Linda Hopper: Oh OK
PSF: Before you were in any bands, what got you interested in music in the first place?
Interview by Jason Gross
I think mostly because of my age, it was things like the Jackson 5. Really early '70's kind of music. But I had an older brother so there was always the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and things like being played around my house. And then we made the transition into glam. That's when I was in puberty and you could sneak out and go to shows. It was easier to get into bars, plus I was always sort of tall for my age.
PSF: Where did you grew up?
Atlanta, Georgia, Merietta actually.
PSF: How did that area push you into music?
Because it was so rural and there was nothing to do, you were left to your own devices as far as music goes. It was a lot like Athens. Honestly, my older brother was my supreme influence. I remember when I found Raw Power in the den turntable area. Hearing that and the New York Dolls, it was like 'OH MY GOD.' It was so depraved, so sick. But it was great. He played everything like the classic early '70's stuff like Deep Purple and Jeff Beck and Jethro Tull through Mott the Hoople and glam. I think growing up in Georgia was what it is for most kids that don't have... any focus or anything to do. I really was pretty directionless, to be honest. There was nobody ever supervising me. Lot of free time. So, there's a lot of driving around and doing drugs and listening to music. Don't you think music is where you make a connection on a deep level? Like a song says something that fulfills a feeling. That's even when you're a little kid growing up. When there's a lot you're holding in, music can say all the sad things you don't even know.
PSF: Absolutely. I've found that myself and I have no doubt a lot of other people feel exactly the same way.
That's right. You can relate on that level. When you like something and you find someone else likes it, there's a sort of bond. Really and truly, there's no big flowerly secret about it. It's just plugs the emptiness and loneliness in me. Music always has the right words and the right escape. I think a lot of people relate to that. That's why I decided to do this. My mother always encouraged me too, like with drawing and painting. 'What are you going to be when you grow up?' 'An artist.' I was at University of Georgia actually, never got my degree.
PSF: That made you think that you'd want some kind of career in the arts then?
I think I just kind of drew those kind of conclusions on my own. It was never that clearly defined but it was this unspoken mantra that was going on in my head. Of course that was what I was going to do. I was going to go to art school. I never seriously thought of doing anything else. I have never made a resume. I have only written music, performed music. Other than that, I've only waited tables and worked at a Xerox place when I was in college. I always knew that I would be performing or writing. I was always in a band since I left home. It was great because the first band I was ever in was with Lynda (Stipe). It was because I knew her brother (Michael) from arts class. We had grown to be quite good friends. He would be like 'I want you to be in a band with my sister.' We went to a party one night and he brought Lynda. She was 16 and still in high school. I just remember that I loved her from the moment that we met each other. We became close friends. She was like an older sister for me in Athens where everybody hung out together. Lynda wanted to be in a group and that's when it hit me. 'I love music and I love going to see R.E.M. so let's be in a group!'
PSF: When was this?
'80, '81. Maybe I'm exaggerated because maybe she was 18 and I was about 20. Here I was hanging out, I loved hearing it so I wanted to do it! Why not? There were no ideas, it was just BURNING in my mind that said 'this is what I want to do.' All I knew was that I wanted to get away. I wanted to be an artist. I saw myself maybe teaching but I never got that far.
PSF: What really struck you about Lynda?
With Lynda, and its true about her brother and her other sisters, they're all just REALLY unique people. Even by the way they looked. It was the early days of new wave and they were completely dedicated and outrageous but very sweet. There's a way of being on the edge and being off-putting. These were people that were looked and dressed and acted and listened to very obscure things yet they were completely warm, embracing people that were a whole lot of fun. There was no boredom. If we were laying around on a hot afternoon, we would all write a short story by passing around a paper and everybody would write a paragraph. It was the first time in my life where there was this indulgence in just being. I don't remember where the money came. Maybe that's how everyone experiences things when they first move away from home. Lynda was very dynamic and she also already had songs. She wrote all of the Oh OK stuff. I couldn't understand why she wanted me to be the singer but she did. Randall from Pylon would say 'They ain't songs that took you around the world.' In those days, that's what it was like. It was a lot of fun.
PSF: What kind of band did you want Oh OK to be?
