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The drive from downtown Houston to the Hunger's office-park rehearsal facility is only about 15 minutes. But as far as the Inner Loop's hipster set is concerned, the place might as well be on the other side of the earth. And in a way, it is.
Hunger headquarters is located off I-45 near Hobby Airport, just a few exits beyond the southernmost curve of 610. On a weeknight after rush hour, getting there makes for an eerie, soulless excursion into the city's nether regions. Once off the highway, you pass a hyper-illuminated go-cart track, the weirdly antiseptic Southeast Church of Christ and an ominous string of darkened, half-empty rental car lots. You also should see the Drury Inn, temporary home to Beau Hill, producer of Cinematic Superthug, the Hunger's upcoming major-label release. On it, the band plays surprisingly affable techno-metal; think Metallica with a beat box and a weakness for sunny pop choruses.
Though the full album is due in stores on March 24, Superthug's first single, the catchy anti-booze diatribe "Moderation," was shipped to radio last week. Already it has been picked up by more than 25 stations nationwide.
It's a good omen for an outfit that learned early to work for everything and expect nothing. Certainly, the Hunger -- whose members all grew up in and around Houston -- have held firmly to that philosophy when it comes to their hometown. Their connection to the local music scene has always been, well, tenuous.
"We did things a little differently," says the Hunger's Jeff Wilson. "A lot of the Inner Loop bands just despised us."
Wilson founded the Hunger in 1989 with his older brother Thomas and childhood pal Brian Albritton. The band was strictly an electronic ensemble, with the two siblings on keyboards and vocals and Albritton on bass. Since then, the group has evolved into a more organic, riff-reliant heavy-rock act, with dwindling high-tech trappings. Last year's Devil Thumbs a Ride, the Hunger's debut on Universal/MCA, offered the first incontrovertible proof that the group wasn't merely an animated, longhaired version of Front 242 with a live drummer. That album's minor hit, "Vanishing Cream," had many listeners confusing the group with Alice in Chains, and much of the remainder of the release confirmed the Hunger's excursion into guitar-driven territory.
During that transformation, the Hunger gained two members -- producer/guitarist Stephen Bogle and drummer Max Schuldberg -- and lost not a one. Such consistency goes against the grain of the Houston scene, where groups seem to lose members, break up or reconfigure overnight. But then, the Hunger was never really welcome in that clique to begin with.
Adds Schuldberg, "We've always thought large-scale. If Houston doesn't like us, fuck it. We've got ten other cities, and we move on."
The Hunger's tidy home office on the city's outskirts is as indicative of the band's detachment from the Houston scene as it is symbolic of their tenacity and work ethic. The cramped but well-organized sanctuary is a constant reminder of the day in 1992 when the Hunger decided it was time to get off their duffs and get serious. The front area serves as the band's business office, and it's stocked with all the necessities: a telephone, phone books, music industry directories, a computer, a fax machine. The elder Wilson recalls a day when his brother Jeff practically "dated that fax machine."
"We got rejection letters from a lot of labels back then," Thomas remembers. "We weren't ready to be signed."
Just beyond that first room is a larger practice space, which is jammed with equipment. When all that hardware is put to use, the volume generated easily drowns out the jets overhead making their descent into Hobby.
The Hunger's universe is remarkably controlled and self-contained. Even the trailer that carries the group's equipment when they're on the road is parked just outside, and they continue to crisscross the country in a van. Despite the success of Devil Thumbs a Ride -- which was due, in large part, to the group's incessant touring -- there are no chartered Trailways buses in their immediate future.
It's in the front office that the members of the Hunger assemble for this, their first major interview with the Press. The dearth of local media attention afforded the band over the years should come as a shock, considering the band is Houston's lone modern-rock success story. As if to underscore that point, three large plaques the group received as repeat winners in the Press Music Awards hang on the wall above a couch where three Hunger members sit. Obviously, someone is listening.
Somehow, the Hunger's five members maintain an aura of rock semi-stardom without ever having to try too hard. Yet they're also extremely personable and easygoing. Each seems comfortable in his own skin. Three look like baristas at your local Starbucks: Thomas with his blond, close-cropped coif and surf-punk attire; Jeff with his bleached-blond dreadlocks, tiny goatee and penetrating stare; and the soft-spoken Albritton, in conservative wire-rimmed glasses, a more substantial goatee, and hair gelled and teased to stand at attention. The remaining two members provide a startling contrast: Schuldberg, with hoop earrings and wavy, long dark hair streaked various colors, looks a little like a holdover from '80s hair-metal days. And Bogle -- who strikes the most menacing profile in the group's publicity stills -- could pass as a sideman for creepy, techno-Goth rockers Ministry, his head shaved clean except for a long, braided tail that dangles just above the area where his spine meets his skull.
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