Seven Inches of Minnesota Music: The Hang Ups, "Top of Morning"
For a new feature here at Gimme Noise, I've decided to unleash my old box of Minnesota-made 7" records starting with one my favorites, the Hang Ups, and their "Top of Morning" single that was released by Stillwater's Grimsey Records.
In 1996, the Hang Ups were on top of their game, about to release their second full length, So We Go, one the best collections of prototypical indie-pop from these parts on national label Restless Records. At the time, Restless had taken on the Twin/Tone Records catalog and several of its artists. With the song "Jumpstart" from the Hang Ups' first LP, 1993's He's After Me, being selected for the soundtrack to Kevin Smith's film Chasing Amy, the band was poised for international exposure and the work that went into their follow-up was paying off in their magnificent new release.
The Hang Ups in 1993
With producer Bryan Hanna and guitar wizard John Crozier, who was now an official member, and adding their magic to the delicately composed and simple melodies in the songs on So We Go, the final product was a masterpiece and the perfect counterweight to the prevalent angst-ridden dirges that occupied popular music at the time.
Now a member of the band the Starfolk with his wife, Allison LaBonne (who graces the cover of So We Go), as well as former Hang Up, drummer Stephen Ittner, I talked to lead singer Brian Tighe, who was on a bus en route to teaching a songwriting class at McNally Smith.
"Bryan Hanna was really working with us to get the sound we wanted. We would spend hours all day in the studio and being a night owl, John would show up to add his parts to the songs all night," Tighe recalls. "Crozier's magic was really working in the studio."
The Hang Ups "Top of Morning"
The single "Top of Morning" was released on Andrea Troolin's Grimsey label. Specializing in what was known as "indie pop" or "twee," Grimsey had a growing reputation for not only the music it released but also its elaborate packaging.
"Jeff Kearns, who was playing bass at the time, designed the cover with the map of Minneapolis and the sort of cloudy vellum paper that really added to the package," says Tighe.
"It was a really exciting time and the songs were much more thought out and we were able to tinker a lot in the studio. When I think of 'Top of Morning' I sort of laugh about the B-side."
Wanting to put a song on the flip side that wasn't going to be a part of So We Go, the band did a quick recording at MCAD of a song, "Wishin' I was on a Plane," that Brian had written while studying in New York City. "I wrote that song when I was in school in New York," he says. "I'd spent most of my time in my little room at the YMCA and confused about what I wanted to do as an artist. It's about being kind of alone and confused in NY and longing to be in that basement and being with my best friends and making music."
The mostly acoustic song evokes the setting for the band, who at that point were at their most productive, and captures the personal but universal feelings of loneliness and travel, very common themes on So We Go. In many ways, because of its unique sound in contrast to the rest of the band's music, it is one of their best.
Tighe agrees. "I'm really happy to have the neat little document," he says. "It really brings me back to those days and that group of friends and summer in Minneapolis."
Eventually, the band would morph into a different lineup. Drummer Stephen Ittner and John Crozier stepped back from the group with Jeff Kearns switching to guitar and new members joining the fold with Tighe often playing piano.
The band would record one more for Restless, 1999's Second Story, and a self-titled record in 2003 that they would release on their own.
The Hang Ups in 2003
While they never officially made a proclamation of their end, most of the band has moved on. "Some of the guys were starting families and careers and the time was coming to hang things up," Tighe says. "We did do a benefit for our friend, producer Brad Kern, a little less than a year ago and that was super fun to get together with the guys. It was like we had just played together two weeks before and was a really sweet thing. We do talk about getting the original band back together for a show sometime when the time is right."