For Truck Stop Love, the early ‘90s were a magical rock and roll blur.
Some things the band does remember: recording their major label debut for Scotti Brothers records in Santa Monica, California, just down the hall from Weird Al Yankovic, who was working on Alapalooza; and making a record produced by Jody Stephens of Big Star at Ardent Studios in Memphis, playing in the same room where The Replacements once recorded.
And how could they not remember the brawl after they stood up for the honor of friends in Topeka, which resulted in a few warning shots in the parking lot. There was also that time in Lawrence when a short-term former band member who, after trying to cadge some free drinks, lost his temper/equilibrium and crashed his car into a local business. (Probably out of sheer good luck, no serious injuries resulted from either incident.)
“We did not know what we were doing,” says drummer Eric Melin. “And we spent every night on the road behaving poorly because … why not? Who else gets to tour the country in a broken down van and have all the crazy things happen to us? We were never good at managing our career.”
That joyous, careening career is finally recaptured on a record. "Can’t Hear It: 1991-1994" is a compilation of previously unreleased demos and alternate versions now available after decades of Truck Stop near-silence.
And three upcoming reunion shows — one each in Manhattan, Lawrence and Kansas City — give the band a chance to relive those years.
“To put out a record — we never dreamed that would happen again,” says founding member and guitarist Rich Yarges, with a touch of wonder in his voice.
The band’s sound was a loud, fast and rootsy blend of Yarges’ country interests, Melin’s KISS and heavy metal loves, and guitarist/vocalist Matt Mozier’s fascination with bands like the Velvet Underground, R.E.M., and Mission of Burma. It wasn’t grunge, not by any stretch of the definition. Still, any Truck Stop song could follow a Nirvana or Pearl Jam tune on the radio without jarring a ‘90s listener.
Last January, Melin says, Yarges came to town from Minneapolis, where he now lives, with Jim Crego (the guitarist who replaced Mozier), as a band called Rich Yarges and the Pop Mechanics.
“There were a lot of people there, and people really wanted to hear the old Truck Stop Love songs,” Melin says.
Unfortunately, beyond that show, Truck Stop Love’s material simply wasn’t available except for cassettes and CDs fans might still have from back in the day.
“None of our stuff existed anywhere on the web,” Melin explains. “Our contracts, as far as I know, don’t have anything in them about digital sales or digital downloads or anything like that.”
To fill that void, the band started a Facebook page with old photos, poster and fliers. Melin contacted engineer/producer (and former Flaming Lips drummer) Kliph Scurlock, who agreed to re-master the old recordings and get them out on Bandcamp.
“After (Scurlock) went through the regular albums, we started going through the demos,” says Melin. “We thought, ‘These sound pretty good.’”
Local label Black Site Records was willing to release the resurrected versions; Truck Stop Love was back.
Their return brings back memories of a golden time when the college-town axis of Manhattan and Lawrence was a breeding ground for dozens of great rock and roll bands. Those bands knew each other well, and they drove each other to get better.
“What stands out is the camaraderie,” says Mozier, who joined the band a few years after its start. “It was a competition, but it was a friendly competition. We’d come home from seeing a band, and we’d think, ‘We have to step up our game.’”
That fact that it’s been 25 years since the height of the era draws a few awed sighs from every Truck Stop band member.
“That was the time period when people were still getting out and about in the world,” remembers Melin. “There was a good amount of time when you could make art or rock and roll or whatever you wanted before you had to get out and get a real job.”
They’ve worked up more than 30 songs for the reunion.
“We just hope people will come to the show because it might never happen again,” Crego says with a chuckle.
“I don’t think my liver could take it.”
Truck Stop Love’s "Can’t Hear It: 1991-1994" Record Release Party with The Pedaljets, Red Kate and Chris Tolle, 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 17, at RecordBar, 1520 Grand Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri, 64108; 816-753-5207.
KCUR contributor Mike Warren has written for a variety of local and national music publications, including No Depression. Follow him @MikeWarrenKC.