by Jeremy Morrison
On Saturday night, local duo Luckily I’m the Hunter sweated out a set of driving, pounding, at times pummeling music in celebration of the release of their new CD, “Novageist.”
The band’s music doesn’t have lyrics. Guitarist Jollan Aurelio uses words like “intense,” “dynamic” and “visual” to describe its sound.
“Like a movie score is what we’re going for,” he said. “Something cinematic.”
Luckily I’m the Hunter’s CD release show is the last one on the local calendar for a while. Aurelio will be busy touring the college circuit with his brother-in-law’s The Asia Project this fall, while drummer William Pitts is putting his recently-earned captain’s license to good use. Prior to their respite, the musicians sat down in the back room of Sluggo’s to discuss their music, new CD, longtime friendship and becoming a wizard.
SANDS: How would you describe your music?
Jollan Aurelio: I would say dynamic more than anything else, because it’s not really one thing.
William Pitts: I’ve always been fascinated with technical music, and usually the more notes the better but what we have now is really driven be the emotion we get from each other and, in live performances, from the crowd as well.
I’ve been watching Jollan play guitar since he first got one and he’s always been really impressed with it and he really just drives what I do.
SANDS: How long have you guys known each other? A long time it sounds like?
William Pitts: Twenty years, roughly.
Jollan Aurelio: Yeah, since I was in third grad and you were in second grade. We went to elementary school and were at the same bus stop.
William Pitts: Neighbors.
Jollan Aurelio: Neighbors, our families knew each other.
SANDS: When did you start playing together?
Jollan Aurelio: High school. We were also in band.
SANDS: High school band?
Jollan Aurelio: High school band and jazz band.
SANDS: What’d you play?
Jollan Aurelio: The first two years of high school I played saxophone, and then the next years I played guitar, strictly jazz band with him.
SANDS: Did this extracurricular musical relationship grow out of that scholastic setting?
William Pitts: No, I had always — because my dad played a little bit of drums he had a drum set from a buddy that he borrowed when I was like five or six years old that he left set up and let me mess around with it.
Really, I’ve always had a drum set around and I think our friendship kind of exposed him to that and then he became a guitar wizard out of nowhere and so then we just had to play, there was no other option.
SANDS: Tell me about the guitar wizard part. How did that happen?
Jollan: It’s kind of funny that you say that. I’m not a wizard, but — but I still remember growing up I would hear the music in my backyard, our backyards were connected, and there was actually a door from the other neighbor that we knew, there was like three houses, and I would go take the gate between our houses and go to their backyard to their back area where they jam. And his sister would play bass, Will could also play guitar and his older brother played drums, and they would jam out. And I would just be sitting there.
And one day my dad got me a Walmart guitar, it comes in a package, it’s not even made out of real wood, I don’t think. And it came with like a small booklet, which was useless, and I actually learned from “Guitar For Dummies.” And he would give me tabulator. I didn’t even have internet and he had internet and he would print out tabulator so we could learn songs and we’d just play’em together. Like our own little private cover band.
Whatever easy songs we could play. Eventually we got tired of playing thoseand we were able to create our own music, cause it was more fun.
William Pitts: My mom got me a guitar for my twelfth birthday and I said, “What the hell is this? Why’d you get me a guitar? I have a crap drum set, a drum set would’ve been nice.” She was like, “You asked for it, you’ve been asking for it.”
So I went through many years of “Smoke on the Water,” and all that good stuff. In the end I’m so grateful that she got it for me.
SANDS: You learned how to play it beyond “Smoke on the Water”?
William Pitts: Yes. You know, there were times when it was my favorite thing to do. But not so much now. I haven’t kept up with it like I should.
Yeah, basically Jollan learned after I did. My version, I like to tell that I taught Jollan how to play guitar. Like, I inspired him or something. Which may not be the case, but, you know — a couple of months later, after I showed him a couple of songs, from what I remember, and it may be a biased opinion, a couple of months later he came back and I remember we sat on the curb, where the sidewalk is in Canterbury Woods, and he showed me what he learned and it blew my mind. It was incredible, he’d only been playing a couple of months. So, yeah, a wizard right off the bat.
Jollan Aurelio: He definitely helped me grow as a musician, and I was always open to all the other musicians that could play guitar and I would always be very humbled to see how good they are. And I would just ask questions, “How do you do that? How do you do that?” And try to learn, because I was teaching myself. So, I was trying to absorb as much as I could from everybody. And Will’s definitely a factor that helped me grow as a musician and I learned a lot from him.
SANDS: Your playing sounds really rhythmic , would you attribute that from learning guitar from a drummer?
Jollan Aurelio: Yeah, definitely. [From] Will I’ve learned all the technical music theory, time signatures and stuff like that. And I have a really big appreciation for rhythms, because I feel like in songs that’s like one of the most interesting parts. Of course, melodies are important, but you could also make a melody that’s rhythmic , I think … it’s weird, I don’t know, I mean rhythm’s involved in anything.
SANDS: Who else would y’all site as musical influences?
William Pitts: A lot. Before we name any, Jollan had mentioned me being an influence to him — really, after he got hot and heavy into guitar I kind of rode his coattails into the new stuff he exposed me to. In my teens I was exposed to, like, 311 and Dave Mathews and Incubus and stuff like that and thought that was like the best stuff ever and then Jollan was big into quote-unquote underground music and found some really neat stuff that I never had heard and that I would have never found on my own. And until this day — I don’t have internet now, haven’t had it for a couple of years — he’s just always feeding me new stuff.
SANDS: What would you say your trying to do with your music, what direction are you trying to take it?
