What makes – and breaks – a band?
That’s one of the questions author Paul V. Allen attempts to answer in his new book The Hopefuls: Chasing a Rock ‘n’ Roll Dream in the Minnesota Music Scene . For the uninitiated, the Olympic Hopefuls were a pop-rock supergroup founded by Erik Appelwick (Vicious Vicious) and Darren Jackson (Kid Dakota), who released their debut album The Fuses Refuse to Burn in 2004 on local label 2024. John Hermanson (Storyhill), Heath Henjum, and Matt O’Laughlin soon joined the ranks. The band’s infectious sound and tracksuit style attracted a loyal fanbase; the group won Picked to Click in 2004 and were named Artist of the Year at the Minnesota Music Awards the following year.
In 2005, Eric Fawcett of Spymob took over for O’Laughlin on drums, and the band seemed to be on the fast track to hometown fame. But in 2006, the notoriously litigious Olympic Committee contacted the record label to state it owned the trademark to the word “Olympic.” The band changed its name to the Hopefuls, but the unexpected success of another project, Tapes ‘n Tapes, soon lured Appelwick was away. Though the band released a second album, Now Playing at the One-Seat Theatre, in 2008, their moment in the spotlight had ended.
We spoke with Allen about the book, which catalogs the lifespan of this turbulent group from its members’ disparate musical origins to the band’s bitter end.
City Pages: They say they you should never meet your idols or your heroes. In researching the Hopefuls, did your opinion of them change?
Paul V. Allen: That is a big danger of writing about something you’re interested in. In the case of the Hopefuls, having to go so deeply into their music, I found my appreciation growing more and more. Some interpersonal elements came up between the band that I hadn’t known about. I learned right away when I started getting in touch with the guys that there was a rift going on and that was a big part of why they had disappeared. I managed to sort of stay neutral in that and hear both sides. And I could see both sides, so it didn’t really ruin my view of anybody.
CP: What caused the rift? Where do the band members stand with one another today?
PA: Darren had a drug problem. It’s well-documented. His story was he’d conquered it and he had gone through rehab and was clean, but it was starting to resurface during the Hopefuls time and that started to drive a rift between the guys. Appelwick leaving to go to Tapes ‘n Tapes… I think that Darren didn’t really understand why Erik would leave to do that, even though Tapes ‘n Tapes was clearly a band with more potential at that point. They were ready to tour, they had this great Pitchfork review and all these blogs going crazy about them and they were getting signed to XL Recordings. They were going to go tour the world and that’s what Appelwick had always wanted to do with his life, so he was like, “Yeah, I’m going to do this,” and Darren didn’t really understand why you would give up your own music to play somebody else’s music. He couldn’t reconcile that and that started a rift between those two guys. Then there was a law suit over some music rights issues. That sort of put the final nail [in the coffin].
Darren is keeping the Hopefuls name and he’s released one song now and I think it’s just him and Adam Levy from the Honeydogs and Jeremy Ylvisaker. Darren is sort of casting the Hopefuls now as they were always meant to be: a collection of prominent Twin Cities musicians getting together to do his songs. He’s sort of revising the history of the band at this point. The other guys did a record earlier this year under the name International Falls.
CP: It seems like the Hopefuls being based in Minneapolis was sort of a double-edged sword; on the one hand, they were among a community of supportive musicians. On the other hand, had they been based in New York or L.A., they might have gotten a record deal or blown up.
PA: That came up over and over again. At one point, none of them were working full-time jobs anymore; they were all able to live off their music. The community was supporting them, but that wasn’t giving them much incentive to branch out. There were other factors. Johnny had done plenty of touring and so had Eric Fawcett with Spymob and they were not interested in going out and touring. Darren didn’t believe that was the method that was going to get them attention anyway. They were sort of right on the divide of the way you build an audience is you just go tour endlessly versus the internet model of maybe you put out a video and a bunch of people see it. They very much were sort of being forced into the old model that they didn’t believe in. Their label was saying, “We need you to get out there and tour,” and them kind of saying, “No,” and then the label got to the point of, “Maybe we need to hand you off,” but every time they got a potential major labor suitor, it was, “Are they going to tour?” Had they been on either of the coasts, they would have had more of a chance of being noticed.
CP: You write in the book about how independent musicians have to adjust what they define as “making it.” Did the Hopefuls consider themselves successful?
PA: This was one of the biggest surprises to me. Darren and Appelwick thought it was just a joke. They didn’t take it seriously. They put care into the songs, obviously, and that shows when you listen to that first record, but they didn’t have any notion of it becoming their main thing. They didn’t think it was going to be something anybody cared about. They were more into the, “We’re serious musicians and we each have our own outlet that we use and that’s our main thing. This was just sort of this thing we did for fun.” Once it did start to get attention and they started being able to make money off of it and they were getting invites to all the big festivals like the Basilica Block Party and Taste of Minnesota and they were selling out the shows, it became a money source for them, so it was sort of hard to walk away from. They thought it was locally successful and once they started getting, like, MTV wanting to use some of the songs, they started to feel like this was a big deal and they could make something of it. They sold really well for a local band. When I talked to Dave Campbell, who used to be with the Current, he said the numbers they were doing were off the charts for a local band. They sold like 5,000 copies of that first record, which doesn’t sound like much. On a national level, it’s tiny.
CP: You’ve called this book “equal parts celebration and cautionary tale.” What part of the Hopefuls’ story is a cautionary tale?
PA: They didn’t recognize their strengths always. They had this collective. They had all this support of musicians around them and I don’t think they recognized the value of that until that was gone. They didn’t quite trust each other enough. They’re very individualist people, so they each wanted to do their own thing. They never really teamed up together. Instead, they were like, “I’m going to go do my side thing. I don’t want to go on this tour.”
CP: It’s almost like they didn’t want to be successful. Is that how it seemed to you?
PV: I think it’s a different answer for each of them. For Appelwick, he’s very much a, “I want to make the art and I don’t really care what’s done with it.” What he really cares about is process. He’s very much a pure artist. He just wants to make the music. Johnny had the Storyhill thing and there were times where he was definitely pushing that, but there were times he was sort of conflicted with that, too. He wanted Storyhill to be on a major label but he didn’t want them to have any say over what types of songs they did. Then there’s his own interpersonal issues with the other member of Storyhill, Chris. Chris definitely didn’t want to get famous. He didn’t want to be a rock star. That held Johnny back somewhat. Darren did, and still does want, to be successful, but it’s a combination of who he chooses to work with and how he approaches other musicians around him. I think he doesn’t recognize that he might be putting people off by wanting so much control and so much credit. In his case, I think it’s his own issues holding him back. And Fawcett, I think he’s lived that life, being able to tour with N*E*R*D and Pharrell Williams and playing with this Chinese superstar Wang Leehom. He achieved it. His arc is the book is his realization that it was not as much about the music for him as it was the collaboration aspect. He’s the one of all four of them that did get the closest [to fame].
CP: What can emerging musicians and bands learn from the Hopefuls’ story?
PV: The importance of picking carefully who you want to work with if you’re starting a band, that the personality combinations are right. Equal credit. And the money is all shared equally. The Hopefuls did not have that team mentality. They were sort of each out for their own individual reasons. The Hopefuls didn’t really collaborate.
Paul V. Allen
Where: Hymie's Vintage Records
When: 2 p.m. Sun. Nov. 18