Have you ever walked into a local bar and wondered to yourself, “Am I still in Providence?” That first happened when I stepped into Nick-a-Nees, and happened again when I saw Jake Hunsinger play a solo show at Union Station Brewery. I was transported to a town somewhere in Texas with Garth Brooks songs playing and people two-stepping all around me. I told Jake that his band, Jake Hunsinger and the Rock Bottom Band, reminds me of all things country. During our conversation he shared how a Pennsylvania-born, Providence-residing, singer-songwriter performs stories of everyday life with a twang.
Mayté Antelo-Ovando (Motif): I would love if you could start by introducing yourself to the readers of Motif.
Jake Hunsinger: Sure, hey, everybody, my name is Jake Hunsinger! I’m a country singer living here in Rhode Island. I play with my band aptly named Jake Hunsinger and the Rock Bottom Band. My dear friends Jamie Doyle, Zach Wedge, and Andrew Donnelly are in it with me. I’ve come from Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and lived here quite a while.
MAO: How long?
JH: How long is quite a well-studied curiosity. Honestly, since I was three, but I’ve never really, up until recently, felt like a Rhode Islander. That’s what informs the music. It’s why I say I’m a country singer, not an Americana singer.
MAO: Could you tell me the difference from your perspective?
JH: Country music, for me, it’s gonna be weird to say, is modern traditional American music. Americana is just looking at American music; things like country music, or old time, or jazz, or whatever. While country music has a very clear historical line and cultural language. Americana can be anything, country music is very specific, even though sometimes they sound the same. There’s like a Shibboleth to it, you know, it is country when it says it’s country.
MAO: It’s funny that you say that, because when I first started listening to your music I wrote in my notes, classic country band? I’m mostly from Austin, Texas and when I listened I felt like I could be walking into any honky-tonk and hear these songs playing.
JH: Oh, wow, that means a lot.
MAO: Let’s talk about this album, Wrapped Around the Axle. What image were you trying to portray for people that listen to your music?
JH: I actually don’t do very well with imagery in my writing, compared to some other folks, like poets who help you visualize something. I wish I had imagery to it, that’s a challenge I’m taking on. With this album, it’s just me doing the songwriting… It is about a shared experience, specific to one person, but relatable for many.
MAO: What is it about country music that speaks to you? Why make country music specifically?
JH: That’s a really good question. When you look at it from when it was actually called country and Western all the way to today, I think it’s all been about average, plain-speaking people feeling complicated things. There is art and meaning in the typical, and country music is about typical people. Typical problems, typical thoughts and feelings. It doesn’t have to be all expressive high art, or lofty poetry.
MAO: Hmm. Is it accessible?
JH: Yes, I would say that. It’s easy to – at least for me – to connect to it. When I listen to Hank Williams or George Jones, my favorite singer to ever create music that asks, “Can I say something resonant? Sad or happy or whatever?” It’s usually sad because it’s country music. The sonic textures have always felt good to me. I love pedal steel, fiddle, piano, all being added to each other, until the ’70s when things sounded more in tune. The twang you hear, in my opinion, is [coming from] the instruments being bent just the way you like. Before they put truss rods in guitars, that’s what happened. I’ve always liked that quality of older country music.
MAO: It’s like the music is lived in somehow.
JH: Yes! Going back to your original question. That’s why I like country music so much, because it’s lived in.
MAO: And how was the creative process for you?
JH: I knew I needed to make something I could really hang my hat on and say, “This is my introduction.” When I started, my singing and writing weren’t where I wanted them to be, we’re young players you know? I hadn’t lived enough for writing to have gone the way that I wanted it to, and I was trying to force something. So, it took a long time away from the album to return to it with a clear vision. This is my first album and I am supported by three very wonderful gentlemen who I love dearly — they allow me to engage in this egotistical exercise… You can only make one good first impression, and it took a long time for me to actually know what I wanted to show people.
Reflecting on the track, “Moving without me”, Jake discussed the masks that we sometimes wear to walk through life.
JH: The mask line was about the COVID masks, but it was also about personal masking. You are a different person to people, on purpose or by accident, it’s conscious and unconscious. I don’t think it’s a controversial statement to say that a lot of folks who are creative and are working in the arts are not neurotypical. Masking is something we use very often. I’ve only become aware of that practice recently; it’s made me question what is the true self, you know? I think everybody, neurodivergent or neurotypical, has masks. It’s all about existing… and trying to make other people comfortable around you, while making yourself a little uncomfortable. We all change how we are just a little bit in front of different people. It’s something that we’re doing that we’re unaware of, until someone points it out or until you notice it yourself. I think the song is about a general anxiety of younger adults – you don’t actually know who you are yet.
MAO: Last question, do you have a favorite song on the album?
JH: It’s a tie between “Wild Horses of Wyoming” and “Lorelai,” one of which I wrote after watching a bunch of “Gilmore Girls.”
MAO: Please say more about that!
JH: There were a few shows that my mom always had on in the house, “Law and Order,” “The West Wing,” and “Gilmore Girls.” I would watch it because I liked the pretty, fast-talking woman, Lauren Graham (aka Lorelai) and Sookie, played by Melissa McCarthy. This started as a love song and really came together in the third verse, which comes from a TV Show about Canadian farmers, “Letterkenny.” The main character says, “As sure as God wears sandals,” and that eventually led me to, “You’ve got me wrapped around the axle, but as sure as God wears sandals, I’ll be staying in your bed instead of mine.” It’s goofy. When I’m writing a song, I can feel a physical reaction where my brain starts getting very cool, but lit up, neurons going the right way. So, this song started with “Gilmore Girls,” and a TV show about Canadian farmers. It’s funny how we get to where we’re going.
Funny indeed. Look out for more music from Jake Hunsinger and the Rock Bottom Band in 2023 and beyond And if you want a dose of country nostalgia, follow him @the_rock_bottom_gram.