As a teenager, Jenni Hunt went through a passing rebellious phase where she tried to sneak out of the family house in Chesapeake, Virginia. Her plan was simple-slither out the window of the bedroom she shared with her twin sister Jessi, then run off to play hooky with her girlfriends, just to say she’d done it. It was her one and only stab at escape. Almost as soon as her furtive feet touched ground, she chuckles, “my dad caught me. It was actually in broad daylight, too, so my plan, uhh, wasn’t very successful, it was just a failed attempt. So I was a good kid, for the most part.”
From any outsider’s perspective, the kid should have been climbing the proverbial walls. Her folks might have owned seven acres of land, but the family resided in a tiny three-bedroom house, with the folks sleeping in one, the sisters in the second, and the girls’ five brothers bunk-bedding it in the third. They shared a single bathroom between them. Folks might see it as claustrophobic. She cheerfully downplays it as “intense.” “But as kids, I don’t think we realized our condition, or if we were even missing out on anything-we just lived life with what we had,” says Jenni, who eventually formed a band with her six siblings called, of course, The Hunts. And its English-folk-flavored debut, Those Younger Days, wistfully recalls the members’ hardscrabble exploits as if they were tropical adventures from “The Swiss Family Robinson.”
The album opens on the soft mandolin clucking of “Valentina,” which builds into the stomping rhythms of drummer Jordan Hunt, 20, and the woodsy lead vocals of key lyricist and guitarist Josh, 23, crooning a reflective “You wouldn’t dare, well you’ve never left home before/ Where have you been, you don’t know what you’re missing/ Haven’t you dreamed of being adventurous/ Consider this my invitation.” Then the rest of the clan joins in on rousing vocal harmonies-keyboardist Jonathan, 21; multi-instrumentalist Justin, 18; bassist/mandolin player Jamison, 17; with Jessi on banjo and violin and Jenni on guitar and violin. Then the disc keeps digging deeper.
The plucky, chant-enhanced “Just For a While” recalls the Hunts’ home schooling; a galloping Josh/Jenni hoedown-duet called “Ages” discusses the natural wonders the band has seen on its touring travels, which have so far hit every state but Maine, Alaska, and Hawaii; and the willowy strummer “Remember Me” ruminates on a time when “Home was all we’d known/ Father’s field and calloused heels … Oh but life was simple then.” And on the similarly-gentle ballad “Douse the Flame,” The Hunts boomerang right back to Chesapeake with “Take my hand now that we’re older/ Still adventure seems to storm our very bones …The time has come and we’ve begun/ To find our way back home.”
But it wasn’t as Tom Joad-or even Horatio Alger-as it all sounds, Jenni clarifies of her upbringing. Her dad was a certified arborist who came alive when tree-felling storms hit town, and mom was a classical violinist who gave lessons from home. Ergo, every Hunt youngster learned fiddle first, before graduating to their respective instruments. The parents also anchored their own musical duo, Clint and Sandy Hunt. “They’d play at weddings, banquets, pubs, and restaurants as a side project,” she remembers. “They were the people to call in our area if you needed background music-they would play love songs, classical music, and adjust or adapt to whatever the venue wanted. They were always doing anything they could to help make some extra money and provide for their family, so I look back and really respect them. They were entrepreneurs, and really brave people. And as we got old enough to play with them, they began to add us kids. And then people started asking for the kids to come along, and that’s how our performing-family act grew.”
Most teenage girls would shudder at the twins’ original digs. Just like their brothers, they slept in bunk beds, and jockeyed for clothes space in one miniscule closet. “Looking back, I really don’t know how we did it,” Jenni sighs. “But we had lots of land. So my mom would just kick us all out of the house so we could release our energy, and we’d go play out in the woods or even practice music out there. And it was fun – I wouldn’t ever take it back, I wouldn’t trade it.” That’s why they rhapsodize on “Those Younger Days” in song, she adds. “Because it was really cool, and we all remember that, we were all there, and we all believe in it. So when we write about our life and our past, it’s so meaningful to us, and really powerful. Our past is a big part of our music.”
And so is the present. Dad, who recently constructed a much larger abode on their property dubbed Hunt Manor, still chaperones his children, but in an official capacity; He drives their RV-sized tour bus, and loads in all their gear. Jenni has moved out-she married her longtime beau Danny, and now lives a few minutes away, still in Chesapeake. And The Hunts still attend the local Redeemer church they always did-it’s an important source of fellowship for the group, Jenni says, and they always look forward to getting back from the road and mixing with their close friends in the congregation. “It’s been a solid foundation for us, in our faith and spirituality-we love that place, and it’s been our church home and our church family for the last 20 years,” Jenni enthuses. “And we’re definitely Christians, but we don’t call ourselves a Christian-worship band. But I think when you’re creating art, who you are and what you believe will come through. So we don’t push our faith in anyone’s face, but it comes out in our music, naturally.”
The Hunts-who claim Irish, English and Scottish ancestry on their mother’s side, Greek on their father’s-didn’t initially settle on traditional folk as their definitive sound. They ricocheted through every other possible genre first, Jenni says. Gradually, they whittled things down. “There came a time when we really wanted to find our own sound, and not just play everything,” she explains. “But to be The Hunts and find common ground, something we all loved, collectively. So that’s where we found the folk music-everybody just loves those raw acoustic instruments.”
Whenever a career decision is made, everyone gets an equal vote. And now that demand for Those Younger Days is heating up, The Hunts have been booking tours that prove grueling, sometimes relentless. “There were times that my dad had to drive all night, several nights in a row, and I would wake up in the RV and he’d still be driving at 4, 5 in the morning,” Jenni says. “And we’ve gone through situations where the fog was so thick that we couldn’t even see, and we were driving at 10 miles per hour, feeling very scared for everyone’s safety. And then there’s the icy roads in the Midwest, traveling through the winter time. And we got hit by a drunk driver one time-that was really frightful. But we really look to prayer-we pray to God for safety and to protect our travels, and we have friends praying for us, too. Because we do a lot of driving.”
Over the years, the elder sisters have always ridden herd on their younger brothers, keeping them in line and watching out for them on the road. But no one wanders off on their own, post-concert, or gets an uppity fly-solo streak. They also annually volunteer their time in Haiti, where they donate Christmas presents to orphanages and run a summer music camp. Jordan has even mastered Haitian Creole, to facilitate these projects. Jenni claims that she, personally, is facing only one small emotional hurdle – getting used to having too few Hunts running around at she and her hubby’s house.
“I really had to learn how to enjoy the quiet, actually,” sis confesses. “Because my entire life, it was hustle and bustle, and 100 people coming through the door, and loud dinners and just general chaos. So it was actually strange to me at first, just to have peace and quiet. But I’ll tell ya-I’ve learned to love it!”