Kevin Hufnagel is a busy guy. In addition to being a member of a variety of bands such as Gorguts, Sabbath Assembly and Dysrhythmia, he also has a successful solo career, with Messages To The Past his latest solo effort. Hufnagel fills us in on the record, being a guitar instructor, his numerous other bands and other subjects.
Chad Bowar: What inspired you to go back to your roots for Messages To The Past?
Kevin Hufnagel: With each solo album I make, I usually begin with a concept first, before I even have any material. For this one I thought to myself, “I’ve never just done a full-on traditional solo guitar album.” By that I mean one that demonstrates my love for thematic, melodic lead playing and lots of harmony. I started to incorporate that kind of writing again in one of my other bands (Sabbath Assembly) and it sort of kicked off this idea of making a whole solo record like that. It was really satisfying to do.
How did that change your songwriting process compared to your previous solo albums?
It was a very different process. My last handful of records were much more experimental. I would record either a written piece, an improv, or sometimes just a rough idea, and these would then be treated as source material. This material would then be manipulated and effected numerous ways in the computer. That was part of the compositional process. The mix was part of the compositional process as well. It was almost as if I was creating abstract remixes of songs that no one had ever even heard the original versions of. I also didn’t want the guitars to sounds like guitars. Messages To The Past is pretty much the opposite of that and much more straightforward. I’d write some chords progressions or riffs, add melodies and solos. Done!
The album is all guitars. Is that restricting or freeing?
I enjoy placing boundaries on myself like that. It pushes me to have to do more with the guitar to keep it engaging. I’m a bit stubborn. I like to have all the sounds on my solo records come from just guitar.
How did you decide on your bandmate Colin Marston to produce?
He’s always the first person I go to. Obviously we’ve done a lot of work together over the years in the studio, so I totally trust him and he always knows what I’m going after.
Does the fact he’s also a guitarist help?
It does, especially when it comes to things like finding the right guitar tones and his knowledge of amp/pedal combinations, the way the different guitar layers should sit in the mix. I’m always learning something from him every time.
What itch does your solo material scratch that your other bands can’t?
It’s mostly an outlet for my quieter and more reflective side. I enjoy the freedom to change direction, stylistically, any time I want. It’s also the only project where I get to be a total control freak.
What led you to sign with Translation Loss for the LP edition of this album?
I’ve known Drew and Christian since the early 2000’s, when I lived in Philly. I remember when they started that label. I’d worked with them before with Byla, and they re-issued an early Dysrhythmia record. When I was writing this album, I knew I wanted it be issued on LP. In my mind, the material hearkened back to the age of vinyl, and the artwork deserved to be showcased on something larger than a thumbnail pic. I was really pleased when they agreed to do it.
What are your goals and expectations for the release?
I really try not to have any expectations. As long as I’m satisfied with an album after it’s finished, that’s what matters most. Of course I want as many people to hear it as possible. I believe this record could appeal to a wider audience beyond only guitarists.
Do you have plans to play any solo shows around the album release?
I do. I’m currently booking a solo tour for late Sept through mid-October. I will be touring with Bruce Lamont, who will be doing his own solo set, and it will cover the eastern half of the US.
You’re also a guitar instructor. What is most rewarding about that pursuit?
It’s made me have a deeper understanding of my own playing and writing, in particular when a student wants to learn one of my own songs. Of course it feels good to pass on any knowledge and experience I can, and see people feel inspired and improve. That’s the best part. Much of what I show students are things I’ve learned on my own, outside of the lessons I took when I was younger, which were a bit more “by the book.”
Were you satisfied with the response to last year’s Sabbath Assembly album Rites Of Passage?
I suppose? We were happy with the record when it was finished. I feel it’s a confusing band to some people. The sound is always morphing. I feel like we would be wider known if we were able to tour more.
What’s the status of the next Gorguts and Dysrhythmia releases?
Nothing at the moment for Gorguts. The band is taking a break this year, but we plan to regroup in the fall and see what Luc has planned for the next record. Dysrhythmia is actively writing our next album. We’ve got five songs written currently. I’d say it’s a bit more energetic than the last few releases: shorter, faster songs. More urgent.
Are you currently involved in any other bands/projects?
Nothing outside the ones people already know about. There’s still a huge list of people I’d love to make music with, even just right here in NYC. I would also love to collaborate more with artists outside of music such as filmmakers, dancers, etc.
Your solo material is very diverse, as are the genres of the many bands you are in. What style of music is your favorite to listen to for pleasure?
Depends on the season, time of day, my mood… if I’m exercising or going to sleep. Let’s just say it varies and I’ll occasionally go through phases of wanting to hear a lot of just one kind of thing.
Anything else you ‘d like to mention or promote?
Check out my Bandcamp page to explore my discography of solo music, and come see me live if I’m playing near you. Thanks for interview.
(interview published June 29, 2018)