Little Rock band American Princes released their final EP one year after bassist, Luke Hunsicker passed away. The five songs on “American Princes” represent an eclectic collection that hints at the many directions the sound of this budding and talented band could have gone.
by Amy Bowers
LISTEN TO: Cruel Story of Youth
I mistakenly thought I could multi-task and respond to some emails when I gave my first listen to the new American Princes EP. As a long-time fan I knew the tracks would enter heavy rotation in my playlists and likely remain there for months. “Cruel Story of Youth,” the last track on the mostly syrupy sweet album was playing. Laced with just a tinge of darkness for good balance, it’s what those of us who enjoy upbeat, danceable music are looking for — pop done well, not overwrought with synth or auto-corrected vocals and with an air of originality. Mid-sentence responding to my boyfriend’s mother about the mundane trials of my week, the click-clacking of keys gave way to silence as, over catchy harmonies, singer David Slade repeated the lyric “I hate the way this story ends.”
Those last lyrics hit home for those of us that have grown up in the Little Rock music scene. Anyone who knows this story hates how it ends too. The lyrics shake loose thoughts of Luke Hunsicker, the band’s very talented and passionate bassist, and the city of Little Rock’s good friend, developing artist, master Uno player, kitchen barber, admirable Pez dispenser-collector and so much more. I met Luke when I was seventeen and in the years I knew him, I watched him perform on stage in seven or more bands until he finally found his fit with American Princes. The band had already taken over our hometown, and were well on their way to nation-wide domination having released four albums, one of which was named “Best Album of the Year” in 2008 by Magnet Magazine. They had signed to Yep Roc Records and were touring the country extensively when Hunsicker was diagnosed with brain cancer in late 2008. Imagine now the worst possible timing for such a thing and the least-deserving person and you can see how unjustly the hand dealt to Hunsicker and the American Princes played out. After Hunsicker, wife Sydney, his family and friends waged a tragically short battle with brain cancer, he passed away a year ago this month — August 2010 — at the age of twenty-nine. The release of the American Princes self-titled EP in late July marked a bittersweet anniversary for the band. While Slade, like any artist, was glad to have the finished product of his hard work and creativity, the five songs on the EP were also a sad reminder of those last few months of happy ignorance before the cards were laid out before them.
Slade, Hunsicker and other members of the band including guitarist/singer Collins Kilgore, drummer Matt Quin and guitarist Will Boyd began working on the “American Princes” EP in the summer of 2007 in New York with producer Chuck Brody, known most notably for his work with the Wu Tang Clan. “This collection of songs was not originally conceived as an EP,” Slade said. “When we started recording, it was just a way for us to give an idea to our management at the time of the new stuff we were coming up with. We were always generating new material while we were touring.” When Hunsicker became sick, the band set up a recording space for him in Little Rock and mailed tracks back and forth for him to work on. After undergoing a craniotomy in 2008 to remove tumors, Hunsicker was given a clean bill of health and joined the band for their August 2009 Bonnaroo performance.
“It was right after the Bonnaroo show that it was apparent that Luke was really sick again, and was told that he had more tumors. It was around September that it became obvious that those five songs might be the last material we would do together as a band unless something miraculous happened,” Slade said. After Hunsicker’s death, it was all very unclear in what direction the American Princes would go. Would they replace Hunsicker and try to recover the momentum of the band or disband completely and go in their separate ways?
“People always want to know if we plan to continue making music together,” Slade said. “Sometime after Luke passed, Matt Quin and I were talking with our friend [and Little Rock producer] Burt Taggart. He asked us when we would all play again. Matt’s first response was ‘Some day soon,’ mine was ‘Never.’” Slade said that the band members have all spoken with each other individually but still, two years later, have not sat down as a band to discuss the possibility. “I think we needed time to think about it. It’s a really complicated relationship. We have spent so much of our lives doing this together and there is a deep sense of love and obligation toward each other.” Slade, who has obviously played this argument out many times over in this thoughts, expressed worry of finding someone who even could replace Hunsicker. “Luke was the most talented and amazing bassist I have ever seen perform. In the history of rock and roll, not a whole lot of bands come back from losing an essential member.”
After the band spent the last two years mulling over what — if even anything — they should do with those five recorded tracks, they were surprised to get a call from Brody offering to release the collection as an EP and the band agreed. “I feel like the EP is kind of all over the place since it wasn’t conceived as an album,” Slade said. He described the direction of the band’s sound as moving away from rock and roll. “Trying to figure out what the next step would have been, I think we were really homing in on a very distinct sound with more guitar melodies, something a little ‘spacier.’ I wanted these songs to be pop songs that people would like. I will always be curious about where our sound was headed, probably it would sound at least a little like The Police. That would’ve been good,” he said. The band members, though still closely-tied, have all been exploring their own paths these last two years. Slade is expecting his first child, a son named Jack, and is in law school and active in local bands. Kilgore recently married and is living in Nashville attending law school as well. Quin and Boyd are still heavily involved in the Little Rock music scene. “I get really excited when I listen to the EP,” Slade said. “It is fun to listen to because of how different every song is. I like to think on that time in our lives as writers. We had no way of knowing where that album, or the band could have gone. That period of our lives ended in such an open-ended way, but I think that a really fun collection of songs came from that time.”