The Hunger might be from Houston, but founding members and brothers Jeff and Thomas Wilson can literally call Beaumont their second home. They’ve performed at just about every venue in Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana, outlasting most of them, including Starz, Palladium, Club F/X, Empire, Sea Rim Beach, Texas Longhorn Club, Ford Park, Club Infinity, Lamar’s Setzer Student Center, The Bottle Shop and The Hangar, just to name a few.
They also headlined festivals such as Gulf Coast Jam, Pleasure Island Music Festival and performed at the first original Dog Jam, then called Texas Dog Jam, in 2001 at the old fairgrounds.
If that’s not impressive enough, in 1994, Bridge City High School won a contest, created by then program director Mark Landis of Power Hits K106 and earned themselves an in-school concert and got to pick from three bands. Two were national acts at the time, the other being The Hunger. The high school students of Bridge City chose wisely, as they were on the receiving end of a one-hour concert during school.
Heading into the third decade of their journey, The Hunger remains relevant and they have a terrific story to tell. Though it’s not the original lineup, the two most important ingredients remain strong in the brothers Wilson, who share lead singing duties. The current lineup also consists of Tim Huston on guitar, Darren Nelson on bass and Alex Slay on drums, and it’s been this way for several years now.
The band has recorded six full albums to date — Leave Me Alone (1991), Grip (1993), Devil Thumbs a Ride (1996), Cinematic Superthug (1998), Spaceman’s Last Goodbye (2001) and Finding Who We Are (2005).
Beaumont was introduced to The Hunger in the late ’80s when an early version of the band played at Lamar University. Their music was a sign of the times, with plenty of keyboards that fit right in with bands like Erasure, Depeche Mode and Front 242. It was also during the time the dance club scene was taking off locally, beginning with the granddaddy of them all, Starz.
Then came radio personality Mark Landis. Landis was handed the keys to a radio station in 1991, then called Power Hits K106. Landis was a big component at 93Q in Houston, worked the nightclub scene there and was very familiar with The Hunger.
Landis turned Beaumont upside down, giving the airwaves a much needed facelift. He began playing The Hunger on Power Hits K106 and introduced Southeast Texans to songs like “Never Again,” “Shock” and “Shoot to Kill.” That’s all it took.
“The Hunger had the right sound at the time for what was happening in both Houston and Beaumont musically,” said Landis. “Their energy and passion on stage came through every night, and their fans are extremely loyal to them.”
With their tunes saturated on the radio, the band became instant stars and began playing Beaumont on a regular basis while building up a large following.
A second album, Grip, was released in 1993 and featured local radio hits “Communication Breakdown” and a remake of Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love.”
Those in Los Angeles and New York began to take notice of what had become more than just a regional band in Texas. While several record companies were interested, it was Universal Records who gave The Hunger their first national recording contract.
Devil Thumbs a Ride was released nationally in March 1996. The band then consisted of Thomas, Jeff, Brian Albritton (bass), Stephen Bogle (guitar) and Max Schuldberg (drums), and they flew to Canada to shoot a video for the albums first single, “Vanishing Cream.”
The video was put in rotation on MTV and MTV2 and the song became a hit on rock radio stations across America. The band toured the country and also landed a two-week stint on the KISS 1996 reunion tour.
Fast forward to 2012, and The Hunger continues to perform about a dozen or so shows a year. And their fans, both the loyal and the newbies, seem to love it.
The Examiner spoke with Jeff Wilson about the beginning, middle and what’s next for this band.
How and when did it all start?
It was 1987 as a way to just mess around. It was three surfing buddies — myself, Thomas and Geoff Fish. It wasn’t for any other reason than to play some Beastie Boys’ songs. We played a little bit of everything, and the only thing we aspired to do was have a good time. It was a simple setup. I played bass, Thomas played drums and Geoff was the guitar player. We didn’t even know how to sing yet. Right around that time, we were sneaking in the high school and practicing. A classmate, Brian Albritton, found out about it and brought over one of his keyboards, and one practice was all it took. We got real lucky, real fast.
