Endless feedback, a heavenly drone, and an obsession with science and outer space are the three elements that perhaps best define the sound of Illinois space rock and shoegaze band Hum. The group broke through with their 1996 radio hit “Stars” off You'd Prefer an Astronaut and spent several years riding the alternative rock wave before breaking up after 1998′s Downward Is Heavenward. Following a two-decade absence, they reunited for 2020′s Inlet.
Formed in 1989 in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, Hum was initially the collaborative indie rock project of guitarist Matt Talbott and guitarist Andy Switzky. This early version of the band, also featuring guitarist Akis Boyatzis and drummer Jeff Kropp, released their first demo (Is Like Kissing an Angel, She Said), in 1989; the cassette-only release was recorded in Steve Albini’s basement studio. Their debut album, 1990′s Fillet Show, on the 12 Inch label created by a friend’s band the Poster Children. This album displayed a markedly different style from the feeling they would later create, in part due to the addition of drummer Bryan St. Pere, who replaced Jeff Kropp. More lineup changes were soon to follow.
Switzky eventually parted ways with the group, leaving Talbott as Hum’s main singer/songwriter. At the same time, other lineup changes found Poster Children members Jeff Dimpsey and Tim Lash taking up bass and guitar responsibilities respectively. With the core Hum lineup solidified, the group released their sophomore independent album, Electra 2000, on the band’s own label Martians Go Home. Electra 2000′s somewhat rough production perfectly captured the spacy, otherworldly sound of the band. They supported the album by touring with indie acts like Shellac and the Jesus Lizard, as well as big-name outfits including stints with the Smashing Pumpkins and Liz Phair.
After signing to major-label RCA in 1994, Hum released their benchmark effort, You'd Prefer an Astronaut. Buoyed by their breakthrough radio single “Stars,” the album was an unexpected hit, selling nearly 250,000 copies. Subsequent touring with Bush and the Toadies further pushed the band into somewhat of a spotlight, as did TV appearances on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and MTV’s 120 Minutes. At this point, Hum had established a following of die-hard fans.
However, it would be another four years before the group returned with their fourth album and second for RCA. Released in 1998, Downward Is Heavenward was recorded twice due to the band’s perfectionist tendencies in the studio. Despite the wait, Downward Is Heavenward was a darkly romantic production that found the band continuing to expand their gorgeous and spacy sound. Although critically well-received, the album did not perform as well commercially as its predecessor, selling only 38,000 copies in two years, resulting in RCA’s decision to drop the band from their roster. Further misfortune struck as the group’s van was destroyed in an accident while touring, essentially pounding the last nail in the coffin. By December of 2000 they had officially broken up.
Following the band’s dissolution, the members of Hum moved on to other projects, with Talbott forming the group Centaur and shifting into producing. Beginning in 2003, the group reunited for occasional one-off live shows. Following a more formal reunion tour in 2015, they entered the studio and in June 2020 released their fifth full-length album, and first album of original music in over 20 years, Inlet. Drummer Bryan St. Pere died on July 1, 2021 at the age of 52. ~ Blake Butler