On the surface, Champaign, Illinois’ Hum appears to be your average mid-’90s semi-success story that can be filed under the blanket tag that is “alternative.” After releasing a couple albums—Fillet Show in 1991 and Electra 2000 in 1993, both on a local label called 12 Inch Records—Hum signed to RCA and put out You’d Prefer An Astronaut in 1995. The foursome’s soaring, spaced-out shoegaze-pop found a larger audience thanks to Astronaut’s epic lead single, “Stars.” The critically acclaimed follow-up, 1997’s Downward Is Heavenward, didn’t fare quite as well without a radio hit, and the band eventually called in quits in 2000.
Fortunately, history has been kind to Hum: In the years since the band’s demise, the group has garnered a devoted fanbase and continues to receive accolades for perfecting a powerful sound that evokes the cosmos while blasting heavy guitar riffing toward them. Hum regrouped as public appreciation for the band grew, and it has played spurts of shows since early on in the last decade. Before Hum headlines A.V. Fest Sept. 10, singer and guitarist Matt Talbott spoke with The A.V. Club about finding enjoyment in playing songs from his past while not dwelling on that time, the possibilities of releasing new Hum material, and his plans for A.V. Fest weekend.
The A.V. Club: You guys have been doing one-off reunion shows since 2003, right?
Matt Talbott: Yes.
AVC: Are these shows so infrequent because you all have families and you have different side projects?
MT: We’re just busy with family and jobs and just normal things, but we can still kind of like play shows now and then. I don’t think we like doing it enough that we would do a lot of touring or officially, I don't know, “reunite” or whatever you want to say. We just enjoy doing these one-off shows here and there as they come up if they’re cool opportunities.
We just have a lot of fun. It’s a nice break from the normal schedule of being a grown-up, and there still seems to be an appetite for our music from our fans for some reason, and we’re flattered by that.
AVC: Do you have any idea why some fans have a newfound interest in your music?
MT: No. I don’t know… I think our fans are always really loyal, the ones that we have. Our last record that we did didn’t have a hit song on it, didn’t really get played on the radio or anything, but there [were] still a lot of people that stuck around with us, and were into what we were doing, and were into what we did on that last record. I think they’re just kind of hardcore fans, and I think we broke up with a little gas left in the tank still.
It’s kind of weird, ’cause I hear a lot about—it seems like there’s a lot of people, too, that like the music, and I don’t know if it’s because they have an older sibling or even a parent or something that they listen to our music. I get correspondence sometimes from some people that say they’ve never seen us before and are excited about these reunion shows or something like that. That always kind of surprises me, that there’s a big batch of people out there that have never seen us, and are seeing us for the first time at one of these reunion shows. It’s kind of odd, but kind of cool, too.
AVC: I noticed there’s a tribute album that’s set to come out soon. When did you first hear about that?
MT: I heard about that a while ago. I think it’s been in the works for a couple of years, and I think we met some of the people that were doing that when we did our show in Millennium Park last year.
We haven’t had any involvement in that at all, we’re just kind of standing back and letting people just—it’s a fan-driven thing, and let them kind of do it. It’s their thing, and it’s their way to celebrate the music that they like.
AVC: Have you heard any of it?
MT: I haven’t yet. Just kinda standing back and staying out of the whole thing.
AVC: With that Millennium Park show in mind, you guys are starting to get some bigger shows since you were a full-time touring band. What’s that been like?
MT: Well, we were a little surprised by it. I would say about Millennium Park, it was certainly a larger venue, but there [were] plenty of seats left.
I think it’s just because we’re not playing as often. When you’re not playing every night, when you’re not touring, and you’re just playing occasionally, then you can draw larger crowds and do these kinds of gigs. I think if we were playing as often as we were, there wouldn’t be as much appetite for it. I think it’s a little bit of stored-up appetite, but that enables us to play slightly larger audiences than we might have if we were still an active touring band.
