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Plead the Fourth

Fourth of July is Lawrence's newest brother band.


Though 9/11 hadn't even happened yet, Brendan Hangauer felt so patriotic that he named his countrified rock project Fourth of July.

Er, something like that.

Truth is — and sarcastic patriotism aside — when the idea first burst into his head like fireworks way back in 1999, Fourth of July wasn't even a band yet, and Hangauer had no intention of performing its music live.

"It started out as a solo project," he says. "I would hole up in my room and just write track after track by myself. For fun."

And because this boyish-looking, dirty-blond-haired musician holds membership in the infamous Hangauer collective — a Lawrence family that, at last count, included at least four grungy music-making brothers and one mysterious, allegedly gorgeous sister — he had older brother Zach Hangauer to call on.

"Zach was living in Los Angeles, or maybe San Francisco, at the time," recalls the younger Hangauer. "He would come over whenever he was in town, for Christmas or in the summer, and we'd record one song after another.... We really have hundreds of Fourth of July recordings from those days."

"In Debt" by Fourth of July:

The "solo project" finally got around to performing sometime in 2002, and by then, it had injected madness into its veins in the form of drummer and lovable local weirdo Justin Roelofs, who at the time didn't know a thing about drumming. Along with Roelofs, the expanded cast sported two other Hangauer brothers (Patrick and Kelly), plus Andrew Connor of Ghosty on slide guitar.

The gigs, however, drifted into sloppiness — despite some bright moments, which usually revolved around Roelofs' bizarre key-signature choices. "No one could make time for practices, so we'd just sort of get up there and play. It was decent. It was chaos," Hangauer says matter-of-factly.This shoddiness, combined with the fact that Fourth of July's song repertoire consisted primarily of ballads and rock lullabies that invited audiences to chatter through each number, began to irritate Hangauer. "No one listened to the lyrics, and that started to piss me off," he says.

That realization, it seems, flipped a switch.

Hangauer brought in drummer Brian "Bronco" Costello and guitarist Steve "Say My Name" Swyers. "I call them 'the professionals,'" Hangauer says. And with good reason: Swyers memorized all of the band's working songs within two weeks. Costello, Hangauer says, "can keep perfect tempo," and everyone in the group started to "pay respect to the song," trying to make each piece a stellar work of art.

These days, things are clicking. In the studio, the band knocked out 14 tracks in five days, a bundle of music that will make up a debut album. Juxtaposing the spacey electricity of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Wilco with Townes Van Zandt's lyrical depth, Fourth of July's music finally lives up to its name, spinning a catchy kind of party rock that almost demands firing up the barbecue and breaking out the bratwurst.

But don't expect these guys to be home on the actual Fourth of July this year. The band plans to tour the Midwest all summer. "Most major tours leave out the Midwest," Hangauer says. "So we're gonna leave out the coasts."

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