SOUND CHECK: Windows to inspiration

But then there are Van Hunt songs that have come about from odder places. Days before the Grammy winner returned for a two-night acoustic stop at the Apache Cafe this weekend, he explained:

Birds and squirrels: " 'Hopeless' [performed by Atlanta Grammy nominee Dionne Farris] probably has the wildest story behind it. It's the one that always comes to mind. But I was living with this guy who owned a studio —- Victor Reid. I was basically sleeping on his couch. And one day when he was getting close to fed up of me being on his couch, I got up, and jumped on the Rhodes [piano] and just looked out the window. I saw this bird and squirrel, and at first, I thought they were playing. But they were fighting. And just looking out at them, and you know, just Georgia in spring —- I love Georgia in spring —- made me come up with the chords for 'Hopeless.' And it was that song, financially, that got me off the sofa.

"And you know, the more I think about it, I think that bird was playing and the squirrel was dead serious. It was pretty wild."

Airplanes: "Actually, a lot of songs come when I'm looking out the window, but it's usually on the plane. I always have a window seat, over the wing, because some girl told me that was the safest place to be if a plane is going down. So I've been doing that for like 10 years. Anyway, this new song, 'I'm a Star for You,' came on the plane. And I think 'Dust' [from his self-titled 2004 debut] did, too. That's my space, the plane."

Lauryn Hill: "OK this is the weird one —- maybe even weirder than the bird and the squirrel: Like Lauryn Hill's story really moved me. You know how Lauryn Hill and D'Angelo were hot around the same time? And disappeared at the same time? Well, maybe because I'm a man, and she's a woman, I just felt protective of her. I thought she had the wrong man, and was sabotaging her career. And deep down, I probably had a hidden crush on her, too. I've never even met her. But I wrote 'Character' [from his second CD, 'On the Jungle Floor'] for her to sing. But because she hasn't done anything in like forever, I did it."

> THE 411: Van Hunt with DJ Mafioso afterward. $15 in advance at ticketweb.com; $18 day of show. Doors open at 9 p.m. July 4-5 at Apache Cafe, 64 Third St., Atlanta. For more information, call 404-876-5436 or go to www.apachecafe.info.

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