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Carolyn Hunter. Photo by Steven Williams
Music

Carolyn Hunter’s Lovelight Is a Synth-Pop Dreamscape

The Boulder-based singer-songwriter’s debut album explores love and resilience, granting all of us permission to move and feel free.

Carolyn Hunter always knew she had a voice, it just took decades to define it. The 34-year-old artist has spent most of her career singing in bands—including the Heartstring Hunters, a Colorado indie-folk outfit—and as a backup vocalist, often with Daniel Rodriguez of beloved local band Elephant Revival. But on Lovelight, her debut solo album (released December 3), she unleashed her very own synth-pop symphony.

“Carolyn Hunter has a voice that just has a purity to it, that softly dances through the ethers,” Rodriguez says. “She’s the kind of pop star we need—not the kind they throw at us, but the kind we need.”

As a kid growing up in Virginia, Hunter dreamt of starring on Broadway, but she traded musical theater for guitar when she went to college at UCLA. She was already performing as a folk singer when she met Dan Hunter in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. He became her bandmate and husband. In 2014, the pair relocated to the Front Range and started the Heartstring Hunters. Carolyn’s vocals, which could be high and husky or sweet and sensual, often drew comparison to Joni Mitchell.

Just as the group was gaining momentum, though, both the band and the Hunters’ marriage began to unravel. “It was a big life shift,” says Hunter, who now lives in Boulder, “and musically, I felt I could do anything I wanted.”

In 2018, she began singing with Rodriguez, harmonizing with a rotating cast of characters at his shows, and later sang on six tracks off his 2020 solo album, Sojourn of a Burning Sun. She also began writing more on her own, inspired by female artists like Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath, pop trio Haim, and singer Maggie Rogers, whose combination of folk, pop, and dance music Hunter felt had been stuck in her head forever when she heard it for the first time.

Seeking a collaborator that could help workshop her writing, Hunter approached Julian Peterson, a local electronic guitarist and multi-instrumentalist that had experience making beats. During one session, he brought in a drum pad, which unlocked a new music-making experience for Hunter. “I always had this vision for a more pop-folk electronic sound,” she says.

Almost all eight tracks on Lovelight began as demos during this period in late 2018. “Felt Like Love,” one of the first songs she wrote, captures the heartache of intimacy—“A hummingbird, a butterfly, the last few minutes of sleep / I’m longing for the keeping of the thing that doesn’t keep”—and the confidence of dancing alone in your underwear.

“I wrote these songs because I had no other outlet at the time,” Hunter says. “I was depressed and sad and needed to say what I wanted to say and didn’t know how to do that other than through song.”

Although Hunter had originally planned on a 2020 release, the pandemic provided more time to rework her tunes with a cadre of impressive collaborators. Rather than record in-person, musicians featured on the album—Al Smith and Daren Garvey on drums, and bassist Brian Kesley, who’s served as Maggie Rogers’ musical director since 2018—sent in tracks from across the county. The time also allowed Hunter to learn ProTools for recording, editing, and mixing, although she ultimately cut most of the vocals at Wolf Den Records in Longmont. When it came time to master the tracks, they were sent to Canadian Philip Shaw Bova, known for his work with artists like Feist, Lake Street Dive, and Devendra Banhart.

“Everyone was all over the place, and that ended up being in our favor,” says Hunter, noting that some of the tracks have been reworked—including trying new beats, adding electronic effects and other instrumentation, and playing with backup vocals—many times over. “I think the songs are all going to be that much better for it.”

Micah Tawlks, of Nashville, Tennessee, mixed and produced the album alongside Hunter and Peterson. “Come Down” is a slow dance of complex emotions and addiction, “Wave of You” is textured and tropical, and “Goodbye in the Rain” describes the feeling of coming undone. “Giving Myself to You” channels this year’s Taylor Swift, sticking it to toxic masculinity and reclaiming her self-worth.

Hunter is now on the other side of some of the feelings she expresses in those tunes; her marriage is stable again. But she hopes the songs can give voice to someone else’s trauma, resilience, or desire to dance.

“It’s so cool to have something start out as devastating and emotional and transform into a piece of art, where it can go on to live a life of its own,” says Hunter. “I’m the number one queen of giving people permission to feel, and I hope the album does that.”

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