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Oral Truck Stop Love

TSL then and now (yes, now), as told by everyone who was there by Nick Spacek

Some unsung bands get to look back nobly upon one genuine “almost made it” moment. Then there’s Truck Stop Love. A country-tinged rock band from Manhattan, Kansas, could expect few favors in 1990, yet odd blessings seemed to rain down on this quartet from the Sunflower State’s other college town. The first demo by bassist and singer Brad Huhmann, drummer (and, later, Pitch contributor) Eric Melin, guitarist and singer Matt Mozier, and guitarist and singer Rich Yarges was good enough for entry into an MTV competition. TSL’s second demo got the band picked up by a national label. Being on that label led to a TSL version of “You Got Lucky” placed on a tribute album to Tom Petty that saw broad distribution. But each blessing came with a curse. That MTV competition, Dodge’s Rockin’ Campus Bash, was part of an anti–drunk driving campaign; when the four men took their turn on its stage — in Dallas in February 1992 — they’d been drinking for the better part of four hours. They did not win. The national label to which TSL signed was Scotti Bros., with a roster topped by “Weird Al” Yankovic and no knack for breaking Midwestern rock acts. The tribute disc was just one among a glut of similar crazy-quilt appreciations and is long out of print. There would be two releases on Scotti Bros. — a self-titled EP, in 1993, and, two years later, How I Spent My Summer Vacation — before the end came, in 1996. (Just ahead of


the breakup, there was also a 7-inch split with Action Man.) Truck Stop Love played a series of reunion shows in 2004, but that was seemingly it — until TSL’s latest unexpected reversal. Kansas City’s Black Site Records announced this past summer that it would release a collection of songs from the band’s early days. Can’t Hear It: 1991-1994 features the first three songs off that 1991 demo, along with eight other lost tracks: raucous demo versions of classics like “Stagnation,” neverreleased songs such as “Tommy” and “After Hours Party.” The sound reveals a band working the right side of raw; for those familiar with the Scotti Bros. recordings, the intensity of the 11 songs on Can’t Hear It will come as a pleasant surprise. Even the cuts that don’t differ much, such as “River Mountain Love,” benefit from being unburdened of their 1990s overproduction. The result is a valentine to longtime fans that’s also a fantastic introduction for the newly curious. To get an overview of Truck Stop Love’s history, and how Can’t Hear It came to be, I talked with Huhmann, Melin, Mozier and Yarges. I also posed questions to Jim Crego, who replaced Mozier; Black Site’s L. Ron Drunkard; engineer Ed Rose; and Kliph Scurlock, who mastered the tracks. The Pitch: In the band’s early days, writers twisted themselves into knots to describe Truck Stop Love’s sound.

Brad Huhmann: I seem to remember a review comparing us to Pure Prairie League. I’m sure sure they thought that was a putdown, but I liked it. Reviewers back then liked to put us down because we weren’t cool. We were from Manhattan, not Lawrence or KC, so some regional media would pull out the most far-fetched comparisons, perhaps not realizing that we did, in fact, appreciate the bands that they were hoping to use to insult us with. Eric Melin: “As if Gomer Pyle had grown up on a steady diet of Nirvana and Mudhoney.” — The Note. Jim Crego: I was a fan and friend first. I always thought they had a sort of Dinosaur Jr. thing happening. The group was also fairly well known in the press for alcoholic exploits. Was it real or an act? Melin: If only. Our first all-ages show, in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, we were first of three bands and weren’t used to the crowd being mostly kids, so we went downstairs from the venue to a bar to get warmed up. When we started the show toasty and fired up, the kids were sitting down. We played a song, and they didn’t move, so Rich introduced the next song: “This one is called ‘The Liquor Has Hardened Me.’ But you wouldn’t know anything about that cuz you’re all fuckin’ 12.” Rich Yarges: We wanted to be the Replacements, right on down to the sloppydrunk shows — not only us, but our fans put it away as well. Huhmann: I don’t believe we were that much different than other kids in school. Well, maybe a little. In a 1992 Kansas State University Collegian article, writer Shawn Bruce quoted Huhmann before their performance as part of Dodge’s Rockin’ Campus Bash: “‘I can’t believe we’re getting fucked up to play on MTV,’ says Huhmann just before

losing his balance and almost falling to the ground.” Matt Mozier: I think it was certainly more true for some of us than others. It sort of became, I think, a self-fulfilling prophecy. In our daily lives, we were pretty straight, but when we got together, we tended to feed off each other in that regard. The band recorded more than 50 demos over the course of its existence, many of which never saw release. In retrospect, it seems kind of amazing that a local band would record so often, only to release so little in the age before limitless digital storage. Yarges: The first two demos, we did ourselves. Brad had a 4-track reel-to-reel that we used. Although that first demo has its DIY charm, I don’t know that I would necessarily consider that “studio time.” I actually dubbed all the copies we sold on my own cassette deck. The demo that got us signed, we recorded at Red House. That’s where we would do the rest of our demos. Scotti Bros. paid for us to go to Red House several times to record demos for How I Spent My Summer Vacation. One visit we recorded live everything we had written. That’s where the bulk of the unreleased material is from. Mozier: We always were lucky to have access to some kind of recording apparatus, be it cassette, reel-to-reel or whatever. We were signed to a label relatively early in the process, so they wanted previews of our new material. That’s where some of the best unreleased stuff came in, as far as I’m concerned. The stuff we recorded at Red House with Ed in 1994 caught us at the top of our game, bandwise. We’d been playing together constantly, and it showed. Huhmann: Back then we had to rely on the label to release material. We always thought our songs were great, so why not put them out somehow, right? The label had a different view.

the pitch | November 2017 |

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