"You come up on hard times, and you walk long distances, and you start singing these songs."
front man J. Loren music was always his salvation, providing him respite from a difficult childhood and a tumultuous adult life. It's these very same emotions that fuel Hurt's music, providing not only J with an outlet but his fans as well, some of who have written to say, "Your music has saved my life." J's ability to articulate his emotions both lyrically and sonically has earned Hurt a loyal following, generating several top 20 Mainstream Rock singles and earning them a coveted #1 on Billboard's Heatseeker charts. In this Starpulse Q and A, J discusses his music career, beginning with his early days as a classically trained violinist and culminating with his locking himself in a room to record the first Hurt album The Confirmation
I read that, growing up, you were trained to be a classical violinist.
It was my heart and soul. I used to play a minimum of 12 hours a day, every day. I've spent most of my life playing violin, until recently, where I spend most of my life performing on various instruments.
What is it that attracted you to the violin in the first place?
It's not like I knew what it was. It was this wonderful allure. I suppose it's the freedom of it. There are no frets, obviously. It's sort of like another voice that you can have. I still couldn't explain exactly why I feel the say I do about the violin. I'm sure that anybody who's drawn to that particular instrument knows what I'm talking about. They'd be pretty hard-pressed to tell you why they had this unnatural fascination with it.
Growing up, what sort of role did music play in your life in general?
It was a respite. A lifesaver. You come up on hard times, and you walk long distances, and you start singing these songs. Things come into your head, and they both make you crazy and help you regain your sanity a little bit. The problem is, I don't know what it's like to be somebody else, so when I talk about things like this, I don't know how it's differing from what other people experience. All I know was, when it came to me, and when I was walking around thinking, that was the way I was thinking. That was the best part of my life.
What was it like, at 14, to enroll in a community college with people much older than yourself?
It was really weird. I had to get a lot of rides, because obviously I didn't have a license. There was a lot of hitchhiking involved. Actually, you're the first person to ever ask me about this part of my life. There were a lot of good experiences because I was a violinist. I'd go there, and there would be concerts with blues musicians, and they'd ask if there was a fiddler around, and I'd fill the shoe. It was very, very different.
How far away was the college from your home?
I'm going to give an estimate of 30 miles. The bad part was, I would get rides from one place to another place, but the law prohibited me from hitchhiking along the major route. I'd have to get a stopover at the major route beginning in my town. It kind of affected my grades later on. (Laughs) But I still managed to do ok.
Going into college, what sort of musical background did you have outside of knowing how to play the violin?
I was discovering Pearl Jam. I liked that a lot at the time. I don't remember much else, because when I did go home, where my boom box was, there would not be any rock music going on.
With learning how to play the violin at such a young age, did you have any desire to be a concert violinist or a session musician?
Yes, I did. I used to play all the time, for that specific purpose. I was confident that I could become one of the best in the world. I'm not, currently. I did approach that a few times. I wouldn't say I ever reached that, but it was attainable. It gave me hope. I didn't really care what type of music it was that I was going to be playing that much. For instance, I played at a hoedown with some guys on the National String Machine. I believe the banjo player--he was the second string machine guy--said, "Roy, whatever you do, don't go onto country." I said, "Why is that, sir?" he said, "Because it's a cruel life and it doesn't matter how good you get, and I can see that you are trying to get to be as good as you possibly can. It's who you know, not what you know." So he discouraged me from country and I took his advice, because he was living and working in the environment. And I looked at these people in the classical world and saw that, no matter what you do, it's only a matter of time before you're second best and then 50th best. I suppose the root of all of this is that I want to make something beautiful, so why don't I just make something beautiful instead of trying to interpret the works of other people? That's tough on it's own. So, I started writing songs.
Was there a point while going to college that you decided to join some sort of local garage band?
Nope. I was totally disinterested in that. I just went from playing along wherever to making my own compositions. Once I put my head to that, I decided that's what I would do, and that's the only thing I did. Hurt has been around now for probably going on 9 years. I stayed the course. I didn't have anything else I cared about once I put my mind to the fact that I was going to create music and maybe do something to maybe touch people's lives and commemorate the lives of people that have touched me and that have passed away.
When is it that you were exposed to rock music?
I would say I was 13 when I heard the first rock song other than walking into a department store and hearing some kind of bubblegum pop on the radio. It was Pearl Jam's "Jeremy." It stopped me in my tracks, and make me go "Wow, I didn't realize these rock guys could make music that is so good." I'd heard some really cheesy stuff before and I just didn't care for it.
