On a Saturday night such as this, many of the colts and fillies who fork over the Paradise's cover charge are here to see and be seen, to play pool and pinball, treating the music as if it merely rolled with the credits of their real-life sitcoms. Halfway into their first song, though, Magnapop had the whole place quaking. New songs like "Come On Inside" and "Open the Door" gave their set all the raucous communion of a classic Replacements gig, with none of the drunken pratfalls. Fans and newcomers alike-- everyone in the club seemed to sense that this band has "it."
Over the years, many of the band's associates have sniffed out the same qualities. Stipe--Hopper's longtime buddy in their hometown Athens-- produced the band's early demo tape, while Bob Mould, the sonic architect of Sugar and Husker Du, signed on to produce their first full-length LP, 1994's Hot Boxing. Hopper, now 37, was in a few regional bands before meeting Morris; she founded one of them, Oh-OK, with Stipe's bass-playing sister Lynda. (As an early proving ground for short-lived member Matthew Sweet, Oh-OK has become a pop footnote of sorts.) "Linda was like a celebrity in the area," Morris recalls, "but I'm not from the area."
"I'd been trying to play with these guys," she says of her days as a fledgling Georgia rocker, "and it got weird. It always gets weird. And I was like, what do I do? I want to play, but I have this weird element--being a girl." Though she says she never lets gender issues concern her, they inevitably arise with male musicians. Eventually, Morris was introduced to Hopper by a mutual friend---a guy--who was "weirdly protective of her." "I started coming over to her apartment to try to write together," Hopper explains. Morris, as is her habit, finishes the thought: "The first day, we wrote a song together."
After graduating from college in West Palm Beach, Morris had moved to Georgia to join the scene: "I'd read so much about Athens," she says. "Everything about it appealed to me." But she went to Atlanta instead, "and it was not nice. It wasn't like hippie, open-minded. It was like, 'You're not cool enough.' There was so much attitude... The Black Crowes were starting to happen, and it was very male-dominated." Sweet's arrival signalled the decline of Oh-OK. "His ambition irks people," Morris allows. Hopper says that her friends in REM gave the young fan her address when they played in Sweet's hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, "and I started getting demo tapes when he was still in high school. A week after he graduated from high school he came to Athens... It doesn't have much bearing at all on Magnapop," she says, "but the saga ended sort of sourly." After a brief stint in a Washington DC-based group called Holiday, Hopper "just chilled for a few years" before meeting Morris.
Featuring a couple of tracks that still stand with the group's best work (the wistful "Favorite Writer" and their first single, "Merry"), the 5-song Stipe tape helped the young group secure a deal with Caroline Records. They recorded a self-titled EP which the band refers to as the "pumpkin" record; now out of print, its black cover was adorned with a pair of jack-o-lanterns. The EP contained another of Magnapop's definitive songs, "Garden," one that they still trot out regularly at live shows. After a couple more EPs - including a Europe-only affair produced by Ted Nicely (Girls Against Boys) - the group was ready for a full album's worth of tunes.
Working with Mould was nerve-wracking for Morris, who claims that she's only recently begun to appreciate her own guitar playing. "'Omigod," she recalls thinking, "'He thinks I suck!' It was just him and me in the control booth, one on one."
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