The metro Detroit melodic pop trio of Greg Addington (vocals, guitar), John Lowry (vocals, guitar) and Chip Saam (vocals, bass) graciously opens their musical doors to listeners searching for a new gathering place. Think of a hip, retro venue filled with John Lennon, Elvis Costello and Jeff Lynne aficionados.
“This one came together in the studio based on an idea I had, and we took it in a new direction. We’d like to think that ‘Animal Suite’ sends a positive message out. Say hello to whomever you meet and all that. Seemed like the right message for the time. And whatever people pull from this song, or any really despite its genesis or original intention, is totally valid obviously,” Addington said.
Throughout “Animal Suite,” The Hangabouts roll out a lush, vibrant welcoming mat as fuzzy, bright electric guitars, deep bass, steady drums, twirling synths and quiet acoustic strums give listeners a hearty, sonic handshake.
In tandem, Addington benevolently sings, “Ears filled with delight/It’s a whole new world in here/Among the pigs and the birds/Who came to give you cheer/No longer down on the farm/With all its lovely views/But all my friends who are here/Except for one or two.”
“Some songs we write fast, and some take forever, and it has absolutely no bearing on quality. Cliché but true. Pretty much everything we record is done at our own studio called Earth – it’s outfitted with professional recording gear, and it’s convenient, so we work there,” Addington said.
“Yeah, the influences are always hard to pin down and ever-evolving. There is without question dozens of British Invasion bands that inspire many things we do as well as hundreds of bands since then. Perhaps the most inspiring influence, for five seconds in the song anyway, is ‘Kashmir.’”
In May, The Hangabouts also released a split-screen, quarantine-inspired video for “Animal Suite,” which features a collective, virtual jam with drummer Tom Curless as well as assorted curious cats and grazing horses. It’s an inside, upbeat and socially-distanced look at the band making the most of an unusual time in music.
“Sometimes you want solitude to explore ideas, sometimes you need collaboration to hash out concepts and ensure the project doesn’t end up as a solo record. We’ve mostly had a mix of songs largely started by one writer and then finished up with input from the group, and sometimes we write in the studio together. We’ve not yet figured out the perfect solution, but we’re hopeful that the pent-up energy might express itself in good work down the road,” Lowry said.
Cilla Joins Mrs. Greene
“Animal Suite” is part of a growing set of new up-tempo pop singles from The Hangabouts. Last September, the trio released an exhilarating two-sided single, “Who Wants Cilla?/Mrs. Greene,” to provide a modern spin on a vintage British power-pop sound.
Acting as side A of the single, “Who Wants Cilla?,” masterfully melds shimmery bells, glistening piano, pounding drums, bouncy tambourine, high-tone electric guitar strums and driving bass. It beautifully mirrors a timeless Elvis Costello-meets-Beatles cut as Addington seeks inspiration from the infamous Cavern Club cloakroom attendant, “I want to surround myself with Cilla/She is stuck between my ears/As semiquaver souvenirs/All the other balladeers evaporate.”
For side B, “Mrs. Greene,” The Hangabouts quickly shift to a traveling, retro Phil Spector-meets-Kinks ditty featuring twangy electric guitars, pounding drums, propulsive bass and soaring vocals as Lowry sings, “Ahhh, have you seen/Our heroine is rescuing a sultan from a swing/She keeps it clean/We’re so fortunate we found her while the sounds of love surround her, Mrs. Greene.”
“‘Mrs. Greene’ started with John. I think he’s got a friend whose wife was a teacher, and I think that was the impetus for the song. If you’re attempting to write something as good as Ray Davies, one of the greatest songwriters ever, and if you shoot for it, you get as close as you can,” Saam said.
“If you land anywhere near it in the periphery, then you’re lucky, and you’ve succeeded. On ‘Mrs. Greene,’ we’ve gotten some feedback that it reminds some folks of The Monkees.”
Kits & Cats and Saxon Wives
While it’s included as part of a single, “Mrs. Greene” germinated while The Hangabouts wrote and recorded their second full-length album, Kits & Cats and Saxon Wives, in 2017 on Futureman Records. They amassed 13 timeless power-pop tracks written by Addington, Saam and Lowry along with leftover, catchy gems from the Illustrated Bird days.
Each majestic Kits & Cats and Saxon Wives track seamlessly melds vintage Brit pop sensibilities with groovy psych rock textures to create a soaring listen. It’s the ideal album to ravenously and repetitively devour while joyfully dancing and unabashedly singing about the house.
