A Power of Ten

Slug's love bug, Kat Bjelland's exorcism, Dave Pirner's throbbing shins: Ten years of local music served on ten great platters.

Recorded over two weeks in 1994 at the Terrarium, with novice producer Bryan Hanna on drums, Jim's brother Chris on keys, and a revolving cast of guest musicians, the debut marked the artistic peak of the emergent group. But the sessions left a bitter taste for its participants. Hanna butted heads over production choices with Ruiz. "It was kind of an emotional thing," says Winter. "It seemed to be a really fun time right before we recorded it."

Winter, who has since divorced Ruiz, says her fondest memories of the band are of when it took itself less seriously, when "The Legendary Jim Ruiz, the Hang Ups, and the Honorable Stephanie" would practice for fun in the basement of the Uptown hair salon where she worked. Perhaps, as with Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, Brother's most fateful drama emerged in its protagonist reconciling an idealized, lost love with a nascent new one. On "Oh Porridge," one of the last tunes written before the band recorded Oh Brother, Ruiz sang, "I know that you dream of her, that she walks right through our lives."

Like Ruiz, Winter rarely listens to the album now. "I don't even have that CD," she says, laughing. "That was one of the things I didn't get in the divorce." (Scholtes)

Tony Nelson

 

See also: Grant Hart's solo comeback, Good News for Modern Man, and the whimsical songcraft of Dylan Hicks's Poughkeepsie.

 

The Jayhawks
Hollywood Town Hall
American, 1992

"The Minneapolis Sound" once referred to either the purple funk of Prince, the Time, and Flyte Tyme, or the tuneful postpunk of the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and Soul Asylum. But in the Nineties, a pop aesthetic emerged that so captured the character of our state's populace--its mixture of rural and urban, its cerebral acuity, its refinement of passive-aggressiveness into an emotional martial art--that it might have been dubbed "The Minnesota Sound." Modest, sweetly melodic guitar bands such as the Hang Ups and Semisonic have honed this sensibility in recent seasons. But the template was created by the Jayhawks, most memorably on Hollywood Town Hall.

Given the album's tapestry of gentle guitars and yearning harmonies, it seems more than a mere coincidence that the record was done in the same Hollywood, California, studio (once known as Wally Heider's) that was the site of some of the finest work by the Byrds and Gram Parsons. "We did it there because it was cheap," laughs guitarist and vocalist Gary Louris. "We needed a lot of studio time. It was our first big record on a big label and we were pretty green."

Indeed, during the four-month recording process, an engineer was fired for incompetence, and differences of opinion arose between the band's producer-manager George Drakoulias and drummer Ken Callahan. As a result Callahan needed to be replaced on many of the tracks.

What emerged, however, was a distinctively Midwestern spin on the L.A. country rock of the Byrds, Parsons, and Neil Young, with a musical ambiance that epitomizes the classic Minnesota mindset. The delicate yet tensile braid of the guitars adorn stoic, elliptical love songs that use the weather ("Waiting for the Sun," "Clouds," "Settled Down Like Rain") as a primary metaphor. An ersatz sense of comfort and well-being is undercut by an ominous, mostly closeted sense of dread.

"Yeah, I can see how the lyrics are inscrutable in a Minnesota way--masking with imagery and afraid to come out and wear its heart on its sleeve," Louris says. "I think as people we are a little understated.

"A lot of people have told me it's a great driving record, that there is this constant tempo and a feeling of open space. I'm not a country guy, I'm a city person, but I'm sure the Minnesota environment--the people as well as the land--contributed to that."

Town Hall's sleeve further unified its themes. There's the poetic parable by Joe Henry that passes for liner notes, and the cover shot of the band freezing on a borrowed couch in 20-below weather outside a town hall in Hollywood, Minnesota (an hour west of the Twin Cities). All speak to the Midwest's inimitable sense of place and community, which has always been embodied by the 'Hawks.

"Near the two-bedroom apartment we stayed at in California, there were sounds of gunshots and helicopters always going on overhead," Louris says. "I fell asleep on the drive back home and woke up in Iowa, full of cows and green pastures. It felt like heaven." (Britt Robson)

 

See also: the countrified gloom of the Gear Daddies' Billy's Live Bait and the harmonies of Lily Liver's I've Got You Right Where You Want Me.

 

The Hang Ups
So We Go
Restless/Clean, 1996

The idea that pop and hard punk might share a common audience seems natural now, but in the early Nineties, the Hang Ups were considered--get this--a "crossover" band. The quartet's mesmerizing guitar curlicues and Crosby-Stills harmonies marked a turning point in the Uptown Bar scene that built Amphetamine Reptile feedback monsters into national heroes. The Minneapolis group's soaring cover of the Byrds' "Eight Miles High," which Hüsker Dü had definitively disemboweled a decade earlier, announced the changing mantle. Here was "pop," in the sickliest Matthew Sweet sense, made palatable to punks through the strength of its hook writing, and guitarist John Crozier's artful elaboration of Bob Mould's gonzo playing style. For Butthole Surfers fans unaware that Big Star's "September Girls" could raise the hair on your back, it was a revelation.

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