By Andréa Rojas
I’m sitting in a Kensington coffee shop when I find out that four grown men have just baked me a pie.
Strawberry-rhubarb, in fact, and lovingly Saran-wrapped with my name carefully hand-printed on a white piece of paper sitting on top of it. And I think to myself, What kind of band is this?
Hunger Hush, like countless other bands that this paper chooses to investigate, is many things: Calgarian. Indie. Made up of four dudes. Willing to pay way too much for a cup of coffee.
But one thing that differentiates Andrew Smale, Ben Tan, Steve Wirzba and Alastair Pollock from other Calgary musicians is that they don’t think there’s very much that’s different about them at all.
“I don’t feel like we’re doing anything that’s really substantially different or crazy or ‘out there’ . . . it’s guitar, keys, bass, drums,” says Pollock, in a matter-of-fact way.
Hunger Hush started as a solo coffeehouse project by Steve Wirzba, which later morphed into a three-piece (now playfully referred to by all members as Steve Wirzba and the “Shut Up, Steve”s) until they met Malaysian native Tan in a university class.
“I always liked the idea of a backup band who had a hateful relationship with the [frontman] of the band. It actually wasn’t like that [though],” laughs Pollock.
One and a half years later and settling comfortably into the months after the spring release of their self-titled EP, produced by renowned Calgary singer-songwriter Lorrie Matheson, four of the most earnest faces I’ve ever encountered in my life look at me expectantly.
These faces represent three University of Calgary arts students (one former and two current, including one international student) and an oil-and-gas I.T. professional. Hunger Hush’s paradoxical lineup is somewhat deceivingly out-of-the-ordinary for a band so blatantly honest about their lack of artistic frills, at least when it comes to their recorded release.
“[Our EP] is not a concept album or a cohesive thing. It’s just five or six songs that we were most happy with, and we wanted to get something that had been well-recorded out there that could promote at shows and stuff like that.
“[Recording with Matheson] was pricey and we didn’t have a lot of money. So we pretty much recorded everything we could in four days,” explains Wirzba.
The frontman and guitarist doesn’t put up a “please-don’t-touch-the-artist” front that most music journalists are familiar with chipping through. His honesty is almost unsettling.
The idea of an EP that is almost purely self-promotional isn’t a foreign concept to artists at the Calgary level, but most local independent musicians, at least those deluded by visions of extra-Prairie grandeur, would rather take pickaxes to their axes than admit it.
This strawberry-rhubarb is foreign to my tongue, but its candor sweetens the taste.
Speaking of which, I ask while hoping that my face doesn’t betray the thoughts I’m mulling over — why the name Hunger Hush?
“We all like different kinds of music, but we decided that we liked music that sounds like ‘hunger’, people who sound like they want what they do really badly,” Pollock shares.
So, what is the idea of a song or musician being “hungry” really supposed to be like?
“It has to do with being passionate about what you’re doing and not being particularly concerned about what other people think about what you’re doing.
“In terms of imagery, I think of boxers and fighters, people who are only motivated by that one thing they’re focused on,” says Pollock.
I’m now interested because I’m still secretly aching for the flowery confessionals of artistic pretense that usually make it easy for me to write a nice little piece of music journalism that makes everybody feel warm inside.
I probe for this with the drummer. Always, always with the drummer. So, what are you hungry for, Ben?
“I’m hungry to be rich and famous.”
Well, cut me another slice.
I finally find what I think I should be looking for with Steve, as he describes Hunger Hush’s single “Gold Rush.”
“It’s kind of like a visceral, sort of lustful thing. The whole thing is a metaphor for sex through this exotic imagery of gold mining.”
I try to extract more, but my hunger’s hushed.
“Well, I just write about cities and girls mostly. I have reasons to. I’m in urban studies, so I can write about cities.”
There’s beauty in simplicity. There’s beauty in honesty. There’s beauty in the endearingly uncool, coming from four guys who craft trumpet parts out of years spent in the Stampede Showband and filming music videos in their parents’ basements.
And when you think about it, Hunger Hush, you see, is something else. Why?
Because no other band in the world would make a stranger a strawberry-rhubarb pie.