Growing old gracefully is a trick few rock musicians master. Most commercially successful musical graybeards play it safe and shallowly ape past glories, while those who never broke through typically quit altogether, embittered and ready to leave the rocking to the next generation. More aging rockers should take their cues from Matt Wilson and John Munson, two exquisite pop songwriters (and fortysomething dads) whose sound remains as invigorated and ambitious as ever with their new project, the Twilight Hours.
Formerly the creative engine behind early-'90s outfit Trip Shakespeare (who had the misfortune of perfecting their sophisticated Beatlesesque pop right when grunge's gutter aesthetic swept the nation), the pair parted ways for most of the '90s before reuniting as the Flops for sporadic, low-key gigs during the 2000s. Stereo Night, Twilight Hours' 10-track debut, is the first professionally recorded album from the duo since 1991. Few follow-up acts are worth waiting nearly two decades for, but this is one of them. Lavish harmonies, emotionally resonant lyricism, and some surprisingly fiery fretwork carry the day, coming together to make Stereo Night a classic cocktail of quirky and heartfelt adult pop. Wilson and Munson spoke recently with City Pages about fatherhood, producing themselves, and the "inevitability" of their potent musical partnership.
City Pages: What led you to rebrand as the Twilight Hours?
Matt Wilson: When the Flops started, the level of seriousness was pretty low, but the songs still always ended up pretty serious. After a while it felt weird having these serious songs with a silly name. We decided ultimately it was better to retire the Flops name and come up with something more reflective of the music we were working on.
CP: And there was quite a long transition from when you started performing as the Twilight Hours to Stereo Night's arrival.
John Munson: A couple of factors were at play. One is that Matt and I are both dads. It's possible becoming a dad strips away the ability to do any kind of strategic thinking at all [laughs]. Everything just becomes a scramble. Also, we're pretty meticulous. You don't get to make an unlimited number of records in life, even if you're incredibly prolific, which we aren't. We knew we wanted to make it as perfect as possible.
Wilson: Everything takes longer once you decide to work with a high standard in mind. The longer it took us to finish the record, the more vital every little aspect felt.
CP: That attention to detail shines through—Stereo Night is one of the more extensively produced local efforts I've heard in years. Was there a conscious effort to create a document that stands apart from the live show?
Wilson: We're in this new era of recording where most albums are self-produced. It takes away the "producer factor" which existed before, where only people signed to major labels made records and producers were paid to create a high-class sound. We had a little taste of that with Trip Shakespeare. Listening back now to records that were done with big budgets and producers, it almost seems like a different world. Part of Stereo Night was this epic struggle to "produce" ourselves, to try and bring that outside perspective. We wanted to go beyond just pressing records and playing live; we went through the looking glass a bit production-wise.
Munson: It wasn't a choice, because at the time we didn't have a band. We had to envision what our dream band would be and create it on the fly through the layering of instruments and overdubs. Now that we've got a real band together, I'm actually eager to make a live document kind of record.
CP: You've made music together in various forms for over two decades, but during that time you have both worked on other projects for long stretches. How important has that space been to the longevity of your partnership?
Munson: The truth is, some experiences you have together in a band are so damaging and punishing you don't want to remember them. That leads to the end of a lot of musical partnerships. You scale the heights too, but it's easier to get caught on the thorns of what went wrong. With Trip Shakespeare, we had so much fun and it was a hoot, but there were definitely things we would have done differently if that's the way life worked, which it doesn't. It was good after the end of that band to have a nice long layoff and do different things. It made us both appreciate the good things, our ease with one another. Having that little bit of distance periodically makes you value what the other person brings to the table.
Wilson: Working with John just seems kind of inevitable for me. John's always going to be a conduit and partner. That feeling of inevitability allows us to weather all of the ego-clashing and disagreements that come out of really caring about the music. It gives you some strength to make it through the tough times.
THE TWILIGHT HOURS play a CD-release show with the Starfolk on FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, at the CEDAR CULTURAL CENTER; 612.338.2674