A Really Strange and Wonderful Time

The Chapel Hill Music Scene: 1989-1999


By Tom Maxwell

Formats and Prices




$39.00 CAD


North Carolina has always produced extraordinary music of every description. But the indie rock boom of the late 1980s and early ’90s brought the state most fully into the public consciousness, while the subsequent post-grunge free-for-all bestowed its greatest commercial successes. In addition to the creation of legacy label Merge Records and a slate of excellent indie bands like Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, and Polvo, this was the decade when other North Carolina artists broke Billboard ’s Top 200 and sold millions of records—several million of which were issued by another indie label based in Carrboro, Chapel Hill’s smaller next-door neighbor. It’s time to take a closer look at exactly what happened.

A Really Strange and Wonderful Time features a representative cross section of what was being created in and around Chapel Hill between 1989 and 1999. In addition to the aforementioned indie bands, it documents—through firsthand accounts—other local notables like Ben Folds Five, Dillon Fence, Flat Duo Jets, Small, Southern Culture on the Skids, The Veldt, and Whiskeytown. At the same time, it describes the nurturing infrastructure which engendered and encouraged this marvelous diversity. In essence, A Really Strange and Wonderful Time is proof of the genius of community.

  • “Here is a vibrant tribute to the kind of offbeat scene that made this era's music so vital. Tom Maxwell brings readers into the Cat's Cradle, into living room band practices, and into the local kitchens that employed so many young and excitable creative minds. A Really Strange and Wonderful Time is a snapshot of utopia, populated with can-do artists who, as one participant says, ‘are willing to toil in relative obscurity with the simple goal of producing something cool.’ We're lucky Tom Maxwell was one of them."
    John Lingan, author of A Song for Everyone: The Story of Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • “In prose that is erudite, moving, and at times both hilarious and heart-breaking, Tom Maxwell has written the definitive history of the Chapel Hill music scene. Arduously researched and built around extensive interviews with almost all the major figures of the time, Maxwell reveals in granular detail how one small group of people in a tiny southern town could come together to create a community of artistic exploration that, for a while at least, made a whole bunch of noise that inspired the world. It was a time of magic, and these pages are filled with it.”
    Nic Brown, author of Bang Bang Crash
  • “A fun treat for fans of 1990s indie rock.”
  • “A beautifully written tribute, documentation and exploration of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro, NC (and environs) indie music scene in the decade leading up to Y2K. The scope of what Maxwell covers is impressive: musical personalities—musicians and bands, yes but also the producers, promotors, WXYC DJs and station managers, the labels big and small—Merge, Mammoth, and others... An eloquent honoring of a place and time where indie rock was paramount and the community was passionate for it.”
  • “A vibrant portrait [and] a spirited rendering of a brief but shining moment in indie music history.”
    Publishers Weekly
  • "Excellent...  it's truly one of the best books on the culture and business of music I’ve ever read. Don’t think about it - BUY IT!"
    John Strohm, Reading for Nothing (SubStack)

On Sale
Apr 9, 2024
Page Count
320 pages
Hachette Books

Tom Maxwell

About the Author

Tom Maxwell is a writer and musician. A product of the fertile Chapel Hill music scene, he was a member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers from 1994-1999. Tom’s song “Hell” peaked at Number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, propelling the band to multi-platinum status. His songs have appeared in dozens of movies and television shows, a Super Bowl commercial, an Academy Award-nominated documentary, and the Tony Award-winning Broadway soundtrack. As a writer, Tom has contributed to Al Jazeera America, The Oxford American, The Bitter Southerner, and the Library of Congress, among others. He is a member of the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.

Learn more about this author