They say fortune favors the bold, but then what should we make of Hunters? Derek Watson and Isabel Almeida, the pleasant duo from Brooklyn who comprise the band’s public persona, met at a barbeque and had only modest songwriting experience before a few more chance encounters—Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner—helped them collect their first few songs into what would become Hunters’ debut EP, Hands on Fire.
But the five-song collection suggests that what happened is more than a right-place right-time phenomenon. Hands on Fire mixes the light, trebly pop hooks of the best New York art-rock bands with the heavy, guttoral distortion of Seattle grunge acts. On tracks like “Deadbeat” and “Brat Mouth,” Watson and Almeida exchange frustrated barks before building up to choruses of mutual catharsis. Each Hunters track spans several decades and opposing coasts, but sounds organically interwoven by Watson and Almeida’s immediate bond.
They claim to have an entire LP of new material already written that is better—fuller and more developed demonstrations of raw pop energy. But with a national tour supporting the Kills and JEFF the Brotherhood about to start (another opportunity opened by a chance encounter after playing a show), they don’t know when, where, or with whom they will finally get to record it all. Something tells me it’ll work itself out just fine.
Can you talk about the relationship the two of you have? Because the boy-girl interactions aren’t catty or flirtatious like most bands. It gets to be pretty aggressive and confrontational.
Watson: I think all the songwriting and lyrics that start to show up are sort of a manifestation of how we are with each other. It’s almost natural. Sometimes we won’t even realize what we’re writing because we just kind of go back and forth, and it’s almost like a different way of communicating with each other.
Isabel Almeida: A lot of times we’re just playing and jamming and we just throw out ideas, and we won’t even know what’s happening until after the fact when we hear what we recorded. So it’s kind of funny because we didn’t know what was happening, but it makes total sense.
So it’s almost unearthing latent frustrations with each other?
Almeida: Yeah, probably. Definitely. We have a lot of similarities and we think about things similarly, and it’s kind of crazy sometimes. A lot of times we’re thinking about the exact same thing without realizing it, and the songs are a place where that stuff can manifest itself.
You’re always pigeonholed as either grunge or art rock. Which do you see yourselves more as, or which do you prefer?
Almeida: I think the whole Seattle thing is definitely an influence, because when that was going on we both were super young and grew up listening to it. I just remember seeing it everywhere and watching it on MTV, and it was the first time when music really started to make sense to me.
Watson: I don’t think we ever set out to make, like, grunge music or anything like that. That’s such a weird thing to think about anyways. But I think it makes sense, because growing up—and I still do today—I listen to tons of metal, and I learned to play guitar by playing Cause of Death, and having that heavy element has always been there for me.
Well even grunge can be heavy and difficult, but the primary flagship artists like Nirvana also have great melodies and can sound really pop-y at times. You guys also do that—you play heavy songs that have very light, pop-minded hooks. And then there are songs like “Brat Mouth” where you have a really catchy pop song with a really noisy interlude.
Watson: Yeah, I mean I think it’s just a lot of different things that we’ve both listened to growing up coming out in different ways. For me, I was never singing when I was playing guitar, so I think my style of playing is rooted in that. When I was learning I wasn’t, like, making Cookie-Monster death-metal vocals over anything. I have a hard enough time focusing on doing two things even still. And Isabel just wanted to scream all the time growing up. That’s all she wants to do is just scream on records [laughs].
When I was in high school I started listening to other things and thought to start singing with it. So it was later, and I guess that’s how the two sort of happened together.
The EP’s been out for almost a full month now. What has the reaction been like?
Watson: I think it just was so nice to finally get it out because we had been finished with it for a little bit but we had been bouncing around to different ideas. It had been a long time coming. And it’s kind of funny because we just came out with this and we already have a full-length album of material ready.
Almeida: We recorded these songs in March, but then we couldn’t figure out, like, artwork, whether we wanted to do a 10” or 12”, or what we wanted it to be like. So when it came out we were super, super stoked. And then we got the tour thing, which is awesome for us because we just wanted to get out and play. That is our main thing.