By MarQ Manner
It’s a band that is passionately adored by millions of people – perhaps more than any other band. It’s not a band that the critics, award shows and snooty music fans loved. So it is with some surprise that KISS will be finally going into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on April 10.
The band is somewhat indifferent to the nod and will not be performing at the ceremony. This is heartbreaking to some KISS fans who have waited for this moment and fought for it for many years. Omaha KISS fans can take some solace in the fact that area tribute band KISSology will be playing Friday, April 11, at the Waiting Room Lounge.
KISSology is made up of longtime Omaha musicians and hardcore KISS fans who go by the stage names of Almost Ace, Pretty Much Peter, Practically Paul and Just About Gene. When the makeup is off they are Richard Schultz, Brian Chandler, Scott Chandler and Jeff Decker. KISSology brings the whole show to the stages they play and don’t just limit the music to KISS’ “make-up” era. All KISS is fair game for this tribute act. I spoke with Almost Ace (Schultz) about how the band came about, playing outside of their comfort zones and what KISS means to their fans.
MarQ - How did KISSology form?
Almost Ace - Jeff Decker put out the idea on Facebook. He decided on Gene and me as Ace. We looked for people who were able to commit to the bit and put on the boots, shave the beard, and put on the make up. So that took awhile. Then we found Scott and he was able to do all that for Paul. We thought finding the drummer would be the easy part – you don’t have to sing as much – and Scott recruited his brother Brian on drums. They have vocal ability and great background singing with each other. Instrumentally, we all got to work, as none of us are playing our original instruments in this band. We all had to learn our instruments along with everything else that goes along with it. That brings some freshness to it. I traveled back to being that 12-year-old kid.
MarQ - Why did you choose Ace Frehley?
Almost Ace - Probably because Jeff already claimed Gene. That is the real reason. Gene was spoken for and this is who I was most qualified for. I don’t have the vocals to do Paul and cannot play the drums like Peter.
MarQ - How did you find the costumes, and how accurate are they?
Almost Ace - Here is the deal on the costumes. There is an entire Internet underground of people that are into these costumes. There are people who make them, collect them and wear them. You get the Halloween costume and realize they are only good for one night. From there you work with some guys that will special-order make them for you and you get some pieces from them and then there are some you just have to make for yourself. Which one version is quote-unquote right? The band used so many different variations of every costume. It comes down to having the total package and we did our best with whatever element that we could improve to add to the whole impact. There is a website in Germany with all the versions of every costume and they vary. Ours sure as hell look like KISS costumes I will tell you that.
MarQ - You play different eras of KISS songs, correct?
Almost Ace - We do everything from the first album up until 2000. We are not against the ones newer than that. We don’t reject any of the music.
MarQ - What has the reaction been?
Almost Ace - I got a really good compliment in Kearney where someone came up after the show and was like, “I could tell you were the kid that wanted to do this and now are happy that you get to do this.” Obviously just the pure excitement of it is coming across to people. That is part of what you get having guys that are lifelong fans, professional instrumentalist but not playing in our comfort zone. We had to learn new instruments. I am not used to playing long guitar solos so it is new and exciting. I am sure Brian would say the same about drumming as it is all fresh exciting fun and new for him. People are reacting to this huge batch of “I can’t believe that I am doing this” excitement and then they give it back to us.
MarQ - Why does KISS mean so much to you?
Almost Ace - When I discovered KISS I was a music fan, but I didn’t have that much of a frame of reference. They were so transgressive and I was in single digits and discovered KISS. You had whatever was on TV, like Lawrence Welk or Sha Na Na, and then there was KISS. People did not like KISS where I was ... there was about three people that liked KISS. It was so transgressive and so dangerous. How could you not like that?
MarQ - What does KISS going into the Hall of Fame mean to you?
Almost Ace - It doesn’t mean anything to me. They were what they were before and they are what they are now. Gene said, “Our fans voted us into the Hall of Fame a long time ago.” It’s just another batch of marketing. Good for the Rock Hall that they get to have an exhibit and sell tickets. There are KISS fans that it does mean a lot to. For me, that I can see real KISS today and they are still doing it and these 60-year-old men are still up there doing it with the grind of the boots and the makeup.
MarQ - You have mentioned the boots a couple of times. Is that a chore?
Almost Ace - It is like going back to basic school. We practice in the boots and walking up and down stages. We have been wearing flat shoes all of our life and to do it and be dramatic and manipulate, bend and pose in them it is physically the most demanding piece of it.
MarQ - What can KISS fans expect from the KISSology show this Friday?
Almost Ace - They should expect four fans on stage and 400 fans in front of the stage living out a childhood fantasy for two hours.
With Two Shakes Friday, April 4
The Hive, 1207 Harney St.
With Rock Paper Dynamite
Saturday, April 12 Zoo Bar, 136 N. 14th St., Lincoln
By MarQ Manner
Lincoln groove rock band Stonebelly will be releasing their second album “Perspective In Perception” this Friday at the Hive with Two Shakes, and in Lincoln on April 12 at the Zoo Bar with Rock Paper Dynamite.
The band members have found themselves to be a mainstay of both the Omaha and Lincoln music scene, relying on their passion for playing long sets of material. The three-piece band is more open to sharing the stage these days and “dialing back” the length of some of their performances. The band claims straight-ahead rock, groove, psychedelic rock, reggae and the blues as influences that can be heard in their music. I spoke with vocalist and guitarist Mike Hollon over the phone about the new album and what is happening in the Lincoln music scene.
MarQ - How did Stonebelly get started?
Mike Hollan - We started in late 2010. Kevin (Korus) and I just started jamming in his basement. We got together and found a bass player and hit the ground running quickly with shows. I don’t know, nothing too fancy about it. MarQ - Where were the first shows that you played at? Mike - First couple of shows were at Duggan’s Pub, and then we got an opportunity to play a Saturday at the Zoo Bar and got our foot in the door there. We have played them all and just played Vega, and that is really nice. But we consider Zoo Bar our home bar.
MarQ - How would you describe the sound of the band?
Mike - Groove rock is what it is to me. It is kind of a blend of genres and you can hear a lot of different influences. It is straight-up rock, but there is blues and reggae and psychedelic in there also. There are some songs that I don’t even know how to describe.
MarQ - Will this be your first CD?
Mike - Our first album, we released in 2012. It was a learning experience as we had never been in the studio before. We took on a big project with 14 songs. We learned a lot and then we started on this one. I am into it, as it sounds like where we are at. I think that is what an album should be. It felt a lot more comfortable.
MarQ - What is the name of this album?
Mike - “Perspective in Perception.” It was more kind of a thought that I had. I was really kind of thinking about how often your perception changes so much based on your perspective. You could see one thing and I see another and people are either understood or misunderstood, for better or worse based on that. It really does depend on where you are at based on your perspective.
MarQ - How does the band write?
Mike - Generally, I will write them. I like to try to finish them mostly as far as changes and words for the song. I bring it to the band to work on dynamics and input. Everything is alway open, but I bring the songs to the band. So far that is how it has worked.
MarQ - Are there any songs that stand out to you on the album?
Mike - The first song on it, “Rising,” has a lot of personal meaning and elements of other peoples lives that I have seen as well. It is about if you get knocked down you have to keep going and don’t let things bother you. “Devils Mind” flowed out of a conversation with a friend of mine. It is more sound-wise telling the story that religion needs good and evil and what if the devil changed his mind and became a good guy and would he be forgiven as well? Sonically, it sounds like he is denied at the gates.
MarQ - Lincoln has really stepped up its game in recent years with new venues, great bands and solid local music community. What is your take on the Lincoln music scene?
Mike - I think it is great. It is a really special scene and it is very specialized where things are happening at all these bars that within half a block of each other. You can play one and the other venues can’t help but see your name and who you are playing with. We do our best to promote the venue and promote us. I don’t know how to describe it. The Zoo Bar was known for blues the whole time and now they are not afraid to take a chance on rock band or strange indie bands. The Bourbon ... we just played on the big stage there the other night. Now you have Vega, which is stretching things out more. We have been working Omaha a lot more also and we have had such a great response.
MarQ - Where do you play in Omaha?
Mike - We played at the “old” Hive and we just played the Hive in December and then this Friday for the CD release. I like Venue 51 and it is a blast and doesn’t seem like the same thing it was. Barley Street is fun ... Side Door is fun ... we have even played Stiles and T-Henery’s before.
MarQ - You guys sometimes do three sets in a night?
Mike - Sometimes we do. We were up to doing three sets some places. There are some bars, if you bring your own PA you pretty much have the whole night. I will say this, and having a new bass player and his take on this helped, it was a nice way to dial that back again and play more with other people and not have to do the whole night. They are kind of tiring, but a lot of fun.
MarQ - It’s pretty rare to see an original band play that much material.
Mike - It is interesting, too, because people think to do those you have to play covers. It has been my idea that if you believe in the music, just play it. They booked you not to hear some shi**y covers, so I think we try to be passionate about it so that it connects with people. For just being a trio we try to mash different styles and if one song isn’t for you maybe the next one will be. We are not a dance band but we groove, we are not a blues band but there are elements of it, we are not a psych rock band but there are elements. There is so much music out there on computers and people do not have to go to a show, but they come up and buy shirts and pay to get in and that means so much to me. When we first started out we had a saying that was “1 or 100,” we are going give it our best no matter what.
Omaha guitarist John Larsen has been surprising audiences at local open mic nights, hard rock shows, songwriter nights and even hip-hop events. His touch style of playing is pretty unique to the Omaha area, and both John’s style and ability stands out and impresses the bearded types, those with a spike through their nose and leather jacket rockers alike.
John’s start into the musical world is also unique. We sat down to talk about that, finding musicians to play with, his composing process and more. John will be the featured artist this SUNDAY (April 6) at O’Leavers Open Mic Night. He will also be performing on April 26 at the Waiting Room Lounge with Blue Martian Tribe. Be sure to ask John about his “Live At O’Leavers” recording if you run into him out and about.
MarQ- How did you get started playing the guitar?
John Larsen - It started with an Andy McKee video. The video is called “Drifting”. A friend had randomly sent that to me on Facebook. I had gone to highschool with him and he sent it to me randomly and I wasn’t even going to watch it. I was like ‘who the hell you talking about’? I had put up a Jack White video and said it was the best guitar solo ever and got this sent back. I watched his video and then I watched it about 40 more times that night and 4 days later I went out and bought an acoustic guitar. I strummed every acoustic guitar in Omaha. I wrote down every name and model as I knew nothing about guitars. Three months after I bought this guitar I figured out that I could plug it in. I was checking another guitar and asked why it sounded differently and he looked at me like I am an idiot and said it’s made out of a different kind of wood. So I bought that one as I liked the sound of it better.
MarQ- You have told me that you were nervous when you first started playing live. John - I still struggle with that. There are days that are better than others. I will never be completely comfortable to walk up and play. I was going to school to become a teacher. I made it all the way to student teaching...I have anxiety and I can not give speeches. The difference with music is you can drink a little bit before you go up there. The first time I went I had A xanax and four beers. I have never taken a xanax in my life. I have done it twice during open mics, but never before and never since. The first time I played it was crazy, when I hit that last note I jumped up and walked out and smoked a cig. I didn’t even say thank you.
MarQ - You recorded some live tracks at O’Leavers.
John - I am going to put down a couple of songs to give out to people and see if people respond to it. Then I will look at making an album of it. Recording for me is going to be a bitch. I don’t have choruses where you play once and you can loop it. I don’t know how to write songs so there is a repetitiveness to it that I don’t think I have learned yet.
MarQ - How do you compose your songs?
John - The first group of songs was me trying to learn “Drifting” and getting frustrated and something else happened and I came up with a song. I only wanted to learn “Drifting” and other things started happening and I came up with eight songs before I got “Drifting”. It is touch tap, tug and pull until you have something. My smartphone has a recorder on it so I would record it and try to relearn it the next day and see how I did.
MarQ - Do you find it hard to find other acts that are compatible with you when playing live?
