By Dave Herrera
By Jesse Livingston
By Cory Casciato
By Jon Solomon
By Jesse Livingston
By Alejandra Loera
By Stephanie March
By Tom Murphy
"What drives me is a good song, a song that moves me. If I write it, cool. If I don't write it, cool, too."
This has been Hogan's philosophy since her days in the Jody Grind. The aforementioned One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Treasure is evenly split between numbers credited to the group and ones found elsewhere, like Henry Mancini's theme for Peter Gunn, Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo," the Gershwin-and-Gershwin classic "It Ain't Necessarily So," and even "Wishin' and Hopin'," a Burt Bacharach-Hal David smash for (guess who) Dusty Springfield. The Jody Grind's next effort, Lefty's Deceiver, put out in 1992, had fewer borrowings and more celebrity power, thanks to the enthusiastic patronage of Michael Stipe and Peter Buck of R.E.M. But prospects for stardom were derailed by a van crash that killed two bandmembers, Robert Clayton and Robert Hayes, and did likewise to the group itself. Hogan and the Jody Grind's Bill Taft subsequently wrote a handful of tunes together, seven of which wound up on Hogan's hard-to-find 1996 solo debut, Whistle Only Dogs Can Hear. Then, upon moving to Chicago, she joined the Rock*A*Teens, happily accepting a supporting role in the combo, which is fronted by talented multi-instrumentalist Chris Lopez.
"People would come to see us and go, 'Why aren't you singing?' But they just didn't understand," notes Hogan, who contributed to the act's 1996 self-titled EP and its 1997 full-length bow, Cry. "It was Chris Lopez's band, and that was a real relief to me to not have to be the stewardess for once. And since I was the bottom of the Rock*A*Teens -- nobody owned a bass, so I played these sort of washtub bass lines on one string of a guitar -- I got to learn the music from the bottom up. And that was the coolest thing for me. Now I can go back and listen to a song I heard a billion times in 1977, like that Who song about mama having a squeezebox, and finally hear the bass line. Plus, it really helped break up those lead-singer stereotypes. I highly recommend it to anybody."
Even so, Hogan didn't stick with the Rock*A*Teens for the long haul, deciding in 1997 that she needed a break from the music business. "I wanted to work in a hardware store -- that's been a dream of mine," she says, with less irony than it might seem at first. "Not like a Home Deport, but a little hardware store, because I love the way they smell. There's a really great one in Chicago called the Crafty Beaver, and I wanted to work there long enough to get a T-shirt."
Instead, Hogan wound up as Bloodshot's publicist, and the constant diet of music she was fed there slowly but surely drew her back to the stage. Finally, last year, Hogan put out Beneath the Country Underdog with the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, a loose ensemble featuring guitarist Hopkins and Jon Langford, an Englishman best known for anchoring one of punk rock's longest-standing collectives, the Mekons. Although this first-rate CD has more in common with the alternative country for which Bloodshot is known than does Because It Feels Good, it covers plenty of ground. The work of country personalities such as Johnny Paycheck ("[It's a Mighty Thin Line] Between Love and Hate") and Willie Nelson ("I Still Can't Believe You're Gone") stands shoulder to shoulder with "Mystery," from Langford's portfolio, the Band's "Whispering Pines," and "Papa Was a Rodeo," by Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields fame. Authentic it isn't, but that doesn't make it any less pleasurable.
Hogan is proud of Beneath the Country Underdog, but when it came time to make a new album, she decided to change her methodology. Instead of heading to a studio in Chicago, as she had for Underdog, she gathered together a hand-picked group of collaborators (producer David Barbe and guitarist Hopkins, plus Jon Rauhouse, Mike Sturgess, Mike Bulington and Andrew Bird, leader of Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire) and headed to Athens, Georgia, her hometown. "I wanted to take everybody away," she says, "because we're not really a full-time band. Everybody's in other bands, so we don't meet three times a week to woodshed -- and I thought we could come together better in kind of a sequestered environment, where we didn't have to go home every night to our bills and our phone messages. So I made everybody tapes of these songs that we were considering and listened to them as we drove -- and when we got there, we played Wiffle ball and ate my mom's biscuits and Krispy Kreme donuts and made a record."
At Athens's Chase Park Transduction Studios, which "is in a little, tiny industrial strip at the bottom of the hill by the car wash and the nursing home," the musicians soon caught a vibe that they rode to the recording's end. "Maybe it was the blossoms on the trees," Hogan says, "but we all felt it. Like the Statler Brothers song -- that version on the album is us learning how to play the song. We'd talked about what to do, and how we wanted to use the tremolo as the tempo, and Andy had played around with a bunch of different amps until he found one he liked. But except for a vocal harmony overdub and Jon Rauhouse doing that foggy-mountain-nervous-breakdown thing on the banjo, that's us figuring it out. The only thing we left off was me at the end saying, 'That's it. Don't do it anymore. It'll sound too good if we do. Let's leave it right there.'"
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