it; so, I had a basic drum track going. I’d be on piano, Andy would put that down, and then I would put a vocal on it. He’d come around with a little box on the computer. Then I would put the vocal on top of the piano. We only had one pair of headphones; so all he could hear was the vocals, he couldn’t hear the piano. Then you send them off. During COVID you had all these people at home, a lot of them with home studios, but they had nothing to do and they weren’t touring. That’s how it developed.

There’s a guy called Ross Halfin, he’s a photographer. He travels a lot and he takes photographs of all the big bands. He started telling me that people were interested. My manager, Mike Kobayashi, started telling me people were interested. The idea was really born not out of me. It was born out of those two.

Cryptic Rock – Very interesting. And look at the cast of individuals that were assembled that worked with you on this. There are some amazing collaborations here.  

Ian Hunter – Yeah. Imagine what it’d be like if it happened to you… that’s how it is. It’s most gratifying to say the least. It is inspiring too, so I kept on writing. I must have done 21- 23 songs, something like that, in a year. My total input usually would be about 8 if I’m lucky.

Cryptic Rock – Wow, so it really was quite inspiring for you.

Ian Hunter – Yeah. To see all these people give their time was pretty amazing.

Cryptic Rock – Another aspect noticed about listening to the records – the part one and part two – is that the point of view that you are coming from in a lot of these songs is not preaching one way or the other, but just pointing out the clear obvious that is in front of us. It just seems to be the obvious logic of the situation. It does not seem like a lot of people are getting it, or they are being pushed in a million different directions.

Ian Hunter – Yeah, America’s money. It’s very difficult. If you had a system where there was equal time television that was non-payable, and maybe six weeks till the election – which is sort of what happens in Britain – it might work a little better than these four years of craziness and billions of dollars being spent. It’s supposed to be an election, not a money thing.

Ian Hunter Bay Shore, NY 5-6-17 / Photo credit Mark Schoen
Ian Hunter Bay Shore, NY 5-6-17 / Photo credit Mark Schoen

Cryptic Rock – That is true. The system is also a little different in America. In a parliamentary system, if someone is not doing such a great job, you could probably remove that person.

Ian Hunter – You have a problem in America, and the problem is money. That is something Americans are very good at, but then has its disadvantages as well. This is it. It’s very difficult for a central party to get involved; because neither the Republicans or the Democrats would like that. They’re kind of in charge of the whole thing and the packs that are behind them.

A third party just doesn’t materialize where it would be more central. You need both parties. One can’t disappear. You have to have both. That’s what it’s all about. The trouble is it’s gotten more and more about money.

Cryptic Rock – Very good points. You need both as you stated. It is like an eagle needs two wings. You need a left and a right otherwise, you will fall. A plane needs two wings to fly.

Ian Hunter – Yes. You’ve got the left talking about the right, and the right talking about the left in all forms of media. The one thing they don’t say is its money. The left slag off the right, the right slag off the left, but nobody mentions the word money. That’s what it’s all about.

Cryptic Rock – Yes. It is tragic that it is this way, but it is great that we still have artists such as yourself who are speaking human truth. Most people could really care less about politics or aligning with a political party for the most part. Most people are very down the center, and they are being torn in all these different directions. The division is destroying everyone.

Ian Hunter – It is depressing. That combined with the COVID thing, that was depressing too, has created a lot of nut jobs. It’s the same with every day of the week – somebody shot somebody. You have this thing with guns. If you didn’t have the guns, these people wouldn’t be shot. It’s kind of like money, it’s just not spoken about. It’s just an automatic American thing; you’ve got to have a gun. Coming from a different country, I find it strange; although I’ve lived here 45 years.

Cryptic Rock – These are very thought-provoking topics. Hopefully we can manifest a better future – both musically and societally.

Ian Hunter – They are just slagging each other off. That doesn’t solve anything.