John - I think more so up here (points at head). I am going to be self conscious no matter where I play. The best response I have gotten is from the heavy metal shows that I have somehow gotten involved with. Those guys seem to love that sh*t. They all are in love with their instruments. When they see something they are not used to it intrigues them. I was on a New Music Monday (Waiting Room music series) and I saw the lineup and here is two heavy metal bands and a guy with an acoustic and I thought everyone was going to leave and go see what is playing at the Barley Street. I have played hip-hop shows where they like me. Not everybody likes me though. This guy came outside at Barley Street while I was smoking a cig and and opened the door just to look at me in the face and say that is not how you hold or play a guitar. I went to look for him after but he was gone. He looked at me with such intent. That was the first time my cage ever got rattled.
MarQ - What do you like to see people come away with at your shows?
John - It always depends on the night and how you feel. I will be playing a show somewhere and everyone listens and people will come up and say great things at the end. And then you will play a show and not one person will clap or say anything good. Depends on the night, the place and the crowd. It will eat at you and will boost your ego where it shouldn't or tear you down when it shouldn't.
MarQ - What are your musical goals?
John - I want to get an album out. A legitimate CD eventually. I don’t feel that I am proficient enough to do it yet. I don’t know if anyone is patient enough to record me yet. Every musician's dream is to be able to support themselves with their music if there is a realistic way of doing it? Maybe not for me. I don’t sing, I will never be on the radio. I don’t expect it. I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I can’t go out and play when I want.
MarQ - You were nominated for Best New Artist at this past years Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards. What was that like?
John - That was crazy. Who would have thought? I didn’t have a guitar and didn’t play and then I am playing and nominated and people like what I am doing. This is one of the first things I have done that people actually like. Usually I just get in trouble.
MarQ - Who are some of the artists that influence you?
John - Preston Reed, Kevin Horrigan, Justin McCean, Don Ross....I could go on for days on that shit. My favorite band in the world is White Stripes. Jack White is probably my favorite musician. I like good hip-hop, the old stuff....so I pull from everything. For percussion you learn a lot from hip-hop and what is catchy and I try to put that in my songs. I pull from an Outkast song or from ‘Seven Nation Army.”
MarQ - Who do you enjoy playing with locally?
John - (John) Klemmensen because he is awesome. Michael Wunder. I like playing with the End In Red and Black On High and We Be Lions it is always fun playing with those guys. I like some diversity. When there is a guy with an old school spiked mohawk standing in front of you and loving you, well I love that. It is so great to have a stereotype broken right in front of you.
By Marq Manner
Omaha ska band the Bishops is heading toward its second decade as a band. The first time the band members were around came during a time when many ska-punk bands and a new wave of young punk bands were playing local venues. The Bishops reformed some years back and find themselves one of the only bands in the genre in the region.
The band performs a fun mix of two-tone ska, traditional ska and reggae. They are the go-to band in the area to play with legendary ska bands as well as currently touring national bands. The Bishops have recorded very little over their career and will be celebrating their first full-length CD Time To Move along with their 19th Anniversary show at the Slowdown on Saturday March 29. The band will be playing with Rhythm Collective, Stonebelly, Faded and 23rd Vibration. I talked with members of the band this past week in Benson.
MarQ - So my first question is: You are celebrating your 19th Anniversary. Does that mean you won’t be making it to 20?
Mike Bechtel -You never know with this band.
MarQ - What has the band been up to since we last talked?
Mike - Besides trying to get this CD done? We have balanced playing locally with playing regionally. We play out of town at a two-to-one ratio. We have played Denver, St. Louis, Minneapolis.
MarQ - You play Des Moines quite a bit also.
Mike - Yeah, we are almost a local band there and we play the the Fistful of Ska festival there.
Dan Burger - Lots of really good bands at that festival.
MarQ - You tend to be a band that not only gets asked to play with touring ska bands in Omaha, but also to do short tours with these bands.
Mike - Yeah, we play with the English Beat and we have one coming up with the Slackers in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield.
MarQ - Why do you feel that you get all of these gigs?
Mike - It’s been 19 years in our genre and also the amount we play out of town and in town. Ska fans are not a large fan base, but it is a loyal fan base. It’s like the Platte River as it is a mile wide but a foot deep. If someone knows Ska we are one of the names that come up.
Dan Vaughn - We push and push to get shows out of town.
Dan Burger - I have been super impessed with Mike over the years. If he sets his mind on something I would not bet against him. It works.
Mike - There is something we haven’t announced yet. In Denver at the beginning of May we will be playing with Prince Buster Jr. Prince Buster has been sick and his son has been picking up his mantel and this is one of his first gigs. A DJ called us out to be his backing band. We are learning a set full of Prince Buster tunes. Half of the Two-Tone catalog was either Prince Buster tunes and Toots and the Maytals tunes.
Dan Vaughn - I love Prince Buster. He is my favorite Jamaican artist, and this will be amazing playing with Prince Buster Jr.
MarQ - The Bishops also seemed to be one of the first bands to really play the Old Market in recent years. There is now a push for live music there.
Mike - In the last year the music in the Market has taken off. You always had T-Henry's doing shows and we did that venue. Stiles, when Andy moved to the Old Market, we started shows there. We have to haul sound down there and it is always a good crowd and now we have Parliament and the Hive down there.
Dan Vaughn - There was no entertainment there and now you cannot walk into a bar without entertainment.
Mike- The Dubliner did not stop having live music, but they seem to be adding it a lot more recently.
MarQ - Tell me about the new album.
Mike - We recorded it at ARC. It is a mix of older Bishops tunes from the first go-around and newer stuff that we wrote before we recorded it. Workign with AJ (Mogis) is a treat. It took us awhile, a little tweak here, a little tweak there. I think we are pretty happy.
MarQ - This is your first full-length album right?
Mike - We never put out a full-length before. We put out a live six-song cassette in 1996, and we did a 4-track demo CD, and we were on a couple of comps. We never had a full CD. When we got back together we did a six-song demo EP. It’s sad and funny that it has taken us this long.
MarQ - You said it is a mix of older and newer songs. Did the older songs get retooled?
Mike - They are pretty much as it was back then. We are better musicians than we were back then. They pretty much are like they were in the day.
MarQ - Is there a clear separation of older and newer songs on the album?
Mike - I think that someone that maybe knows the band well they might be able to pick some of the old and the new and hear an evolution, but we mixed it up so it is not half new and half old.
MarQ - What do you to see happen at a Bishops show?
Mike - Lots of dancing and a good time.
Dan Vaughn - There is nothing better for me than to see a crowd walk away after having a great time. That is the best feeling ever.
Mike - Some musicians want to touch people or change their minds and leave an artistic impression. With Ska you want people to have a good time.
MarQ - How would you describe your style of Ska?
Mike - If someone thinks about Ska and they think back to the '90s it is more of the ska-punk genre. When we started the band and re-started the band we hearkened back to both the roots of the genre and the Two-Tone arena in Britain and we kind of wanted to meld them a little bit. I think with the melding of those two we have done a fairly good job. We have our own sound that is not the crunchy hard ska, but also not purely the traditional sound, either.
Dan Vaughn - I remember the first time I saw the Bishops I was blown away. I never knew that Omaha had a ska band besides some ska-punk bands. When they asked me to do it I was like hell, yeah. They got me into more Two-Tone and stuff thanI already was.
MarQ - What is next for the Bishops?
Mike - We have the Fistful of Ska festival going on. Omaha is going to have its first-ever big reggae show this summer out at Riverwest Park. They have Jamaican bands coming in for that. Don Minot, Errol Organs, the Bishops, Rhythm Collective, 23rd Vibration, Dread I Dread, and the Dropsteppers. We will be doing the Prince Buster Jr. shows and the thing with the Slackers. We have a lot on our plate. We will be taking a month-and-a-half of downtime after the festival and do some writing in the fall and some Chicago dates and hoping for some Ska fests in Canada.
MarQ - So you fee like things are moving in the right direction?
Mike - Yeah, actually. The last couple of years things have come along nicely and they keep getting busier. If you would have asked me when we first got back together if we would be running around like we are, I would have said, "Hell, no."
I walked into the Bottomless Glass recently to do an interview with Jason Earl of the Jason Earl Band. What I found was a line-dancing class taking place at the bar. I sat down and waited while scoping out the scene. Soon, Jason walked into and received hand waves from the dancers and a shout-out over the microphone from the dance instructor. Then they proceeded to do a line dance that was created for one of Jason Earl’s original songs. This was quite possibly one of the most impressive starts to an interview that I have ever done.
Jason is an impressive guy. He is a firefighter by day (and probably night also) and a country musician when not also playing the part of husband and father. In a year and a half he has gone from trying to put together a band that fits him to being nominated for an Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award, headlining country venues around the area, and playing after-parties for some of the biggest country acts coming through town. And on Saturday, March 22, the Jason Earl Band will be performing at Bushwackers Saloon for the “Country Night” of Marchi Gras 6, a Benefit for the Sunshine Kids. They will be performing with Brothers Osborne, and Crossfire Country Music. I spoke with Jason about his beginnings, songwriting and the country music scene in the area.
MarQ - How did you get started as a songwriter and performer.
Jason Earl - Three years ago I started performing live. I have been playing for nine years. I was a basement player and singer. My wife tried to get me to go out and book some gigs. I was like, “There is no way that anyone wants to hear this.” One day she came home and she had gotten let go from her job. We had three little kids and she said “If you were ever going to do this it is now.” I got a gig in three days. The first two years was just solo acoustic shows. The band just came about 15 months ago. They had parted ways with their front man and asked if I was interested and I said no a couple of times, but we worked out a deal and started the Jason Earl Band.
MarQ - When I saw you recently you seemed to have a lot of personal story songs. Can you tell me about those?
Jason - I never played or sang until I was 32 years old. My wife, she gets pregnant and we find out that she is going to have a boy. I started to worry about what kind of dad I was going to be. I made a list of things that a little boy would ask his dad how to do. Throw a baseball and play a guitar was on there. I started to learn how to play just in case he came and asked. I got obsessed with learning the guitar. Until he was born I would play five or six hours a day. I always wrote poems and short stories, and so as I am practicing I am putting words to what I am playing. Low and behold I have my first song! You cannot spend that much time practicing and not get it. Pretty soon I had a bunch of songs. Are these songs that you play every night? There some things that you think are funny that you just sing for your family. What I found is that I can tell stories about my family, my life and my relationship.
Marq - How did the band get started?
Jason - We decided we would get together and see what happened. They were receptive to original music and we started booking shows as the Jason Earl Band. I do my own promoting so I have to spend my own time on the computer and on the phone. At first it was very difficult as it was “Jason Who?” I was determined to get as many shows as I could last year. And this is just the start of our second year. We went from nobody at our shows to being nominated. Word of mouth has been my best friend and social media is there, but word of mouth. The fans tell me I am very approachable and that I am easy to talk to. That is all I want – to play music and meet some cool people. I consider the first year a huge success, and this year will be mammoth as this will keep getting bigger and bigger. I am surrounded by people who are ethical and moral. They don’t screw people over. People ask who my musical influences are and I usually answer the same way…I like George, Alan, and Toby, but I look at guys around here like Chad Lee and Jimmy Webber that are just bigger than life to me, because when I started doing this they were very instrumental in getting me started in the right way. From simple stuff from just how to bid for a show. These guys do it for living.
MarQ - Have you put out any albums or EP’s?
Jason - I made a CD of original music in 2012 that was produced by Chad (Lee) with songs that he either wrote or co-wrote and I sold them at shows until they were gone. Now as a band we are looking to put out an EP of original music for later this year.
MarQ - It seems like there are more country bands in the area these days. Would you say that is the case?
Jason - Country is really starting to thrive more in Omaha. When I first started doing this, Chad and Jimmy were the only guys that I could think of solo-wise that were playing around here. It seemed like it went away and now it seems like it is driving a little bit. It’s coming back and people are booking shows and so that tells me that country music is coming back again. There are plenty of great crowds to play like here at the Bottomless Glass and some of the acoustic shows that I play like at the Waterfront. Those are smaller but still good crowds. There is a little place called Buck’s Bar and Grill (Venice, Nebraska) and it’s a great place to play and a good crowd. Some of the best shows and most fun shows are in the smaller bars with one-hundred people. They are so much fun as they are right in front of you and bumping into your microphone.
