Showcasing Linda Hopper's honeyed melodies and Ruthie Morris' ferocious guitar work, Magnapop emerged in the early '90s but proved to be a more enduring act than many of their peers. Their literate, crunchy guitar pop made fans and friends out of R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe and Hüsker Dü's Bob Mould, both of whom recorded and toured with them. On 1992's Magnapop -- a collection of demos released as their debut album -- they continued the traditions of Let's Active and Big Star, then beefed up their sound on later efforts such as 1995's Rubbing Doesn't Help. Despite frequent lineup changes and contractual woes that prevented them from using the name Magnapop for nearly a decade, the band persevered. During the 2000s and 2010s, Magnapop released some of their finest albums, including 2005's Mouthfeel and 2019's The Circle Is Round, their first release in 25 years to feature all of their original members.
Magnapop's roots go back to 1990, when songwriter/vocalist Linda Hopper and guitarist Ruthie Morris met through Atlanta's music scene and became friends. Originally from Marietta, Georgia, Hopper was a fixture of Athens' music scene in the late '70s and early '80s. She made friends with future R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe when the pair were in the same art class at the University of Georgia, and formed the group Tanzplagen with him. When that group ended a few months later, Hopper and Stipe formed Oh-OK, who released a pair of mini-albums, 1982's Wow Mini Album and the following year's Furthermore What, before disbanding in 1984. After a short stint with the Washington, D.C. band Holiday, Hopper returned to Georgia. Morris, a West Palm Beach, Florida native, moved to Atlanta in 1989 when she couldn't find anyone she wanted to form a band with there.
After a mutual friend introduced Hopper and Morris, they began writing songs together the day that they met. To round out the combination of Hopper's deceptively sunny vocals and melodies and Morris' charging guitars, the pair recruited drummer David McNair (a former Oh-OK member) and bassist Shannon Mulvaney. The band -- then known as Homemade Sister -- released their debut single "Rip the Wreck"/"Merry" on Safety Net Records in 1990. By the time of their first show, the band was called Swell (which they later changed to Swell Dopa after learning of the San Francisco act by that name). Among the attendees was Stipe, who produced demos the band recorded that December. Stipe also introduced the band at the New York New Music seminar in July 1991. After the show, the group's demo tape made it to a promoter from the Netherlands, who booked the band -- who had settled on the name Magnapop -- at that year's Rotterdam Festival. The show led to a deal with the label Play It Again Sam, who issued 1992's Sugarland, an EP that peaked at number 20 on the Dutch Top 40. The band's self-titled album, which included several of the demos they made with Stipe as well as songs they recorded on their own at Marietta's Furies Studio, appeared later that year.
Following Magnapop's release, the band appeared on 1992's Here No Evil: A Tribute to the Monkees and the following year's Bob Dylan tribute Outlaw Blues, Vol. 2 and issued the European EP Kiss My Mouth. The group's popularity in Europe and the U.K. led to a 1993 Peel Session and consistent touring in both regions. Magnapop made another influential friend in Bob Mould, who saw them perform in Rotterdam and invited them to tour with his post-Hüsker Dü band Sugar in 1992 and 1993. Mould also worked with them on their debut album for Priority Records. Recorded at Austin's Pedernales Recording Studio, Hot Boxing was released in July 1994; its single "Slowly, Slowly" reached 25 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.
The following year, McNair left Magnapop, who drafted session drummer Josh Freese for their contribution to Step Right Up: The Songs of Tom Waits. To make their next album, the band moved to Los Angeles to work with Geza X at City Lab Studios. In January 1996, the EP Fire All Your Guns at Once preceded that May's full-length Rubbing Doesn't Help, which boasted a heavier sound than the band's previous music. With drummer Mark Posgay added to the fold, Magnapop toured with R.E.M. At the end of the year, Mulvaney left the group, with former Queers bassist Greg Urbatis taking his place. Magnapop toured through mid-1997 and brought on drummer Johnny Rozas when Posgay quit. The band began recording demos for their next album when Priority folded; on top of that, they were barred from recording as Magnapop until their contract expired in 2004.
While Magnapop was on hiatus, Hopper and Morris continued to make music together. They played as an acoustic duo in Los Angeles through 1999, then moved to Seattle and formed the New Candidates with drummer Curtis Hall in the early 2000s. Around this time, a version of Magnapop featuring Hopper, Morris, Mulvaney, and Hall played some dates. Morris and Hopper officially reunited Magnapop in 2003, with bassist Scott Rowe and drummer Brian Fletcher joining them on European dates and in the studio to record the band's third album. Released in January 2005 on Daemon Records, Mouthfeel harked back to Magnapop's earliest days. Drummer Chad Williams joined the group for the Mouthfeel tour, which spawned the concert album Magnapop Live at Maxwell's 03/09/2005.
After a couple of years on the road, Magnapop issued their next album, Chase Park, on their own Kraft Records label in September 2009. When Morris lost most of her possessions in that year's Georgia flood, the Atlanta music scene held a benefit concert in December to help her get back on her feet. A few years later, another benefit concert brought Magnapop back together. The band's original lineup -- Hopper, Morris, McNair, and Mulvaney -- reunited to play Magnapop in its entirety for an October 2011 concert to support the venerable local music store Criminal Records. Playing the show made the members of Magnapop want to continue making music together, and the group toured Europe in 2017. The band returned to Furies Studio to make The Circle Is Round, which also included some of the earliest songs they wrote and recorded. Happy Happy Birthday to Me released the album in September 2019. ~ Heather Phares