An interview with indie folk-rock duo Hunter & Wolfe

It all begins with Michael having an idea and convincing himself it's awful.

By: Ethan Ames

April 16, 2018

"People aren't dumb; they know when you're sincere in your message. All I do is say what I need to say and hope that it resonates with other people."

NYC's indie-rock duo Hunter & Wolfe (Michael Maffei and Sundeep Kapur) are a force to be reckoned with: introspective, tight compositions carried by rich, folky instrumentation and strong lead vocals by Maffei. On their most recent release, 2017's Late Then Never, Hunter & Wolfe effectively paint a picture of growing pains. On the opening track, "All The Vultures," the duo channels the symphonic heartache of bands like Arcade Fire and Bright Eyes, making good use of booming percussion, bright keys, and most notably, lyrics that speak of ambivalence toward selfhood, love and becoming an adult. "I've been thinking 'bout the things I've said/I've been thinking 'bout the times I got it wrong/And all the vultures circling my head/I've been thinking that it's time I turn and run." The Deli recently spoke with Hunter & Wolfe about the creative process, their inspirations, and what the future holds for the band. You can catch Hunter & Wolfe at Rockwood Music Hall on April 3rd. Listen to "All the Vultures" below, and read the full interview here! - Ethan Ames

What was your initial motivation to form a band, when you started playing? 

Michael: I couldn't tell you what my motivation was back then other than I loved playing music and was fortunate enough to have a couple friends who shared that passion. I've always loved working with other musicians, though; it's just cool to see how much better a group can be than the sum of its parts. And I still get giddy about harmonizing.

What are the bands you dreamed to be part of, growing up?

Michael: As a kid I always wished I could be in Nirvana, because who wouldn't? I also have this vision of playing with Elliott Smith and Jon Brion on that one episode of the Jon Brion show. They're two incredible musicians just messing around, but they're so damn facile and the vibe is amazing. Oh, and if I could just shimmy my way into Arcade Fire, that'd be great--what's one more member anyway?

Who were you listening to at the time of writing and recording “All The Vultures?” There’s a distinct early aughts feel to it, i.e. Arcade Fire circa 2004. 

Michael: Well Funeral is one of those albums that's just burned into my brain, so whether I was actively listening to that or not, it was rattling around somewhere up there. 

I'm definitely anchored in the early aughts: Arcade Fire, Radiohead, and Elliott Smith are all hugely important in how I approach songwriting. I do assimilate some new stuff as I go along, but we all tend to have a particularly liminal time in our lives when music really affects us. I guess it was the early aughts for me. 

As for some more recent records, The National's Trouble Will Find Me and High Violet were (and still are) in constant rotation. Honorable mentions to Mac Demarco's Salad Days, Grizzly Bear (Veckatimest, Shields), Bombay Bicycle Club (I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose), The Districts (A Flourish and a Spoil), and The Walkmen...also there was definitely a smattering of disco... 

As a creative duo, what does the songwriting process look like for the two of you?

Michael: It all begins with me having an idea and convincing myself it's awful. Usually it's some melody that randomly pops in my head or while I'm noodling on piano or guitar. If that awful idea stays in my head for long enough, the only way I can get it out of my head is to send it to Sundeep - not sure why that works. Deep then tells me if it's actually awful. 

From there, Deep and I spend a lot of time demoing back and forth via email before we get to a point for rehearsals. At that stage, we realize that Andy & Eric (drums) and Jeremy (bass) have much better ideas for their respective instruments than we do. We also had the pleasure of working with producers Doug Schadt and Harper James, who whipped us into shape toward the end of the process, which was new for us this time around.

Is “No One Really Wants Me” directed toward any one specific person, or is there a broader meaning behind the lyrics?

Michael: I always refer back to Woody Allen in Annie Hall: "I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member." My long-term relationship had recently ended and I was learning to deal with the insanity that is dating in NYC. And in spite of being surrounded by wonderful people, I had convinced myself everyone was just being nice. I guess this song was sort of a way to check myself. 

That being said, most of what I write is based on my own experiences, but I do hope that other people can relate. There is definitely a broader meaning; I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling anxious and alienated in spite of all the facts in front of me.

What does creative authenticity look like to you?

Michael: Creative authenticity is creating to scratch an itch. It's creating because it's second nature, almost like you have no choice because it's just what you do. I started writing music because there was something I wanted to hear that I hadn't heard. That's not to say I've succeeded.

People aren't dumb; they know when you're sincere in your message. All I do is say what I need to say and hope that it resonates with other people.

What other artists from the NYC area do you enjoy, these days?

Michael: We created a playlist on hunter & wolfe's Spotify called "The Cool Kids" where we post NYC artists we're into. 

To name a few: Bedlam-Roxbury by Anders RGK (definitely my sleeper pick of 2017), RVBY MY DEAR, Madam West, Pearla, Wet Leather, Wild Manes, Ursae, Twiga, and OxenFree. I'm missing tons because I'm the worst so people should make some suggestions. 

What's on the horizon for Hunter & Wolfe?

Michael: We're playing Communion Records' residency at Rockwood Music Hall (stage 2) on 4/3 @ 10pm - super excited about that. We're also looking to expand into other cities this summer with a possible mini-tour in the works. Other than that, expect to see our first full live performances of the new record on a YouTube near you!

And, as always, I'll be writing more awful ideas and Sundeep will be talking me off the ledge!