Hang Ups – More to the Story
There was a time in the fall of 2000 when things seemed pretty pointless to the Hang Ups. A year earlier, the Minneapolis pop outfit had released Second Story — its third album overall and first with name producers and a hefty budget — but even those advantages and a tiring tour schedule hadn’t seemed to pay off.
“It was kind of like, ‘Wow, this has been a lot of work,” frontman Brian Tighe recalls. “But what has it really accomplished?” Hardly a top priority for its label, Restless — which, Tighe remembers wanly, “had Warren G happening at the time” — the band asked to be cut loose.
Thus the Hang Ups, best known for their wistful 1996 gem So We Go, all but disappeared.
If they were invisible, though, they were hardly idle. Tighe continued writing songs, and the band — which now includes Jeff Kearns (guitar), Aaron Lundholm (bass), Chad Nelson (drums), and Marcel Galang (keys), plus recent addition Todd Newman (ex-Leatherwoods) on guitar — worked irregularly but continuously at a local studio called Seedy Underbelly. With the help of engineer Brad Kern, Semisonic’s Dan Wilson and studio proprietor John Cooker, they tracked songs “here and there for about three and a half years,” Tighe says.
Even Tighe’s wedding didn’t halt his creative process. “We went on our honeymoon to Keystone, Colorado, and we brought our recording stuff,” Tighe laughs. “I was working on vocals for the record even in the midst of our honeymoon.”
Home recording played a bigger role in the new disc’s genesis, thanks to the inspiration of Second Story producers Mitch Easter and Don Dixon. “We learned so much from Don and Mitch,” Tighe says. “I think it’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Chronic Town and Murmur and Reckoning were the gospels to us, and [here] it was my songs those guys were working on.”
What became the group’s fourth album, simply called The Hang Ups, was finally finished in a creative burst last summer. In its sunny strumming and Tighe’s supple, clean vocals, longtime listeners will recognize the constants of the Hang Ups’ sound. Newcomers may hear parallels to the reflexive popcraft of Joe Pernice, Nick Drake’s grace, and the inescapable influence of the Beatles. The layers of keys, horns, guitars and vocal harmonies are expertly deployed, enriching the melodies but never overshadowing them. Of course, it should sound good, Tighe laughs: “We had years to craft this one.”
Frankly, the band sometimes wondered if all its labor was in vain. “There were points that we were like, ‘Wow, is this even gonna come out?'” Tighe admits. “But when we finally recorded what turned out to be the first two tracks on the album, we knew the record was done. They were much more spontaneous creations, and with all the crafting on all these other songs, it was like, ‘This is it. This is what it needed.’ There’s a very mournful feeling on a lot of the songs, but those first two are different. Once we had them, I had a fire under me to get the thing out.”
They’d half-heartedly shopped the sessions to big labels for some time, but didn’t get much response. Then a connection came through — one so old and obscure that the band was barely aware of it. Turns out that eight years ago, the local opener for a Hang Ups gig at Club Largo in Los Angeles was a teenager named Pete Yorn. A Hang Ups fan ever since and co-founder of the new Trampoline Records, Yorn offered them a deal.
“Pete came [to Minneapolis] and played,” Tighe recounts. “I got to meet him backstage and I realized the connection. And he comes up to me — after playing this huge show in front of thousands of people — and starts singing ‘Greyhound Bus’ (from the So We Go album). It was like, ‘Wow, here’s someone that’s really into our music.'”
Fast forward to November 2003. The band was thrilled to put out its first disc in four years, but with a street date set and a record-release show scheduled, they grew nervous. They’d been beloved by the mid-’90s local scene, but they felt the hometown reaction to Second Story was noticeably chilly. How would the Twin Cities react to hearing from the Hang Ups again after all this time?
“We were very wary of what the response was going to be,” Tighe confesses, “but it was very positive.” Local press and college radio embraced the band, and the release show at First Avenue was jammed. “We felt like we won the hearts of Minneapolis again,” Tighe says, and you can almost hear him smile.
For now, that affirmation is enough — at least to ward off the frustrations that followed Second Story. “I feel like we’ve got this body of material that enough people are passionate about, and it will continue to live in some way,” Tighe says. “That gives me a lot of satisfaction, and whether it translates into being able to make a living at it, in another sense, is not too terribly important.”