Talk of the Town

Olympic Hopefuls' pop speaks volumes while the Twin Cities' best new band keeps tight-lipped

The olympic hopefuls have, at most, three moods.

It's fitting, that number three, because the trinity is holy in rock music--bass-guitar-drums, verse-chorus-bridge, one-four-five--and the Hopefuls, as their fans know, are positively puritan when it comes to their fidelity to the scriptures of pop song construction. The three moods on their debut album The Fuses Refuse to Burn (2024 Records) are well-preached and proven: There's feel-good, buoyant optimism, echoed in their name and in countless photo shoots of the boys donning their signature matching tracksuits, racing for the prize, reaching for the stars, below headlines like "Going for the Gold." There's staccato defiance, in which our heroes switch from hand clapping and toe tapping to finger shaking and foot stomping. And finally there's breezy ennui (to borrow a term that Hopefuls co-principal songwriter Darren Jackson sings on "Drain the Sea"), in which lyrics gently float over ooh ahh backing vocals, inspiring more than a few teenage romantics in the crowd to squeeze one another, tilt their heads, and sing along.

America's Next Top Model Citizens

As the pageantry of the annual Picked to Click poll draws to a close, the Olympic Hopefuls have emerged as the clear victors. While the boys wear their crowns with grace and poise, the question remains, what kind of agenda will they shape for the coming year? Will these five gentlemen serve in good faith as stewards of Minnesota music to the rest of the world? Does the number of votes equal a mandate?

True to pageant form, we asked each member to step to the front of the stage, smile big for the cameras, and answer the following question: "How do you plan to use your title of 'Best New Band' to better the state of music, in Minnesota and beyond?" Judging by their answers, we should be in for a good year. --Chuck Terhark

 

"We will be a beacon to all the aspiring young rock bands in Moorhead, in Owatonna, in Dundas, and throughout Minnesota. We will be an example of all that is pure and true in rock 'n' roll. We will refrain from lip-synching, male-on-male kissing, and baring breasts at major sporting events. We will represent Minnesota with pride and dignity for the rest of the world to behold."

--Darren Jackson, guitar, vocals

 

"Now that we have been 'Picked to Click,' I think it is imperative that we teach other musicians about the importance of good moral values. Moral values are the foundation of any music scene."

--Heath Henjum, bass

 

"I plan to use my title for free chocolate milk, and gym class all day."

--Matt O'Laughlin, drums

 

"We will introduce 'pay-for-play' so that only bands with the most money will be heard on Minnesota stages."

--John Hermanson, keyboards

 

"As 'Best New Band,' Olympic Hopefuls plan to do whatever it takes to continue being the 'best' and being 'new' and being 'a band' so that we truly can be the 'best new band.' We hope to make the Minneapolis music scene 'more happening' by making super happy number one rock 'n' roll music for the people of Minneapolis and beyond."

--Erik Appelwick, guitar, vocals

Three moods, each a tint of the same happy hue. And as I wait to greet the Olympic Hopefuls with news that they've won the top spot on City Pages' annual best new local band poll, Pick to Click, I wonder which one they'll employ in response. Will they break out in song? Will it be a triumphant leap in the air? Hugs and high fives all around? Will they smile and reply, "It's about goddamn time"? Or will they enjoy the moment in quiet reflection, remembering the past winners-turned-breakup stories, brooding cheerily over their cursed fate? What will they say?

"Oh."

Oh. That's the sentiment--abridged, granted, but distilled to its essence--that the Olympic Hopefuls offer upon learning the extent to which this town loves their music.

 

Let me explain. We're swilling beers in a Dinkytown pub, and so far, none of these guys are in the mood I was expecting. It's all sober business: Jackson's holding a wad of cash, passing out twenties to various bandmates. Keyboardist John Hermanson is explaining his new technique for saving his voice before a show ("Lemon drops!"). Erik Appelwick, spindly guitarist and co-songwriter, is telling drummer Matt O'Laughlin how the teen soap The O.C. wound up picking the Olympic Hopefuls song "Let's Go!" for its Christmas episode on December 23. (Turns out someone at Fox heard the group on XM satellite radio.)

For a moment, all discussion intersects on the problem of where to sleep during the band's upcoming three-day tour of Missouri ("We could camp." "Nah, let's Priceline a hotel."), and then, just like that, conversation scatters again. Hermanson talks about the keytar he wants to buy ("I know a girl whose dad invented it"); O'Laughlin and Appelwick confer about their fantasy football league ("Who are you playing this week?" "I don't know, whoever 'Love Fist' is." "That's my brother!"); and Jackson tries to convince the waitress to bring him a cup of hot tea ("It's right here on the menu!" "That's ice tea").

