Yes so why does it seem that the music of yester-year is miles better than anything new? Seems to have been the case since Y2K (mayhaps that was what the Millennium Bug was really about?). Consisting of John Lowry, Greg Addington and Chip Saam, the Hangabouts bring to mind the wonderful pop-rock music of 90s bands like Fountains of Wayne, Pernice Brothers and Teenage Fanclub where melody is paramount above all else. Lovers of that special rock era will never tire of what the band has to offer and will savour Illustrated Bird from beginning to end. Of course, suffice to say that the three Bs loom large as influences i.e. The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Byrds. It does not get any better than this when it comes together this well. Check out the interview we did with the band below.
Who are your influences? I hear the Fountains of Wayne, especially on “Roman Forum”.
John: It won’t be a surprise to learn that we like the melodic 60’s and 70’s stuff. The same bands and composers that most in power pop world would treat as touchstones. Greg and I came together over Beatles tunes, and endless debates about the relative strength of McCartney’s solo albums. For me, in addition to the classic 60’s rock writers and bands like Townshend, Mancini, Bacharach and Brian Wilson; but also their stylistic heirs like FoW, High Llamas, Apples in Stereo. Don’t know if it filters into our productions, but I listen to a lot of ambient stuff that absolutely drives Greg batty. I guess that’s part of the appeal.
Greg: True. Guilty on the Fountains of Wayne influence! We love FoW. We’re Beatle obsessives as are most in our genre I suppose. It’s really when it comes to more contemporary stuff that John and I don’t always see eye to eye. I listen to Freedy Johnston and Elvis Costello but grew up listening to classic country.
What inspires the lyrical concepts? What are “Illustrated Bird” and “Dr. Dragon” about, for example?
John: Lyrically, quite a bit of this album came from character sketches made at Ann Arbor’s Zingerman’s deli as we noshed on our #73 sandwiches or got wired on too much coffee. The original demo for Illustrated Bird, for instance, was conceived as a paean to the plight of bird extinction (and came from the title of a book sitting on a table in John’s house), but got reworked to be about a certain tattooed barrista at the coffee shop, who always seemed like she was carrying a great weight. We imagined she wanted to fly away. Also we can’t resist the charming use of the British slang “bird”. We’d probably work it into every song if we were allowed.
Greg: Television personalities, you have to love them. You do not want to mess with anyone in Oprah’s camp. Plus that moustache is intimidating.
Your style of music is really marginalized right now — why play 60s/70s pop-rock?
Greg: Ouch! Well, because we love it. I don’t really think of music by date to be honest. It’s easier for people to identify that way but it has no bearing on the music itself. For example, I’ll hear a particular Nick Drake song and think it sounds like it could’ve been recorded yesterday. But don’t expect the same album out of The Hangabouts every time. We evolve and are already cutting some stuff for the next album that sounds pretty different from Illustrated Bird.
John: I guess I don’t think the style of music we like is marginalized any more than most music is nowadays. I mean, I do understand what you’re saying if you mean that there isn’t a song on this record that will be put onto whatever commercial radio is playing at a workplace. But everyone lives in their own little musical bubble nowadays. Everything is niche and sub-genre. None of us (including Chip – new to the group since this release) are into death metal, for instance. No disrespect to the genre or those who make or listen to that artform, but as huge a market as that is it’s just a subgenre that isn’t mainstream – and even very dedicated music consumers can go their entire lives without listening to a single death metal song. So I think when we create something or produce something, we are making it the best way we know how and to fit our tastes and we trust that if we like it enough to go through the long process of writing, arranging, producing and we still like it at the end, that somehow we’ll find someone else out there who likes it. There is a certain amount of ego that’s needed to write and record. If we just tried to write a pop hit to seamlessly slide into the charts and be formulaic about it, I suppose we could do it. Maybe we should. But we aren’t hip hop / dance track guys. Just not our thing and we’d probably be really bad at it. So I think as an artist, or a human making art, you must bring whatever it is that YOU can do and no one else can. In some ways we are still searching to find whatever sound makes a song a Hangabouts song, but right now as we begin work on our second collection of songs things just get written and produced and if they end up tickling someone’s fancy enough to be considered mainstream then we all win.
What is the music scene like in Michigan? Is it supportive of what you do?
Greg: There are a quite a few bands who play power pop or whatever you want to call it. Great bands like Legal Matters and Nick Piunti. But Michigan is like anywhere else in the U.S. in that popular music rules. We like pop music as well. We just wrote something that sounds like a Taylor Swift song. The Hangabouts probably won’t record it but just love writing pop music and will continue to do so.
John: We come from the Detroit suburbs and it’s very likely that the local music scene (both internationally famous and local bar bands) have influenced us in ways we’ll never understand. The pop music scene is actually pretty strong, but it’s mostly underground – literally – like made in basement recording studios. Not sure there’s a central magnet for performing power pop and the like, save for a few festivals. I guess we’ll find out. We’re a recording outfit about to play our first gig as the Hangabouts this year. Should be…exciting.
Chip: The scene in Michigan is real vibrant for pop and power pop music. There’s also a great sense of community among the bands – we really look out for each other. Anytime you need some advice, to borrow a piece of equipment, or have someone sit in for the sick drummer, there are a bunch of options to get help. The power pop community has had a great year with records from The Legal Matters, Nick Piunti, Joe Sullivan, Dave Caruso and our “Illustrated Bird” all landing on several year-end Best of lists. There are even some record labels that foster the pop sound here in Michigan as well – Futureman Records and the recently formed Two Brains Recording Co. Several studios are used for a lot of the pop projects – Reed Recording Co and Tempermill Studios. Local radio is very supportive of Michigan artists with Ann Delisi, Rob Reinhart, and Jon Moshier at WDET, Detroit’s public radio station, featuring Michigan artists in all of their programming. There are also several podcasts and internet radio stations that feature Michigan artists in the majority of the programming if not exclusively – Trish Lewis’ Eclectic Chair out of Bay City for example. Like everywhere else, there are challenges to keeping local live music as a viable business model – folks just have too many entertainment options anymore – but there are several venues in Ferndale, Detroit, and Ann Arbor that support local music.
What does the future hold for the Hangabouts?
Greg: You may have heard we’ve added a new member, Chip Saam, to the group. We are tracking a new album now with about twenty songs already written. We have a date at International Pop Overthrow in the spring here in Detroit. We’re currently exploring releasing a special edition of “illustrated Bird” for the Japanese market.
Illustrated Bird is out now.