William Pitts: The sound that we have with this project is a lot different that what we’ve done before. I think Jollan has done a lot of acoustic stuff with [his band] Heister and then he brought Heister up to Pensacola from South Florida and added me and a bass player that I knew and we tried to go a little more technical and a little more kind of busy. It was good, but it needed more time than we gave it to really flourish.
I don’t know. Jollan just plays and I put something to it.
SANDS: It’s not a conscious thing? Y’all just do what you wanna do?
William Pitts: Yeah.
Jollan Aurelio: Yeah, there’s a — we’ve talked about it before, you know together when we write sometimes there wasn’t a clear direction before. It was just technical for the sake of being technical. But now the direction we’re trying to go for is — of course it’s instrumental — but then we want post-rock influences, but we’ll have math-rock influences in there also, with the time changes and the technical stuff. What I appreciate about post-rock is that there’s movements and it’s dynamic and you can have it almost like cinematic and there’s like a purpose to that songwriting. So, there’s like somewhere where the music goes, and there’s a focal point that people can follow. And somehow, hopefully, what we’re hoping, is to be able to connect with people so they can also, hopefully, appreciate it.
William Pitts: Yeah, with this project we went in, before we played the first note of practice, we vocalized to each other that we wanted it to be inclusive to other people and for people to be able to, you know, enjoy it. And when we’ve played before, a lot of times we just tried to, you know, like, be impressive and it just wasn’t impressive.
Jollan Aurelio: Yeah.
SANDS: Elaborate on that, what do you mean by that?
William Pitts: I don’t know, we — the tastefulness of this, I think, is on another level from anything we’ve done before. I think it really allows the listener to enjoy it instead of being just splattered with notes.
SANDS: There’re a lot of notes in there.
William Pitts: There are a lot of notes in there and that’s something I can never get away from. Like I said last nigh — talking about a different thing altogether — there’s always room for improvement. And like I said last night to Jollan and his girlfriend, I’m lazy and unproductive all the time, but I always know that there’s room for improvement. And I admire musicians that are really talented, so that’s what I go for, to really try to put in as many notes as I can, as tastefully as possible. And it feels like we’re finding more of that balance of when it’s okay to play loud and fast and when it’s appropriate.
SANDS: Is your music all mapped out, preplanned, or is there any improvisation in there?
Jollan Aurelio: Sometimes we’ll improvise at the very end. And a lot of our songs are actually created through improvisation. Really we’re trying to create music that we like and that we can be proud of, but we don’t want to go over people’s heads and so we, like, improvise and improvise and improvise until it feels right.
And then all these ideas, after improvising, we’ll collect all these ideas and we’ll basically just try to put’em together and it’s kind of like folding ideas into one and tempering it into an entire song.
William Pitts: And there’s plenty of times when we’ll play for like — especially when we were in the writing process, before we had any shows — we would play for like an hour, sometimes nonstop, and just like our whole lives of playing music we say at the end, “man, I can’t remember what that was that was so awesome, we should’ve been recording this the whole time with our phones.” But when you record it seems like you can never really — I can never really play like no one’s listening. Even though it’s only us listening back to it. It’s weird.
But, yeah, then we’ll go and try to piece it together. And songs really evolve once we start playing shows. The structures of the songs have remained pretty constant. There are parts that are always up for extending or shortening or whatever, but the orders of the movements have remained the same. [But] my parts, specifically, there’s a lot of things that I do that aren’t the same every time, but there are guidelines for me to go by and certain things that I always play the same.
The last song that we’ve played for the last couple of shows, except for last night, we kind of didn’t really have it worked out all the way and just threw it out there a couple of shows ago and tried to reproduce the fun we were having playing it earlier that day and it didn’t work out. But the next show, I think it was here at Sluggo’s, and it felt pretty good. Or maybe it was Blind Mule, in Mobile, but it’s tightening up.
Jollan Aurelio: Yeah, we’ve been writing it right before the show. One time I like completely blanked out because I had just come up with that part beforehand. We were working on it, and it was like in 5/8, and I couldn’t remember the rhythm because I just blanked out.
Yeah, we probably shouldn’t do that too often. But when those moments happen, that’s when we’ll improvise for real. We’ll just ride with it and pretend.
William Pitts: And sometimes it’s a dying horse, that we’re just riding until it really dies all the way, but sometimes we can scoop it up out of the depths.
SANDS: What were y’all trying to do with this new album, what was thinking behind putting it together?
Jollan Aurelio: Well, the album itself is the set, like the entire set from beginning to end. They’re all intentionally meant to be in that order. They were just kind of ideas that we had, that we refined into songs. Sort of just hoping that each one connects and sort of has it’s own — I guess to go somewhere, and to end.
SANDS: They don’t have lyrics. Do they have subject matter?
Jollan Aurelio: No, there’s no subject matter, actually — but the feeling, that’s what I always use, ‘it feels good,‘ — when we do it we try to imagine, like, movies, like scenes, visually, like a car chase or a fight, a kung fu battle, or even like the person’s in the rain like ‘arghhh!’, like very cliche montages of movies that happen. But we love imagining, what would the soundtrack be?
So, sometimes when we play we’ll actually have a projector and we’ll watch a movie. And this is how we’ll find inspiration, like “this is the part for that song!”, “let’s put that idea into this song!” So, although there’s no subject matter, it’s like we’ll imagine things. So, it’s more like it’s an imagination train.
SANDS: And is that what’s going through your head when you’re playing it? Or no, just when you’re creating it?
Jollan: Mainly when we’re creating. When we’re playing I just get really into it and just have a good time.
William Pitts: It’s a lot to focus on, to imagine anything else. If anything else gets in my mind I’ll mess up, other than just focusing on the music.