In his 15-plus year career as a Memphis musician, local songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Hulett has transformed himself from a capable backing musician to a bona fide frontman. And though the Bluff City is not where Hulett is originally from (his family moved here in 1990 from Darien, Illinois), it is where his musical journey began.
"I went to see a friend's band called Fascist Frank & the German Brigade at the Antenna club in 1995 and was hooked," Hulett says. "That Christmas, I got my first drum set."
Within a few years, Hulett was a mainstay on the scene, drumming for underground rock bands like the Fluffs, 6packadelia, and Palindrome. But his stock really began to rise in 2001 when he was asked to join the (at the time) up-and-coming indie-rock outfit Snowglobe.
"It meant the world to be in Snowglobe," Hullet says. "I was always such a huge fan of Tim Regan's and Brad Postlethwaite's songwriting, so joining up with them and Brandon Robertson was really exciting. It was at a great time for me too, right after college when there were no real responsibilities — just making records and touring."
Along the way, Hulett had also started learning to play the guitar and experimenting with writing his own material.
Hulett's compositions began to appear on Snowglobe albums, starting with the catchy "Changes," which was arguably the stand-out track off of the band's 2005 album, Doing the Distance. From there, he never looked back, despite increasing difficulty in keeping the group together beyond recording work.
"I had a ton of songs, but Snowglobe wasn't doing that much. I also wanted to play out live, and at that point we were pretty much just a studio band," Hulett says.
So in addition to contributing to future Snowglobe recordings, he created another outlet for his own songwriting output by forming Jeffrey James & the Haul in 2006. The band would release two excellent EPs, 2007's Win the National Championship and 2009's Ride the Wind Carnival. But, in time, that project also began to lose steam due to internal conflicts, including Hulett's own burgeoning professional career and family.
"Let's just say that it's hard to find time to write songs," he says. "But what's cool is that it forces you to be creative. I now have a guitar at work, and I come home for lunch so I can have the house to myself."
In 2010, Hulett purchased an American-brand suitcase and converted it into a makeshift kick drum with the help of his friend Luke Hall. Shortly after, the Jeff Hulett One-Man Band was born.
"In the beginning, the one-man band was put together to play children's events and birthday parties," Hulett says. "But then as the Haul and other bands weren't doing as much, I started working up my songs in this context and it sounded good. And people really seemed to dig it."
In utilizing only the suitcase, his acoustic guitar, a hi-hat cymbal, a harmonica, and his voice, Hulett had redefined himself as a solo performer, doing new material and scaled-down versions of Jeffrey James & the Haul songs at his one-man band gigs.
By late 2012, Hulett had decided to document his new musical set-up on record. And so he booked time at Jake and Toby Vest's High/Low recording studio, the results of which would yield Hulett's latest album, Object Quilt.
"I'm really proud of it, and everyone that's heard it says it's the best stuff I've ever written," he says. "I love the Haul jams, but I also love the sincerity and simplicity of the stripped-down versions."
Moving forward, Hulett — who is also the bass player for the local instrumental space-rock outfit Glorie — is looking forward to further musical explorations, including and beyond his recent foray into solo performance.
"I will continue writing and performing with the one-man band, but I hope to get more collaborative with other projects as well," he says. "Snowglobe is starting to practice monthly, and Glorie is about to release our EP. I would say that the future is so bright that I have to wear shades."
Jeff Hulett Object Quilt CD-Release Show
with Wuvbirds and Chad Nixon
Friday, February 22nd
9 p.m., $5