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.

Save for their guitarist, the individual Hang Ups spent much of the early Nineties living, partying, and playing together (often with offshoot bands) in what they called, appropriately enough, "the Pleasant house" on Pleasant Avenue South. It was in the sun-drenched, octagon-shaped front room that singer Brian Tighe wrote most of the haunting yet cryptic tunes filling the band's 1997 sophomore work, So We Go, which spanned six years of material and emerged as a sort of greatest-hits collection.

"The melodies would come first," says Tighe remembering his long, solitary meditations on acoustic guitar. "The lyrics would be more just late-night kinds of flashes."

So We Go bore no resemblance to Paisley funk, but it created a full-album portrait of the sort of life Prince imagined on "Raspberry Beret," a realm of part-timers, five-and-dimers, and secondhand-beret wearers. The lilting "Greyhound Bus" (which eventually made it onto that company's Muzak track) found poignancy in the familiar scenario of commuting home to visit out-of-town family. "Corner Store" captured the subliminal, giddy flash of imminent sex, tempered with sudden pangs of fear that "something has died." The album's lyrics were opaque enough, its sound open enough, that fans, without much effort, could quickly project their lives onto its timeless nonhits.

Tony Nelson

So We Go became a beloved project for producer Bryan Hanna, fresh off finishing Oh Brother Where Art Thou? Every weekend over a period of about a year in 1995, beginning the night of O.J.'s Bronco chase and ending on the last day of Simpson's trial, the band would hole up in Hanna's Terrarium studio with a week's worth of ideas.

"We often wouldn't go home until six in the morning," says Tighe. "I was there the whole time, Hanna was there the whole time, and then Crozier would come in late nights, 'cause he's such a night owl. So a lot of times at night was when it would get kind of cool. It was a lot of perfectionists working on the same thing. It's a wonder it got done." Crozier, who had more or less decided to leave the band (he had refused to tour), would work on his dauntingly complex guitar arrangements alone, then bring them into the studio, working off the nuanced harmonies of Tighe and second vocalist Stephen Ittner.

Tighe compares the results to a photo album of the band's youth. "I really do associate it with that house," he says, "with Minneapolis around that time. I think it's the feeling of being in a relationship and sort of being a musician and just working a part-time job, which is something that not many cities made easy at that time. Something I just love about Minneapolis is that you can be a musician here and good things can come from it." (Scholtes)

 

See also: the hummable theatricality of Trip Shakespeare's Lulu and the emotionally scorched pop of Matt Wilson's Burnt, White and Blue.

 

Soul Asylum
Grave Dancers Union
Columbia, 1992

Listening to the venomous spittle of Dave Pirner on "Somebody to Shove," no one would have guessed that Grave Dancers Union was originally intended to be an all-acoustic record. By 1990 the band formerly known as Loud Fast Rules had slipped into despondence and disillusionment. The whip-snap snarl of 1986's indie classic Made to Be Broken had petered into the drudgery of their second major-label effort, ...And the Horse They Rode in On, with no accompanying popular breakthrough. Soul Asylum had parted ways with A&M and was even considering breaking up when Pirner and guitarist Dan Murphy decided to let their loose ends ravel at a different pace.

Diddling their creative id on quieter ditties, the rechristened "Murphy and Pirfinkle" toured the Midwest with acoustic guitars, shopping a demo of folkish new Pirner tunes that included "Black Gold" and "Runaway Train." When Columbia bit, though, the pressure was back on. The band flew to New York City to record at the Power Station with a then-unheralded producer named Michael Beinhorn (who would later work with Soundgarden and Hole).

"He was passive--our only criteria," Murphy says, chuckling. "Dave was playing acoustic, but I was doing some electric [guitar] even in preproduction. We sort of chickened out and started to make it rock."

Replenished by the hiatus from amplification, Soul Asylum's instinct for finding a song's sonic jugular was set loose on tunes whose acoustic crafting yielded sturdier melodies. Pirner's harrowed vocals, meanwhile, evoked the exhausted frustration he felt with the band's stalled career.

Staying at the posh Grammercy on the East Side, he and Murphy would retire from all-night sessions in the studio to watch Matt Dillon and the Pogues' Shane McGowan, among others, pound down drinks at the hotel bar. (This wasn't just a matter of night-owling: Laura Nyro had the studio booked during the day.)

The sessions themselves did not go without problems: The band replaced drummer Grant Young with Sterling Campbell partway through the four-month recording process, eventually hiring Campbell as a full-time replacement. When the album was finished, the musicians hardly knew what they had.

"People said it was going to be huge, but we'd heard that after every record we did for A&M," Murphy says. Then the third single, "Runaway Train," broke through on MTV, and Grave Dancers Union became the multi-platinum flavor of the summer in 1993. "It was one week when the whole thing blew up," remembers Murphy.

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