One of the album’s most striking tracks includes a heartfelt duet with Molly Felder, half of the Seattle-Nashville melodic pop duo Swan Dive, on “Sinking Feeling.” The haunting track chronicles the slow demise of a passionate relationship between two lovers as gleaming electric guitars, shiny acoustic strums, bouncy bass, steady drums, vibrating synths and light cymbal taps swirl echo their despair.
Together, Addington and Felder elegantly harmonize, “Under false pretense/This is set against/In the bits of time/You find us dealing/How can we begin with a sinking feeling.” “Sinking Feeling” also casually references Felder “waiting on Boblo Island stranded by a strawberry moon” – a nice throwback to the shuttered Canadian amusement park located above the mouth of the Detroit River.
“That was one of the songs they worked on prior to me coming in, and I heard that song, and I was like, ‘Man, I just hear this song with a female singer,’ and those guys looked at me like, ‘Yeah, right.’ I said, ‘OK, that’s cool. We’ll put it on the backburner.’ As we worked our way through songs to get ready for the record, I would not let it go, and they said, ‘You go find somebody to sing,’” Saam said.
In response, Saam contacted his friend Doyle Dean, former drummer for Hippodrome, about connecting with Felder for the song. Dean agreed Felder served as the ideal Hangabouts collaborator for “Sinking Feeling.”
“I wrote her on Facebook and said, ‘We’re big fans of your stuff and your singing especially, and we’ve got a song that we’d love if you would consider singing on,’ and she said, ‘Well, Send it over.’ We sent it over, and she was head over heels in love with the song,” Saam said.
Outside of “Sinking Feeling,” listeners also will deeply appreciate two other standout Kits & Cats and Saxon Wives tracks – the nostalgic banger, “Cricket Time,” (featured in the 2018 Netflix film, “Set It Up,” with Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs) and the dynamic, effervescent “Evelyn Wood.”
“That was a very cool experience. We were really fortunate, but we weren’t sure what it was about ‘Cricket Time’ that fit what they were looking for. When you watch the movie, it’s not a prominent thing. They chose it for certain scenes,” Saam said.
From Record Stores to Concept Albums
As an evolving melodic pop trio, The Hangabouts’ origins date back to mall-based record stores, instrument shops and previous musical projects. In the late ‘80s, Saam met Addington while managing a Tape World store at Westland Mall, and the colleagues became fast friends and musical collaborators.
Together, Saam and Addington formed Speaker’s Corner with two other friends and performed regularly in Hamtramck and Detroit, including The Majestic Theatre. They later traded the record store for different jobs, including Addington working for Arnoldt Williams in Canton. At the time, Addington met Lowry and continued to perform with Saam in another side project called Cymbellines.
By 1995, Saam relocated to Nashville and later to Kansas City before returning to metro Detroit in 2012. During that time, Addington and Lowry formed The Hangabouts and released their magical power-pop debut, Illustrated Bird, digitally in 2007.
“I didn’t play an instrument the 12 years I was in Kansas City, but I had kept in touch with Greg and a lot of Michigan musician friends. As soon as I got back into town, we picked things up right where we left off,” Saam said.
Saam quickly joined The Hangabouts and suggested the band rerelease Illustrated Bird on CD and orange vinyl with several new tracks. In 2014, they remixed and remastered the album, which features lush arrangements, layered vocals and jangling guitars.
“When we were getting ready to record something, and we went to John and said, ‘Hey, Would you want to produce this stuff, we’ve got like six songs?’ and he said, ‘Why don’t we just fold all of this stuff into The Hangabouts?’” Saam said.
Six years later, The Hangabouts continue to write, record and release new material. They’re recording a backing track for new Felder tune called “Starless Sky” and have a “good-sized raft” of material for an album project with Curless on drums.
“‘Animal Suite’ would give a good indication of the potential sound if it all went together on an LP-length release. We do like the thematic flow of albums, but with indie releases, the finances, and the timeline of self-producing, pressing, promoting and distributing product makes these things seem like ridiculous ideas,” Lowry said.
“We go back and forth on whether to just release songs as they get finished or try to hold them together for a conceptual album. Not necessarily Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! or Days of Future Passed or Pet Sounds concept, but songs that work together and create a nice listening sequence. So if that sort of thing appeals to you, be patient – especially since we may have to record it 10 feet apart with masks on. Send money, too.”