And then the things like this Onion festival and some other things that we’re doing here and there, a lot of those are just kind of festival, one-off things. So there’s a lot of people there that aren’t necessarily there to see Hum, they’re there just for the experience of the overall thing, and if they happen to be fans of our band, then so much the better. But, we’re not like the thing at these events, we’re just part of it. And it’s really fun for us, too, just to hang out. It’s fun to be a dude in a band and play these festivals, ’cause it’s just fun to spend a day hanging out and then you get to go up and play for a little bit, too.
AVC: Has it gotten to the point where you lose track of all these reunion gigs?
MT: Well, kind of. I hope it doesn’t turn into a joke. “Oh, Hum broke up, oh they’re back together, oh, they’re doing this again.” We’ve never really threatened that this was our last show, or that’s our last show; we have really no agenda with that. We get these offers on occasion and sometimes it works for our schedule and sometimes it doesn’t. I can see us doing a few more here and there, a couple a year for a few more years, or I can see us growing weary of it—or, I don’t know about growing weary, just deciding it’s something we don’t want to keep doing. And I think that we want to make sure that we’re still a good band, still playing good shows.
AVC: And keep things fun, right?
MT: That’s the bottom line for this. Like I said, when people ask why we’re doing these or whatever—it’s just being in your 40s and you’re a family man and working full-time and everything, and it’s just really fun to have something like that to look forward to.
I’m so excited to come up and do the A.V. Festival, I’m so excited about this thing we’re doing in November down in Austin and a couple one-offs that we have around that. To be honest, it just kind of makes my fall for me; it’s just a really awesome thing to have that on the calendar. Those two weekends I get to go out and drink a bunch of beer and play guitar, so it’s a cool thing.
AVC: I’d read that you guys had five or six songs that you never got the chance to record, and there was always the possibility of maybe going in and recording them.
MT: We’ve kind of played around with that. I own a recording studio, so when we rehearse, we’re rehearsing at my joint, at my studio, so all the recording stuff is there. We’ve played around with a little bit of stuff; it’s possible that we might come up with some version of a few of these songs that we think are good enough to share with our fans. And it’s also possible that we’ll record them and be like, “They’re not that inspired,” in which case, they’d go in the garbage somewhere and we’d pretend it never happened.
AVC: Is there any push from fans to get some of your earlier material?
MT: I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s a lot of interest in that stuff. To be honest, I don’t think about that kind of stuff very much. I don’t think a lot about the past and the past releases, I’m just happy to be playing the songs and happy to be hanging out with my—we’re all good friends, the guys in the band. More than anything, I like just hanging out with them. They’re guys I don’t see or get to hang out with every day. Bryan, he doesn’t live [close], he has to drive a little far away. To me, it’s kind of all about that, and I don’t get too caught up in really what was.
AVC: What’s it like playing these songs from your past?
MT: To be honest, it surprises me that I can still find a lot of enjoyment in playing our music. I think most of it is really feedback from the audience. When you’ve played a song a million times, when it’s a song that you maybe wrote about something that was important in your life when you were 25 and you’re a few decades removed from that, one might think that there’s not a lot of reason to go back and replay those songs, you might not be that passionate about it. But we get such great response from our fans that it’s just a lot of fun.
Certain old songs I like better than others. They’ll come up in the setlist and I’ll be like, “Man, I really like this song, I always liked this song and I’m excited to play it,” and others I’ll be like, “Eh, I used to like this song and not really doing a lot for me anymore.” And, again, our fans have a lot of enjoyment for a lot of different songs that we have, and a lot of this is about them.
AVC: As far as a cool gig, what are you looking forward to at A.V. Fest?
MT: Well I’ve got Bears tickets for the next day. I’m trying to figure out if I can play my gig Friday in Champaign, then do the Saturday gig, hang out all day and play the show at A.V. Fest, then go to the Bears game the next morning, and then come back to the A.V. Fest, ’cause, what time are Archers playing?
AVC: They’re last, at 8:30 p.m.
MT: On Sunday?
MT: Yeah, so I’m trying to see if I can do all that and still be alive when Archers play so I get to see them and still make it to work, be on the road, driving by 7 the next morning. So that’s what I’m thinking about right now.