Humble, soft-spoken gentlemen in a casual setting, the emerging duo of Hunter and Girton have their eyes set on making themselves heard.
by Donovan Wheeler
photos by Jennifer Lewis
courtesy of Hunter and Girton
They’re polite men. Courteous, clean-cut, straight-laced. They sit in front of me and nod when I speak. They answer frankly and courteously defer to one another when I ask a question which applies to either (or both) of them. At those moments, the symmetry they discoverd when they formed their duo is obvious. Especially when Girton, carefully nursing his pale ale, would flash his “You want to take this one?” glance to Hunter who—sipping his water through this straw—would lower glass and deliver his response. Always politely. Always soft-spoken.
Sometimes, I tap into a point they really want to expound on, and then they go. Often they lift their eyebrows, think for a moment, toss their nonverbal exchanges, and give me a word…sometimes they give me two of them. As I said…they are quiet men. But placed on stage this duo—Hunter and Girton—transforms into one of Western Indiana’s emerging musical talents.
“Stay with Me”
“I started playing when I was 14,” Girton explains when I ask him how it all began. “I took lessons for two weeks, and I quit because football started. So I kind of taught myself the rest of it from that point. It remained a hobby until a couple years ago…I was going through a rough time, and that’s when I decided that I wanted to get serious about my music.”
Getting serious is one thing, making it profitable is something else. Girton’s first decision was as textbook as it comes: form a band. His second call, however, proved a bit more 21st century: seek out that band on Craig’s List.
“We found a couple of older guys,” Girton says. “One played bass, the other keys. We practiced with them about three or four times, but nothing really came about that. They wanted to play covers and work Moose Lodge gigs, and Jonathan and I really wanted to do something with music…get serious with it.” Down to an acoustic duo, Hunter and Girton elected to see where their mutual passion and shared vision would take them.
Donovan Wheeler [to Jonathan Hunter]: Dakota explained how he began taking music seriously. What is your story? How did you end up at this point?
Jonathan Hunter: “I’ve been playing the guitar for the last couple years, but I’ve been singing since I was age 3. I’ve been writing since 10. Those have been my main skills. Much of my life I would sit inside on sunny days, writing…short stories, especially. In college I transitioned to lyricism, and I’ve been doing that for the most part ever since.”
Citing what he calls a limited musical acumen, Hunter soon found himself with a stack of four-count lyrics and no legitimate melodies to which he could weld them.
Hunter: “I would write them and hope that one day someone could put them to music. Sometimes I would have a tune in my head, but it wasn’t anything highly technical. I finally decided to learn guitar so that I could continue to write.”
While the duo sits on a veritable vault of musical ideas—a catalogue of potential tunes which could easily fill up multiple gigs—in the practical sense, their developed music remains slightly more than album’s worth of tracks. Much of it spilled onto the scene last year, when they released their first album, Something from Heaven.
Wheeler: How are you guys balancing your cover-music versus your original work?
Hunter: “We brought in covers to fill in time we didn’t have. When a bar owner says, ‘We want you to play for two hours,’ well…with our original music we can only play for an hour. If we had—and when we do have—four hours’ worth of original music, that’s what we would like be doing.”
“Making the top-ten in the Indy area shows that people are responding to our music, and that we’re making progress.”
Following their 2016 record, the duo opted for a new approach with future releases. Rather than collect another dozen tracks on a single album and throw one celebration, they decided to leak one song at a time.
Hunter: “We have the material…plenty of it. We’re just thinking about how we want to present it. The way things are now, people often want something new. So, we’ll just put one song out at a time, and then wait a couple months…then release another one.”
Wheeler: Does this mean that you’ll eventually pool all of those songs together into a finished album?
Dakota Girton: “We don’t know about that. We definitely want to do an acoustic album. I’ve got about 20 songs, but I’m sort of taking my time with those until I get them the way I want them. But in the meantime, these singles serve as an answer to the request we get pretty often, when people ask us when we’re going to put out something new.”
Wheeler: Much of your music carries a “country” sound to it. Would you call that a fair classification?
Girton: “People ask us all time: ‘How would you classify yourself?’ I just tell them to listen to it, because I don’t really know myself. Someone claimed we were a mix between Lynrd Skynrd and James Taylor, but I don’t really know how to classify what we do…except that we’re different.”