MarQ - Do you find is easier to play a large venue or a smaller venue?
Jason - I think the music translates easily in the same way all over. Not just the venue’s though we have the rodeos that we do and the fairs that we do.
MarQ- Well, is that a different feel for you? Playing large outdoor shows versus a small bar? Jason - It is not different to me, and this comes from Jimmy Webber. He told me I have to play the same show for 5 people as I do for 5,000. You have to train yourself to do that. Is it easier to sing in front of a large group? Hell, yeah. You get that energy and it’s hard to train yourself to play for five people, but those five people might go tell their five friends and on and on and that is word of mouth.
MarQ - Do you value word of mouth more than social media?
Jason - No. Word of mouth has been my best friend. Word of mouth is comforting and makes you feel good. Someone saying “Wait until you hear this guy play – it is awesome!” Or “Hey, I was in Nickerson, Nebraska and someone asked me what my Jason Earl shirt was about” and that is word of mouth. Social media is a huge tool and it has been a massive tool for me.
MarQ - Do you find yourself writing mostly about personal experiences?
Jason-Up until recently, I did write about my person experience. I had to open myself up there a bit because there are other songs that I wanted to write. I tried to put myself into a character role and write from that perspective. What if I was in this position and writing a song? I have been writing with a couple guys here in town, Jason Hamor and Jeremey Starkel and with Chad Lee. I found that co-writing is probably easier because you can bounce off each other. I do still enjoy writing things that are personal though as those are the best songs.
Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
By Marq Manner
We Be Lions are an energetic rock band that has been packing in audiences into venues here in Omaha for years now. The band went through some changes around the last time I spoke with them and are now solid and releasing a full length album “Finger Prints” at the Waiting Room this Saturday March 22. Joining the band will be Voodoo Method and John Klemmensen and the Party making this one of the strongest and eclectic local lineups in a while. I met up with We Be Lion’s bassist Jacob Pirruccello in Benson to talk about the new album, how the band has really found themselves in this more recent incarnation and what is happening in the rock music scene in Omaha.
MarQ-It hasn’t been a super long time since I last talked with the band. What has happened between now and the last release?
Jacob Pirruccello-We were trying to figure out who to record with and where to practice. Trying to get all of our family and loved ones to understand that we are going to be super busy.
MarQ-Where did you end up recording?
Jacob-Infinate Studio with Jeff Fenn. We did drums at ARC and Jim Homan was the engineer.
MarQ-Why did you decide to go this route?
Jacob-We had a relationship with Jim in the past and we knew the environment. We knew that we would feel comfortable and have the time to perfect it with Jeff.
MarQ-What has changed within the band since the release of the last album? Jacob-I am not on the last album. When we started two years ago. We wrote and did the EP and toured on weekends to Minneapolis, Missouri, Iowa and regionally on the weekends. That kind of came to an end toward the end of the summer and that is when we started to write knowing we were going to do an album. Basically we haven’t played regionally in the last few months, but after this we have shows set up regionally. We have some pretty good shows lined up now.
MarQ-How were things different for you with this album versus the EP.
Jacob-We all were kind of thrown into things on that EP. We had just been together for a month. We did not know who we were at that time. We knew each other and had played together a few times. Learning each other’s backgrounds in the months before that EP is how we wrote that. Some of the bass line that we wrote I would not have written. Cody (Fox) did rap and I was fine as that was the vibe that they wanted. I am going to write some stuff to the hip-hop “rage” riffs. We wrote all that stuff in the studio.
MarQ-If I remember correctly Cody was working more on singing vocals rather than rapping.
Jacob-I think we were all in a transitional phase in that and we did not know where we were going. I was writing based on the history of everybody. Almost trying to make everyone happy and make myself happy also with the bass.
MarQ-What has changed now?
Jacob-Now that we have gotten to be with each other on a daily basis, talking and communicating and being around each other outside of music, we have gotten to know each other. You get to know what is important about people and you make that connection with your friends. It’s almost like unconsciously you write together…you write together without having to think-it just comes together.
MarQ-So you had to get comfortable with the new band?
Jacob-I knew he (Cody) has been around and toured Japan and all of that. I am just a dude trying to prove himself. After being friends and knowing that I do not need to be intimidated I know that we are in this together. It’s like having a girlfriend…the first couple of months you do not want to fart in front of them.
MarQ-How do you guys write?
Jacob-Ricky is constantly playing with a click track at home by himself-that is all he does. Novi’s influences are more old school 70’s rock…basically I am sure it is like everyone else…you come into practice and you have this great bass line and guitar lick and you are like ‘hey oh’! We will jam and me and Ricky will play before everyone gets to practice. I have wrote guitar lines for Novi and he has written guitar parts for me on bass. Even with the lyrics I will be like what if we change this to this. It is Democracy and we all work together when it comes to writing.
MarQ-So you guys have a veto power?
Jacob-We are comfortable with each other that we will tell each other if it is cheesy, ‘no we are not going to play that’ or ‘move on’. We are not afraid to make fun of each other…it is supposed to be fun…but we take it seriously also.
MarQ-What is the album called?
Jacob-Cody kept saying we need a fingerprint. He said that over and over and I was like 'why don’t we just call it that'. He was like ‘that’s good!’. We are working with a lot of people Gerard Pefung, and Derrick Joy and we have a lot more people involved in this album than we have before. Everybody who is involved seems to take it as seriously and I cannot express how much that means.
MarQ-Are there any themes to the album?
Jacob-The main theme would be finding that connection, whether it be with yourself or with somebody else. We did try to have a theme to this and most of the songs are about trying. The songs are down to earth and I think people will relate.
MarQ-What do you hope people will take away from your music?
Jacob-I hope that with music I can make people happy. That is the main thing with this. To make people happy. Give them some sort of idea or teach them something.
MarQ-I see a lot more support from music fans and other bands in the Omaha rock scene. What are your thoughts?
Jacob-Music is art, and even if you don’t like that style of music you respect that person because they are giving out that expression of art. That is their thing. Even though I don’t listen to heavy thrash metal I will come to see your band because I support this scene and I think that is how everyone is looking at it right now. We support each other and give it back. It might not be the colors that you want to paint with, but you are using the same canvas.
MarQ-What is next for the band?
Jacob-This is the beginning of We Be Lions, really. These songs feel more real compared to the other ones for sure. I think they have definitely matured from the past. Listening to the new stuff now, it's like every part is important and there is no filler that we put in there. It is a Tarantino movie. Every scene, even someone sitting at a table, is important to that movie and that is what it is like with our music. We took the time to think of the dialogue, the writing and the lighting and every little part.
The Zero Sum
By MarQ Manner
One of the best parts about running the weekly “Songwriters Night at the Library Pub” (Wednesday nights, no cover) has been discovering new songwriters here in Omaha. The other has been reconnecting with longtime songwriters that might not always be playing my usual hangouts.
One of these artists that I have been able to reconnect with is Mark Irvin, a veteran Omaha songwriter and a music teacher. You can usually find him in the summer playing vineyards in the area and year-round at venues more classy than I usually frequent. So it has been fun for me to have him out and hear what he has been up to over the past few years.
Irvin has a new album out called Common Sense, which he describes as a more simple take on his songwriting experience – one that previously had flourishes of jazz and more complex structures. Irvin writes with a clever wit, tells stories and creates honest tunes that can only come from experience. He is an appealing listen as a solo songwriter, and I hope to see him out with some musicians he pals around with soon. (You can follow his live schedule at markirvinmusic.com)
I caught up with Mark this past year over dinner at Mantra, and we discussed his history along with his new album Common Sense.
MarQ - Give me an overview of how you got started in music?
Mark Irvin - I did a lot of stuff backwards. I didn’t do music in school I found a beat up guitar at 17 and by the time I was 20 I was on the road off and on for a decade. I was with a group called Tight Fit, we did a show where we opened for Richard Marx and we got to spend a whole day with them and I went up to one of the guys in the band and asked what the next level was. This guy said you have to go learn music and that guy was Dave Koz. I put in my three month notice and I applied for music school at UNO. I ended up doing the teaching gig too. I taught jazz band for the last few years while playing bass. I got to do a lot of stuff with the symphony and the opera. I didn’t write for that whole time in college. I didn’t read music when I got there. So after that is when I started writing again is when I got comfortable. My first album came out in 2002.
MarQ - When you were with Tight Fit did you release any albums? What were you promoting when you were touring so much?
Mark - They had one or two out. The gigging was way different then, no matter where you were in the country you would be there three or five days out of the week. They would let you play a few originals, but you have to eat. I always think of the line in Almost Famous…when they are arguing about responsibility and he was like, “Didn’t we get into this to avoid responsibility.”
MarQ - Did you have musicians on your first album, or did you do it yourself?
Mark - I had some musicians, on a low budget. It is an album I would like to do again. I just did not have the know-how and the finances and I have always been really good I want to pay them to play. I am not an audio engineer. I know enough to get in trouble.
MarQ - Did you go back to gigging at that point? Touring?
Mark- Mostly locally as my teaching career was only about ten years old. Then I started gigging locally and filling in with bands. I ended up for working for four years with Rave On (Buddy Holly Tribute). I was filling in for the guitar player and the bass player and they parted ways with the guitar player and he wanted me full time and I was OK as long as I can still teach. It was nice for about four years and learned a lot. It was a great crew. It was so much different with the Tight Fit days. We stayed at different places and ate good food.
MarQ - How often did you release albums after that?
Mark - Next one came out in 2004 and then 2008 and so this was the biggest gap but basically about every four years.
MarQ - How has your sound on these albums evolved over the years?
Mark- Two albums ago was more expanded harmonies and the Jazz colors even though it was not Jazz. With this new one I shelved five songs as Jason said I had two records going on. This one had a simpler structure more country and rock-a-billy. I wasn’t going to force something that wasn’t there. It’s hard to give up a song, but Jason was like put them aside and said we had another album.
MarQ - Talk about the songs on Common Sense?
Mark - One of them…I won’t say the name is actually a true story. It is a verbatim true story, but it didn’t happen to me. Everyone puts their personal touch in it and I don’t want to do that too much. I am older now, but there are things that are now a big deal that wasn’t then and things that are a bigger deal now there were not then. I just wanted to do something simple…surrender…not to heavy thought just person to person. I know writers that do that anyway. The songs were written a lot quicker and so that was nice. You can always overkill it so it was nice to leave it like that. One big difference is that I do all the guitar work, and it’s not that others were not good, but they didn’t have time and I didn’t have the money. They could have done much better. I love getting new ideas. I wrote a song called “Move On” and people are already asking if there is a problem with me and my wife, but I was sitting in a booth and I heard two girls just ripping on her boyfriend. I love when people interpret stuff.
MarQ - So where can people find you playing currently?
Mark - In the summer I do a lot of vineyards, and I play at the Lauter Tun (recently closed) quite a bit. I get to mix in a lot of covers and then my original stuff. Doing my Library Pub stuff with you and there are people there to listen. I am always learning and you have to leave your ego at the door. I usually play once or twice a week, becauseI love what I do. I know a lot of teachers that have a part time job and I just have a really cool part time job. I have a core group and we have one or two musician practices at the start of the summer and they are to the point where I can give them charts, and they can play those songs and then over the course of the summer we find things that I like. The it’s like, “I have to remember this for the studio.”
Omaha's Electroliners release new EP
By MarQ Manner
According to Wikipedia, electroliners were “a pair of stream-lined four-coach electric multiple unit interurban passenger train sets operated by the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad between Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.”
I mention this because I am not in the band, and because I have been asked this many times, and so I can only imagine how many times the band has been asked. That band is the Electroliners, an original country band and one of the rare groups where we can add “western” onto their description.
Most people not from Omaha probably think the clubs and streets are full of country musicians looking for gigs. The reality is that Omaha is a little starved for local and original country music as there are really only a handful of artists in town. Two members of the Electroliners, Travis Sing and Kate Williams, helped create that void when their popular band the Black Squirrels disbanded a few years back. They are now back onstage with Doug Kabourek (Fizzle Like A Flood, the Movies), Patrick D. White (the Third Men) and Stephanie Krysl.
