One of the hardest parts of growing up? Being hampered by the expectations your parents and others had for you—they can shackle you to your younger self, even as you're undergoing rapid change.
It'd be great, maybe, if you could just change your name. Too bad that's not an option for most people. But it's a relatively easy change for a musician to make—and it offers them a clean break with the past. Which explains to a degree why, for the past few weeks, a question mark has replaced the usual exclamation mark at the end of the name on Fort Worth-based PlayRadioPlay!'s MySpace page.
See, the man behind the moniker, 20-year-old Daniel Hunter, is preparing a new album. And he hopes this new album will distance him from the Death Cab-meets-Postal Service sound with which he earned a major-label deal at the tender age of 17. Now back on his own and without major-label support, Hunter has been working hard to build a relationship with his audience.
PlayRadioPlay! performs Thursday, September 17,at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, Denton.
Of course, he's been doing so even as he prepares to abandon many of them: PlayRadioPlay!, it turns out, is about to find its end. And in its place, a new name—Analog Rebellion—under which Hunter hopes to release an album in October.
"My theory is a lot of people have already kind of left [as my fans], and regardless of what the name is, the music is different, period," Hunter says. "I feel the new name, if it is walking away from people, is walking away from people that wouldn't like the new music anyway. If it's not like that and they do like the new music, then I feel like a name change isn't a big deal and people will understand that I'm a different artist now than I used to be."
The idea first hit Hunter when he started talking to people who'd never heard his music but dismissed him anyway, immediately assuming that his music was similar to Dallas electro-pop artist Luis Dubuc's The Secret Handshake. Like Hunter, Dubuc got his start making music on a laptop in his bedroom after playing in a hard rock act as a teen.
While the burbling pop-friendly synth-driven sway that characterizes The Secret Handshake may have fit Hunter at one point, the circumstances have changed. Indeed, the transition began innocently at first, with changing tastes and backing lineups. Once upon a time, Hunter toured as a six-piece—with a sound guy, even—while on Island Records. ("It doesn't matter that you're only drawing 25 kids," Hunter opines. "It was a gross misappropriation of funds on their part.") Since, he's pared that down to a trio—and, finally, a two-piece, now that paying fellow musicians means paying out of his own pocket. Obviously, that means a different sound—one Hunter preferred, actually.
"In a subliminal way, it did start affecting my writing," Hunter says. "A lot of it was now raw guitar and raw drums, whereas my old stuff was not like that at all. I've always been writing on guitar, but a lot of times I would write on guitar and then the song would end up being a completely non-guitar-based song. The new stuff is written on guitar and then the guitar stays one of the main elements in the entire production."
The changing style dovetailed with Hunter's burgeoning interest in bands such as Muse and Arcade Fire. It's keenly reflected in his recent MP3 release, "Concerning Philip Garrido," which he posted to AbsolutePunk.net as a free download at the end of last month. Droning guitars and slaloming synths create an epic atmosphere reminiscent of Muse, but interrupted by jagged bursts of distorted guitars, and weaving from beauty to aggression as Hunter intones, "Everyone knows about the troubles in your shed."
Of course, Hunter's seen his own troubles too. His father died suddenly while Hunter was still in high school, sending him spiraling into a morass of booze and drugs—the often obsessive Hunter dove into those substances headlong. When he finally pulled out of his nosedive, he channeled his obsession into music, spending every weekend in his garage rather than out with friends.
"The entire reason I started PlayRadioPlay! was because the kids I was in a band with [Our First Fall] drank and partied on the weekends and did all that fun stuff you do in high school," Hunter says. "I just couldn't be a part of that, really, for the sake of my emotional health. [Music] is what I turned to, to replace all of the bad habits that I had when I was younger."
That commitment to music is what eventually found him inking a deal with Island, which released his debut LP, Texas, in March of last year. The deal started coming apart even before the album's release, though. His A&R representative's boss was fired, immediately putting the writing on the wall. Suddenly, despite spending lots of money in tour support and recording the album, Island became uninterested in promoting the new release. In June, he was dropped from the label.
"I was skeptical about it in the beginning, and it ended up being exactly what I thought it would be. Even though only one in 15 bands actually recoup their first album, I thought, 'I can be that band.' I was 17 at the time, so..." Hunter says, trailing off.
Since then, Hunter's taken the reins of his musical career himself, and he's explored a wide variety of ways to connect directly with his audience. He posted a number on his MySpace page that allows him to field calls from his fans through a phone app he can activate at will. In June, he streamed mixing sessions for his new album on Stickam. Most recently, he's offered to put his fans' names in the credits of his album as an "Executive Producer" if they donate $10 to production costs. He's also planning on having fans submit the lyrics for the new album's 12 songs, in their own handwriting, for inclusion in the album notes.
"I'm not a marketing person—or Pete Wentz," Hunter says. "But there are simple things I feel bands can do that make kids feel like they're kind of invested. That's one of those things."
He's been buoyed by the response so far, especially by his live audience's thoughts on the new music.
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"People saying, 'I didn't listen to your music before this, but your new stuff is really good'—I love that," Hunter says. "It means I'm growing in a direction that people like, even people that didn't like my cheesy older stuff. I feel the name change is going to help that even more."
And the drive is there—Hunter's already penned four songs for the album he hopes to release after this next one. That one, Hunter says, delves even deeper into the more mature, guitar-driven sound he's learned to embrace.
Meanwhile, there's plenty more still left for him to do in the immediate future. He's still mixing down a few more songs for the album—which doesn't yet have a name—and he's putting together a B-sides album featuring leftover material from the last few years, as well as eight more new songs that won't be on the new album.
"I don't have any album art yet either, and I'm kind of worried about that," he admits. "I wouldn't say I'm enjoying the process, but I enjoy the entire idea of having the freedom to procrastinate [on] important things like that."