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The Han Solo Project's New Song Inspired By Minor Star Wars Character

Han solo band 1.jpg
Greg Bal
The Han Solo Project, performing at Vaudeville Mews in Des Moines in December. Their new single, "Along For The Ride," is available on major streaming services.

The Des Moines band The Han Solo Project, whose music is inspired by Star Wars, share the first single from their upcoming record.

The Iowa music scene is full of creative artists, each bringing their own unique approach and point of view to the table. Even by these standards, The Han Solo Project stands out.

All of the band’s songs are about Star Wars, the much-loved space fantasy franchise that shows no signs of slowing down, over 40 years after the release of “A New Hope” in 1977.

They’ve worked together in the past, and though this band started as a bit of a joke, it’s taken on a life of its own. The band will be releasing their fifth full-length album soon, and are now sharing the first single, "Along For The Ride."

The Han Solo Project is led by Des Moines musicians Mike Bal and Tom Hummer, who have played in several bands together since junior high. Bal is the self-described “Star Wars fanatic” of the group, and he describes Hummer as a “music-writing machine.” In addition to The Han Solo project, Hummer is a member of the band Sell The Future with his brothers, and puts out his own music as well.

The band's first single from the upcoming album is called “Along For the Ride,” and it’s based on one of the many minor characters that help bring the Star Wars universe to life. Mike Bal spoke to IPR about how The Han Solo Project came to be and how the band’s music has much more universal appeal than one might think.

How long have you been Star Wars fans? What “era” of Star Wars did you grow up with?

“I grew up watching the original trilogy with my family every time we’d get together. I have really good memories of visiting for Christmas, watching the movies, drinking hot chocolate, and eating cheese popcorn. As I got older I kept watching the movies and also got into the books, comics, shows, etc. I’ll consume just about any Star Wars story they put out there as long as I’ve got the time to do it.

"Tom likes Star Wars too and grew up watching the movies. He’s just not as big of a geek as I am.”

“I think if someone who had never seen Star Wars before listened to some of the songs, they might not even realize they are about Star Wars at all. We didn’t really pin ourselves to any one genre but instead try to fit the genre to the song theme. We’ve got a funk song about Lando, a metal song about Darth Jar Jar and a country ballad about Greedo."
Mike Bal

How did The Han Solo Project get started?

“(Tom and I) were in another band with two of Tom’s brothers called Thoughts of Crossing for about a decade. We all started recording music together in high school/junior high and put out four albums as that band. We played a lot of shows in college when we all lived together, and then it kind of hit a wall as we started graduating, getting married, moving, etc.

“The Han Solo Project started as a joke while Thoughts of Crossing was recording one of their albums. Because we all lived together, we’d spend a lot of our down time in the studio and also a lot of time hanging out. Our singer Pat had a tendency to wait to write lyrics or name songs until everything was written and recorded, so we never had great working titles because there was nothing to go off of.

“Once at a recording session, after having watched ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ one of us suggested ‘Hoth = Fun’ as a sarcastic working title. This led to a brainstorming session for other Star Wars-themed song names, and eventually to Tom (who gets carried away with puns) suggesting we eventually start a band called “The Han Solo….. Project. Get it?!

“Around the time Disney announced they were going to start on a new trilogy and release some new Star Wars movie every year, we revived the idea and started writing/recording and plotting again.

“The band was really something we did for us as a way to still write and record music without putting a ton of pressure on ourselves. When we were in a band before we took a long time trying to polish every single song, and it sometimes took the fun out of it. Now that we all had full-time adult jobs, families, responsibilities, we wanted to find a fun way to write music we liked without it feeling stressful.”

Do non-Star Wars fans enjoy your music? Is a high level of Star Wars knowledge necessary?

“I think if someone who had never seen Star Wars before listened to some of the songs, they might not even realize they are about Star Wars at all. We didn’t really pin ourselves to any one genre but instead try to fit the genre to the song theme. We’ve got a funk song about Lando, a metal song about Darth Jar Jar and a country ballad about Greedo.

“The goal initially was for someone to be able to pick up an album and find something they really liked. We wanted the music to be accessible and shareable, like a lot of Beck’s popular stuff for example, but then we wanted to have the content within it for Star Wars fans to get really excited about it as well."

Which Star Wars character is “Along for the Ride” about? What events are referenced in the song?

“This song is about Nien Nunb, the weird looking dude who rides shotgun with Lando on the Millennium Falcon during the assault on the second Death Star in ‘Return of The Jedi.’ He’s also a pilot in the Resistance throughout the new trilogy. The guy is present for some of the most important Star Wars moments, but never really gets his share of the spotlight.”

Are your songs always “just” about Star Wars? Does Star Wars function as a metaphor in your music?

“There is definitely a mix. There are songs like ‘O.S.H.A. Approved’ that is about workplace safety (or lack thereof) on the Death Star. That’s pretty specific and probably not something a lot of people will relate to. There are also songs like ‘Chewbaklava’ that aren't tied to any real Star Wars story, and then ‘Who’s Your Daddy?’ which is a broader thematic commentary on why someone’s family shouldn’t define their significance or importance.”

What are your live performances like?

“We originally hadn’t planned on doing live performances, but we were feeling really good about our album ‘Admiral Ackbar’s Lonely Limbs Club Band,” and decided that we’d try it out for Star Wars Day (May the 4th… be with you). Since we’re a two piece in the studio, we recruited Tom’s brothers and our friend Nick to help get the full band sound on stage, and we all geared up in some form of Star Wars costume. Tom’s got the Han Solo gear, and I wear one of those roaring Chewbacca masks. We’ll also toss stuff into the show like light up drumsticks, lightsaber duels, and whatever else makes sense at the time. We’ve started collecting more gear and hope to get one of the guys to wear an inflatable Jabba costume we picked up for our show this last December.

“We are trying to make our shows more like an actual event, and avoiding the 'Oh, we’ll just go see them next weekend’ thing.”

"Along For The Ride" is available now on all major streaming services, along with the rest of The Han Solo Project's music. The full album will be released later this month. Lyrics and other information about the songs can be found at the band's website.