The Electroliners are real-deal country and western band that swings and sways with lyrics that cover many of the traditional topics. The band is is nominated in this year’s Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards for Best Country/Americana. You can help them celebrate the release of their new EP at the Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St., on Saturday, January 4th, with the Love Technicians and Mariachi Zapata.
I spoke with bassist Travis Sing this past weekend about the band, the upcoming EP and his other projects.
MarQ – How did the Electroliners get together?
Travis Sing – I was playing in Girl Drink Drunk with Pat and we were talking about old country music and stuff. I met Steph separately and would see her sing country songs at karaoke. I was missing Black Squirrels and here were three of us that were like-minded and so we met up and swapped CDs. I thought that Pat and I would be the ones writing material. Steph showed up and was like, "I wrote a song," and it was really good. So we have more than enough material with three songwriters. We had Wayne Brekke and Corey Webber in the group originally, but they fell off and we talked Doug into playing and I asked Kate to join. So it is a half-Black Squirrels reunion.
MarQ – What are some of the projects you have played in?
Travis – Darktown House Band from 1995 to 1997. That was one where it was folky and had a jazz thing and I got to play upright bass and it was a lot of fun. I moved to New England and played in a band there, and I played bass while they played banjos and stuff. We moved back here and I bought a standup bass and met Kat and already new Kate, and have for awhile, as we went to Creighton together. I had that upright bass and hadn’t played it for a couple of years and that became Black Squirrels. I still get people asking about the Black Squirrels even though that was three years ago that it was done.
MarQ – You guys subtly look the part of a country and western band. Was there thought put into that?
Travis – Not really. Steph wears the square dance dresses and Pat has some western shirts that he wore in the the Third Men and I have my western suit I bust out sometimes. It wasn’t that thought out, but I do like to dress a little better in this band.
MarQ – Do you write separately or as a unit?
Travis – We just bring our own songs to the table. Everything is similar enough that it keeps everything cohesive.
MarQ – What has been the reaction to the Electroliners?
Travis – For the most part, people seem to like us and the music is mostly upbeat. We still deal with those classic country themes, though.
MarQ – There are not a lot of country artists in town playing your style. Do you find it hard to fill out live lineups?
Travis – It’s great to play on a bill with Matt Cox or the Filter Kings, but I like eclectic bills and playing with other bands. I wanted something different for this CD release party, so I was like let’s get a Mariachi band! Steph, Doug and I are Love Technicians fans so we had to have them on the bill.
MarQ – How many bands are you currently playing with?
Travis – Three bands (the Electroliners, Whipkey 3 and All Young Girls Are Machine Guns) and I have my solo project that I need to start focusing on.
MarQ – Is it hard to balance out your schedule?
Travis – I have just gotten adept at it. I have rarely had a double booking. I think once or twice I got really stupid and booked when I had another band playing. Consider me lucky I guess.
MarQ – What are some of your favorite songs on the album, or to play with this band?
Travis – I really like “Last Picture Show” because it is my favorite movie of all time. I was going to write a tribute song to it, but not with the plot, but pictures and imagery. I wrote a song about a movie that is about a book. I like playing Steph's song “Francine” a lot. It is the first song on the EP and I had a stupid little bass riff I made up a long time ago, and we did it and and we liked it. How many songs start off with bass? Pat has this song about that is a groove, and how many country songs have a groove? They are fun to play and it is always a challenge as a songwriter because the song may be good but you have to play this again. Your part is what you make it.
MarQ – What sets your solo project apart from the other groups you play with?
Travis – I set out with that to be more of a goth country type of thing. Not every song is a dirge in a minor key, but it would not fit the Electroliners very well. It is more geared towards old dark folk stuff although not 100 percent.
MarQ – Do you see yourself as a group playing around Omaha or a band that will eventually tour?
Travis – Everyone is busy with their jobs and Steph has her family and that is fine with me. I like to go play in Lincoln or would do a one-off at the Chesterfield (Sioux City) or KC, but no real plans to go out of town and do that stuff. Now that we have a recording we should be playing a lot more around here.
MarQ – Who did you record with?
Travis – With Jeremy Garrett at his studio. It was great. He is one of those guys that is really relaxed and if something needs to be fixed he will be fair in his assessment. We recorded live with no click back so it has a live a feel to it with a little polish, or as Pat would say, "Travis, sprikle a little fairy dust on it."
Local rockers reunite for show at the Waiting Room
By MarQ Manner
The late-90s and the early-2000s was a time when local Omaha music was on a massive upswing. Omaha bands like Blue Moon Ghetto, Grasshopper Takeover and Clever were getting radio airplay locally and hitting the road. 311 already had their own “day” and festival somewhere other than Omaha, and local bands could fill the clubs. Saddle Creek Records artists were taking off in a different direction through a different scene adding to the diversity of the musical culture.
One band in the thick of the local scene was Mandown (pictured above, circa 2013).
Members of Mandown had been in Old Boy Network and Blue Moon Ghetto and were looking to have some fun while creating music. Mandown played shows locally and regionally to increasing success and in the end they put out two albums, including the lauded "Shoulders," which spawned the regional hit “I Would Fly Around You” (The Helicopter Song). The band would tour aggressively, “take it seriously,” get some label interest, and eventually called it a day.
Mandown put on some of their most memorable shows at the Ranch Bowl in the time after the release of “Shoulders.” The band had improved on those songs live and were also bringing new material to the stage. The shows were one big sweaty, bouncy party that people in that scene tried to never miss out on. You were always going to have a good time with a lot of people and probably get pretty drunk and dance until the end of the night at a Mandown show. Now, over 10 years later, Mandown will finally take the stage in Omaha again in our new party central, Benson, to perform at the Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St., on Monday December 23 with reuniting contemporaries the Fonzarellies and 8th Wave. Advance tickets are on sale through Etix and Homers Records in the Old Market.
I met up with three of the four members of Mandown this past week at Jerry’s Bar to discuss what the members have been up to and what brought about this reunion after so many years.
Marq - Give me a brief history of how the band originally got together.
Joel Kassera - Dave (Backhaus), Vince (Giambattista) and Jim Watson came into Homer’s when I was working there and asked me to play drums for Old Boy Network, which I did at the very end. Jimi moved away and we didn’t want to quit. These two guys were like, “You want to f*** around?” and five years later we are boxing in a parking lot in Arkansas.
Dave - We were all doing music full-time, and when all of our bands went defunct and we were looking for something else.
(There is then a debate on all of the facts about how they actually got together)
Joel - Apparently, we have no idea how it started. In the end it works out great because we are having a s**t ton of fun. There is nothing else we want to accomplish, but have fun.
Vince - Counting our blessings. Counting our ranch dressing.
Joel - I hate when people put ranch dressing on pizza.
MarQ – What were the highlights of Mandown to you guys?
Vince - “Helicopter” was a big hit.
Joel - Having a song on the radio. Playing the House of Blues in LA. Potentially getting signed and doing some showcases.
Dave - We did a showcase in San Diego and played in front of two radio execs in suits in the middle of the day.
Joel - That wasn’t a highlight-that sucked. Plus, we hit a skunk and stunk. Sitting in the House of Blues in L.A. in the dressing room was a big deal for us. That was a highlight.
Dave - When “Helicopter” was on the radio that was our summer of headlining the Ranch Bowl.
Joel - There was a time when all the bands were getting along, and partying and there were a lot of happy people.
Joel - That is why we are having 8th Wave and the Fonzies play.
Dave - That was a show that happened a lot back then.
MarQ - Who are some of your other contemporaries from that era?
Dave - We played with Pomeroy, Anchondo, Jank 1000, Straight Outta Jr. High, Backlight Sunshine. We were plugged into that Weezer/Foo Fighters pop rock scene-that up-tempo pop rock scene.
MarQ - You have recently put the album “Shoulders” up online again on Spotify and iTunes. It still holds up. How does that feel?
Dave - I felt good that a few people told me that. A guy in Texas told me that. I want it to still be meaningful.
Joel - There is always the wish of what we could of done with what we put on it, but living in Arizona for a long time people that heard it there said’ you should still be playing this music.
Dave - That is why we haven’t played in a long time is because Joel moved to Arizona.
Joel - The songs that we played live, that we didn’t record – we are going to try to record them. There are some loose plans to do more. People want this show to happen and maybe they will want us to put something down. I want to record those songs as they are memories and moments for me that I want to have.
Dave - They are our body of work and we want to have them for ourselves.
Joel - This isn’t about “Hey look at us!” This is about come rock out with us.
Vince - The people that still remember us.
MarQ - Well you guys got quite the reaction on social media when it started to leak that you guys were hanging out and then eventually doing a show.
Joel - That may be one of the better moments around the band. The vibe of the picture that Chris Crutcher took.
Vince - Every year someone asks me about Mandown.
MarQ - Just one per year?
Joel - It’s his mom.
MarQ - When Mandown played, what did you want to accomplish on stage?
Joel - We went for pure adrenaline. We beat ourselves to death in practice. We definitely tried to pull energy out of a crowd.
Dave - We felt like we found our sound on “Shoulders” and that it had a lot of hooks and that was what we were going for. I think we all liked rock music.
Joel - We were all closet hessians.
MarQ - What have you guys done in the past 10 years?
Joel - I became an adult. I worked at one place for nine years. I bought a house. I kind of grew up. I kind of got away from music. That is what makes this so much more awesome. I miss it. I got away from it enough that it is new, exciting, and real and fun again. Down there I just took a break and recharged the batteries. I am still kind of grown up but I still like to get crazy. I have gotten married and have a baby girl on the way.
Dave - When he would tell me that he didn’t have a guitar anymore-I was like ‘wow he really went away’. We missed him. It is exactly what he said. It’s full circle, back to the beginning and its fun for us again. We are friends again. We were doing it for real then and things got serious.
Vince - We were touring and trying to take it somewhere.
MarQ - What about you Vince and Dave? You have both remained very active in the Omaha music scene.
David - I have played in Prospect Ave, Malpais, Lonely Estates, Old Boy Network and Secret Weapon all kind of at the same time.
Vince - Ten Club, Blue Bird, I was in Secret Weapon for a moment. We revisited Old Boy Network for a moment.
MarQ - How about the drummer Scott Evans who is actually practicing with another band tonight?
David - He is and was in Secret Weapon, Two Drag Club, Malpais, Lonely Estates and Old Boy Network.
David - In my personal life I got married and that was nice. Honestly, I have been chugging along. I have always been playing music….if something breaks up I always have a group of talented friends to play with in new projects.
Vince - I rebuilt my front steps last summer.
MarQ - What have practices been like?
Dave - A lot of laughs, a lot of fun and a lot of memory juice. Like Joel said we were always trying to better the songs and make them better. So we tried to remember them the way they were live before we broke up not how they are on the album.
Joel - We are putting some new twists in there also. When we are playing in the basement it feels like we are playing in front of 10,000 people. This has been one of the longest months of my life. I haven’t played a show forever. I have been telling the guys that I wish I could take a nap and just wake up on Monday. I cannot wait to play in front of these people again.
Dave - Mandown was a time when we were really trying to do music. We toured a lot and tried to make music a career. It is fun to get with the guys again to get back with them again.
Joel - It’s fun being with the guys and it’s like we are playing the first show that we have ever played. It’s almost explosive at times.
By MarQ Manner
I have been catching up online with longtime Omaha artist and now Seattle transplant Jonathan Friedman about his new solo album, Pop Rock Overflow. The album was released this past Tuesday and features fun, pure pop songs – some retro-flavored at times, and even piano ballads (a rarity in pop music these days). Jonathan is well known to both original music fans and those that enjoyed popular cover band Hi-Fi Hangover. There are no plans for Friedman to tour at this time, and no Omaha solo shows on the books, but people can grab his new work online at CD Baby through this link http://cdbaby.com/cd/jonathanfriedman1
Jonathan and I talked about the new album, his career and the differences between Omaha and Seattle music scenes.
Marq - Tell me about your career thus far.
