t has been 24 years since the psych-rock band Loop released its third and final album, the classic A Gilded Eternity. Right after Eternity hit the charts, the London foursome — founding lead singer and guitarist Robert Hampson, guitarist Scott Dowson, drummer John Wills and bassist Neil Mackay — abruptly called it quits. There was a simple explanation: The men were exhausted.
Hampson and Dowson formed an experimental project called Main. But Loop haunted Hampson, and he says someone was always asking him to get the band back together. Eventually he couldn't find a reason to keep saying no.
Ahead of Loop's reunion show at RecordBar Monday night — one stop on its first U.S. tour in more than two decades — we phoned Hampson at his Philadelphia hotel room to ask him about reopening Loop.
The Pitch: Is it strange for you to go back to the music you were making decades ago? For a number of years, you even gave up the guitar.
Hampson: I was filled with quite a bit of trepidation about it, but it's actually turned out quite well. It's like almost being able to relive my youth because that's 25 years ago now. I'm considerably older now. But it's working out well, and everybody seems to be very happy. It's been really nice to come back and play for people that maybe didn't have the chance to see us the first time around because maybe they were too young or possibly they discovered the band after we broke up.
The venues that we play now, they have much better technical abilities with their PA sound systems and everything. The equipment available to us now is much better quality than it was back in the day, so we've taken on a very sort of modernistic approach to things — in terms of technical aspects, at least. So that's been nice, to come back and have a better quality about everything, which is always interesting to me.
Speaking of then versus now, the Loop records were influenced by 1960s psychedelia. You were making that sound fresh and relevant two decades after it surfaced, from the '60s to the '80s, and now I think of bands like the Black Angels and how that sort of psych-rock sound is cropping up again with new takes and sounds.
Yeah, what goes around comes around. [Laughs.] Everything that you could possibly think of in music has already been done before, by someone somewhere. Whether it's from much more art-based or experimental-based or just pure down-the-line rock and roll, it's all been done before. I think it's a way that you hinge those influences, and that's what makes a band sound different than whatever else is going on around. You can utilize those influences, but in my mind, at least, you have to create something new out of that. You can't be so obsessed with your influences that it becomes pastiche.
So knowing that nothing is original or special, is that how you keep perspective?
Absolutely. If you really, truly believe that everything you're doing is original and unique, sadly you're living in a dream world. You have to accept those facts. I think it's the way you use that access, trying to create a different outlook from that perspective or from that peripheral vision that you have of something. It's like cooking — the way that you add different spices or different elements, you try to create something a little bit different. Personally, I've never disappeared up my own behind and believed that what we're doing is completely unique.
How do you bring relevance or newness to songs that are so far behind you at this point in your career?
Well, you can't go onstage and challenge the audience so much. Let's face it: They're there to listen to the music from years ago, and you have to give them what they want. I'm always interested in creating new material, but right now it's not the time to do it. People that are buying the tickets and coming to see us, they want to hear those old songs. And I don't have a problem with that at all, and so far the reaction has been so great. Everyone has been incredibly enthusiastic about it, so obviously we're doing something right.
Maybe in the future there will be some new music, but right now is not the time to think about that. It's still very early days, and we've had to come back and prove ourselves all over again. It's come right back to the year zero. I think the live representation of recorded material is always different anyway. We used to pride ourselves on that fact, and we still do. We play the songs, and everyone recognizes them, but there's a slightly different edge to them live. That in itself is a creative force. I think there's something still relevant in that material — I hope so — that people can still listen to it live and appreciate it, regardless of how old it is.
If I look inwardly, I think I've always missed some of that, and now that I'm doing it again, I'm really enjoying it. I'm thinking, "Well, now, this isn't as bad as I thought it would be for all those years." Everything in life is ups and downs. For me, I think if I have been taken by surprise by anything, it's the warm-natured, good response that we've had so far by audiences. We've won old fans over again, we've won new fans over, so there's only good in that, right?