Music: The Hopefuls are refusing to burn

The Hopefuls come out the other end of an Olympian endurance marathon sounding as cheery as on their first album.

Olympic Hopefuls

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Even after running out of the gate with a golden 2004 debut album, the Hopefuls had plenty of reason to lose hope over the past four years.

First came the legal threat from the U.S. Olympic Committee that forced them to drop their original moniker, the Olympic Hopefuls. The name change sort of necessitated a wardrobe change, from their matching athletic track suits (no big letdown there, the members say). Then there was the departure of one of the group's two leaders, Erik Appelwick, who left to join Tapes 'n Tapes full time. Last but not least, the band became mired in a contract dispute with the local label that put out its first album, 2024 Records.

The fact that they rode all that out and are finally issuing their second CD proves, as singer/guitarist Darren Jackson put it, that "the rewards outweigh everything else in this band."

Fans of the Hopefuls' debut, "The Fuse Refuses to Burn," will certainly feel rewarded upon hearing "Now Playing at the One-Seat Theatre," which the quartet will finally tout with a release party Saturday at First Avenue.

The sophomore effort is as infectious and candy-striped as the first incarnation of the band's blissful, Weezer-meets-Cheap Trick rock 'n' roll. But this one's also a lot more refined and ambitious, both lyrically and sonically. It's simply a bigger record all around. Take all the symbolism you can find in the fact that there's more synthesizer on it, if you can believe it. Eat your heart out, Ric Ocasek.

"We were a lot less knowledgeable and, really, a lot less serious when we made the first record," said Jackson, who formed the group with Appelwick in 2003 when they were known only from their other bands, Kid Dakota and Vicious Vicious, respectively.

"Back then, it was sort of like, 'Well, let's finish these songs and see what happens.' This one, we had something to live up to. Plus, we had way more time and know-how."

The other Hopefuls -- singer/keyboardist John Hermanson (of Storyhill and Alva Star notoriety), bassist Heath Henjum (Beatifics) and drummer Eric Fawcett (Spymob) -- credit Jackson for steering the ship through rough waters and the band members' individual schedules. Much of the recording was done at Jackson's home studio. Not once were all four band members in the studio together.

"We're all so busy, it was the only way to get it done," said Fawcett, who, like Hermanson, is a dad and works nearly full time crafting music for commercials.

"We all had creative input on the record, but it was really Darren who made it all fit together. He was Mission Control. And in this band, where we all know each other well and trust each other, we're able to work that way. There's not a lot of the 'more me' element that plagues other bands."

There is more of Hermanson on the new record. He sings three of the 11 tracks -- not as much as Appelwick contributed, but his songs sound interchangeable with Jackson's. One of them, "Stacey," is the poppiest, giddiest track on the record, proving he had no trouble fitting the Hopefuls mode.

"I was eager to contribute more," said Hermanson, who had started writing with the band even before Appelwick quit. "One of the big motivations that has kept this band going is there's never a shortage of material. We have, like, 30 new songs, enough for a triple album."

Jackson has the best contributions on this record, even with a vibrant Kid Dakota CD already to his credit this year ("A Winner's Shadow"). "Red Stain," about a mysteriously blotted jacket, gives new meaning to heart-on-sleeve rockdom. "On the Edge of Medicine," inspired by Olympic athlete doping scandals, is as catchy as anything you've heard this year despite its dark undertones. And "One-Seat Theatre" slowly builds into a swirling, cinematic epic, showing that the Hopefuls are not just about three-minute pop ditties.

"No matter what happened or how long it took, the important thing is I think we've grown into a better band in that time," Jackson summarized. "It's still a lot of fun playing with these guys. If it wasn't, we probably would've already moved on."

The deal on Chooglin'

Chooglin' has reason to celebrate at its 7th Street Entry gig tonight, and not just because of the stellar lineup of gritty, meaty rock 'n' roll assembled opposite Soul Asylum's main room show, also including the Mighty Mofos, Rockford Mules and F--- Knights (10 p.m., $6). The rowdy/raucous/rawk group has landed a record deal with Big Legal Mess. No, that's not the new name for 2024 Records, but actually an offshoot of Fat Possum, the great Mississippi label behind the Black Keys, R.L Burnside and many more. Fat Possum co-owner Bruce Watson was in town last week while the band laid down its record at the historic Creation Studios with producer Tom Herbers.

"It's the best thing I know I've ever done, and I think it's going to surprise lots of folks," frontman Brian Vanderwerf reported.

Look for the disc by mid-'09. In the meantime, Chooglin' has a new live album, "Nice Place, Nice Party, Nice Folks," which Heart of a Champion is issuing on vinyl (with a CD copy inside). The songs were recorded at the Entry this time last year, when Dan Corrigan shot photos of the entire audience for the album jacket.

Random mix

Tina Schlieske is back in town to spend the holidays with her family -- or at least with her musical family. Her fun-loving cover band Lola & the Red Hots is offering its "sometimes annual" Christmas blowout Saturday night at the Cabooze (9 p.m., $10). ... Who doesn't have a holidays show these days? Even Yer Cronies, one of my favorite new bands of the year, are doing a yuletide gig Saturday in the Entry with one of the busiest bands of the year, A Night in the Box (9 p.m., $6). ...

Stasiu's Place will have eight bands plus comedians and DJs at its "Nightmare Before Christmas" party Tuesday (9 p.m., $5). Players include the Seawhores, Ouija Radio, Central Division Champs, the Busa and Nashville's Hans Condor. ...

Trailer Trash fans got their annual tour of the neighborhood around Lee's Liquor Lounge last weekend, looking for a parking spot for the country band's third-to-last "Trashy Little X-Mas" gig for the year. It was worth it, if only to hear "I Shopped Everywhere," the redux of Hank Snow's/Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere" ("I've been to Ridgedale, Southdale, Rosedale ..."). The guys have wisely added a Friday gig tonight to go along with its usual Saturday spot (9 p.m., $15). They go back to their first-Friday-of-the-month Lee's shows starting Jan. 2. Oh, and look for a large free lot just south of Lee's on Currie Avenue. ...

With frontman Chris Kalgren now more or less the only full-time member, This World Fair reissued its eponymous debut album Tuesday after the original label behind it, an EMI subsidiary, folded. Kalgren is forming a new lineup of the poppy rock band and will resume playing next year. ... Noisy punk band Dying Midwestern is coming back from the dead for a reunion show Tuesday at the Triple Rock (10 p.m., $5). ...

Here's a holiday gig truly in the spirit of the times: Rappers Omaur Bliss and St. Paul Slim are heading up the so-called Hard Times Ball the day after Christmas at the Kitty Cat Klub. The cover charge will be $1, and Pabst Blue Ribbon is a sponsor. Merry hangover.

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658

  • related content

  • Audio: The Hopefuls - 'Edge of Medicine'

    Thursday December 18, 2008

  • Audio: The Hopefuls - 'Stacey'

    Thursday December 18, 2008

  • THE HOPEFULS CD PARTY

    With: Chris Koza and One for the Team.

    When: 7 p.m. Sat.

    Where: First Avenue, 701 1st Av. N., Mpls.

    Tickets: $8-$10. 18 & older. 612-338-8388.

    HEAR SAMPLES FROM THE CD AT startribune.com/music.

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