Jonathan Friedman - I've had a long career in music. I have played in some great original acts (Orange, The What Ifs, Old Boy Network). I've been a solo artist, a front man, a sideman, a songwriter, a producer, a collaborator, but I always seem to keep coming back to the solo artist thing. I put out my last solo album "Seattle" in 2007, in the time since then, I played a ton of shows as a solo acoustic act, opening for Smithereens, Robert Randolph, and Vertical Horizon. Most recently, I was playing in Omaha party band Hi-Fi Hangover. I learned a tremendous amount while in the band about entertaining and was fortunate enough to play with the best of the best....but during that time, I never stopped writing.
Marq - You live in Seattle now. What brought you there?
Jonathan - I relocated to Seattle last January with my wife and kids. She works and I'm a stay-at-home dad now, but I do make myself write or record every single day. My family lets me call myself a songwriter as my main gig, so I do try to act like one.
Marq - What are some of the differences musically between Omaha and Seattle?
Jonathan - I think that the differences in music scenes between Omaha and Seattle are enormous. So many more venues and eclectic styles. Not all of it is my style or liking, but I definitely respect the energy that comes out of living in a "music town." It's pretty huge. EVERYONE is a musician.
Marq - Is your new album “Pop Rock Overflow” something that you did just yourself?
Jonathan - I have recorded most of my solo stuff on my own and this one certainly is not much different. Scott Evans played drums for me and I also was honored to have two of Omaha's greats (Dereck Higgins and Dana Hancock) both lay down some solos for me. I also managed to get Jim Homan (owner/engineer/producer at Screendoor Studios) to actually play guitar on a couple of tracks, as well, as mixing it for me, which he did 100 percent through email. I'd record the parts in my home studio and then send them to him. We've worked together a lot in the past, so I think he knew exactly what I was looking for. I really can't recommend Jim enough for this kind of project, or any for that matter.
Marq - This album as many of your past works has a pure pop feel to it. Are there some new band in the genre that you are enjoying?
Jonathan- I have always been a pure pop fan, even during the deep dark days of '90s alternative. Funny that I should end up in the birthplace of all that. Seattle is pretty punk still, but I think my love of popular music kind of makes me punk rock in my own kind of way. It takes a brave man to publicly honor some of the dirty secrets on my iPod. I could really freak some people out. I mean my first three concerts were Billy Joel, Huey Lewis and the News, and Richard Marx. As far as new influences, I have to admit as I get older, I do find myself looking back more often than looking forward. That being said, there's a great new band in Seattle called Pickwick. I definitely am into what they are doing.
Marq - This may be your strongest vocal performance on an album. Have you done anything differently?
Jonathan - I appreciate the kind words about the vocals. I think for the first time in a very long time, I actually believe the lyrics I wrote and it shows. There's some real emotion going on there. It's an album about the aspects of love, and that's pretty easy to get emotional about. Add to that, the fact that I just got out of a 2 1/2-year stint with a band that played every single weekend of the year. Because of that routine, I figured out a few things about my voice that work better for me. It took me a long time to learn to appreciate my own voice. I mean, who really does? I'm at a place now where I recognize my voice and style and it feels organic and true. I guess that translated to confidence.
Marq - Tell me about the song “Jake Ryan”? This song obviously speaks to people our age.
Jonathan - Jake Ryan is a song that I wrote for my wife, as is the entire album. He was the dream, right? She obviously had the same crush on him as every other teen girl from the '80s. What better comparison is there? I'm just simply telling her that in essence, I'll be your '80s dream forever. My wife and I have had some special moments together that have felt like a John Hughes movie and we have often joked about it through the years. I got to have a lot of fun with some of the references in that song, as well as the overall arrangement. It's very true to the era.
Marq - How about “Live or Memorex”?
Jonathan - "Live or Memorex" is about a real thing that happened. I found an old cassette mix tape belonging to my wife in a box of memories, from an old high school boyfriend of hers. It was all very innocent and all, but it got me thinking about the pain of break ups and does one ever really get over them? Basically, the song is a big metaphor for feeling yesterday's pain today. "Is it live (happening now) or Memorex (from the past). Seemed like a clever way to tell that story. There's a lot going on in that one. Past vs. present, digital vs. analog. Lots and lots of metaphors.
Marq - Will you be touring on this record? Any Omaha shows?
Jonathan - I will not be doing any touring right now. I am currently much more interested in developing my writing and recording skills. I am still kind of shell shocked from the sheer volume of gigs that I have played over the last five years. It feels good to hang out in the studio for a while. As far as playing any Omaha shows, I will be returning back to town for Thanksgiving for about a week, and I am going to have to drop in on my old band, and if the mood and timing is right for a solo show, then maybe.
Marq - What are your current goals for the future?
Jonathan - My goals right now are quite lofty, but that's why we have them. I am currently recording my next project, which is a 23-song concept album. It should be out sometime in 2014. Along with that, I am also working on my own record label and will doing something very exciting with it in the very near future.
4-day festival moves to Sokol Park in Belleviue, opens Thursday, Sept. 4
Hullabaloo Music Festival
Thursday, Sept. 4 - Sunday, Sept. 8
Sokol Park, Bellevue
By MarQ Manner
In its third year, the Hullabaloo Music festival has booked its biggest lineup to date. Spearheaded by Nebraska touring artists Kris Lager Band and specifically band member Brandon Miller, this year marks a move from Riverwest Park by Elkhorn to Sokol Park just past Bellevue. Miller promises much of the same experience that Hullabaloo fans had at the previous location, but enhanced. The four-day festival begins Thursday, Sept. 4, and runs through Sunday Sept. 8. Included amongst the more than 40 artists are hip-hop duo Blackalicious, Aaron Freeman (Gene Ween formerly of Ween), Monophonics, Icky Blossoms and Samantha Fish.
There will be many bands that Brandon and the band have become fans of through their touring around the country, as well as a wide variety of local musicians. I have attended the past two years, and this is one of the most relaxed and enjoyable festivals I have been to. I met up with Brandon a couple of days before the festival to learn about the new changes and where he would like to see Hullabaloo go from here.
MarQ – How did you come up with the idea for Hullabaloo?
Brandon Miller – Four years ago, when I joined the group, I wanted to do a farm party. I thought it would be fun to have some bands out there. I thought this could be that band that goes out there. The owner of the barn thought about how big it could become and the liability out there. So we decided to move it to the Anchor Inn and then that flooded. So we had it at Riverwest Park, and that was three years ago.
MarQ – Why the move from Riverwest Park?
Brandon – Bill Novak started to have about three or four festivals out there last Summer and the neighbors complained about the noise. They circulated a petition and there was only like 25 signatures on there but the city made them stop at doing music at 10 p.m. And that pretty much kills having a camping festival out there.
MarQ – What can people expect at Sokol Park?
Brandon – Sokol has a lot more room for growth, a bigger parking lot, it has an indoor venue and bar area, there is a shower, working toilets, and it is really easy to find. It is closer to downtown and midtown, there is a built-in grill, and there is a tunnel walk like at Riverwest, so we can trip out and do the Electric Forest still.
MarQ – What has been the reaction to the lineup this year?
Brandon – It’s been really solid. There are a lot of people excited about Blackalicious and the entire lineup. This one of the best lineups that they we have seen here in town.
MarQ – Who are some other bands that people might not know about yet?
Brandon – Henry and the Invisibles are going to blow minds this year. He was at Wakarusa and he stole the whole weekend. Sophistifunk was one of the show-stealers last year and we got them back again. Those are two of the highlights, but there is a lot more.
MarQ – You also got Icky Blossoms on the lineup.
Brandon – I really wanted them last year, but at the same time Maha wanted them. They will fit really well with our Friday lineup. They have some great acts playing with around them. We had to wait to announce them a month ago because they were opening up for Phoenix. So Friday is going to be a great night of music.
MarQ – The festival gets branded around the Kris Lager Band, but this is your baby right?
Brandon – I do the majority of the work for this festival and Kris is doing a lot more this year and Jerimiah and John and my father and my mom. I want the glory to go to the band, but it is funny and Kris Lager laughs at it because a lot of people go to him and say great job. It is an ongoing joke between the both of us.
MarQ – What is new this year?
Brandon – We are adding a lot of stuff. We are going to be doing midnight movies every night, a burning man-style bonfire, a parade on Friday night, a community art project, and a nine-hole Frisbee golf course. Every year we are going to be more extreme. Going back to the surprises for bands this year – Blackalicious is going to be bringing Lifesavas, a crew from Oregon, with them. So that is going to be a surprise and that is going to be dope.
MarQ – How large would you like this festival to grow?
Brandon – I would like it to keep growing, but I want to keep it intimate still. I would like to one day pull in an act that is Bonaroosa level but keep ticket sales to a minimum and keep it interesting. It might be tough to do that. I would like to have the same headliners from that festival in a smaller more intimate setting without all the big crowds. I really want to throw the best party that we can and make this the best festival. We will do that with more years, attendance and support from the community.
MarQ – How many stages will you have this year?
Brandon – We are going to have three official stages and then one stage that is already built out there that we are going to let anyone do what they want. They can do drum circles and acoustic or whatever they want to do.
One stage is going to be inside during the peak heat hours so people are not roasting in the sun.
MarQ – What sets this festival apart from other events in town?
BRandon – The heart of a music festival is in the camping and the overnight stay. It becomes a community and you are going to be living next to these people for four days and four nights. Everyone is really accommodating and everyone is very generous and kind. They treat the property very well and people here actually pick their trash up and make sure they keep their area clean. Having that multi-day festival is where it really lies. We are trying really hard to put a lot of emphasis in production and attractions. We want to make sure there is a lot to do to give it that big festival feel. We will have big screens with a camera crew getting shots of musicians. I love the other festivals around here also and we are all different. Musically, we have a wide variety of music as we have funk soul, blues electronica and everything in between all rolled up into one event.
MarQ – What vendors will you have this year?
Brandon – We have some great vendors. We have Chik-Fil-A, Star Deli, Ty’s Amazing Cajun, Island Seasons, Dippin’ Dots, Hy-Vee, vintage jewelry, tie-die, massage therapy, pottery, paintings, and one really cool things is that we have Sammy Sunshyne on board. She will be doing workshops with some of the artists. The Flying Worm will be there, Irie Moon sunglasses. A wide variety of food and art.
MarQ – Make your closing pitch to get people out.
Brandon – I give my personal guarantee that this is going to be one of the best events of the summer and I hope the community comes out and supports it this year. Everyone that has been there until now knows how good it is. This festival really has something for everybody. It’s not your standard hippie festival and we have a diverse lineup and activities that everyone is going to keep everyone entertained.
By MarQ Manner
We Be Lions
With Purveyors of the Conscious Sound, Sidewise, and Artillery Funk
9 p.m. Friday, August 30
Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
Popular rock band We Be Lions plays Friday at the Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St., with a focus on raising money for their upcoming CD. The band features some long-running members of the local music scene, dating back to their time headlining the Ranch Bowl on numerous occasions as Slang 5.
Members have been swapped out since I last spoke with them a couple of years ago. We Be Lions are trying to get to the point where they have members that can tour and play out of town. Vocalist Cody Fox says that he has been focusing more towards singing, with less of their hip-hop influence. I met up with members of the band before a recent practice at Louis Bar and Grill in Benson.
MarQ – So what has changed since we last talked?
Cody Fox – Everything has changed. We have three new members and added a second guitar player.
MarQ – I asked you the other night why you guys are not out on the road more.
Cody – I have been getting that question all the time. Why are we not touring? We are getting people in the band that will allow us to do that.
MarQ – How extensive would you like to get with touring?
Cody – I think right now it doesn’t make sense to tour during the week. We are doing more shows trading with other bands to build up those markets. Next year, we would hope to have the support to go out on a tour that makes sense. Dave (Campbell with Midwest Elite Concerts) is good about getting us shows with good bands. I think we are going to like California and Missouri. I really want to get out to Colorado.
MarQ – You have put out some recordings since then.
Cody – We had an EP about six months ago. It was about two months after the new members joined and we wanted to get feedback on what people liked. We made 2,000 of them. We gave them out for free and we had feedback from people. Basically this new album now is based off of the feedback of that EP. We want to be happy with it for ourselves and we are happy with it, but we want to make other people happy with it, too.
MarQ – So this isn’t your CD release this coming Friday?
Cody – We didn’t want to rush it. If we can’t be 100 percent professional like the big bands, we don’t want to do that. We want to look the part. We are going to probably do it in December. We are going to do a Kickstarter and this is the kick off for that.