It wasn’t much later and you guys delivered ‘Leave Me Alone.’
That came in 1991 on Alpha International Records. I call that album a byproduct of Beaumont. We were playing Beaumont a lot back then, and after the record, we started blowing up and getting tons of gigs.
I remember Mark Landis being very instrumental in your success.
Absolutely. Mark was working at 93Q and playing us there. He then went to Beaumont and took over the radio market and had the power to play any music, so he blasted some of our songs. We went from a band that was making a modest $300 per night to a band suddenly becoming a business. We were making $3,000 per gig and sometime playing two gigs in one day for $10,000.
The single ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’ on the second album ‘Grip’ was a monster song here in Southeast Texas. Why choose that one to remake?
That was all me. I still listen to the original Bad Company version, but I won’t listen to our own version. The song had elements of Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, but it wasn’t anything I was listening to at the time. During that time I was listening to industrial music like Erasure and Depeche Mode. EMF was really big during that time, so I think out song fit during the time period.
You guys began to start getting some serious looks from national record companies right around that time. Am I correct?
I remember Mark Landis and the late Chuck Cotton arranged for a big wig to come in and watch us play. His name was Jason Flom, who at the time was the head of Atlantic Records. We in turn got drunk before the show and acted like idiots. We learned a lot after that.
But Universal Records snagged you up and you made your national debut in 1996 with ‘Devil Thumbs a Ride.’ Being the third record, you could hear the evolution into a legit rock band.
The No.1 pressure that most bands don’t want to admit to is the pressure to be a big player. During the early ’90s, you could be a great rock band, but most people were still listening to the Milli Vanilli stuff. For me, it was more like exploring boundaries. We had already been through the whole electronic phase, so it was time to start evolving.
Tons of big moments in this band’s history — touring with KISS, finishing the year with a Top 10 single, just to name a few. What’s your favorite moment?
Flying to New York City and going to Universal Records and actually sitting in a boardroom as they unveiled our record and having all the employees there at Universal listen to it. That’s the moment you work for. Being the main songwriter in the group and as intimidating as it was, that moment was a big one. Don’t get me wrong. Playing shows in front of five people or 10,000 people is great, but it’s always been about writing music for me.
The Hunger was one of the first rock bands to sign with Universal, which was then a label full of pop artists. Do you think the band and its sound was ahead of its time?
Combining the elements of what we did, yeah, we were probably a little ahead of the time, but definitely ahead of Universal’s time. The staff they had then and the philosophies weren’t the same as ours. I thought we were probably in the right time, but Universal wasn’t. We were nightclub kids and they were 50- and 60-year-old people who thought they knew everything.
It was only a few years later (2000) that Linkin Park debuted. Many people, including myself, thought their first single ‘One Step Closer’ was a new song by The Hunger. Was that frustrating?
Growing up in the music business, you understand a lot of this is about timing and luck. Not to say Linkin Park got lucky; they just did it better than us.
I’m sure you hear this all the time, but why not play music off ‘Leave Me Alone’?
Personally, I would play every song off that album, but I couldn’t play it in the same form or version like you may have heard it in 1991. I would have to change it up some. I re-worked ‘Never Again,’ but just can’t get the band to play it.
Of your complete catalog, which song means the most to you?
That’s a great question. I would probably say ‘Shock’ only because it was the first song I ever wrote. We wrote some songs during the early days but didn’t actually record any of those. I wrote that song in my mother’s living room. Some people like to read into lyrics of songs, but honestly, I don’t know what the hell the song really means. It was just a sign of the times. That song, hands down, is No. 1 on my list.
Going on a quarter century, why keep doing it?
I’m still having fun, plus the guys other myself and Thomas – Alex, Darren and Tim – are writing new material and it sounds good, so I could possibly see a new record in the future. That, and nothing replaces performing live. It’s like a good drug. You have to keep going back for more.