As the current go-to hard-rock session ace, Will Hunt is seemingly everywhere these days. But his return to Evanescence has reminded him what being a real bandmember feels like, and left him wondering if any one gig could ever be better than that.
Seeing Will Hunt onstage with Evanescence, or hearing him lay down big beats on the band’s new, self-titled album, it’s easy to conclude that this guy has earned a strong measure of success. And he wouldn’t disagree, except to add that there’s something in this gig that’s not so obvious but just as important to him.
For years, Hunt has been perhaps the top hired gun in the business. Like Josh Freese, he has become the go-to drummer for a number of headline acts. Among many others, he’s recorded or toured with Blood Simple, Black Label Society with Zakk Wylde, Crossfade, Dark New Day, Eye Empire, Mötley Crüe, Staind, and one of his drumming idols, Tommy Lee, both in and out of Lee’s Methods Of Mayhem. Getting to know and work with so many great players and outfits is an opportunity most musicians dream about. Here, too, Hunt would agree.
What makes his current affiliation with Evanescence feel different is that it’s giving Hunt something a lot of his colleagues might take for granted: a long run with his band, where he has historical, personal, and musical connections, as opposed to a filling in for someone else or being picked up just for a tour.
“It wasn’t by design,” Hunt admits. “With Evanescence, it took a long time and a lot of stuff to get to this point where we’re at right now. But I do realize that this is my home right now. I like being here. These are all my friends, including Amy [Lee, lead singer]. If we were all in the same town together, this would probably be the band that we put together.”
It is one of the more unusual affiliations in Hunt’s résumé. Best known as a solid rhythm generator, he puts his chops to use strictly to drive the music; his fills are utilitarian push rather than distraction from the groove. His predecessor in Evanescence, Rocky Gray, drew more from a thrash/metal background. With Hunt, the band feels more anchored. This is obvious throughout the new album: “What You Want” and “The Other Side” both open with a straight beat, in effect announcing that the drums are here to drive the performance. As “What You Want” unfolds, Hunt’s playing becomes gradually more complex, with military snare patterns, and shifts into half time. Yet always the beat is there – sometimes articulated only on the hi-hat, but persistent enough to never lose momentum.
As if to further underscore the power of Hunt’s playing, producer Nick Raskulinecz keeps the drums high in the mix. They thunder and boom with an almost ’80s sonic intensity, which not only adds muscle to the louder passages but provides an intriguing contrast with more delicate elements when things quiet down. Check out “My Heart Is Broken,” which opens with solo piano, mirrored a few seconds later with a mournful cello motif. When Hunt makes his explosive entrance, the shift in focus emphasizes this fragility in a different way while also clearing space for the crunchy guitar riffs that follow.
This is polished but elemental rock drumming, pared down to its core. Everything Hunt adds to these basics escalates their impact. This approach guides him on all his milestone recordings, but Evanescence might offer its clearest presentation. “I’m proud of this,” Hunt says. “I just focused on playing big beats to make the band sound heavy and powerful. It’s a bruiser!
“It would be very easy to overplay on Evanescence because everything is so open,” he continues. “But one of the first things I learned in making records is that you don’t want to step over the band and you certainly don’t want to step over the vocal. And for this band, the vocals are everything. My whole purpose is just to make it sound big and have this stupidly ridiculous deep pocket. It’s just power, man. It’s a different combination from what Amy has had before. Rocky comes from a different school; he’s really into Dave Lombardo and he can play super fast. I can’t play like that. I don’t want to. For me, it’s about pushing.”