MarQ – How has the band evolved of the last couple of years?
Jake Pirruccello – We lost a member and so the keyboards are gone. The new members are more rock based.
Cody – I do a lot more singing and it is definitely different. We have a group of songs and whenever we put out an album they say it is a good thing, but I think it is a bad thing that the songs have a different feel to it. I want to have a fingerprint and these songs have a particular sound and you can’t put your finger on in.
Jake – Yeah, you are doing more singing and not as much rapping.
Cody – I think I did my fair share of rapping and hip-hop and the stories. I am trying to play that wordplay and work it in different ways. That is what I am trying to do with the lyrics and signing. I have been taking singing lessons for a year and a half. My throat for a while was really bothering me as I was signing the wrong way. The lady I have been going to has fixed that. It’s changed the way I look at music, too. I am learning piano and theory.
MarQ – You have been doing this a long time. What is your take on the rock scene in Omaha right now?
Cody – I will see some shows and I will feel like the people are not into it as much as they should be. Like when Jane’s Addiction came to Omaha and everyone was looking at me like I am weird for jumping up and down and dancing. Then you go on a Monday night to the Waiting Room and there are 50 people in there and they are into it and yeah, and they love it. You can go to somewhere any night of the week and see a good musician in this town. Sometimes people do not recognize it. It needs a place or a leader or someone to get it together. That is one of the reasons we are working with Dave. He is trying to make it about being friends and he is trying to build that scene up and build that up to support each other. I feel like that is happening again. That hasn’t happened in a long time.
MarQ – When you are writing where do you get inspiration for your songs?
Cody – When you are trying to find something write about 3 a.m., I try to write about personal stuff because it is like therapy and it allows me to get it out. We were handing out fliers at Irritation and this kid was like, " You wrote a song about a family dealing with addiction," and this kid remembered the song and came up to me and told me how much he related to that song. That has never happened to me. That is why I do this.
MarQ – What subjects do you write about?
Cody – I have a lot friends that are into conspiracy theories and we kind of find it interesting, and so I like to write about that stuff also. I always used to write about girls and I felt like I got worn out in that vein. I am trying to find new things to write about. Conspiracy theories and family and that is me stepping out of the box.
MarQ – What is the ultimate goal for the band?
Cody – We really are trying to go all the way. We want to have this for our jobs. That is the ultimate goal. I always tell these guys that we are trying to get to that point to make it an easy choice. We are trying to be as smart as possible. We are trying to go all the way.
The multi-act, daylong event is finally here
By MarQ Manner
It seems like Maha took a lot longer to get here this year, but this Saturday August 17 is finally the day. The weather is looking good and the sun looks like it will be shining on Stinson Park again this year. The lineup is two indie rock heavy hitters, a punk legend, an Omaha favorite, a big buzz band, a possible breakout artist and many great local mainstays. Maha will also be featuring an expanded non-profit display area, a comedy tent and the usual drink and food options.
This year, much like the past two years, it is recommended to come and stay the full day. There is not a bad or mediocre act on the lineup, so why not hunker down for the long haul? Here is an overview of what is in store for you.
The first band onstage Saturday will be Purveyors of the Conscious Sound, an Omaha hip-hop group that was the top vote-getter at the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards Summer Showcase, which got them this spot. The band has been opening for a lot of national hip-hop artists coming through town over the past couple of years and their recent Maha showcase and CD release party was in front of packed houses. They are a fun group to watch live and have some very catchy songs. Liz Graham’s vocals puts these guys over the top.
Kicking off the Weitz Mainstage is Omaha band Millions of Boys. The indie-pop band is a go-to for many of the larger Saddle Creek bands to take on tour or have on their local shows. The band's debut album "Competing For You" is 25 minutes of fun, raw pop songs. And though only a trio, the band can fill up a large stage.
Back at the Centris Stage is Hers, which is an intricate four-piece band with a lot of focus on instrumentation and outside-the-box thinking. I haven’t seen the band live since they changed their name from Honeybee & Hers, and it has been said that their sound has changed some since that time. A quick listen to some samples from their upcoming album “Youth Revisited” also point to that. There might be a few more slightly aggressive and gritty moments from the band coming up. I am sure we will get the picture of where the band has evolved to at Maha.
The first non-Omaha band is next on the mainstage, with Sons of Fathers, a Texas-based folk-rock act. The band's harmonies and rootsy instrumentation should be perfect for a nice afternoon in the park. The band of course draws comparisons to Mumford and Sons, Dawes and Avett Brothers, and I am not here to dispute that. If you are a fan of this new folk rock movement this is the up-and-coming band to see.
Next up on the local stage is Rock Paper Dynamite, who have been headlining shows around Omaha for years now. The RPD boys have released multiple albums and EP’s and have toured the country. They are one of the most energetic live bands in the area and seriously have songs that will stick in your head for days. The band has a slightly southern lilt to their music, a la Kings of Leon and Black Keys.
Over on the main stage is Thao & The Get Down Stay Down from San Francisco, California. This band has been putting out eclectic albums for almost a decade now and are just recently starting to see their name rise in the indie ranks. This is my second-most anticipated national band on the Maha lineup. Musically, the band is all over the map with their songwriting and instrumentation and I cannot wait to see how it all comes out on stage. I have a feeling that front-woman Thao Nguyen is going to be a treat to watch onstage.
Legendary Lincoln band the Millions(NE) will close out the afternoon with what is said to be their final performance. The group got together for a one-off show recently to promote some of the band's reissued music. They decided to stick around for a few more shows, but this is the end. I just saw the band recently at the Waiting Room and they are just as good as they were in the early '90s during their heyday. One of only a handful of artists out of Nebraska to sign with a major label, the band’s songs are going to sound great soaring over the park.
There was a time when I could not go into a midtown bar and not
hear the Thermals' “No Culture Icons” off the band's debut album on a jukebox. The Omaha indie scene has loved this band right from the get-go. Now they are signed to Omaha’s Saddle Creek Records. They are a great live band and their songs will bring a certain intensity to Maha. The front of stage should be filled with many standing and dancing at this point.
Saddle Creek Records band Criteria will perform on the Centris local stage after the Thermals. The band pops up every now and then and does a show seemingly to prove that they haven’t disbanded. It’s been 8 years since we have gotten an album out of the band. No worries, though, because we are perfectly happy that the always-great live band still shows up and plays. The band’s debut album “En Garde” is one of the best albums in the label's catalog.
The artist I am most looking forward to is Bob Mould. Mould is the leader of Minneapolis punk band Hüsker Dü and alternative jangle pop band Sugar. He has put out many amazing solo albums also – his current album “Silver Age” is amongst his best. This should be a full-on rocking set and hopefully loud. Bob Mould might be in his prime at just-over 50 years old.
Digital Leather will close out the Centris stage and should be one of the more entertaining sets of the day. This is the band that will turn the heads of any of the uninitiated in the audience. Shawn Foree transplanted to Omaha years ago and has been using Omaha musicians in his project, which now includes the Faint front man Todd Fink. The band is excellent live and it will be interesting to see if they bring out some of the earlier synthy material or stick with the guitar-driven sound they had been running with.
Matt & Kim are next on the mainstage and I think they will probably give the Flaming Lips a run for their money. This band has been slaying on the festival circuit this summer. I can’t think of a more energetic duo, as they give the audience everything they have throughout the entire show. The band’s upbeat pop songs will have the audience dancing and jumping for sure. It’s going to be a party.
Headlining this whole Maha shindig is of course the Flaming Lips. This is the biggest headliner they have had to date and one of the biggest bands out there. This is actually the band's 30th year, although they really didn’t hit big until “She Don’t Use Jelly” in 1993. The band kept growing at that point, both in terms of popularity and as a band. The experimental and psychedelic band produced some of the most cherished albums of the late-'90s and early 2000s. They are now known just as much for their live shows, which can include confetti cannons, mascots, and gerbil ball crowd surfing from front man Wayne Coyne. It will be a spectacle that everyone should love except maybe the clean up crew.
The Beat Seekers
New album puts Omaha band at center stage Friday @ Waiting Room
With the Architects, Bullet Proof Hearts and the Warnings, plus special appearances from OK Party Comedy
9 p.m. Friday, August 2 @ the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St. (waitinroomlounge.com) $7
By MarQ Manner
The Beat Seekers new album Loud and F***king Clear sounds like a mix of the many things that frontman and songwriter Keith Fertwagner has been involved with throughout his career. There are huge pop hooks, punk ethos, snotty aggression and at times that retro feel of something out of the garage, circa the 1960s.
Fertwagner’s storied career has seen him in one of the bigger Omaha bands at the turn of the century, the Fonzarellies, touring Japan, living in Los Angeles, and joining a band with L7’s Jennifer Finch before moving back to Omaha to start again with his band the Beat Seekers. That band has gone through many lineup changes over the past couple of years, including the departure of Keith’s brother Kyle Fertwagner. Keith has soldiered on with a group of young musicians, including 17-year-old Michael Minckler. I met up with Keith and the band this past week to talk about Keith’s history and the new album. You can catch the Beat Seekers live at their CD release show at the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St., on Friday, August 2 with Bullet Proof Hearts, the Architects and the Warnings.
MarQ - First, let's talk about the video you just released in which there are punk rockers and hipsters involved in a game of dodgeball. Who came up with that idea?
Keith - That was me. I was working at School of Rock and there was that old gym and I thought it would be great to make use of that gym. I originally had a basketball idea with people pushing off and taking the ball and then one night it became dodgeball. I let Aaron Gum run with the idea and he started rolling with that. I got Thad (Teply of the Fonzarellies) involved and it was his idea to do Beat Seekers vs. hipsters. Everybody had some ideas and some made it in and some did not. I had that initial seed and that brought it in, but Thad and Aaron really brought it in. Thad has a great sense of humor and I have to give him credit for that video.
MarQ - When did you start playing music? What was your first band?
Keith - I played in a little garage band with my brother and Mike Akenbauer. Mike was the dude and he got me into everything, as he is four years older. He lived down the street and collected records and got me into the Ramones, the Stooges and and soul and blues music. At an early age it was cool to listen to this and this and this and listen to Albert King after. We never went anywhere but then we joined the Magpie Faction and that was pretty thrashy. That was the catalyst to the Fonzies.
MarQ - The Fonzarellies were involved in a lot of stuff. Message board fights, big shows and tours of the states and Japan. Is this where were you knew that you are going to be a lifer in this rock and roll circus?
Keith - I think that happened before that. I think I figured out that is what I wanted to do. This band has been the same way as with the Fonzies in that people tend to move on. I try really hard to keep it together. If you have any dead weight you have to cut it. It is unfortunate.
MarQ - Do you find at your age it is hard to keep people in the band because they are having families and kids?
Keith - Yeah, but I have two kids. It is situational, though, and people are different. I have always considered myself to be a lifer and I don’t know anything else and I don’t want to know anything else. Some people have one foot in the water and one foot somewhere else and I am a dive in head first kind of guy. I have run into this in this type of band. Before I had kids, I didn’t plan on having kids, but this wonderful lady that I had kids with knew what she was getting into it with and I am a pretty good dad. This is something that I had to do and it keeps me sane. Without it there would be a huge void in my life and I would be an a**hole. At the end of the day, it is better for the kids that I do this.
MarQ - How old are your kids?
Keith - 5 and 3, I have two girls and they are super sweet. They are used to it and they see it a lot. I have a lot of people that come out here from all walks of life. I have an eclectic fan base and they are well-cultured. Some times they will draw on their arms so they can have their own tattoos and I am not encouraging it. They will probably grow up to be doctors or lawyers, as they are really smart.
MarQ - Tell me about your time in LA.
Keith - I was in the Fonzie’s and it was coming to a head and I decided to hop on a bus and go to LA. It was an irrational decision and I hopped on a Greyhound and was sleeping at my buddy's house and working at Fender Guitar and getting up at 5 a.m., which I never did well with. He knew her, Jennifer Finch, and caught wind that she was looking for a guitar player. I learned the record and got the gig and I did that for six months. Toured around. They were called the Shocker. That is how I met the mother of my children as she was the bass player for that band. Once the band caught wind of that it was weird and we bolted.
