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"Space Truckin Through The Stars With Howard Stern"

by Pat Lewis

It's dusk in downtown Los Angeles, and the daily mass exodus of business-suited guys and dolls has nearly come to an end. Encroaching skyscrapers juxtaposed with small, abandoned-looking office buildings are the backdrop for the apocalyptic environment that plagues this far-from-safe-and-sane mecca. Fifteen or so giggling, gum-smacking teenagers have begun to queue up outside the Mayan Theater, but it will be several hours before the doors open for tonight's sold-out show featuring England's Bush and Champaign, IL's Hum. Rapidly approaching gunshot blasts send four sturdily built security guards running for cover inside the building. Welcome to the wild, wild West.

Relaxing in their tour bus, Hum's drummer Bryan St. Pere and bassist Jeff Dimpsey are oblivious to the goings-on outside. The band's youngest and newest recruit, guitarist Tim Lash, stands across the street at a pay phone, while bespectacled vocalist/guitarist Matt Talbott is somewhere off in the theater attending to a broken amplifier.

"Matt writes these really vague lyrics," declares St. Pere, "so we like to leave it up to the listener to get whatever they can out of the lyrics on their own. It's kind of like cheating to say what the songs are about. That's why Matt doesn't do interviews, he's tired of telling people that his lyrics don't mean anything."

The tour bus itself is in a state of disarray. A makeshift dining table is covered with old beer bottles and a bong, the bunk beds are unmade, and clothing is strewn about. But to the members of Hum, it's the closest thing to home they've seen since the release last April of their RCA debut "You'd Prefer an Astronaut". Since then, Hum has been zigzagging across the country on a whirlwind tour, which included a three-week stint on the side stage at Lollapalooza '95.

During their time on the road, the band's current album hit the No. 1 slot on "Billboard's" Heatseekers chart, and their current single, "Stars," has been embraced by rock radio programmers around the country. This national attention to the band is a sharp contrast to the regional-only success they experienced with their two previous albums "Fillet Show" and "Electra 2000," and their several 7-inch singles released on Champaign's independent label, 12-Inch.

But while sales and sold-out shows on a national level are flattering, it has also taken its toll on the band. "We always knew that when we became a bigger band, we'd be expected to tour more. But we never really expected to become a bigger band," admits St. Pere. "It's really a gift that it's happened, and we couldn't be happier. But at the same time, it also has its downside. We're living out of suitcases, eating fast food, and there are no phones to call home. And sometimes it feels like we're playing cover songs, because we play the same songs so much that it's become hard to find any more inspiration in them."

Hum recently experienced a performance that was anything but indicative of their nightly ritual, however. It happened the day after shock jock Howard Stern told his syndicated radio audience that he'd heard a song "about stars or Mars or something" and couldn't get it out of his head. Upon hearing this, RCA immediately sent over Hum's album, and Stern played "Stars" five or six times during that same broadcast. In fact, he even invited Hum to perform the song live on his show.

The next morning, Hum appeared at the radio station to do just that. "It wasn't without its tragic difficulties," explains St. Pere. "Howard's production staff wanted us to run our equipment directly into the board, and we wanted to plug into our amps. In the end, we won. But I had to set up my drums in the hallway, and the band was in another room. We couldn't really see each other, and the microphones sounded like crap. But it had a happy ending because it didn't sound too bad. And it was great promotion for the record and the band."

"Some people called up the radio show and told us they really liked the song," adds bass player Jeff Dimpsey, "while others said it sounded like a bunch of noise, and it annoyed them. Then Howard replied, 'Well, you annoy me,' and hung up on them!"

And it's exactly this type of quirky adventure that makes Hum's non-stop touring schedule just a little easier on the already road-weary band members in their bachelor pad on wheels.

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