“IF I KNEW ALL THE THINGS I KNOW TODAY, I WOULD HAVE GONE VEGAN SO MUCH EARLIER IN MY LIFE.”
Multi-talented and self-taught musician Hunter Burgan plays bass for punk influenced rock band, AFI. Hunter shares some stories with us about finding a vegan lifestyle and growing up in a musically inclined family.
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I grew up around a lot of music, my father is a musician and there was always music in the house whether it was his band rehearsing or the family jukebox. As soon as I was able to play an instrument I would pick up anything and play it—the piano or my dad’s guitar, eventually saxophone, drums—anything. It always felt like a natural thing, but I never thought that I would be so fortunate as to be a professional musician. That would be the coolest thing in the world! I always thought I’d play music but didn’t think I could make a whole career out of that, so I feel very fortunate.
When people ask me what AFI sounds like it’s a tough question to answer because every album sounds a lot different and certainly the band at age 15 sounded a lot different than we do now at age 40. But, I usually will say rock or alt-rock.
My favorite part about what I do for a living is just getting to play music for people or for myself. I love music and it’s always been a part of my life. Just being able to share my creativity with one person or 1,000 people is really rewarding.
My first memory of music has to be when I was two, my parents had a jukebox that I couldn’t reach the buttons on but I loved the song Bo Diddley by Bo Diddley so I’d ask them to play it over and over for me.
I’ve been playing all these instruments for decades but I never really learned how to play them formally. I just pick them up and play them. I never took lessons on piano or guitar, definitely not bass guitar. The only thing that would come close is playing saxophone in school band for 8 years.
All of my immediate family lives in Northern California. My mom plays music - violin and accordion. My sister plays musical saw and theremin and plays from time to time in a jug band or sits in with bands.
Every year or two my family will get together around Christmas and perform for our friends and family—Christmas songs and little ditties. We pick a random assortment of instruments to combine and it’s pretty fun.
My mom likes to rehearse a lot in advance but my dad and I like to improvise on the fly so sometimes it doesn’t come together quite as well because we don’t take the time to be prepared.
My personal philosophy about instruments is to have them sitting around. That way there’s very little between you and the musical expression. I usually have all my instruments set up. Sometimes I get out of the shower and I’ll have an idea for a song and I just wanna figure it out right away. If the instruments were in cases and I had an idea it could end up as a voice note on my phone and nothing might ever come of it so it’s better to have them ready to go.
On tour it’s like an adventure, I roll into a new town and there’s certain things I need to find. I drink coffee so I want to find some coffee and then I want to find some vegan food…or as I like to call it, food. And of course, the reason I’m there is to play a show. It’s all part of the experience. When I think of different cities—Chicago, New York, Portland—I think of what vegan food is there, what coffee shops are there, my friends there and the shows I’ve played in front of fans. Traveling is a lot of fun no matter if it’s a new city or a city I’ve been to 100 times.
Every city has it’s own feeling, group of people, weather—It’s nice to be able to go from one to the next and have different experiences.
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I have been vegan for 17 years. When I first heard about veganism I was a teenager in high school and the only people I knew were vegan punks. They were vegan as a very decisive lifestyle choice in an attempt to better the world around them and be the change they wanted to see in the world. I really admired that but I didn’t know anything about what it would take to be vegan. I was interested but I didn’t know what to buy or to not buy. There wasn’t an easy resource for that since this was before the internet had the vast amount of information it does now.
In the beginning I tried it out and it lasted about 3 months. I started as a junk food vegan and lost weight because I didn't know how to eat real food. I fell back to vegetarianism but then I went through a long 8 year transition and finally figured it out. If it were today it would have been a lot shorter. The 8 years wasn’t me taking my time to figure it out, the world hadn’t figured it out yet.
When I finally made that step it was really easy and I realized I was almost already completely vegan and it just took an extra leap of faith. At that point there were a few resources available. Nothing like today though, today it would be so easy to go vegan.
My first consideration when I stopped eating meat was that it just seemed wrong, it wasn’t something I should be consuming. Not just on a moral level but on a health level. Even aesthetically it seemed like it wasn’t something I should be putting into my body.
Some things that helped me transition were having friends to relate to that were vegan, touring with other vegan musicians and having 100% vegan restaurants around me. It made me feel safe to know I could go into a restaurant and eat anything there rather than having to figure out what I could eat by asking a bunch of questions. Reading the book Diet For A New America by John Robbins was an eye opener back in the '90s, but now it’s easier than ever to figure out what to eat through YouTube, blogs, websites, google, etc. It’s almost too easy. You don’t have any excuses because everything is right there for you.
“Veganism isn’t a dietary trend but I’m apprehensive that people will feel that way. It’s an ethical and moral choice, not a way to lose weight.”
The more you remove yourself from animal consumption, the more you realize it’s pretty gross and sad. If I knew all the things I knew today I would have gone vegan so much earlier in my life. I would have gone vegan from the earliest age that I even understood what that means.
One thing I noticed people are concerned with when asking me about veganism is the idea of it being all or nothing. My experience transitioning to veganism was not all or nothing, it was an evolution that took time and was gradual. Even when I started out there were things I didn’t know. It's easy to unknowingly consume animal byproducts if you haven't learned to avoid them. You just have to educate yourself. The more everyone can do, the better. Do the best job you can and then try to do better.
Before I moved to LA I would visit for business and I didn’t love it. One of the times I was visiting I found a cute quiet neighborhood that was artist friendly and I realized oh, Los Angeles isn’t just Hollywood! There are other areas! Ha. I eventually decided to move here. One of the motivating factors was that the vegan food options were greater than in Oakland where I was living at the time—and since then it’s quadrupled!
For me, the driving factors of living a plant-based lifestyle are that it provides a healthy mind, healthy body and healthy planet.
I support BxB because it’s a good message and delivers that message in a stylish way.
I don’t try to push my opinions on other people but if someone wants to ask me about being vegan, I'm happy to talk to them. Something as simple as a t-shirt design can be an ice breaker and can open that conversation up in a way that isn’t awkward for anyone.