Through that band I met the guitar player for my next band. It was from a guy form F Minus, Duane Peters of the Huns and US Bombs. So I started playing with them singing and playing guitar. We did an EP and went on tour in England and went on tour with Social Distortion, but people started not getting along and I was sick of LA at that point. I had been there for three-and-a-half years at that point. I was doing some reminiscing about Omaha. I just wanted to play in a band with my friends and started the Beat Seekers with all the guys in the band who are not in the band any more. It was very business-oriented out in LA, not that there is anything wrong with that, but people take themselves too seriously. I think it is fun and a lifestyle whether you sell a million records or 100. I wasn’t getting the vibe.
MarQ - Tell me about Loud and “F***ing Clear
Keith - I think that this stuff that I revisited that past and I am getting back to my roots a little bit. We did a record between the last two that I think should have been a solo record. I wrote that in a couple weeks and we were on tour and a couple of guys wanted to go home, and I went home and was depressed. I was all over the place and that record is kind of downer. It's funny, as that is my dad’s favorite record. I used a lot of piano, organs and synth and stuff…a lot of vibraphones…I like it. We were playing that stuff live and I was not feeling it. I wanted a record that we could go out live and play aggressive and one that was more a kick in the nuts. Most of the music I listen to is old and the '60s and '70s are big for me, era-wise. There is some Thin Lizzy guitar on here and I have always been into pop music. If a song doesn’t have hooks, and that is my gripe today, where are the hooks? If it doesn’t have hooks, I don’t want to listen to it again. I want something I can sing along to.
MarQ - Are there any songs on the album that stand out to you?
Keith - A lot of it is social and political and I like to write about people. These are not my experiences, but kind of from the looking glass and observational. The first song “After Party,” it is almost about us as a civilization and that we are already too far gone. We are past the point of repair. That can go into things like things like climate change and what not. I am not either side, but I am thinking about it. A lot of these songs, like “Trails of Tragedy,” it is a simple line, but we do not know who we are anymore. Our generation is the last to not remember having a cell phone, accessing the Internet, riding your bike around without worry. So what is the next 20 going to look like? A lot of these songs…I have kids…I see the world a little differently…whereas 10 years ago I didn’t give a f*ck. I look at these songs and they are downers in a sense, and it is bittersweet because they have the pop in them and they have the hooks. If you look at the lyrics they are dark, but they are f**king pop songs and super catchy.
MarQ - Who are the new guys in the band now?
Keith - We started with Nate Van Fleet, and he joined the band about a year-and-a-half ago. He is younger and I met him through him teaching at School of Rock. I had hired him and he has a lot of energy and he is a jazz guy also. He is very good. We got along right away and he was there for the picking.
MarQ - Michael, how did you join the band?
Michael Minckler - I was 16 at the time and Keith was talking about how they were looking for a bass player and I brought it up as a joke. Then I brought it up every week that I would do it and eventually he was like, yeah.
Keith - Eventually, I was like rock and roll does not have age, and I have watched the kid on stage and after some thought I was like f**k it...you are 16, whatever, I will make it work. Really, whether he is 17 or not, he is my little brother and we get along famously. I never had a little brother, I had an older brother.
Michael - Same thing for me. I had a sister and wanted an older brother.
MarQ - Who rounds out the band?
Keith - Ben Stratton, and he was in the band on our last record. I have known him since high-school. Right after I recorded that last record I was doing an acoustic show and he was running sound and we caught up and I gave him a some of that stuff and loved it and it seemed appropriate. So that is how that happened. He is a good dude.
MarQ - How do your parents like you playing in a full on rock and roll band with Keith and these guys?
Michael - My parents know it is my life and that they are not going to turn me into an office manager. They are supportive.
MarQ - What did you think when you first met Keith?
Michael - He showed me a lot. That was the first time I met a full-blown musician. Someone I aspired to be and someone who I could follow his example, so to speak. We basically had pretty similar music taste.
Keith - There is some stuff that I like that he is not into.
Michael - There is some stuff that I like that he is not into
What: The Travelling Mercies,
The Decatures, Rock Paper Scissor,
and Matt Cox
When: 9 p.m. Saturday, July 27
Where: Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
The Travelling Mercies have undergone a lot of changes over the past few years, both in sound and personnel. The end result is one of the strongest roots/Americana bands in town, and a darker sound that is more Wovenhand than Mumford & Sons. The band is made up of some of Omaha’s top talent, including John Klemmensen, Vern Fergesen, Colin Duckworth, Edward Spencer and front-man and songwriter Jeremy Holan (known by many as Jeremy Mercy).
The band recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $4,000 to help with the release of their second album, Motel. Included in the perks was Jeremy’s own personal well-worn Bible, which is not to insinuate that this is a Christian band. But elements of religion play a part in the story, as it does with many classic roots and songwriter albums. There is a theme to this album and a storyline woven within. I had a sit-down with Jeremy Mercy a couple of months ago in anticipation of this release, and to discuss the thematic nature of Motel.
The band will be celebrating the release of the album on Saturday, July 27, at the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.. They will be joined by Matt Cox, Rock Paper Dynamite and the Decatures. The Decatures will also be celebrating the release of their debut album on this night.
MarQ - How did the writing for Motel take shape?
Jeremy - The first song I wrote was “Five Dollar Bill,” which is the first full song on the album. I was messing around with something that I wasn’t planning on keeping. I thought it was funny. After I wrote that song the wheels stared turning and it fit into Motel. Then I was like, "What if I wrote another song about a motel?" And then I came up with other stories to put into it. Each son either directly or indirectly references another character in another song. I don’t know if I fully understood at first or intended it to be what it began to be in retrospect. I guess kind of…it ended up where a lot of the Motel situated on a southern border town. I kind started thinking about borders in terms of geography, but then also laws and physical state. The idea of a motel is all of these self-contained units of people that have different stories…the arbitrary borders where we just construct different boundaries. So as that kind of became obvious to me I wrote the last few songs of the album.
“Holy Mary" ends the first side of the album. I guess she is illegal….she is an immigrant…and she works in the motel. She talks about how she had this affair with a cop. I wanted to do two sides of the story with one that tells the perspective of the cop. It’s got a lot of people who are either trapped on the wrong side of the law, or luck, or whatever.
MarQ - Did you write by yourself or with your bandmates?
Jeremy - Generally what happened on this album is I wrote out the songs on acoustic guitar. Sometimes it stays pretty close to what it was like. The song “Holy Mary” was pretty much played just like I originally played it. Heather Berney from the Betties sings on that song. She sings it from a female perspective. Then there is a song like “Border Run,” which is the heaviest song on the album, and it was written a bit slower and more country and folky. It is like ¾ time which is really odd. Vern kind of served as producer or musical director for the album and he and I spent a lot of time on the ideas behind it and where we wanted to grow things. I don’t have any kind of musical vocabulary at all, and he was able to direct it when we recorded with Jeremy Garrett and Curt Grubb. He was able to communicate what we were going for a lot.
MarQ - Since there is a theme, how are you playing out the songs live?
Jeremy - Since John has been drumming with us the last three months that has made it a lot more difficult, as a lot of the songs we have still not played live. (This interview was two months ago). The second-to-last song “Am I Your Man,” we have never even played as a band. It was written for the album, whereas a lot of the other songs we fleshed those out onstage. A lot of them.
I see a distinction in the making of the album and playing it live. Some songs do not lend themselves to live playing because of logistics. Some of the songs that we play live are played a lot different than how we recorded them. I won’t feel bad if have never played a lot of these songs live.
MarQ - What are some of the stories on the album?
Jeremy - “Five Dollar Bill” is a guy that has been kicked out of his house and his name is actually Bill, and all his wife left him is five dollars. We have sort of a crumbling love affair that has almost a schizoid traveling Pentecostal preacher. “Million Dollar Recipe” has some people cooking crack in a motel. I don’t think meth was practical, but I talked with someone who cooked crack in a motel room so that is where I got the idea for that. "Trigger” is about a veteran that was from Afghanistan.
The album really has strong side one and side two. When we were creating it they had sister songs on the second side that stylistically fit together. The two ending sides are literally responding to each other and they are two sides to the story. I initially wanted to put it on vinyl…and hopefully we will do that, too.
MarQ - How heavy does religion come into play?
Jeremy - I had in my mind on some level that I wanted this to be a critique or examination of where we are in this country, and I don’t mean that politically. Religion is still a huge talking point or political tool, and I was raised in a very religious home. It is going to be there. It is part of who I am and where I come from. No one is going to confuse it with Christian rock.
MarQ - What would you like people to take away when listening to this album?
Jeremy - I hope they play it. Hopefully the songs musically stand up and if people think it is some great artistic statement….whatever.
Musician Andrew Bailie returns for a visit, a few gigis, after year in Big Apple
By MarQ Manner
The man who was once one of Omaha’s most in-demand musicians is finding plenty of work in New York City. Andrew Bailie just got back to Omaha after a year in the Big Apple, but his stay here will be short. He is in town for fellow Nebraskan musician (and now NYC resident) Nick Semrad’s wedding. Bailie will be playing a few gigs in town while he is here, of course.
On Sunday, July 21 he will be at the Hive, 1951 St. Marys Ave., with Dana Murray and Mitch Towne. He will perform at the Side Door, 3530 Leavenworth St., on Friday, July 26 with Mojo Po and Diana Arp. He will then be back at the Hive on Saturday, July 27. Many in Omaha are familiar with the guitar player who performed in bands such as It’s True, the Jazzwholes and Moscow Mule.
I had a short chat with Andrew moments after he arrived in Omaha after a 21-hour car trip.
MarQ - So, what will you be playing at your homecoming gigs?
Andrew Bailie - Some soul tunes, and some news songs, along with some older stuff that people might know. It is going to be a fun hang and I am really looking forward to it. I am in town for Nick’s wedding. It is surreal to be back after a year in the city. It’s like I never left at all.
MarQ - Tell me what you have been up to in New York.
Andrew - When I got there it was a pretty big adjustment on a number of levels. Mostly, getting accustomed to taking an hour and hour-and-a-half to get everywhere. You do not have as much time to do things there. You start going to jam sessions to meet people. Lenny Reese and Phase 1 (two musicians he brought with him from New York City to Omaha) host a hip-hop open mic and so I started going to those sessions. Going to open mics to network is how you meet people. We are always keeping our eyes out for who needs a bassist and drummer and they do the same thing for me if someone needs a guitar player. I get calls for rock and roll groups, indie stuff and soul. The music part of it reminds me of a bigger Omaha. I have some teaching jobs and am just trying to play music for 24 hours a day. It has been really fun exploring the city for a year and meeting people. Playing with hip-hop groups and gospel stuff. I am doing my own solo stuff also. We did this big showcase with people on this A Minor Music Group....and had a dude from BET that was hosting it and that was packed. It is fun to see what everyone is doing. You don’t really get to choose what you do. You have to come prepared to do what you do in your skill set - the city then shows you what to do. I am still on that wave.
MarQ - Have you had any run-in’s with someone that you didn’t think you would play with?
Andrew - Funny story. I showed up to play a gig at this school through one of the gospel guys that I know. He tells me he just got a call for a gig with Mariah Carey....and he said if you were black you would have got the gig. They wanted an African American guitar player, as it was on TV. The longer you stay in the city the chances are you will play with someone notable. I am playing with people that play with people notable. I think every gig is an important opportunity. It’s always going to lead to the next gig if you do your job. I try to treat every gig as if it is a big-time thing.
MarQ - When you play your original music where do you play?
Andrew - I have been doing a lot at this open mic at Bar 4 in Brooklyn. I would compare it to a Barley Street in terms of vibe. You go in there and it is all about what is happening. Music and sometimes they have comedy. It is all centered on the performers. The people understand that and no one shushes anybody. You can have an intimate kind of audience there. I have also been doing a couple restaurant gigs with my solo stuff. I am trying to network in that scene. It is always good, too, when you don’t have a gig to go on the subway and make a few buck busking.
MarQ - Do you find that there is support for original music in New York, and is it harder to find that support there?
