The Hollowmen haven’t played a show in more than 25 years. This week the Des Moines band will play two of them, one at Octopus in Cedar Falls, then a Saturday show at Lefty’s.
How has the local music scene changed since then? Other than the Val Air Ballroom, your favorite music venue didn’t exist back then. Not many did. Here’s how The University of Iowa’s Daily Iowan summed up Des Moines in a review of The Hollowmen’s “Pink Quartz Sun Blasting.”
“Des Moines is a desolate, barren musical landscape devoid of good record stores, listenable radio staions and, until recently, venues for live alternative music. “It’s something of a musical slap to Iowa City’s fertile music scene that The Hollowmen, Iowa’s best band, manage to thrive (relatively speaking) there.”
And the band did thrive. They toured around the country, including opening for Sonic Youth (a definite influence on The Hollowmen’s sound) and had two albums released by labels. Several band members went on to more success, no (relative) qualifier needed. Guitarist Mike Sangster’s next band, Head Candy, got major label distribution, played CBGB and had a song in the Drew Barrymore movie “Mad Love.” Singer/guitarist Tom Armstrong has moved on to great reviews playing honky tonk country and bassist Jim Roth plays guitar in Built to Spill.
“I was going through some of the feedback and praise we got and looking back it makes me says ‘Why the hell did we break up?’ Sangster said of the 1989 split. “I’ve played in a lot of bands and have had some decent success since, but to this day I tell people The Hollowmen was the best band I’ve ever been in.”
But like every band, there were issues. The band had talked about moving to a city with better opportunities than Des Moines had, but never came to a consensus. Then there’s the fact that (relative) success doesn’t always pay the bills.
“Based on my knowledge, it comes down to broken down vans and finances,” said founding member and bassist Eric Svenson, who left the band in 1987, but will be splitting bass duties with Roth at Saturday’s show. “As with many bands, it was a combo of not making enough money to support being a touring band, combined with being four young people with emerging tastes in different types of music.”
Unfortunately, The Hollowmen reunion isn’t a complete one. Original drummer Joe Page passed away in 2007. Band friend Troy Urich and Svenson’s 18-year-old-son, Luke, will fill in for Page.
Until this week, The Hollowmen’s albums hadn’t been available to purchase for years, but “Pink Quarts Sun Blasting” and “Sinister Flower Gift” are now available on cdbaby.com and the albums should be up on Spotify soon.
These two shows are all The Hollowmen have planned, so if you want to catch them, this may be your only chance.
“We’ve had a number of people talking to us about a reunion for years and for whatever reason we all agreed,” Sangster said. “At this point in time, if I had to guess, this may be it. Which is fine. There was a question of if it would ever happen. The very fact that it is is pretty darn cool. I’ll be happy if that’s the case, but there are people saying we should make it an annual event.
“We’ll see. I think it’s a mental thing. Everyone has to be on board and up until now everyone wasn’t on board.”
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Lefty’s Live Music, 2307 University Ave.