Ian Hunter - Yui Orta
Ian Hunter / Mick Ronson – Yui Orta / Mercury (1989)
Ian Hunter - Defiance Part 1
Ian Hunter – Defiance Part 1 / Sun Records (2023)

Cryptic Rock – You are right, it does not. As mentioned, at least there are some artists out there that are still making Rock-n-Roll. Hopefully people out there can weed through all the nonsense and make sense of things so that we all move forward, rather than just treading water, or worse yet, drown.

Ian Hunter – A sense of humor would come in handy as well.

Cryptic Rock – Yes! A sense of humor is very important. That seems to be something that is also lacking in today’s culture in a lot of ways.

Ian Hunter – Yeah. With the woke thing, it’s like – fine, I’m alright with that… as long as Russia and China are all right with it. (Laughs)

Cryptic Rock – That is an extremely valid point right there. You said that you did have a very expansive writing session over the years that you created these albums. Are there other songs, or this is everything that you’re putting out now?

Ian Hunter – No, I don’t have anything else in the bag. I’ve written three songs since, which won’t see the light of day for some time to come. That’s just the beginning of something else. I don’t really look back. Very often, people ask me questions I can’t answer, because I can’t remember. I’m just thinking about the next thing.

Cryptic Rock – You just keep moving forward.

Ian Hunter – Yeah, which I’m not saying that’s a great thing or anything. It’s just the way I am. You’ve done what you’ve done. Good, bad, or average. That’s done. That’s gone.

Cryptic Rock – Right. You take what you have done, and you apply that to the future. Obviously, we all learn from our mistakes in life. We earn wisdom as we get older.

Ian Hunter – It’s just a standard that you have. Everybody’s got one, I suppose, at least in the writing profession. Probably comedians too. There’s a certain level of joke. Comedians are going to say, “Yeah, I’m going to do that.” Quality control, I guess you would call it. I’ve got a lot of stuff that will never see the light of day, because I didn’t think it was good enough. It is quality control.

Cryptic Rock – It makes sense. Through all these years and experiences, whether it be working with Mick Ronson, David Bowie, etc., what are some of the most valuable things you have learned from everything?

Ian Hunter – I have no idea what I have learned. I guess I learned off other people along the way. Everybody’s influenced by somebody. That’s how you start. I played with some great people, and Ronson stands out, Mick Ralphs too. All the Motts, and all the bands I’ve had since.

Ian Hunter - Defiance Part 2: Fiction
Ian Hunter – Defiance Part 2: Fiction / Sun Records (2024)

We’ve always gone for camaraderie and humor, as opposed to great musicianship. I like the excitement of being in a Rock band and the camaraderie on the road is great. I’ve done so many gigs, I’ve been on so many planes and buses/vans, and the one thing I miss is the camaraderie.

Cryptic Rock – That is something that cannot be replaced. When you have that connection with others doing something that you love, there is no better feeling.

Ian Hunter – Mott the Hoople was an awkward band, but they were all distinct personalities, so it was great. Ever since then, I had the Rant Band for 20 years. I don’t think we ever had an argument in 20 years. It was great fun and there were a lot of comedians. It was so much fun, which is what I got in it for. Being in a factory is not much fun. For some people, I guess, yeah, they’re engineers and they want to do that for their lives. For me, that wasn’t fun enough. Being in a band and being in a van or a bus or touring somewhere… that’s my idea of fun.

Cryptic Rock – It sounds like a lot of great times and stories to tell. Judging by your longevity, it has always been about that and the music, but not the commercial success.

Ian Hunter – It’s a double-edged sword. What happens is on the odd occasion that I’ve been near it, you are then put in the hands of people who want it to continue. I’m just not one of those people. I can’t deliver. I did All American Alien Boy (1976), and that went down really well, but I couldn’t do another All-American Alien Boy, which was what was required. It would be tour and then do another Alien Boy. I couldn’t do that. I had to go and do something different.

We did an album called Short Back ‘n’ Sides (1981) with Mick Jones out of Clash; it was totally different and everybody hated it. But it was the difference that kept me going; because I can’t do the same things all the time. All-American Alien Boy was another record I did that people didn’t like. They like it now, but they didn’t at the time. It followed my first solo album, which was a Rock album, and All-American Alien Boy was not. It just keeps me interested. 

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