What passed for pop in the early 1990's had very little actual "pop" to its sound; "drip" would be more accurate.  There were the melancholy musings of The Cure, the gnashed-teeth growls of Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, and Soundgarden's Chris Cornell singing paeans to the "Black Hole Sun."  These sad-sack rockers fit the mood of an America that was in the throes of corporate downsizings and the deepest economic recession since the Great Depression.

Nineteen-ninety-nine was not just the beginning of a new Internet-charged economic boom, but the beginning of a new musical era, also.  Power chord dirges have all but disappeared from the radio airwaves to be replaced by the more spirited sounds of Bare Naked Ladies and Matchbox 20, to name a couple.  Representing for the ATL in both the smile-pop and jam band fronts is Soup.

Soup is an acoustic guitar and harmony-driven band that writes songs that are lighthearted even when they're proclaiming, "Nobody likes me/Everybody hates me!" (from "Marvin Wright").

Talking to the members of Soup in the home of drummer Bram Bessoff, it's obvious these guys are anything but angry rockers.

As a visitor you feel like you're hanging around with the guys you knew in high school who had a band.  Jokes and good-spirited jabs are frequent, and it appears that everything Soup does is an inside joke that they share with thousands of fans up and down the East coast.

Looking around Bessoff's home its also apparent that there is a jam influence in their music, and that a lot of that influence comes from the Grateful Dead: beaded curtains substitute for doors in much of the Bessoff home, and the living room bookshelves are lined with books on Jerry Garcia and the Dead.

"The big word was 'groove' from the very start," says guitarist, vocalist and co-founding member, Erik Rowen.  Rowen and Bessoff started the band that would become Soup while attending Syracuse University in their native New York.  "When we were in college it was more of a funky groove that we were trying to achieve.  It kind of evolved out of that."

Soup's fun funk evolved further when the band moved to Atlanta.  What made them decide Atlanta was the place to move their music careers forward?  Bessoff says, "A lot of Erik's friends from high school were down here and none of us were too excited to go live in New York.  It just worked out that we were all in this thriving, blooming young city."  The band's living requirements also influenced their sound.  Rowen says, "When we got to Atlanta we lived in an apartment and we couldn't play electrically because of the neighbors, so we started doing this acoustic thing out of necessity."  Bessoff continues, "I think our sound came by accident because when we first met Kevin (Crow, on guitar) we wanted to be an electric band.  But, we had no place to practice, and open-mic nights didn't really allow for unloading three trucks of gear to play three songs.  We started playing acoustically and it went over so well that we never made the transition to being an electric band."

The name Soup came from the band tinkering with its sound Bessoff says, "The word 'soup' had meaning when we started doing acoustic open-mic nights and different players would sit in with us.  The thought of adding and taking away ingredients, that's pretty much what makes good soup."

Some of the original Syracuse members fell by the wayside and Bessoff and Rowen kept on truckin' with three new members.  First to join was ex-Texan Kevin Crow on guitar.  Crow recruited fellow Texan Lee Adkins on bass.  Another New York transplant, Andrew Margolius, came south to take up accordion and harmonica duties.

Margolius plays an especially prominent role in Soup, both in the band's history and on stage.  Margolius and Rowen originally met each other at the age of six when they were fighting over the same girl, and formed several bands together during high school.  Years later Margolius started to come on stage with Soup and added a particular visual flair.  While squeezing an accordion and blowing harp Margolius sports a variety of wigs, hats, and fuzzy slippers.  Rowen recalls, "We used to keep all these wigs leftover from our Halloween shows in the back of the van, and when Andrew started playing with us -- before he was a real member (laughs) -- he would come up on stage with one of these wigs on and walk around the stage and act a fool.  He just drifted on stage one day and never got off," Rowen quickly adds, "I mean that in a good way."

The fuzzy feet were Margolius' own inspiration, "The slippers were a gift from an ex-girlfriend and when I was in a band in law school I wore them onstage once.  I came across the video one day and that's what prompted me to try them onstage with Soup."  Bessoff says, "And then his collection blossomed."  Rowen interjects, "And so did the ex-girlfriends!"

Now armed with a defined sound, a steady lineup, and a trunk full of hats, wigs and fuzzy feet, Soup began a demanding touring schedule that they keep up to this day.  The constant touring has helped Soup to build a solid following up and down the East coast.  Shows from Ft. Lauderdale to the Wetlands Preserve nightclub in New York City are regularly sold out.  Erik Rowen says that playing with high-caliber bands live has helped to make Soup a better band, "We have played with people like Marvelous 3 and Sister Hazel before they were on the radio."  Kevin Crow adds, "And it was cool to see them in a small club just killing it."  Rowen finishes, "Then five years later you're like, 'Why can't that be us?'"

They've also recorded two studio albums, Laughing At the Fables and Breakdown.  Crow says that though the fans have liked the studio albums, "People are always like, 'I love your CDs, but you guys are so good live.'  We obviously don't understand it, but there's something different there.  We're finally giving everyone what they've asked for."  What Soup has given everyone is a two-CD live album called A Tour of Two Cities, which was just released in February of 2000.  Disc one documents a show at the Cotton Club in Atlanta, disc two documents a show at the Wetlands Preserve in New York.  Both discs were produced by Sam Kopper, who also produced Diana Ross' Central Park concert.  The very psychedelic artwork for the album was done by drummer Bessoff, who is also a damn good professional graphic designer.

Bessoff explains the idea behind A Tour, "What we really wanted to do with this live album is catch Soup live, which is completely different from our studio albums.  We play around a lot with medleys, pulling covers in and out of our original songs, covering classics that we love and twisting songs together...screwing up live!  People who have only listened to the albums are going to get a completely different experience."  A Tour of Two Cities is a limited edition, available through the band's live shows and Web site (www.soupkitchen.com).

Soup has made the must-do rounds of jam bands, being covered on JamBands.com and appearing at Z-93 Dunhams' radio show events.  But does this Top 40-friendly outfit consider themselves a dyed in the tie-dye jam band?  Guitarist Crow says, "We feel like we're unique in that we can and do jam and we admire a lot of people from that genre, but at the same time we write a lot of pop tunes and love a lot of bands like that.  A lot of people ask us questions like that and its hard to answer because we feel like we're exactly in the middle."

"Except we can't write a song shorter than five minutes," Rowen laughs.  Margolius imitates a Soup Nut, "That song went on forever!  I went to the bathroom and came back and you were still only on the second chorus!"

Crow goes on, "It's a good and a bad thing.  We've been talking about that a lot lately.  It seems like it would be a great thing to be right in the middle.  Some nights we are, some nights we're not.  That's the weird thing about us."

What's not weird is the way Soup has been consistently knocking out audiences with their smiling jam rock.  They've been strong contenders in the Lucky Strikes Battle of the Bands contests, moving from Atlanta to competitions in Miami and New Orleans.  Along with winning the Lucky Strikes' contests, the band also wants to record a new studio album, and has thought of starting their own label.  "We just knock `em off one by one," Bessoff says of the band's goals.

No doubtin' it -- Soup is not just good food, Soup is good tunes.

Visit Soup's site at soupkitchen.com.

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From the February 2000 issue

Recording Live at the old Cotton Club, Atlanta, GA 1999

Bram Bessoff on drums

Bass-ic-Lee Adkins on Bass

King of the Stage, Andrew Margolius

Ah, the smell of a Friday night  crowd:

Kevin Crow on Guitar

Lead Soup kid:

Erik Rowen