No guitars. When we were talking about it originally, I was going to play guitar but then it just came to be bass, drums and singing. We actually did things like play on bent saws and baby toys and things like that. It was noisy, it was very pop. But at the same time, it was very weird. I don't think we said 'let's make it weird.' Maybe it had something to do with being in art school. In that first term, ideas just hatch and grow and you try. We did tons of different things. I remember that was when Casio (keyboards) first came out. We were always trying to make a song with a Casio but we never did. (laughs) But actually then we added Matthew Sweet on guitar. Are you familiar with him?
He was introduced to me through Michael. He was an R.E.M. fan when we was in high school. Michael said 'You'll love my friend Linda.' I gave him my address and we started corresponding. Then he graduated from high school and he flew out here, signed up for summer school and joined my band. That's how everything sort of was.
PSF: With the first EP, how did the recording go?
Danny Beard (DB Records) paid for it. After we played a show in Athens or Atlanta, Danny approached us about doing it. We did it at a Christian radio studio in Atlanta. Bruce Baxter recorded us- he worked with the B-52's and Pylon. He was actually bitter and crochety. One of our songs, "Lilting," was only 59 seconds and we did it three times over. He said 'this song sucks!' I was thinking we should call it 'I Buried Bruce.' I remember that he hated us! (laughs) But we were just taking what we could get at the time. It was all budgeted. Do you have a hand-colored copy?
PSF: Nope. Mine is just black and white.
'Cause the first 500 that we did, Lynda and I took to my house and we all hand-colored them. There's some of those copies out there. What was really funny was that after a show one night, Danny came over to our house with Kate (Pierson, B-52's). We had been colored the sleeves in markers with our friends. Some of them had devil horns and vomiting and some of them were pretty. Danny got angry but Kate was like 'OH MY GOD, I love this one, can I have it?' Nothing else was said about it again, so...
PSF: What did you think of the other songs on the EP?
That was something that I was SO proud of. I never thought I would have my own record. It was quite thrilling. It was the first time I had ever heard myself on the radio. It was on a college radio station and I can't remember which song. I was walking into the house on Barber Street and there were a couple of people in the kitchen, including Vanessa from Pylon. As I walked in, they were like 'LINDA, THEY JUST PLAYED YOU ON THE RADIO!' I got so red-faced. I was almost humiliated but it was very exhilarating. Like after the first time you hear things played back. It takes your breath away. Maybe it's too personal but at the same time... If I never did anything else, I would still be so happy with that 45. I liked it. It took us a long way.
PSF: Was it self-conscious that you were done as cartoons of kids on the cover and the voices on the record sounded child-like?
I don't think so. That cover was done by David Pierce, our drummer. He still lives in Atlanta, I think his name now is Romeo Cologne. He is a graphic artists. Lynda and I were two fluffs that drifted in the breeze. I never thought about it until you mentioned to me but it wasn't conscious. For some reason, people love little voices. It's something that I kind of got sick of with my last band.
PSF: I like that record a lot.
I love it too. I think it all fits perfectly with where all three of us were at then. That's why I guess I like it so much, because it makes perfect sense and I love the songs.
PSF: When the band was doing live shows at the time, you were still a trio?
Yes. (laughs) It always went well but as the kind of group we were, and as a trio, we rehearsed a lot but we didn't have a lot of flexibility in what we could do. It was just bass and drums and singing. So it was really hard to do what we did. To have so few instruments and such short songs never lent itself to a concert experience. It was more like a happening, like a 20-minute Jesus and Mary Chain set. If you needed two sets, you got the same songs. That's the way it was.
PSF: What changed for the band in the time between the two EP's?
We went to Mitch (Easter). We were all thinking 'What are we going to do next?' Matthew coming along with us... He was completely manic. He would always be sending me tapes of songs he was writing. He joined the group and met Mitch through us because Athens and North Carolina had a thread that made everyone together. He was saying 'I want to make a record with Mitch.' We thought it was a great idea. We just started doing it and got the finances worked out. It wasn't very expensive so we went up to North Carolina and recorded the six songs. A lot of that has to do with, it wasn't like someone saying 'I want to take them into the studio and record them!' We were saying 'we want to go into the studio and work with Mitch and we want to do these songs.' Suddenly, it became more purposeful or self-righteous.
