Trip Shakespeare

Playing engaging and imaginative alternative rock with a pop twist, Trip Shakespeare were a Minneapolis-based combo who earned a loyal cult following for their playful but literate, rhythmically inventive music. The band’s story began in the early 1980s, when Harvard anthropology grad Elaine Harris answered an ad looking for “wicked percussion hands” posted by English major Matt Wilson, who would soon abandon school for music to relocate to his hometown of Minneapolis. Harris and Wilson would found Trip Shakespeare, along with John Munson, a Chinese-language major at the University of Minnesota. After issuing a debut LP, 1988’s Applehead Man, on local label Gark Records, the album was picked up for national distribution by Restless Records. Not long after the album came out, the band expanded to include another Harvard student, Dan Wilson, a graduate student in art and Matt’s elder brother. With an arty sound but unpretentious approach which attracted new fans, the band released their second album, 1989’s Are You Shakesperienced?, on Twin/Tone. In 1990, the band signed with A&M, releasing Across the Universe the same year, followed by Lulu in 1991. These two major-label albums showed off a bright melodic style with increasingly tight production values, providing a nice package for their arcane lyrics and free-ranging instrumentation. Unfortunately, neither album became a major commercial breakthrough, and after Trip Shakespeare recorded a six-song EP of cover tunes entitled Volt, A&M rejected the project and dropped the band. (Twin/Tone records would belatedly release Volt in 1994.) Shortly after severing ties with A&M, Trip Shakespeare broke up. Elaine Harris returned to the Boston area, Matt Wilson performed with several Minneapolis-area bands, and Dan Wilson and John Munson joined with Jacob Slichter to form Pleasure, later known as Semisonic. Dan Wilson would go on to a successful career as a songwriter and solo artist, and performed occasional shows with Matt Wilson, two of which were documented on live albums. In 2013, Wilson was invited to perform with the Minneapolis jazz/rock band the New Standards (featuring John Munson on bass) for their annual Christmas show, and Wilson had a surprise for the audience — he brought out Elaine Harris and Matt Wilson, and the complete Trip Shakespeare lineup performed for the first time since their breakup. In 2014, Omnivore Records released deluxe, expanded editions of the first two Trip Shakespeare albums, Applehead Man and Are You Shakesperienced?