By Kendah El-Ali; photos by Marc Lemoine on February 19, 2013
If we lived by Hunters’ rules, we’d all be living out our childhood dreams. The Brooklyn–Philly-based punk duo of Derek Watson and Isabel Almeida had a lot in common when it came to their pasts. Namely, it was that they had nothing in common with anyone else. Hyperactive, dislocated and largely misunderstood, neither of them is able to really sit still, leading to all the splendor that a flair for the spastic can bring. The music they create is no exception.
“Still, when we go to rusty motels and shit, if we’re lucky enough to get two beds, I will jump between them before I go to sleep,” says Watson over a tumbler of bourbon at Brooklyn’s Barcade. “I would run into the glass at the back of our house sometimes, too, but I never broke bones or anything.”
“Yeah, I never did either for some reason. Pretty lucky. I have stitches, though, and they’re all due to the fact that I’m hyper,” chimes in Almeida from behind her bright pink bangs. “Do you want to try this beer?” she digresses. “It’s smoky-flavored. Where is the normal beer here? What the hell is with this place?” Hunters do not like artisanal beer.
Almeida hails from Rio via Albuquerque, after a short stint in France. Watson is from outside of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. He grew up with a pet duck, Peepers, that lived in the family kitchen. She had a chihuahua called Zelda, named after the creepy sister from Pet Sematary. Horror flick geeks, the animal-loving vegetarians now share a cat named Raffles. “We have the best cat in the world. She’s rad, because she’s really big but she’s not fat,” says Watson. “And she taught herself how to play fetch.”
Almeida and Watson met while working at a service that turned pop tunes into “really horrible, synthy Muzak shit,” says Watson. “The tipping point to get the hell out of there was when they gave me a Nickelback tune to work with called ‘Nickelbach.’ It was honestly the worst shit ever. Everything they did was as fast and cheap as possible.” The two then found employment at a Chinatown arcade, though that predictably also ended in a bit of a disaster. “The owner was such a dick,” chirps Almeida. “But that’s all we have to do with arcades, I’m not sure why people think we like them.”
Hunters were discovered by chance on New Year’s Eve 2010. There had really been no previous plan, other than to perform when they could. Someone smashed a champagne bottle on Watson, leading to a spazzy scene of broken glass and a puffy eye. An impressed James Iha happened to be standing in the crowd. Still unsigned to a label, they’ve garnered a remarkable amount of attention in the past year, and it’s for good reason: they’re adorable, and they fucking rock. Riding a simple tide of straightforward, honest punk rock music, their catchy boy-girl callouts make for an angsty, degenerate good time.
Perhaps taking a cue from their former employers, Hunters have managed to hack together an EP, Hands on Fire, with an equal spirit of frugality.
“We recorded each song with a different person and did it with as little money as possible,” confesses Almeida. Thing is, with good looks and producer friends like Iha and Nick Zinner, they’re poised to go much farther than the average band born from the gutter, especially as recording begins on their LP at the end of 2012.
Both born performers, Watson grew up playing in noise bands. “Basically anything I could do to be as loud and slow as possible,” he says. Almeida, on the other hand, performed in acts of “more of an imaginary nature.”
Cooking up several musical projects in her mind at a young age—and designing the requisite costumes, album covers and tour strategies—Almeida forced her family to pay to watch her perform. She also wore her Carnival costumes throughout the year. “Of course all the kids made fun of me but, whatever, it was fine,” she says. And Almeida, being the unique spirit she is, managed to end a certain performance in high theatrics.
“I went to open the [French door] behind me, but the screw was out, and it ended up crashing on my head. So there I was, trying to perform, and there was glass and blood coming out of my head,” she says. “It was so dramatic, I was holding the [broken window]—but then I started screaming. I ended up with 14 stitches in my head.”
As ardently (if not as curiously) committed to his craft, Watson knocked out a tooth while trying to method-act mannequin-ism in a store when he was 8.
“In my mind, I totally believed that nobody would know I was a human. I was super still, but I eventually lost my balance and started tipping over,” he laughs. “I didn’t move my body to break the fall, because I wanted to stay in character. So I just fell over and busted my tooth out! It was so ridiculous. I was bleeding all over the place.”
The genius of Hunters is found in that kind of honesty—they live to put on a show. And it comes from a pure place in their childhood hearts. Mix that with their street-trash aesthetics, and it’s hard not to start bouncing off the walls along with them.
“[Our music] is just our lives and what we like, that’s why [Derek] was the first person I was able to do this with. It just worked. I felt I could play music in a way that I felt was—this is going to sound so cheesy—complete.”
Born freakshows, the solace they’ve found in one another allows them to come as they are plainly through their art. It’s impossible to not feel that comfort between them; that peace permeates through their sound even if it’s buried under giant heaps of loud noise.
“When you’re given a [specific] gift at a young age, it’s painful to manage. It’s not easy,” says a pensive Watson, reflecting on being thrown out of school and bullied often for his energetic nature.
“If I hadn’t moved to Albuquerque, I may not have ended up being into the shit I am now. I was exposed to a different culture,” adds Almeida. “Being split between cultures makes you see things differently. I never really felt like I fit in anywhere.”
But now, they fit in somewhere between each other, and are living out what they only kept to themselves as kids. “It’s a bummer that more people don’t,” smiles Watson, opening the back of their vintage afghan-lined conversion van. “They’d be much happier if they did.” F