by Sally McGraw
Musical talent can remain dormant for years. Sometimes it takes a perfectly timed, perfectly formulated catalyst to trigger the reaction that brings it forth. For many, that catalyst is the experience of hearing music so powerful and personally moving that it inspires a desire to create music in the same vein. For others, it can be the deliciously heady rush of a well-received performance experience. But for some, that catalyst comes in the form of another musician.
Such is the case for Adam and Kristin Marshall, the musical masterminds behind the Humbugs. Purveyors of an energetic, harmony-heavy breed of quality pop, this five-piece outfit regularly captivates Twin Cities audiences with its bright, clean sound and dynamic live performances. The group relies on the standby pop configuration of drums, bass, lead and rhythm, yet manages to weave surprisingly varied sounds.
Download an mp3 of the Humbugs’ new (and currently unavailable anywhere else) song “One More Zero.”
musicians who comprise the Humbugs are so musically aligned, it seems the group
was fated to play together. But if Adam and Kristin hadn’t met each other,
it’s unlikely either would have even considered pursuing music professionally.
Although Adam was born in upstate New York and Kristin in outstate Minnesota,
both were raised by artistic families and grew up surrounded by music. Adam
wrote music from age 9 on, and performed with his brothers in a high school
rock band. Kristin got dragged to her mom’s Sweet Adelines rehearsals
and taught herself all four harmony parts to keep from dozing off.
But neither chose to pursue music as a career path. Both ended up as professional
actors, and in 1994, both were also cast in a touring production of Dickens’
A Christmas Carol. Although they never played a scene together, a fateful
incident during rehearsal brought them to each other’s attention. When
Adam overheard Kristin discussing her musical tastes with a fellow cast-member,
he was more than a little intrigued by her answers.
“This kid in the cast asked me what kind of music I liked, and I said,
‘Oh you never would’ve heard of any of the bands that I like.’”
“I’m just sitting there in the theater seats listening. And when
Kristin said that I instantly thought, ‘Oh really? I gotta know what this
is all about,’” Adam says.
“So the kid was insisting. He was all, ‘No, no I wanna know what
kind of music you like!’ So I said, ‘Well, I really like the Trashcan
Sinatras and Aztec Camera, and I love the Jayhawks —’”
“And I booted this kid out of the way,” Adam says. “I jumped
over all the seats and said, ‘You listen to all my favorite bands! Nobody
knows those bands.’ That was literally our first conversation, that moment.”
Within weeks, the two were dating. Within months, the two were collaborating.
Adam had continued to write music and record demos for the sheer pleasure of
it, and he shared some of his recordings with Kristin. She couldn’t resist
working up some vocal harmonies. When Adam heard what she’d written, he
knew her harmonies completed his songs, gave them a depth he couldn’t
achieve on his own. Soon, they were hauling out the guitar between scenes to
collaborate on new music.
years of exhausting touring, the couple settled in the Twin Cities in the late
‘90s. But shortly after the move, Kristin developed a polyp dangerously
near her vocal chords. She wasn’t singing much at the time, and the ensuing
surgery meant that she would hardly speak for an entire year. During the forced
silence of her recovery, she found it wasn’t the costumes and greasepaint
that she missed.
“I realized the acting thing didn’t mean half as much to me as the
music thing,” Kristin says. “It totally made it clear that I prefer
singing to acting.”
So as soon as Kristin had reclaimed her husky mezzo, the couple put up some
fliers, and put together a band. They went through a couple of lead guitarists
before finding the fantastically versatile Mike Senkovich, but solidly subtle
drummer Matt Baccoli and inventive bassist Tim Formanek have been with the group
from the beginning. The Humbugs have been pumping out quality pop in your favorite
local hangouts for years, and are easily one of the most underrated bands in
the Twin Cities.
The group is electrifying in performance, broadcasting an infectious energy
and palpable passion that set them apart from so many phone-it-in pop acts.
Regardless of audience or venue size, each band member plays like every listener
is a fan and every seat is full. Kristin will often augment Baccoli’s
kit with maracas, a tambourine, or a cabasa, adding texture and character through
percussive accents. Formanek and Senkovich pipe up with third and fourth vocal
harmonies, creating a pleasingly Beatles-esque sound. Adam’s brainy, biting
lyrics and earnest delivery; Kristin’s shimmering voice and captivating
stage presence; and Senkovich’s perfectly crafted guitar accents are the
hallmarks of the Humbugs. But although these elements form the core of each
song, every band member contributes equally to the joyous experience of live
While the Humbugs thrive on live performance, they’re no strangers to
the studio. The group’s first EP, Hey, That’s My Bike, while
ripe with musical promise, is frustratingly homogenous in its glistening guitar-pop
sound. Stereo Types, their first full-length album, shows astonishing
musical growth, yielding melodic variation, richer harmonies, smarter lyrics,
and more imaginative hooks. It is in this recording that the Humbugs find their
signature sound: a warm, comforting blend of layered vocals and skillfully blended
Humbugs are currently putting the finishing touches on their next album, working
long hours with producer Jacques Wait at the Terrarium to craft a follow up
to Stereo Types. They’ve opted to record more tracks than necessary
and then cull. And since Adam is a mind-bogglingly prolific songwriter, they’ll
have more than enough material to choose from.
“I tend to write in spurts. Some months, I’ll write 10 songs,”
Adam says. “After that, I’ll run out of gas and take some time away
to refuel. Then I get back into it. Even though I sit down to write every day,
it usually works that way.”
The album, currently slated for a fall release, will likely include songs that
have been on the Humbugs’ performance roster for months, including the
Latin-influenced groove “She Goes Home Alone,” the slow-building,
angsty ballad “Baby You Don’t Know” and “Cream Green
Karmann Ghia,” a jubilant dollop of pop-rock perfection. This group of
songs promises to be even more varied and mature than those found on Stereo
Types, but Adam’s outside-observer, story-centric lyrical style remains
“If your heart is too much on your sleeve, it’s almost uncomfortable
for the listener,” he explains. “If the song sounds too much like
a therapy session, then that’s a problem. You want to present the song
in such a way that the listener doesn’t feel accosted by the songwriter’s
emotional state. You want the listener to be able to interpret each song in
some way that’s close to them. “
Kristin adds, “Because the song doesn’t just belong to the songwriter.
We put it out there for you to take, if you want it. It belongs to everybody.”
This is precisely why the Humbugs’ music is so inviting: This spirit of
inclusiveness — of feeling that you are invited to interpret and enjoy
these pop-fiction gems as you see fit — makes the songs engaging and accessible.
All it takes for a pop song to succeed is a good hook, but it takes so much
more for a pop song to endure. Stop by the Humbugs show for a glimpse into the
future of quality pop. ||
The Humbugs perform an acoustic show on Sat. July 16 at Acadia Cafe with
Andrew David Lynch and Scott Wooldridge. 9 p.m. All Ages. $4. 1931 Nicollet
Ave. S., Mpls .612-874-8702.
Find out more about the Humbugs on their official website at TheHumbugs.com.
Download an mp3 of the Humbugs’ new (and currently unavailable anywhere
else) song “One