In December 2018, I was interviewed by Paul Patane at Twin Cities Geek (www.twincitiesgeek.com) about The Hopefuls: Chasing a Rock ‘n’ Roll Dream in the Minnesota Music Scene. We had a great conversation, but for whatever reason, Paul’s write-up never saw “print.” While cleaning out some files recently, I discovered the questions he sent me before our chat, along with notes I jotted down in preparation. I've expanded those notes out to full answers to give an approximation of what that interview might have sounded like.
PP: I'd like to know a bit about your personal journey, in relation to the Twin Cities, and where you're at now in life. There's not a lot of you in the book, other than opinions you have on the music, so I'm trying to connect some dots between you as the author and where you're at now.
PA: I grew up in central Illinois – a town called Bloomington - and went to Augustana College in the Quad Cities. I moved to the Twin Cities in 1999 after college, essentially following two friends who had decided to move there. I’d never been to Minnesota before. I just knew I wanted to get away from my hometown, and that I was ready for an adventure.
So I found an improbably cheap apartment that was Uptown-adjacent, and started building a life in Minneapolis. I initially worked as an administrative assistant at the American Cancer Society, but pretty soon decided to get my teaching license at Hamline. I eventually got a job teaching 5th grade at a charter school in downtown Minneapolis.
During that time, circa 2003-2004, I really got into the Minneapolis/St. Paul music scene. I had become a music obsessive in college, and the Twin Cities fostered and furthered that. I was a regular at Electric Fetus and Cheapo, and went to tons of shows at the Uptown Bar, 400 Bar, First Ave., Turf Club, O’Gara’s, etc.
I had always loved reading and writing, and had gotten my undergrad degree in English, so I started a music blog as a dual outlet for my writing and my obsessiveness, and I wrote quite a bit about local music.
In 2007 I moved on to a teaching position at Roseville Area Middle School, and the next year I got married. We bought a house in St. Paul near Como Lake. In 2010 my first son, Peter, was born. I continued to listen to a ton of music, and to write about music, but I slowed way down on going to shows. In 2013, our second son was born, and I also started writing my first book. It was a biography of children’s author Eleanor Cameron. I loved the process of researching and writing so much that I wanted to do it again. The first topic that came to my mind was the Hopefuls.
In 2016 my family and I moved back to central Illinois, settling in Normal. I was still in the middle of researching about the Hopefuls and continued to do that long-distance.
PP: Why did you feel the need to write this book, particularly why these musicians during this time period, focusing primarily on the 2000s? Given the introduction, you don't seem very high on 1990s Twin Cities music in particular, but what led you to embracing what came in the 2000s? Was it anything specific, and was it entirely the work of Erik Appelwick, Darren Jackson, John Hermanson, Eric Fawcett, and their contemporaries that motivated this?
PA: There were three things that drove my interest in writing about the Hopefuls: love, curiosity, and preservation.
It started with a love for the Hopefuls. I saw the band over a dozen times between 2004 and 2008 and adored everything about them. I had a complete fascination with their “supergroup” status. I really dug Vicious Vicious and Spymob, and to a lesser degree - at least initially - Kid Dakota and Storyhill. I was amazed by how different all of their “solo” projects were from one another, and and how they all appeared on each other’s records. It was this diverse-but-self-contained musical universe that a person could just get lost in.
So I wasn’t particularly down on 1990s Twin Cities music, and didn’t mean to give that impression. It’s more that the reporting I found of that time didn’t paint it as a boom time for the local scene, especially in contrast to the highs of the 1980s. And I wasn’t living there during that time; that music wasn’t “mine” the way the Hopefuls were.
As I was researching the story, the focus became less on the Hopefuls as a band - title of the book aside - than it did about those four guys. It just became really clear in the process that they were the center of it all.
In terms of curiosity, I was primarily interested first in trying to make sense of all of those four guys’ interconnections and the paths that brought them together. But along with that, I really wanted to know what had happened to the Hopefuls, because they were everywhere and then they were gone.
Finally, as I got going with research and interviews it started to become about reconstructing and recording for posterity this part of Minnesota music history that would otherwise be footnoted or brushed aside, which was somewhat selfish because it it was a part that was personally most important and exciting to me and a time when I was most invested in the local scene
I wanted to tell a story that doesn’t get told, which is about this idea of bands that didn’t quite get over the hump, but approach the telling of that story as someone would a biography of Prince or the Replacements or any other band that “made it.” The goals was to be as comprehensive as possible, which gave me a good excuse to really geek out and dig deep into every aspect and facet of those four guys’ work.
