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"You'd Prefer a Rock Star"

by Eric J. Herboth

Catching up with Champaign-Urbana's hometown heroes HUM. Interview from the 9th of October, 1997. Article originally appeared in the December, 1997 issue of Escapist Magazine.

Having graduated from the world of indie-rock, and now quietly forging their way through the rest of the music world, HUM are a true success story that started right here in Central Illinois. With three albums under their belts, and another full-length on the way, HUM have established themselves as one of the best rock bands in music today. Currently recording for the giant RCA records label, they are still an indie band at heart remaining cynical of rock stardom and a bit fuzzy about the future.

HUM have been busy lately, to say the least, juggling all of the things that go along with preparation for releasing a new album with touring, playing benefit concerts, and filming a video. Despite all of the distractions, guitarist Matt Talbott, one of the most personable musicians I have ever spoken with, took time out to comment about HUM's beginning, end, and everything in between.

Consisting of Tim Lash, Jeff Dimpsey, Bryan St. Pere, and Matt Talbott, HUM have been making some of the most beautiful noise on the planet since 1989. Matt describes the band's beginning as "kind of a long story, not all that interesting. The typical 'hey I sort of play guitar and I like Tad and Union Carbide. Do you want to, like, get together and jam sometime?' stuff." Although most of the focus falls on the singer, Matt maintains that "It's a group effort. And I do mean "effort."

True to the low profile lives they live, HUM chose to record their latest album, Downward is Heavenward back home in Champaign at Pogo Studios. Matt explains that "we knew we wouldn't be home much after the record came out, so we take every chance we can to be home. It's nice here, ya' know. And Mark [Rubel] is a first-rate engineer."

For anyone who doesn't know, Hum's sound has traditionally been lumped into the "Space-Rock" category for it's droning, yet melodic guitars and celestial, sci-fi lyrics. After recurring in every album and nearly every song, I would have thought that spacey was the sound HUM was going for. Not true, Matt contradicts. "It's more of a mistake than an objective or a theme. We kind of pigeon-holed ourselves with that space shit. Kind of a day late and a dollar short. Oh well." In keeping, or perhaps coincidence with the unintentional space theme, is the title of the forthcoming album, Downward is Heavenward. "We're not much for meaning, hidden or otherwise," Matt confesses. "It was the only title that the four of us could agree on. Tim and I wanted to call it Big Bad Ass Motherfucker, but had a little trouble selling that one."

Although the recording for the new album has been done for several months, the new album won't be released until January 27th of next year. Much of this is due to the politics of the band's label, RCA, who don't like to release any albums late in the year. With all of the release controversy, a lot of people were getting the vibe that HUM had become this big corporate band with a ton of big-time rock star complications. Matt, however, remains extremely supportive of RCA, saying "[they] have never really complicated things for us. We seem to take care of that ourselves. They're really nice and give us beer and stuff when we see them." When asked if he has any regrets of signing to a major label, Matt gives a typically cynical response. "My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country." Pressing further into the topic, I asked Matt if there are any things that still stick out in his mind from the days of being an indie band with a smaller following. True to form, Mr. Talbott replies, with a heaping of sarcasm: "I miss the part where the van blows up and there's no money to fix it and no one comes to your shows. Talk about a smaller following. Good gravy!"

When the album does come out, as usual, there will be an ensuing tour, the details of which are still fuzzy. Matt, however, does offer some encouragement with the facts that they "will be playing somewhere" and that the venues will probably be a bit larger than on the last tour "due to enormous impending popularity." As far as touring partners, there are no set bands, although Matt quips "I like Rush and BOC." Of all the past tours, he remarks "Mercury Rev was my favorite because they're really good and real nice and funny. But it was kind of humbling for me to play a rock show after them. A month of that punishment was about all my system could handle." When the do go on tour, HUM again seem more indie than corporate. Matt gives a description that can only paint a pleasant picture. "Our tour manager Chris drives. He's perfected a method of air drumming while driving 95 miles per hour in a 15 passenger van with a twelve foot trailer. One time he drove from Columbus to Cleveland and he didn't touch the wheel. We listen to whatever he wants to air drum to."

Both on the road and locally, HUM plays a fair share of shows with other Champaign-Urbana bands. It is refreshing to see a band as accepted as HUM exposing quality music from their home scenes, although Matt maintains that there are "no policies." "I guess they're just friends and it's fun to play shows with friends." Policies or not, HUM always try and do what they can, within reason, to help out their hometown friends. Aside from simply playing with friends, the past two years have seen the band helping put on shows in Champaign in the fall and getting involved in their community. In 1996 they got together with their label, RCA, and the Champaign Park District and played a free show at Westside Park with four other area bands, and this past September they played the main slot at Josh's Jam, a fund raiser for the Josh Gotteil Memorial Fund for Lymphoma Research.

And what about the future? One of my favorite bands to come out of Champaign-Urbana was Honcho Overload, a contemporary of HUM which featured Matt on bass and Jeff Dimpsey on guitar. When asked about similar endeavors, Matt responds "Honcho wasn't a side project; just a different band. I hope there's plans for the future, 'cause this turd's about to sink."

It has been said in the past that HUM doesn't want to be a 10-album band. With all of the hang-ups surrounding the new album, it would seem to at least a few people that things aren't flowing as easily and quickly anymore for the band, and a fifth album would most likely put HUM into the next century. Mustering up all the courage I could, I asked Matt the only question to which I wasn't sure if I wanted an answer: What does HUM, as a group, have left in them? "In all honesty, there's maybe not much gas left in the engine," Matt replies. "We've tried to put our creative and personal differences to the side, and we've dedicated ourselves to touring a lot and reintroducing ourselves to what ever fans we still have. I just want to play as good of shows as we can for a year, and then see where we stand. Nothing is for sure, as far as the future goes."

For a parting question, I ask Matt if there is anything that he'd want people to remember after HUM is done, if there is anything he'd like them to take away from the music. "That's a nice question. I listened to Dinosaur Jr's 'Bug' yesterday and it reminded me of lots of good times, but it's such a good record that I still enjoy it in a fresh way every time I listen to it. So maybe if someone else could have a similar experience with our music, I'd have to be pretty pleased."

Whatever the future of the band, the present is amazing. HUM has been playing plenty of pre-tour shows throughout the Midwest which have been nothing short of amazing, mixing in all of the great stuff from Electra 2000 and You'd Prefer an Astronaut with songs from the new album. All of the intensity that HUM has ever had has been there for the past couple of shows, and they truly seem to be getting reacquainted with themselves on stage.

Regardless of the future, in the present HUM is in their element. If you have a chance, make sure you catch them on the upcoming tour.


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