Hailing from small-town Saskatchewan, the Hunter Brothers are heading to Saskatoon later this month to attend their first-ever Juno Awards on March 15.
The up-and-coming Canadian country band hails from Shaunavon, Sask., and is comprised of five Prairie boys — Luke, J.J., Ty, Brock and Dusty Hunter — who also happen to be actual brothers.
Signed to Open Road Recordings after forming in 2016, the talented quintet quickly went from successful hockey careers — all five played the game as children, and three went on to have professional careers, including J.J., who was signed to the Edmonton Oilers from 2001 to 2006 — to playing venues together around the world thanks to the unexpected success of hits like El Dorado, Born and Raised and Silver Lining.
Lost, the lead single from their recent sophomore album, State of Mind (2019), was certified gold in Canada last year and became the Hunter Brothers’ first-ever No. 1 single on Canadian country radio. Additionally, it earned the group Single of the Year at the 2019 Saskatchewan Music Awards.
Now, after receiving six CCMA Award nominations, the five-piece act is heading to the Juno Awards in their home province for the first time. The band has not one but two Juno nominations: Country Album of the Year and Breakthrough Group of the Year.
During next weekend’s Juno Awards celebrations, the Hunter Brothers are set to join the lineup of Canadian musicians who will take part in the Juno Cup and the Juno kickoff concert, which will support MusiCounts, a music education charity associated with the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Ahead of the Junos and a brief summer trek across Canada, guitarist and co-songwriter J.J. Hunter sat down with Global News to talk about the band’s recent nominations, what it’s like being in a band of brothers, how they shifted from playing professional hockey to full-time music careers and what’s in store for 2020.
Global News: Congratulations, J.J.! 2020 is your first year as a Juno Awards nominee. How are you feeling? Have you ever been to the Junos before?
J.J.: Thank you very much. Yes, it will be our first time. Of course, with growing up in Canada, we’ve been familiar with the Junos for many years, but this will actually be our first opportunity to attend. Right now, we’re feeling extremely honoured to be included among the artists that are going to be there as well as those who have been throughout the history of the Junos. It’s a real privilege and something that we definitely don’t take lightly.
The ceremony is taking place a few hours up the road from your hometown, right? That must feel pretty gratifying.
J.J.: That’s right. We’re from Shaunavon, a little farming community on the southwest corner of Saskatchewan. There’s a population of about 1,800 people there. But yes, having the Junos hosted right here in our home province — in the same year that we get our first nominations — is just spectacular. Isn’t it weird that those events correlated with one another? We really do feel blessed with this opportunity, I can’t stress it enough. The Junos is something that we’re very excited about right now. We’re not far in, but it’s already been a really special year for us.
I can imagine there was a lot of excitement when you saw that you were nominated. Who heard the news first, or did the five of you watch the nominations together live? How did you react?
J.J.: Yeah, there was a lot of excitement. The funny thing about it, though, is that we were down in Mexico doing a few shows with this organization. At the resort we were on, the Wi-Fi was really scattered, so depending on where you were, you may or may not have been able to get service. Luckily, our manager was down there with us, and at the time, he, of course, was watching the live broadcast and sending us messages throughout. But because of the day’s activities and everything that was happening, we were all pretty spread out, so I think we all ended up getting the messages at different times.
But when we finally had a chance to congregate, we had ourselves a little celebration together around the resort’s pool. Being down in Mexico with the warmth and the sunshine was just the cherry on top. It was a great day for us in many, many ways. It’s something that you would never, ever expect to get.
What’s it like being in a full-time band and going out on the road as five brothers? Does it ever get overwhelming?
J.J.: I say this truthfully … my brothers and I are best friends. For the most part, we get along really well and we love making music together. We genuinely enjoy each other’s company. That’s it. When we’re on stage, doing an interview, or whatever else, it’s one of those situations were you can look to your left and your right, and you see the people that you love and love you back, people that you’re comfortable with.
It can get pretty insane, though. Anybody that gets along with and hangs out with their family regularly knows what it’s like to have that closeness and familiarity with each other. In some ways, it brings a great deal of comfort for us; in other ways, we have days where certain things come up that might affect our day-to-day relationship.
Having said that, we’ve played music together ever since we were kids and really… we did a lot of those inevitable walks of life together growing up. We played a lot of hockey, so for those years that we played junior and pro hockey, we were spread out all over North America, but we never quit playing music. Every summer, we’d come home and do it together. It’s something that we still really appreciate after doing it together for so long.
So there’s never any butting of heads? Does being related help or complicate the songwriting process?
