Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan and James Taylor all played pop music. These are the popstars Drew Auscherman, guitarist and lead vocalist of Hoops, has been listening to for life. It wasn’t watered down to a mind-numbing simple chorus, but it was catchy. It didn’t revolve around synthetic sound, but it was amiable.
This influence has manifested itself in each of Hoops’ three self-produced tapes released within the past year. Auscherman, bassist Kevin Krauter, keyboardist and vocalist Keagan Beresford and drummer James Harris have consistently churned out summery guitar pop gold.
And at least one label has taken notice.
Hoops’ latest EP released on August 26 via Fat Possum Records, a label based in Oxford, Mississippi that boasts the likes of Sunflower Bean, Andrew Bird and the Black Keys. The Indiana band that began as a teenage Auscherman’s solo project will then hit the road with Chicago rockers Whitney in October.
“The longer Hoops has gone on, it’s become less atmospheric and more about just pop songs and songwriting,” said Auscherman.
As Hoops’ first EP released through a label, this serves as something like a coming-out party. But there’s a catch for listeners who were following the band before its platform extended beyond the reach of indie music blogs. The Fat Possum release is entirely made up of tracks written before Tapes #1, #2 or #3 even existed. On this EP, Hoops takes a brief vacation back to its roots, and although the next release will probably sound more like Tapes #2 or #3, this EP still sounds fresh and new.
Most of that playful tone comes from the band’s relentless use of chorus guitar. The pleasantries of each guitar riff are embellished by a shimmering, watery effect that Auscherman attributes entirely to his gear.
“I knew what I was going for, but at the same time a lot of it just came from the recorder I was using and the equipment that I happened to be using,” he said.
His Roland jazz amp is one that a variety of bands have used to achieve a distinct tone. Even Metallica, whose general style is obviously much different than that of Hoops, played through it on its song “One”.
As for the tape machine, Auscherman was so satisfied with its performance on Tape #2 and #3 that he decided to bring it back to record the drums on the latest EP.
“It compresses, distorts and overdrives and records things in really particular ways,” he said.
Hoops no longer has to record everything through a tape machine, but the guys haven’t abandoned it completely. In doing so, the latest Hoops EP retains the same DIY charm that the previous tapes captured so well. Still, Auscherman admitted that pairing with a label has brought its own set of perks.
“It kind of sounds weird -– this coming out of my mouth -– but it’s nice to like receive money to make art,” he said.
Having the funds to make a quality record and buy better gear might be the stuff of dreams for most college bands. For Auscherman, the storybook come-up of Hoops doesn’t stop there. He’s been following Fat Possum since he was a kid. Fat Possum bands like Yuck, The Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra found their way to his music library years ago. That makes this EP is truly a full-circle experience.
Though Fat Possum has a history of signing louder, grittier bands than Hoops, Auscherman thinks his band shares some common ground with its contemporaries.
“I think we share a lot of the same poppy sensibilities as the other bands [on Fat Possum]. Maybe it just manifests in a different aesthetic or sound,” he said.
On the upcoming EP, Hoops’ aesthetic is best exemplified in the tracks “Going Strong” and “Yeah.” Auscherman is especially satisfied with the vibe of the latter. It could be the staple of the EP.
“When James and I were mixing that, we just had a breakthrough moment where it just sounded really awesome, and we had done everything exactly the way we wanted to,” Auscherman said. “I guess that was the moment where we just felt really good about the EP.”
They likely won’t be the only ones. Hoops’ latest effort is as feel-good as it gets -– the sort of album that makes you thank god for quality pop music and the last bits of summer left.