Hunter: “We have songs which are more bluesy, and we have songs which are kind of folk, and we have songs which—I would say—sound a lot like country.”
Working slowly to climb from a host of humble opening gigs in lodge halls and college bars, the pair landed their first regional break when they entered Country Inn and Suites’ nationally sponsored “Nash-Next” completion. Signing on with Indianapolis’ WFMS, the boys scored several spins on the air and found themselves falling just shy of a trip to the Tennessee capital for the national-rounds.
Girton: “We got beat out by a gal who plays a sort of mainstream country. She’s good, so we don’t begrudge her one bit. And making the top-10 in the Indy area shows that people are responding to our music, and that we’re making progress.”
Wheeler: Tell me a little bit about how the two of you work through your songwriting process.
Hunter: “We write separately to begin with. So we each have our own distinct sound.”
Girton: “We have written a couple together, and we definitely want to spend more time doing that. But most of the time it’s been…I write a song and present it to him…he writes a song and presents it to me.”
Hunter: “I will find a melody, work it out, and then I’ll ad-lib lyrics until something fits. The music gets me into the emotion which fits it, and then from there I throw out words until I find something I like.”
Girton: “I’ll be at work when lyrics pop into my head, so I’ll write them down. Then I’ll play the guitar…write lyrics to melody…then go back to the guitar.”
The fruits of Hunter and Girton’s flexible back-and-forth approach stand evident not only in the tracks assembled on that first, self-produced album. They’re also on display in their stand-alone single “Stay with Me,” the tune which catapulted them to the cusp of that NashNext trip to the Music City. The latter, of course, benefited greatly from the arduous creation of the former. The pair had originally begun work on that first record in a professional studio, and while the benefits working with expert technicians is beyond debate, the drawbacks gnawed at them, sending them home to finish the job.
Hunter: “[When we listened to the results of the studio work], I didn’t think the sound was what we thought it would be.”
Girton: “There’s a lot of pressure, too. When you’re working at home, the atmosphere is relaxed. You can do your own thing, go through as many takes as you want. In a studio every hour means a lot of money, so you feel the urgency to get it right on that first take. If you don’t, then you feel the pressure to accept what you’ve got and go on. You don’t feel any of that when you work at home. It’s nothing against the people running the studio…they were good people. It’s just the economics of it.”
Hunter: JH: “That record spoke to who we were and what we are about. I still listen to it…over and over…we both do. There are several songs where I think, ‘That one’s definitely me,’ or ‘That one is totally Dakota…’ They’re all very personal.”
Wheeler: So, where does this leave Hunter and Girton now? When you look into the future, where do you guy want to see yourselves?
Hunter: “We’ve been able to branch out a little bit, and I think we’ll be able to get into Indianapolis area, and that’s one of the reasons why we’ve considered expanding to a full band…it’s hard to compete with existing full bands for gigs…it’s tough…it’s difficult. In some places you have an ‘acoustic night,’ but overall it’s just not as popular. Still…we have the talent, and I think we can go toe-to-toe with many of the bands that are playing every weekend.”
Girton: “Greencastle has been great to us. We’ve played the Swizzle Stick several times, and [Swizzle Stick owner] Gail [Smith] has been great to us. We’re playing at Tap House 24 in November.”
Hunter: “Our goal is to be playing music seven…eight years from now. We’re not thinking as if we’re going to be Taylor Swift-level (we don’t really want that anyway), but we do want to be able to travel. Around the country…and even the world.”
No one can doubt the pair’s commitment. Like so many regional musicians, they have been cutting their musical teeth while balancing lives filled with the demands of both day jobs and geography. Girton—who works the second shift at Crown Lift Trucks and lives in Greencastle—has to coordinate practice time and gigs with is partner—an Indy resident who works for a downtown moving company. For now, they’re grateful for every door open to them. But these two soft-spoken men carry a hunger. They want to exacerbate the dichotomy between their on-stage and off-stage lives. On stage, they want you to notice. They want you to move—physically…emotionally…even psychologically—to the work they have to offer. And off stage, they’ll be happy to talk to you about it as well. In a few words or less.