LINDA HOPPER - vocals
RUTHIE MORRIS - guitars, voice
SHANNON MULVANEY - bass guitar
MARK POSGAY - drums
"In fact, it started off as a friendship," recalls Linda.
"Yeah," nods Ruthie in agreement. "Linda and I met in Atlanta, a year before we met Shannon, and we'd sit around and smoke and talk all night. Do you remember when we'd say, 'And then we'll go on tour, and we'll play in New York....' " she laughs.
"...And it would all seem so unreal as we'd be getting ready to go to work," Linda recalls. "But we kept saying, halfjoking, 'Someday we're going to be touring and playing music every night!' I guess it was pretty idealistic."
Idealistic, maybe, but not wrong. Perhaps it's no surprise that Georgia's MAGNAPOP started out this way: there's something about them and about their addictively offbeat melodies and punk-inspired guitar pop, that makes you want to be friends with them, too. And with the release of their second full-length album, RUBBING DOESN'T HELP (produced by the venerable and versatile Geza X, LA punk cornerstone of the Germs and Dead Kennedys fame), Magnapop have scaled the heights Linda and Ruthie couldn't have even dreamed of six years ago.
Prefaced with the January release of a fierce four-track import EP, Fire All Your Guns At Once, and the forerunner to extensive dates in Europe and North America later this year, Rubbing Doesn't Help is a tough and tender statement of purpose. Bursting with hope and warmth and what Ruthie enthusiastically calls "fat guitars", a diverse and often dazzling group of songs, proclaim that this album is easily their strongest yet. So, wherever here is - "somewhere getting out of a van," Ruthie jokes - Magnapop has arrived.
Not that it hasn't been a bumpy road since their first 7" single, "Merry", and the promise and critical plaudits of 1992's self-titled debut mini-album, featuring tracks produced by Michael Stipe. And, subsequently, the thermometer-testing sizzle-and-scrape of 1994's Bob Mould-produced Hot Boxing, and an ensuing round of tireless, from-the-ground-up touring that might have defeated a less determined group. Tell Linda that Rubbing Doesn't Help sounds like a band who've climbed up and over it and gotten it all together, and she laughs and agrees, "It sure feels that way for us!"
"It's been a lot of work every step of the way. And this last year has been a pretty hard one," Linda notes of the preceding months that saw Magnapop finally stop to re-evaluate their efforts on the heels of Hot Boxing, and deal with the complications of parting ways with one drummer and finding another. After a painstaking and sometimes hilarious round of advertising and auditioning, they recruited Florida native, Mark Posgay.
So it's no surprise, then, that Rubbing Doesn't Help, as Ruthie insists, "is a record that just says 'have some empathy, basically.' " Taken from a slogan for Ben Gay ointment, Ruthie - while enjoying the playful sexual innuendo - transforms the advice into a life lesson. "It's just 'deal with it' - don't irritate it. It's about dealing with yourself and those close to you. And that," she adds wryly, "is the hardest part."
The easy part, in the end, turned out to be the recording process, once the band found Geza X to man the boards. So easy, in fact, that a simple demo session turned into an album session that carried on at a leisurely pace in X's low-key home studio - the first occasion, say the band, that they've had the luxury of time to perfect their songs. "The producer is just such a hard slot to fill, which is why we were so lucky when we had Geza come into our lives and completely take the band where it needed to go," Linda enthuses. "Because we've only used artists as producers on our records in the past, there wasn't the same intimidating reverence this time. For me, it was a great exercise in knowing what I wanted and stating an opinion: stand by it, show it, prove it."
Among those things Magnapop have shown, to judge from Rubbing Doesn't Help, are that their greatest strengths are the freshness of the musical - from the searing power pop guitars of "I Don't Care" and "An Apology," to the British electricity of "Firebrand", - and creative interplay between band members; Ruthie and Linda trade lead vocals and introduce multiple points of view in the body of single narratives, like on the cut "This Family" where the two exchange the lines: "This family is going to heaven" and "This family is going to hell."
Linda and Ruthie work through the pitfalls and obstructions thrown at them by life, and in turn, leave behind naked truths and spirited insights. With the most paradoxical lyric on the album: "Everything is good these days, but all of my friends are dying", the hopeful, yet tragic pop-folk number, "Open The Door" deals with the death of a close friend, as does the very personal "Dead Letter." "We had a very good friend who OD'd," says Linda. "I've had a few friends die young and ...That's pretty much sort of a feeling of devastation - let me out of here."
"Dead Letter" hits even closer to home, narrowing its focus on an Atlanta drummer friend and would-be member of Magnapop. Open acoustics and a yearning dobro set the stage for the intimate tune. But as with the interplay of vocal variations on the album, Rubbing Doesn't Help is balanced by counter topics: the somber, "My Best Friend" is a stream-of-consciousness work of dreamy art pop. The hostile, emotional exorcism of "Hold You Down" brings the grittier Ruthie to the forefront as main vocalist, expanding her role even further within the band's structure. And "An Apology" simply allows the band to come clean with all of life's little misunderstandings and misgivings.
"This is a record about voices and energy," Ruthie insists. "One of the things I thought was so great about some punk bands was the way they used alternative melodies as well as lead vocals. It's just what I've been wanting to do: great counter melodies with Linda, but without making it - you know, girl. And it's getting closer now to being four instruments as opposed to a band with a girl singer, especially since Linda's singing more inside my rhythm now."
"Exactly," Linda agrees. "We're interested in voice as a facet, not in going along with the standard perception - and it's one that producers always have - that the vocal is the centerpiece."
"My take," add Ruthie, who jokes that quitting smoking was the final step to convincing her to start singing, "is that women are just now getting to break down a lot of barriers as vocalists. In a way, if we can take the gender out of what we're doing, it's even cooler."