In an attempt to rein the discussion in, I interrupt the shop talk to pose a simple question. "Were you guys excited to hear that you won Picked to Click?" I ask. "How did you react?"

And then there is silence. The band glance sidelong at one another and collectively shrug. O'Laughlin, the youngest member, takes a bite of his burger and admits that, yeah, he thinks it's pretty cool. Hermanson and bassist Heath Henjum nod in agreement. After a pause, Appelwick breaks the silence to talk about a recent video shoot for "Motobike," a song about scooter accidents; while it was being made O'Laughlin appropriately though inadvertently crashed his rented moped ("It was an accident, okay?" "Well, you were hot-rodding").

The group's stubborn refusal to rejoice in their achievement strikes me as strange. But then, glancing at their CD, I realize that this is a new mood, one that doesn't come through on the record--except in the band's logo, an acronym that says it all.

OH.

To be fair, "oh" might be the appropriate response. To sit in with the band for a drink is to hear them chat one another other up, and it doesn't take long to recognize their dedication, not only to this band but to their musical careers. If you work as hard for as long as they have, you start expecting your dues.

As many who cast their votes in this poll will tell you, selecting a winner was a no-brainer. The election was cinched long before polling began--a fact made all the more obvious with a peek at the polling numbers. (Olympic Hopefuls won nearly twice as many points as the second-place contender.) You don't have to be John Zogby to forecast that kind of outcome. The Hopefuls were expected to perform well among the 16-to-21-year-old female demographic, thanks to their one-two-three combo of a sock-hopping debut, sexy uniforms, and five pairs of pink cheeks just ripe for the pinching. Add to that the well-publicized fact that every single member of Olympic Hopefuls plays in at least one other band, and four of those bands (Alva Star, the Beatifics, Kid Dakota, and Vicious Vicious) have already made it into the hallowed poll's ranking in the past (though none has won). All of this makes them more than a single band; they're a cluster of musical vortices, five scenester mushrooms planting pop spores in countless bars, clubs, studios, and headphones across the state. Add a vast network of fans that crashes Friendster accounts and attracts Picked to Click votes like pig snouts to truffles, and you've got yourself one groomed candidate for the job (inasmuch as one can call Kid Dakota "groomed"--have you seen that dude's hair lately?)

And that's to say nothing of the music, which is, in fact, what we're talking about (that, and fantasy football). The Olympic Hopefuls won because of The Fuses Refuse to Burn, and that record succeeds because it's a study in pop songs, short and sweet, that appeal to everyone's inner WB drama. I'd be lying if I said the album had something for everyone--it's too one-dimensional for that. But it's so full of sweet, harmless, innocent hooks that it's impossible not to get snagged on one of them and to be reminded of a time when, once, we were sweet, harmless, and innocent, too.

So yes, it was all but inevitable that the Olympic Hopefuls would win. But this was a landslide of--my apologies--Olympian proportions. This was an outpouring, a citywide pat on the back, one big resounding chorus of Way to be, boys, now go make us proud! Say hello to Hollywood! Don't look back and don't forget to thank us when you win that Grammy! And considering their shoo-in candidacy, their careerist approach to music, their proven doggedness, and their obvious talent, "oh" may be the best word to describe the Olympic Hopefuls. Le mot juste, as the French say (ironically, at that, since it's a two-word phrase). "Oh" addresses the core of the Olympic Hopefuls' appeal: When no true word will do, "oh" steps in, slight and powerful, clears its throat, and finishes the job. It means everything and signifies nothing; whereas other words play the part of the middleman between things and their meanings, "oh" just...is. Like the Hopefuls' unashamed bubblegum pop, an assault of chord changes so familiar that they resonate, however hard we may try to conceal it, our innermost being, "oh" is primordial. It existed before language, in the battle cries and orgasms of those who, many millennia later, may have been rock stars themselves. And the echoes of those coital outbursts survive today, in every teary-eyed "Oh, sweet Jesus, I love this band!" that comes from the crowd at an O.H. show.

So I don't press the band to expound on their shrugging ascension to their post atop the Twin Cities music scene. I accept it quietly, as they have. I sip my beer, and reframe the question.

"Well, did you at least expect to win?"

More silence, and then Jackson deadpans, "We expected to win, but we didn't think we would."

The band smiles--there's the mood I was looking for! And I respond the best way I can:

"Oh."

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