So do you not go out of your way to discover rock bands? You just hear something, appreciate it, and move on?
How does the classical style affect your music now?
You listen to songs like "Unkind", and it's almost basically a classical fugue. That was one of the first things I had really understood and worked on, so I suppose there was a little bit of plagiarism involved in that. I couldn't help it--it was in me from such a young age. As far as the rock style, that's sort of born out of necessity because I don't have the power or the funds to wield a small orchestra by myself. We're making music in whatever way possible. If you take a song and bury it down to just a quartet, you might wish for a few things, but still, you're getting the song across. It's the same idea as taking a bunch of instruments, and if you want to make it loud and powerful, crank some distortion.
Would you like to one day perform with an orchestra or a bigger band?
Yes. I would love to perform with an orchestra. I would love to continue performing with my current band mates along with an orchestra.
So, you were going to college and you heard the song "Jeremy." What happened next for you and your life as a musician?
My best friend got a very hefty drug habit and he tried to pawn his guitar. I thought that was a damn shame, so I bought it off of him. Just by having it around, I started playing it. I was holding on to it in case he wanted it back later, but he doesn't need it now.
Is that something you saw a lot as a musician, people succumbing to drug addiction?
That's something I see every day. In fact, I just lost a very good friend a couple days ago.
What are your thoughts on this: I know that you don't judge different types of music. Do you apply a similar philosophy to people's actions?
Yes. People should be accountable for their actions. Unfortunately, drugs take away the accountability. This sounds hypocritical, because I'm known to drink constantly and imbibe all day long. I believe that has something to do with the toleration of certain things that have happened. But I believe that drugs are a horrible destroyer of somebody's mind and the thing that separates us from the animals is literally our mind. I hate them with a passion. If I could eradicate every kind of narcotic drug from the face of the earth, I would do it without even thinking twice.
Reading through the lyrics to your songs, religion is something that comes up quite frequently. I want to know, what sort of role did it play in your life growing up?
I used to have to memorize a chapter of it a day and recite it.
How has this affected your view of religion now, in the present?
I think it's remarkable that people continue to believe in religion. Don't get me wrong, I don't think there's anything wrong with believing in a deity, or in having hope that there's something else out there. Hope and discovery. There's nothing wrong with hope or belief. But I think it's remarkable that the people who are the biggest supporters of religion don't even know the history of their particular religion.
When is it that you were able to save up enough money to make an album?
I worked for a few years, I believe. I was sort of toying around with the recording process. Let's say '98, originally. It's kind of fuzzy. There's a section of my life I don't remember too well. I eventually just locked myself in a room and made The Confirmation. That kind of got it started. It was along the lines of "This is going to be the beginning of how it goes," because I'm done with messing around with everything else.
Under what name were you working at the time?
What is it that inspired you to choose this name?
I think it's fairly obvious. It had a lot to do with things going on in my life. I was such a bitter, horrible monster of a human. I was just consumed by atrocities. That's no way to be, but I was. And I knew it. I turned into something that I wasn't proud of. I said, "My own life be damned. Maybe somebody else can get something out of this." because I sure would have appreciated that from time to time.
Your fans certainly appreciate it. How do you feel about those listeners who say, "Your music saved my life"?
I feel both hopeful and frightened, because immediately I'm so glad I could do something good, but I'm immediately frightened that they'll find out more about me and find out my flaws. To err is human, and I don't know it any other way. And I know that I'm a horrible dirt bag. I can see the way they're looking at me, like I have some kind of answer for them, and I don't. But I am glad, for a moment, that I could do something nice for them. But I'm scared when they tell me that.
So where do you think people should look to for answers?
Themselves. I believe that everybody who's born has this wonderful ability, which we've chosen to train ourselves to ignore. I believe that that ability is to tell us what's right and wrong, and that's inside every single person until selfishness gets involved.
When you go into the various places you perform, what kind of fan interaction do you have?
I do my best to hang around the show every night. I try to say hi and answer autographs. Let people know that we're just normal guys too. We're just trying to play some music, and if they want to meet us, it's not the end of the world. We're not Gods here, we're just a bunch of dirt bags that travel around the countryside. That's every show. Unless one of us is horribly ill, we'll kind of spare the crowd from that.
Interview by Ben Kharakh
Starpulse.com contributing writer