By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
"It was the perfect job," Almeida says.
"We didn't do much," Watson says.
"We didn't do anything," Almeida says.
Doing not much of anything left the couple plenty of time to talk, and soon they discovered a mutual love—for each other and for all things dirty, dingy, and punk. They were both huge into bands like the Melvins, Sonic Youth, the Stooges, and the Cramps. But they adored the Beatles, too, and Almeida vividly remembers watching every movie the Fab Four made when she lived in Albuquerque. Her stepfather bought her a mic, and "I'd sing along through the stereo while jumping in front of the TV on a tiny trampoline," she says. "I did this every day." You can still see that bunny hop working itself out today when she's onstage.
She'd always wanted to be in a band. Watson was already in one, an improvised noise outfit called Realms. Eventually, that fizzled, and Hunters were born.
"It came pretty naturally," Watson says.
"It felt natural," Almeida says.
Then, together: "It was natural."
They had songs. Real, fully realized, good songs. And despite their financial shortcomings, Iha went on to produce three out of five of them—"Deadbeat," "Noisy Bitch," and "Acid Head"—on the blistering and aptly titled Hunters EP Hands on Fire, a slab of grimy, bygone New York City rock born of the loins: raw, sexy, scary, fuzzy, fun, fucked up.
In song, Watson and Almeida are true to their real life together, pinging off each other, finishing phrases, and singing in unison. On "Acid Head," as they do often, they riff back and forth, building tension. "I'm tearing it down," Watson sings. "I'm pushing it up," Almeida replies. "I'm pushing away," sings Watson. Then, together: "I want you to stay." In the second verse, they reverse the lines but come back together again on "I want you to stay."
You can hear the Sonic Youth that Almeida held so dearly poking through on "Acid Head," and the other tracks on Hands all beam weird, distorted vibes. The band has toured with A Place to Bury Strangers and the Kills, and opened for Metz—all hard, loud bands with a twinge of similar sonic appeal. But aside from maybe Allentown, Pennsylvania's Pissed Jeans (whom Watson and Almeida love), there aren't many bands who sound like this. Not in New York, at least.
"They bring a sexy and heavy band dynamic and sound that hasn't been present in New York City over the past few years," says Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, who mixed Hands. "I really like the raw and aggressive aspects of their band, as well as their catchy melodies. I really like a band that makes you afraid and happy at the same time."
In the early going, way back in '09, being a sonic outlier among New York's more cerebral and shoegazey made it hard to find bills to hop onto with locals. They found an early fan in Death by Audio booker Edan Wilber, who gave them a lot of their early gigs, with touring bands who had similar appeal.
"They work very hard at what they do," Iha says. "They have a great sense of melody; all their songs have a great rhythm and song structure. But they also rip. They're not afraid to add those noisy elements. It's a feeling. A comparison I make, which isn't obvious and sounds not right at first, is the Pixies. Frank Black screams a lot on Pixies songs, which can also get raucous. But they're fucking incredible songs, obviously. That's Hunters, too."
"James is just the nicest guy," Watson says.
"So, so nice," Almeida says.
Then, together: "really nice."