PSF: How would you compare the songs on the second EP to the first?
Oh my god, they're so much more mature. There's different parts. And the people who worked on the recording with us. Having the guitar just gave it so much more of a movement or drivingness. We felt more like a band as opposed to an act. It was a very good. I loved those days. Matthew was really fun to play with. All of them were actually.
PSF: Are there any songs on there that are personal favorites?
I think I like "Guru" and "Elaine's Song." I love all of 'em. What can I say? We were never prolific but I liked everything we did.
PSF: The mood of the songs different then?
I think so. The band was different people. We weren't just like college friends having a laugh anymore. We were really doing it. Please don't get me wrong- we never made any money off of it but there was an interest (in us) and people were asking us to do things. It became part of what you did and who you were.
PSF: Did you think that the second EP got the word out about the band?
Definitely. There was more to sink your teeth into. There were more songs. I think also that DB was in more high gear, with its distribution. When we toured with that record for about a year and a half, the records were never really in the stores though. If they were at the radio stations, we were always very grateful. I think he did a really good job with what he had to work with. From what I've witnessed from that end of the business, it's quite challenging to send them out and make sure that people get them. I don't how it is nowadays but I know that four or five years ago, you had to flood the college stations and work up the chain of being listened to.
PSF: When the band was touring, did you feel that the group was getting to a higher level of recognition?
There was a period of time where it seemed... We weren't a group for very long- about three years. But I can remember being in New York with Lynda on St. Mark's and having people drive by and go 'Hey, Athens, Georgia!' That felt really good. It was more after the fact that I understood it. Somebody sent me this 'tree of rock' picture, textured with all these band names. At the top is an Athens branch and Oh OK was on it. Alright! New York Rocker picked the Wow Mini Album as the second or third best single of the year. "Radio Free Europe" was number one. I felt like 'no kidding!' It was very sweet and naive. Getting let into the Mudd Club and not knowing why. It was very cool.
PSF: What did you think of Lynda's songs?
I always loved them. Lynda writes and she continues to write and have a band. It was through her, being inspired by her example and by working with her that I actually started writing. I always wrote poems and things but now I was actually trying to write songs. From what I know from groups, there's X amount of life expectancy anyway. It just depends. Everybody wants to be self-expressed and creative. It's a great thing to do and it's really hard. I think people take things out on each other that they don't mean to. (laughs) Then it becomes obvious that it's time to part.
PSF: So you're talking about how you left the group now?
Yeah, I remember that moment. I was really sad when I left the group because it just wasn't me anymore. I felt like... I needed to find out who I was. I really didn't know what I was leaving. It was a really painful decision. It was Lynda's group and she's completely capable of fronting her own group. I guess I wanted to make words come out of me. It wasn't a gripe thing, no falling out. It was like 'I need to move on.' I was feeling the confines of Athens a bit too. I love Athens so much and there's these people that have never left it. I get so jealous thinking about them. How cool it must be to be there now and own a home. But at the same time, it really wasn't me. It was too small. And I was always traveling. Now, I would think it would be a great place to live. Back then, I felt I needed to move on and find another side of me. I wasn't in college anymore so I didn't know why I was still there. A lot of good things came out of that, a lot of wrestling.
PSF: What did you do after you left?
I moved to Washington D.C. (early '85). I was with Lynn Blakey. After Matthew left, she was in Oh OK. We had a band there for about a year called Holiday and did a six-song EP. It was a D.I.Y fun thing. After coming home from a show, Lynn, who's a very dear friend, and I got into a fight. She said one thing and I just bristled and in my mind, that door closed. It's always about egos. But that's my deal too. The relationship always ends up being a marriage without sex. It's like 'My God, what are we doing, could we just try to enjoy each other.' So I decided that I really didn't like D.C. so I went back to Georgia. I just called my sister in Atlanta and said I was coming back. I got rid of everything I owned. There was a service called 'Drive Away' where they pay you to drive a car somewhere. So I drove this college girl's car out to Georgia from D.C. where my brother met me.
PSF: How did that lead to Magnapop?
