It's become a fairly familiar story, but a no less exciting one for those caught up in it: A band releases a few albums, tours a bit, has modest success, calls it quits after a few years, is posthumously influential and leaves fans clamoring for a reunion across decades until finally relenting. Few personalities—Morrissey and Paul Simon come to mind—have been as upfront about their reluctance to cover old ground with past bands as Loop frontman Robert Hampson. So Loop's current U.S. tour is quite a surprise, to the band's members as much as anyone.
Loop first emerged from London in 1986. The group had a few lineup changes over the course of three albums and numerous singles and EPs before calling it quits in 1991, with Hampson the only constant. They were then and continue to be spoken of in the same breath as other feedback- and drone-loving neo-psych U.K. bands like Jesus and Mary Chain and Spacemen 3, and are viewed as a shoegaze trailblazer along with My Bloody Valentine. They never quite achieved the attention or popularity of any of those bands at the time, but a renewed interest in Loop arose following the 2008 remaster and reissue of their albums. Hampson says he was glad the albums were remastered, but even that wasn't enough to spur his interest to finally reunite the band.
"I rarely listen back to what I record—once it's done, it's done, and I move on," Hampson says on the phone from Philadelphia, just before the band's first U.S. show since 1990. "But remastering was interesting, because when the original Loop CDs came out they sounded awful. I was very happy with the way the remasters sounded, but still, I had no interest in reforming Loop. But obviously there was some sort of desire for this from fans, and after being asked so many times over so many years, my interest was eventually piqued, so I thought, all right, let's see if we can do it."
The reformed Loop lineup picked up where it left off, with the members who recorded and toured behind their final—and, most people reckon, their best—album, A Gilded Eternity: Hampson on guitar and vocals, Scott Dowson on guitar, Neil Mackay on bass, and John Wills on drums. After playing several shows in 2013, Willis decided to focus on his band Pumajaw, and Wayne Maskell, from U.K. cult psych band the Heads, replaced him on drums.
Hampson hasn't exactly been resting at home since Loop broke up. With Dowson, he formed the experimental project Main, which has had a much longer history and is arguably more musically adventuresome than Loop. He also performs live and releases recordings under his own name on esteemed European labels such as Editions Mego and Touch. The return to the power and volume of a rock band has been a bit of an eye-opener for him, though, especially where sound is concerned.
"From a technical aspect, what I'm enjoying the most about touring again is the technology has improved greatly in 25 years, most importantly in venues," Hampson says. "PAs are much more powerful and better sounding, so what I really love is having the power of Loop heard live again with much better greater sonic quality. And the gear is far superior. What's happening in the world of custom pedals now is so exciting. I've had the privilege of having pedals made for me, which is mind-blowing—that someone is able to create something from my abstract description."
Hearing younger bands who are influenced by the music his band made 25 years ago—local incarnations of which will surely be opening for Loop during their tour—has been something of a surprise to Hampson, but he's not one to rest on his laurels or get too puffed up about such things. In interviews, he has repeatedly stressed how much he dislikes lingering on the past and how the reunion will have a limited lifespan. After more than a dozen shows that received overwhelmingly positive receptions, though, he seems to be softening on this position.
"I'm not nostalgic, I don't look with a rose-tinted view on what Loop was, but it's been surprisingly entertaining to go back to it," he admits. "It's been a lot less painful than I thought it was going to be. I was filled with absolute trepidation beforehand. When I finally agreed to it, I thought, what have I done? But the reactions from Loop fans of old have been positive, and we get to play for a lot of people that didn't get to see us then. There's always a twinge of nostalgia about these things, but I hope to think, without arrogance, that there's still a relevance to these songs.
"It' been really nice to play again. We've found our feet and it all seems to be going rather well."