J.J.: As individuals, we’re definitely all different people. There’s always five different thoughts, opinions and musical tastes. I suppose, at times, that could be seen as a negative thing because decision-making can sometimes take a little extra time, but we always take each other’s opinions and thoughts into consideration, which, in turn, makes its way into the music. We use that as one of our biggest strengths, too. Because of the diversity between us five brothers, we try to leave no stone unturned.
Overall, there’s a great deal of enjoyment that comes as a result of getting to take this journey together. We’ve always appreciated that mum and dad raised us to try and stand side by side and work together through our differences. The Juno nominations are just another example of something that we get to celebrate together as a family. It’s really rewarding that we get to do it together as a unit.
You said you’ve played a lot of hockey throughout your life. Was that ever a priority over music?
J.J.: Yeah, at first, hockey was all of our main goals. Though music is something that’s been part of our lives for the entirety of them, it definitely wasn’t at the forefront of our minds for a career when we were younger. It’s interesting because dad was the one that put us in hockey, and of course, being Prairie boys, we always loved being at the rink. It was something that we did, we loved and took very seriously.
All of us played the high-level rep hockey, four of us went on to play junior hockey and then three of us actually ended up playing pro at different levels. I even had the privilege of being signed with the Edmonton Oilers. I was within their organization, played pre-season games with them and played in their system for five years.
So yeah, for many years, hockey was what we were pursuing with an intense passion. But in that time, music was never absent. Mom was the one that put us in piano lessons as kids, and although he wasn’t the push behind the music, dad came from a musical family, too. He supported mum when she wanted to put us in music lessons and she supported him by watching us in the bleachers. They supported each other, and us, in each endeavour. One of the things our dad instilled in us at a very young age, too, was to be natural entertainers. He was actually a figure skater of all things, so it seems like entertaining came naturally to us.
So when was the decision made that you all wanted to start and pursue a professional band together?
J.J.: Well, let me start with where our music career kind of kicked off. We started before our youngest brother, Ty — who’s our lead singer — was even born. There was a little local gospel festival that started up down in our corner of the world. We got invited to perform at it just as a local artist, so I remember practicing for 15 minutes or so that first day, and it actually went well so we started performing there for many, many years.
That’s really what gave us our start into the performing world, but every winter, we were busy. We were always away from home playing hockey and then when we’d come home, we’d be helping out on the farm. It wasn’t until we each made our way home for good — some of the guys had injuries and others had important decisions to make — that we decided to tackle the whole music thing and really give the band a shot.
Like I said, it was always in our lives, but it wasn’t at the forefront while we were dabbling in our hockey careers. But once we got back to the farm, we were done with that and decided to really dig into music. Opportunities started coming out and then things really started to take the shape of what they are today.
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It’s been a year now since State of Mind came out. Obviously, you’ve all had a busy year, but what’s next for the Hunter Brothers?
J.J.: We’re actually heading the Nashville at the end of this week to do a bunch more writing and some recording. The creation of music is something that we absolutely love the process of… and the exciting thing about the music world is that it never rests. You’re always pushing forward and looking for new music and new opportunities. You could ask just about any artist, and I would assume they would tell you the same thing.
More importantly, we’re excited to share new experiences and sounds with our fans. We want to share our growth overall, not just as a band but as individuals, too. One brother’s story might have some similarities with another, but we all have such unique stories and personalities that I think that’s just what keeps our music so fresh.
But on top of the new music, we have a full slate of summer shows and we’ve got our eyes on all kinds of other different opportunities that are coming up both in Canada and beyond.
Honestly, we’re so grateful for what we do. We’ve had such great support right across the nation and even beyond the borders. We’re truly appreciative of the people that have stood behind us and our music.
State of Mind is now available worldwide through all major streaming platforms.
The 49th annual Juno Awards take place on Sunday, March 15 at 8 p.m. (ET) and will be broadcast live from the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.
Select tickets for the event are still available through Ticketmaster starting at $39.95.
Following the 2020 Junos, the Hunter Brothers will hit the road for 10 gigs across Canada between June and August.
Ticket information, updates and additional information can be found through the official Hunter Brothers website.
Hunter Brothers 2020 Canadian tour dates
June 19 — Steinbach, Man. @ Summer in the City Festival
June 20 — Gravelbourg, Sask. @ La Palestre Arena
July 4 — Dauphin, Man. @ Dauphin’s Countryfest
July 9 — Craven, Sask @ Country Thunder Saskatchewan
July 12 — Craven, Sask @ Craven Valley
July 23 — Medicine Hat, Alta. @ Medicine Hat Exhibition & Stampede
July 24 — Thunder Bay, Ont. @ Country on the Bay
July 30 — Lake Cowichan, B.C. @ Sunfest Country
July 31 — Camrose, Alta. @ Big Valley Jamboree
Aug. 1 — Merritt, B.C. @ Rockin’ River Music Festival