Nominee – 1996 6th Annual LA Music Awards
The early ’90s were a huge time for underground rock and roll. Everybody knows about “grunge” and the Seattle music explosion, but another movement was bubbling up around the same time in the Midwest, and it has proven to be just as influential on today’s music scene, if far less hyped.
Call it “No Depression,” Americana, Alt/Country, or whatever, but bands like Minneapolis’ The Jayhawks, St. Louis’ Uncle Tupelo, and other, smaller bands paved the way for artists like Ryan Adams and (insert hot-shit new country rock band here) to incorporate a little local twang into their punk rock ethos.
Long before it was cool to wear a trucker hat, a little band from Manhattan, Kan. called Truck Stop Love stopped drinking long enough (well, not really stopped) to record a 1993 self-titled EP and a 1995 full-length that, courtesy Los Angeles’ Scotti Bros/Backyard Records, slowly crept its way across the plains and into the stereos of America. And then those albums were played loud.
Guitarist/vocalist Rich Yarges and drummer Eric Melin formed the band in 1990, but it wasn’t until guitarist/vocalist Matt Mozier and bassist/vocalist Brad Huhmann joined Truck Stop Love in 1991, that the band solidified their aggressive, fuzzed-out rock sound. In the back room of a record store in Manhattan, TSL recorded a demo tape (yes, people used cassettes back then) that won them a spot in MTV’s national band competition, “Dodge’s Rockin’ Campus Bash.” A smashed guitar, a flat tire, and a many big hangovers followed.
Another well-received demo, recorded at Red House in Lawrence, garnered the attention of the College Music Journal, which gave it a glowing spotlight review that sent labels scurrying to the unlikely locale of Manhattan.
Ignoring the advice of their lawyer, Truck Stop Love signed with Scotti Brothers Records, a label best known for “Weird Al” Yankovic and Survivor. “We thought it would be a good idea because we heard they were run by the mob,” Melin explains. Truck Stop Love’s self-titled debut EP contains some of their best-loved tunes, including “Stagnation,” “River Mountain Love,” and “Townie.” The band hit the road hard after that in Hi-Tone, their 1954 Chevy school bus. The gas mileage was horrible, but it looked cool and it was big, allowing the members to be apart from each other whenever fights would break out.
The group covered “Listen To Her Heart” for “You Got Lucky – A Tribute To Tom Petty” and participated in the sold-out “Lucky” tribute concert at the House Of Blues in Los Angeles in January of 1995. The show was later seen by more than 3 million music fans when it aired on ABC’s late-night music show “In Concert.”
“How I Spent My Summer Vacation” is the album that defines Truck Stop Love for many in the Midwestern music scene. Produced at Memphis’ legendary Ardent Studios by Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and Jeff Powell (Afghan Whigs, Primal Scream), the album is a dizzying mix of TSL’s wide influences. Drenched with loud guitars and a twist of country, the album features a dozen songs that range from the subtle country yearnings of “Whiskey Waltz,” to the catchy hooks of “Other Stars,” and the in-your-face fury of “You Owe.” The raw emotions of small-town boredom and angst are evident on hard-rocking tracks like “Bitter Boy,” “Benny” and the title cut “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” Rounding out the record are the bittersweet “Carolina’s Eyes,” and a hidden, thirteenth track – an acoustic duet between Stephens and guitarist/vocalist Mozier.
A great sounding record and an expensive video weren’t enough for the label to push four unpolished Kansas scrubs into the national spotlight, and, despite college radio airplay and the support of commercial Lawrence giant, KLZR (R.I.P.), the album didn’t catch on with the pre-TRL crowd. After a typical drunken fight (“Beatles or Stones?”) between band members escalated into a wrestling match on a concrete back porch, Mozier left the band, and the remaining members soldiered on.
Mozier’s replacement was Jim Crego, formerly of the Minneapolis powerhouse God’s Favorite Band. Truck Stop Love’s new focus was on a tighter, more focused pop sensibility. Crego brought his melodic chops into play immediately as the band recorded a split 7-inch with Lawrence rockers Action Man, and three tracks for various compilation CDs. More touring, more drinking, and a new demo with Ed Rose at Red House came next. The new material was some of the best stuff TSL had recorded, but Scotti Brothers’ experiment in the post-Nirvana alternative explosion had ended, and so did the band.
Mozier went on to form Arthur Dodge and the Horsefeathers, and plays with the band to this day. Yarges performed for many years as a solo act, and now lives in Minneapolis. Huhmann moved to Kansas City, and recorded and played with Lushbox and Onward Crispin Glover. Melin recorded and toured with Ultimate Fakebook, until March of this year, and now plays in Lawrence’s Dead Girls Ruin Everything. Crego also lives in Minneapolis, and is putting the finishing touches on his first solo release.
All five members will be performing at the three reunion shows.