PP: Did you have a prior relationship with any of these musicians before starting on the book? And if so, how may that have influenced what you wrote, both in terms of content and scope?
PA: No. One of my good friends, Dave Halvorson, attended St. Olaf, and had some connections to the guys through that. So I had briefly met John Ostby from Spymob back in the day, but by and large I was purely a fan. I will say, though, that in the process of interviewing everybody I did form relationships with them, and I’m sure that had an influence on how I presented their story. In Almost Famous Lester Bangs chastises William Miller for becoming friends with Stillwater, and I totally get the danger of that, but at the same time these are real people and I never wanted to lose sight of that fact.
The main four guys all had at least some degree of hesitancy in the beginning about me writing the book, so I felt like they were really trusting me with their stories, and I wanted to honor that.
PP: I'd like to delve into your research, and how what you learned and discovered along the way may have shaped, or even changed, your overall narrative.
PA: There were two major things:
My very first phone call I had about the idea of writing a book about the Hopefuls was with Eric Fawcett, and he said, basically, I’m excited for you to pursue this story, but I don’t know how far you’re going to get because there are factions not speaking to one another. So that sort of colored the whole process right away. I knew the Hopefuls weren’t together anymore, but I didn’t have any idea of what had caused that break. So not only was I trying to reconstruct the story, but also deal with everyone being at a heightened level of sensitivity about what they were saying about one another, and in some cases very different interpretations of events and situations.
As I alluded to earlier, I initially thought this would be a book about the Hopefuls with little vignettes about each of the guys’ musical pasts, but the more I got into my research the more I realized how very interesting and involved the other stories were, particularly Storyhill’s and Spymob’s. At that point it became the story of Appelwick, Darren, Fawcett, and Johnny.
PP: Your sources and go-to spots for information. The book is a very deep dive and must have taken forever to piece together after some careful discernment and decision-making.
PA: My first book was pretty traditional from a research standpoint: I mainly used archival material with interviews to add depth. Writing about the Hopefuls required me to get more creative. I’d say interviews were the primary source of information, and in many cases I got more valuable tidbits from the guys surrounding the “core four” than I did from the guys themselves. The next level was the fantastic local journalism, especially City Pages, Pulse of the Twin Cities, and Chris Riemenschneider’s Star Tribune coverage. I also had fun using the Wayback Machine on the Internet Archive accessing defunct webpages and blog entries and lists of show dates (I even braved old MySpace pages).
PP: I'd like to know how the book wound up with McFarland, and how that process was from pitching to publishing.
PA: When I was writing I was sort of irrationally self-confident that either the Minnesota Historical Society Press or University of Minnesota Press would want to publish it, because I had a track record as a published author, and because they’ve both been putting out so many great books about Minnesota music. When I was close to done, I prepared proposals for both publishers, and both said, “no thank you.”
That was a real gut check, and for a bit I was thinking I might end up doing a Kickstarter to self-publish, which would have been very much in the spirit of what these guys did, i.e. if a label doesn’t want it, we’ll put it out ourselves. But then I thought of proposing it to McFarland, who are known for doing nonfiction books on very specific topics within popular culture. I had actually sent the manuscript for my first book to them but ended up going with a different publisher instead.
Even they were like, “this is a little bit niche for us” but in the end they decided to take a chance on me, and I’m so thankful they did.
The process was somewhat arduous, not the writing and editing as much as getting all the photos and credits and getting everyone to approve their quotes and give permission for things to go forward. It’s much easier to write about dead people than living ones!
PP: I'd like to discuss narrative voice and the decisions behind (mostly) leaving yourself out of the narrative, other than offering analysis and some personal opinions around the music and what was clearly speaking (or not speaking) to you as a listener.
PA: I don’t care for biographies/histories in which the author inserts themselves into a narrative if they weren’t actually a player in it. That said, it’s almost impossible to have a completely objective voice, and I believe a biographer naturally puts themselves into a story through the choices they make. For example, how they present the narrative and what they choose to emphasize or not emphasize.
Overall, I feel like it’s the biographer’s job to not let themselves or their opinions or judgements intrude. This came up a lot for me in trying to balance the different perspectives on the personal conflicts between the guys, and the drawn-out battle with their record label. And though some of them snuck in there, I did try very hard to withhold my personal opinions on albums and songs, or to share others' opinions rather than my own. I’m very cognizant of the fact that every album or song could be someone’s favorite, even if it's not mine.