Known for their extreme hooks, tight and punky sensibilities, and boy/girl twee harmonies that were ever so prevalent in underground or "alternative" music for a short period of time, Lily Liver were the bee's knees of basement reared indie-pop in the Twin Cities.
Made up of bassist Rob Burkhardt, drummer Hallie Bowman, and singer/guitarist Missy Greer, the trio teamed up during their time at the University of Minnesota in the early '90s. As a college band they would dominate the local music scene, bringing their sound and spirit to the stage of the 7th St. Entry, Uptown Bar, and the legendary 24 Bar, where they would have to prove themselves among the wealth of more heavy punk or grunge acts in town. There was an overt seriousness to most of the sound of the Twin Cities music scene at the time, and Lily Liver somehow managed to eschew most of the bravado expected from the stage and used their spunk, sincerity, and sense of humor to distinguish themselves as one of the best bands of that era.
I got a hold of Missy Greer while she was unpacking boxes and pricing things for a garage sale she's having this weekend in South Minneapolis to prod her about her old band. "No I don't have any records. But do you need a hokey pokey sound machine? It's an ice cream truck that can play your records," she asks me, as I ask her about their "Queen of Ball" single that came out in 1994.
"The seven inch was recorded with...with Ryan, uh what the hell was his name? We got hooked up with him from the Hang Ups." Missy recalls. "They sort of pushed us out. For some reason they really liked us and nudged us along. And well, the Magnolias were like my idols."
Claiming to not be very accomplished, though coming from a musical family, Missy and Lily Liver would spend hours in the basement four nights a week initially coming up with their infectious songs. Writing music together and working as a unit, they developed a call and response, intermingling vocal parts that elevated their lyrics which tended to be about relationships and a certain level of naivete about daily life.
"'Queen of the Ball' is about all of us in high school and how crappy people were," Greer explains. "Humor was a big part of Rob, Hallie, and my relationship. We were always joking about things. We went into this weird studio that had red walls, which is my favorite color. So the idea of having it on red vinyl was really exciting to me."
With hearts on their sleeves, the driving bounce from drummer Hallie Bowman and the crunching guitars and sweet vocals of Lily Liver inspired sing-alongs as much as they offered a personal reflection from Burkhardt and Greer, complete with tongue-in-cheek slacker-isms the band perfected.
"One of my favorite things to do was to write. When I went to college I wanted to be a writer and I had books and books of stuff I had written and the lyrics would come from that." While describing the b-side "Movie Star," Greer happens to pull out a picture of Audrey Hepburn from a box. "That's funny. Because that song was actually about her! I really wanted to be her."
"My Aunt plays in a blues band these days up in Duluth at coffee shops and she actually plays 'Movie Star' in her set. She jams it out on a piano," Greer says proudly. "The thing that was most beneficial to me was I was the shyest kid in the world. Playing in a band made me be social. It helped me with my career now and everything."
Eventually Burkhardt would switch to guitar and the band added bassist Dan Long, who brought new energy and started his own label to release Lily Liver's full length record, I've Got You right where You Want Me. But Greer struggled with chronic fatigue and muscle pain that, along with enduring wild times in Lily Liver and the passing of her younger brother, Scott, eventually made her bow out of life in a band in 1999 with the band's final gig opening for Bob Mould at First Avenue.
Working at the veterinary hospital at the University as a technician and teacher for nine years now, Missy stays in touch with her former band mates as much she can. "Hallie found the love of her life and started having children. Rob is married and has a daughter and still plays some music. Dan is out in Portland and visits from time to time."
While she still fools around with her guitar and looks fondly on her past, she talks with some hesitance about sparking things off again. "To this day I try to play music with other people and it just doesn't work. Lily Liver actually did try to play this winter and we all got together. I just couldn't do it. I'm just not that person anymore. Not that it was bad, I just have moved on."
We talked a bit more about garage sales and purging oneself of your possessions, all the stuff you accumulate and how freeing it can be to redistribute the things that don't matter to you much anymore. Digging through some old books, Missy unearths another part of her past that sends another flood of memories. "I actually found this book of my lyrics from back then mixed in with my journal. After looking at it I'd love to make it into a book."
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