The Hungry Mind Review is a pop band and to dramatically understate matters, they have a lot of respect for their craft. Since 1994 the band has been honing that craft, writing songs that are pleasant to listen to over and over and over again, and that have something important to say besides. Think classic Brit pop (ahem, the Beatles), folk pop (from The Byrds to Crowded House) or Americanized Brit pop(a.k.a. Big Star). HMR emulates bands that were writing pop songs back when pop music was meaningful.
The band's co-founders are singer/songwriter Stephan Bayley, who switches off between piano and the guitar, and Holt Evans, who generally plays bass live but adds guitar and keyboards to his list of duties when the band goes into the studio.
Drummer Rob Hay joined the band in early 2002, and violinist/keyboardist Stephanie Wallace is the newest member, joining in the fall of 2002.
Holt and Stephan have been musical partners for years. The two met in 1993 during a chance conversation. Stephan happened to mention that he had recently driven all the way to Columbia, Mo. to witness Big Star's reunion tour. Big Star is a favorite of both guys, and ever since then their love of music - playing it, writing it, recording it and fooling with the gadgets that help make it -- has bound the two in a close friendship.
Rob Hay is the latest piece of the percussion puzzle - the band has had four drummers over the years - but one whose rock-solid style makes him a good fit. Violinist/ keyboardist Stephanie Wallace adds to the live sound with her violin, piano, mellotron and harmony vocal parts. An actor as well as a musician, Stephanie has performed in many local theatre productions, independent films, and recently had a speaking part on Dawson's Creek.
Stephan Bayley grew up in St. Louis, where as a high-school teenager he played in a folk band and rubbed elbows with luminaries like Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, then in Uncle Tupelo.
Bayley's folk roots can be heard in HMR's music, but more and more, especially since he began using the piano in his songwriting, Bayley's songs have taken on a voice of their own. It's music that's not easily categorized, but that's usually the best kind anyway.
After lying dormant for nearly three years, The Hungry Mind Review is set to release its fourth album, Four, in the fall of 2002. It's the band's strongest work to date, containing catchy folk pop ("Watershed, "Angela," "In a Stream"), majestic piano ballads ("Loving Reins"), incendiary rockers ("Heaven's Gate") and songs that are eerily experimental in structure (""Holding Back," "Sleep"). There's even a whimsical ditty about the band's favorite piece of music equipment ("The Leslie Song").
HMR's previous releases have achieved a measure of success with past efforts - the band's 1996 album J'Abandonne is currently on the market in South Korea, selling copies and garnering positive reviews, and their 1999 album Redemption received a positive review in the British publication Mojo Magazine.
Stephan writes most of the songs (Holt and brother Don Evans, a former HMR bassist, co-wrote "In a Stream"), and it's his voice - clear and controlled, plaintive at times, at others spine-tinglingly beautiful - that helps define HMR's sound, which in many ways is a dichotomy between (almost) happy and something much darker, a darkness not at the forefront but definitely present.
You wouldn't know it from how the songs sound, but death is a big theme in HMR's songs. "Watershed" is about drowned musician Jeff Buckley, another one of Stephan's influences. "Heaven's Gate" is about the religious cult members who
committed suicide, thinking that they would be transported to a passing spaceship. "Angela" is about a friend's losing battle with cancer.
For the most part, however, it's hard to describe HMR's songs as anything but uplifting, inspiring, not to mention easy to become addicted to. At a recent live show in their hometown of Wilmington NC, one amazed attendee marveled about the band's lack of pretension, their ability to present songs without artifice, without attempting or getting caught up, as many bands do, in "being cool"-- which, of course, makes them pretty damn cool.
In a culture that often seems to celebrate shallowness, The Hungry Mind Review opt for depth. Then again, it's not a choice, really. It's just what they do.
--John Staton, Fall 2002