I didn't do anything really for about three years- I was a local celeb of some merit. Even though I wasn't in a group, I still felt like I had a membership card. There's a mutual respect thing. Then I met Ruthie (Morris, guitarist) and that's when I really practiced writing songs in earnest. She just moved there from Florida. This guy named Andrew Cylar that I knew told her that 'I have a friend that you should be in a band with.' We were introduced and actually the first time we got together, we wrote a song called "Change Your Hair." We just decided to keep doing it. It was a lot of work, because of the time. It was the beginning of '89 and you had the Pixies, pop singles club. It was also because of my voice maybe. There was this uncool thing about us. We worked so hard. Tim Lee was our first bass player, the guy from the Windbreakers. He was great, really professional. 'OK, we're practicing, let's make it fun.' We just started being like that. We can together and practiced the songs that Ruthie and I were writing. Then we got dates and nobody would come to the shows. We were blonde women and we didn't have tattoos. I had a different look than the harder, grungier crowd. It was awful. I remember the first time we played after a Dutch festival- the room was so full, you couldn't move. All the people from Athens were making the scene there. When we went to Holland, the people were dying there. I remember thinking 'Don't ever forget this, Linda!' (laughs) From that point on, we had something working for us. That was our thing. That's something I miss a lot. I could be an expatriate very easily.
PSF: What kept the band going?
Me, Ruthie. It was every bit of me. That was another huge lesson I learned. It was so hard that I didn't realize that it absorbed me as much as it did. It was so strange to be so into something, so dedicated. That's all I did all the time. It was like a momentum that really kept going. It's awesome. You get tour support and you're on TV shows. It's not as glamorous as it sounds but that's all I ever envisioned myself doing. I always thought that I'd be some kind of weird artist-type person. It's the only thing that I've ever been totally absorbed with.
PSF: The last Magnapop record seemed more polished, no?
Yeah, I think so but we were purposefully going for that. We had a different drummer. We worked with Geza X. It was a bigger, cleaner sound. We purposefully wanted to be like that though when Geza started mixing it, it was very slick. The voices come in and out. So we hired Tom Wilson who did the Offspring records to mix it. He brought it down to a more rock record. But we've always been really, really pop. The thing that always surprised people was that the live shows were so much more frenetic and heavy. That's part of what a live show is.
PSF: Could you talk about working with Bob Mould?
He was awesome. We worked with him on Hotboxing at Willie Nelson's studio. We were supposed to do it with Ted Nicely (Fugazi) and we did an import only EP with him instead. It was a great experience. The play-backs sounded great and then in the mix, he didn't want us there. OK, so we let him do it. When it was finished, we all just looked at each other. We hated it. So, we're trying to figure out who we were going to work with now. We spent all that money on that. I was friends with Bob's friend, Kevin O'Neal and he got in touch with him. I was so excited and he was just ready to make a record. It was a great time. It was fast, didn't cost a lot of money and a lot of fun. People like Bob and Michael (Stipe) who perform are into the songs, great to work with and they make a great learning experience. The love and respect I have for him is deep. He took us on for Sugar (tour) and let us be a part of his whole thing.
PSF: Why did Magnapop end?
It just lost its steam. It's hard to say that. David left and then Shannon decided that he didn't want to... He was married so he thought it was too hard on his life. Ruthie and I continued to write together but there was a time to let it rest and let it be. It was horrible the way it ended. When we signed with an American label, our European label started fighting with them and we were in the middle, like kids in a divorce. Priority dropped their rock department but didn't drop us- in effect, they suffocated our record. I have nothing but horrible things to say about them. They're the most disgusting people that walk the earth. It became legal, we were being sued so we just ended it.
PSF: What did you do after Magnapop?
Sleeping a lot. I was very depressed. Ruthie and I have been writing songs together but we haven't been performing. We were doing stuff at coffee shops. For me, I think I have to go away for a little while. Which is what I was doing. Now, I have songs I want to record and people want me to do songs for different compilations. It's all just starting up again and it feels really good.
PSF: What's your plans right now?
I'm probably going to get a band together but I'm still writing now. I'm just in that process right now and wanted to record and perform again.
See some of Linda Hopper's favorite music
ALSO SEE: Lynda Stipe interview
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