Andrew - There are pockets of that. On one hand, everyone has heard everything out there. So sometimes it can be pretentious. It can be a little overwhelming. There are pockets of scenes that really support music and original music. If you are doing something really kind of on edge or pouring yourself into that – people are going to recognize that. If you are playing a club you are going to pull in a lot of people off the street. They might not know what they are going to see, but they go off of the reputation of the club. It’s like here where there are pockets of people that are into seeing original music and that is one of the great things that makes Omaha great for its size.
Screaming For Silence returns to Omaha – briefly – after consistent touring
By MarQ Manner
Omaha hard rock band Screaming for Silence has been out on tour for much of the past 10 months to prove that they are the next band that deserves you front row and center at their show. This means hitting some of the same clubs and cities multiple times, being away from loved ones for weeks, and living off of usually minimal road wages. There is a big difference between an artist who tours, and a touring artist and Screaming for Silence has fallen into the later category. It’s something an artist needed to do 15 years ago to “make it” and it is even more so the case today.
I had a conversation over the phone with guitarist and vocalist Danny Irwin this past week. It was one of the only times I have had to interview an Omaha band over the phone. It sounds like all the touring is paying off and Irwin seemed on a post show high as they had played Rockapalooza the night before with like-minded bands such as Taproot, Smile Empty Soul and '90s rockers Candlebox. He also seemed happy to be doing a homecoming show this weekend at the Waiting Room Lounge where they will celebrate guitarist Casey Newsom’s birthday. Joining them on the Saturday show is tour mates Blameshift and Omaha act the Zero Sum. What comes after the holiday weekend? Yes, more touring.
MarQ - How long have you guys been out on the road?
Danny - We have only been back two and half weeks, otherwise we were all over the East Coast and Colorado, New Mexico, Texas. We have been going to the east and hitting it hard. We have gone through three vehicles this year and are on our third van. Bright blue van with red interior that we call Optimus Prime. We have been all over. This next one we will meet with Blame Shift, who we will be playing the Waiting Room. It is a homecoming show for us and Casey’s birthday show. We are going to try to tour up until winter and then try to record in the winter. We toured in the winter in the east this past year so we were around the cold for a long long time.
MarQ - You have been playing as a band for many years now. What made you decide to go at it so hard this past year?
Danny - This is something we want to do and have it be our one and only job. We are seeing that it can be done if you are being smart and playing as many shows as possible. You have to put yourself out there 100%, especially when you are at the level that we are right now. We want to do that the rest of our lives. The way to get there the quickest is to stay out. It is the one thing in life that we love the most. That is the real motivation.
MarQ - What has been the reaction to Screaming for Silence on the road?
Danny - I can tell you that people are going out to shows. A lot of the places now we have hit up five times. We have seen it work - being out on the road constantly and building fan bases. We really saw it last weekend at Rockapalooza in Michigan. We have played 10 shows in Michigan and on Saturday we had a hell of a crowd in front of us there. It’s not like Omaha with the same friends and family that are out there - it’s nice to see new faces. We had a nice crowd out there, and had a nice response. We got to share the stage with Smile Empty Soul and Taproot, who are favorites of ours.
MarQ - Since you have been on the road so much, are you finding that you are having to write more on the road?
Danny - It’s kind of the way it is working out. We try to write on the road as there is only so much time for so many things. When we make it our focus we bust them out. We have been trying to get in and do some scratch tracks when we can. So yeah we get a chance to do some writing while we are out on the road. We mainly like to get out there and meet people and see the scene in each town and get the buzz going. We like to experience new music scenes and by doing that you learn how to better promote your band.
MarQ - One can assume that we will see a very tight Screaming for Silence on stage at the Waiting Room on Saturday.
Danny - The chemistry gets tighter and tighter. You have to build up tolerance, because when you play 15 shows in a row you want to be able to perform well each night. The music has evolved and we are better and we get to play with so many bands and we get ideas from that and we learn from that. We have our unique thing with our sound, but will look at any element that can beef up our sound. Every show we learn something that will amp it up ... there are just so many little secrets.
By MarQ Manner
The Hullabaloo Music and Camping Festival returns for its third year, and will take place Sept. 5-8. The festival will be moving from Riverwest Park to Sokol Park in Bellevue this year. They are stepping up the main stage talent pool also, with headliners Aaron Freeman (that is Gene Ween from the band Ween), hip-hop group Blackalicious, the Monophonics, Pimps of Joytime and much more. They will be announcing one more headliner on August 6, and you can check out the whole lineup at http://hullabaloomusicfestival.com/
Even though we have just scratched the surface of the summer season and the summer festivals, it is that time of the year when tons of fall and late summer shows get announced. Here is a rundown on some of the more interesting ones from the past couple of weeks:
The big announcement this past week was that “Thrift Shop” rappers Macklemore and Ryan Lewis will be returning to the metro area on Oct. 29. The rappers started here in town at the Waiting Room, and then last year played Sokol Auditorium. Where will they be this time? Yup, the Century Link Center, and they are sticking with local promoters One Percent Productions, who will be doing their first show ever in the arena.
A show that might be flying under the radar is Nellie McKay, who will be performing at the Arts Center at Iowa Western. McKay had a huge buzz around her 2003 Sony debut "Get Away," but never turned into the superstar that she was poised to be. She is a very creative artist and is listed as a special guest of the Grammy Award-winning Turtle Island String Quartet. That should be quite the collaboration.
Blue October will follow up their Rockfest date here in the area with a show at Sokol Auditorium on Oct. 25. Then, '80s hit-makers Psychedelic Furs will be in Lincoln at the Bourbon Theatre on Sept. 19. Also at the Bourbon Theatre, and just announced, is former Misfits and Samhain frontman Danzig, who will be at the venue on August 18.
The Cold War kids will follow up their recent performance in Lincoln opening for the Lumineers with a performance at the Slowdown on Nov. 4. Songwriting legend Ray Wylie Hubbard will make a long-anticipated appearance here in Omaha at the Waiting Room Lounge on August 25.
Country superstar Dwight Yoakam will be at Papillon’s Sumter Amphitheater on August 21. Indie legends Yo La Tengo will perform “an evening with” at the Waiting Room Lounge on Sept. 21 and LA surf band Best Coast returns to the Waiting Room on Sept. 19.
Gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello will be at the Slowdown on August 16. People have been clamoring for this return for quite some time, so I would not wait on purchasing tickets.
Rock music fans will be excited to see former Three Days Grace singer Adam Gontier performing in town again at Sokol Auditorium. He will be joined by other touring bands that are popular in town: Hurt, Art of Dying, Smile Empty Soul, and Edisun.
Finally, funk and soul group Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears have been announced for the Bourbon Theatre on Oct. 2. They will be joined by soul rockers Pickwick for what is an excellent double bill.
Omaha songwriter Matt Whipkey releases concept album
By MarQ Manner
Matt Whipkey has been performing music around the area for the past two decades in bands such as the Movies, Anonymous American and his current project, Whipkey Three. His style could be considered singer-songwriter or Americana, and influences such as Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen are inevitably put into most articles written about him.
Whipkey is a well-known musician in the area and a name known to pretty much anyone that follows music closely in Omaha and Lincoln. In the past year he started talking more and more about a large-scale project, one that he seemed to have quite a bit of passion for. It turned into a successful Kickstarter campaign, studio time was booked, home recordings happened and this past week I was handed a beautiful physical piece of art on the porch outside of Caffeine Dreams.
The double album is called “Penny Park” and it is about the summer of 1989. It’s about a girl and it’s about Omaha amusement park Peony Park. For longtime Matt Whipkey listeners and Whipkey himself it’s an expansion and experimentation of his sound. Keyboard and synthesizers take the place of harmonica and pedal steel. Guitar tones and rhythms reflect a different time. Yet there is very much traditional Whipkey songwriting at the base of it all. Whipkey was going to do this project right and so he is releasing a limited number of double hot pink vinyl albums with inlays and lyric sheets (and a CD). The album art, both inside and out, is perfect for the subject matter and it is something that he should be very proud of. Here is a portion of the interview that happened that day on the porch.
MarQ- Tell me about how this idea got started in your head?
Matt Whipkey- We were sitting around bullsh***ing...Doug (Kabourek of Fizzle Like A Flood) and I mentioned his album “Golden Sand In The Grandstand." I loved the idea of what it was about (Aksarben Racetrack), it was always in the back of my head. Don’t know why I thought about Peony Park. I was like OK...we got this idea...what do we do? I wrote two songs pretty easily. I didn’t labor over them much and they came quick and I didn’t have to think too much about the subject. Eventually, there was a lot of research that went into it and I spent hours at the library researching. Songs kind of came quick and I bounced the idea off a lot of people and a lot of people got excited about it and when the storyline came into place it became daunting and I was like, "what the hell...it’s an amusement park that has been around 100 years." I watched the movie "Virgin Suicides," and that helped flesh out the idea some. I don’t know why. It’s a movie about girls, but it is really about boys. Is this album about girls or is it about boys?
MarQ- Do you feel that it will be hard for this album to translate to people who did not know Peony Park or live in Omaha?
Matt- I think I had that in mind when we wrote it. I am a big Hold
Steady and Springsteen fan and they use specific places. I think all those places in different cities have their Peony Park. A lot of them do. I was only eight when this took place so it is not my story. I am telling a story that I think may have happened, but in talking to people that worked there they did happen. I think the idea is that you know a lot of what happens as a teenager is pretty universal. There is a certain time in your life that you go back and think about that time, not when you are 25 and you are too busy being 25. You realize where you are and where you were and you had this period of bulls**t in the middle.
MarQ- What were the first two songs that you wrote?
Matt-”Rollercoaster” and “Waterslide,” though some of the
songs have been around for awhile and I re-worked lyrics and the songs, but those were the first two from scratch.
MarQ- Talk to me about the recording of the album. You did many different things this time.
Matt- Obviously, I knew early on that some of the songs were going to work better with just me and the ones with Travis (Sing) and Zip (Zimmerman), and they are kind of the unsung heroes of the whole operation. They are so on-point in the studio. I am allowed to elaborate on things as they are so proficient and I couldn’t ask for better people. I have one of the best rhythm sections in town. We have a nice connection. Those sessions went pretty quick and we would cut something with (Scott) Gaeta and then I got some equipment to allow me to work at home on stuff. It is adventurous as I could spend countless hours working on it. In a studio the bill can get pretty high. At home I could try all kinds of stuff. Some of the songs work better as just me.
Then down the road I got the idea to have other people do it and sing songs. It was good to get the female voice in there with the two songs where she (“Penny”) speaks. I knew I wanted Dan Sullivan. I work with him and I asked him if he played at Peony Park and he was like “I lived there." I had this song in my head and it was instrumental...and I had this Steve Lukather (guitarist for Toto) vibe to it and Dan did it and it turned into a little duel between us. It was pretty cool. And to have that connection to Peony Park musically I think it meant a lot to him. With Dan it was close to the heart I suppose. Down the road when some kid writes The 49’r concept album and asks me to play the harmonica on the record it will be like that.
MarQ- Tell me about the song “Cliff Burton."
Matt- I always knew that Zip went and saw them there so that is cool. I
always related to people through music and concerts they saw and that one stuck out in my head. I am not the worlds biggest Metallica fan, but that would have been cool to see. There were a lot of concerts there and I wanted to write about that, remember where this song came from. I like to run a lot and I run the same route and was on the Dodge Street overpass and for two weeks there was a CD on the street and it was Metallica’s “Ride The Lighting."
MarQ- What other songs stand out to you on the album?
Matt- All of them, but some of the slower ones. I like them because I don’t play them live ever. "Sunshine” has so much orchestration on it. A song called “Five Times So Far” I like so much, and it is because I don't’ play them a lot and they are so specific to the way they are recorded that I have hard time hearing them live. All of the band stuff I love and I can play them with my brain shut off at this point.
You know we dedicated the record to Gary (Flanagan-longtime Omaha music fan). Right after he passed away I recorded a lot of the vocals on this and it was kind of hard to do. “See Me Someday” is one of the more emotional songs to me. It’s been around a long time but I worked the lyrics around. There is a lot of people around me in my musical life that have passed away and I kind of see them at shows still and so that is where that song takes me.
There were some really bad songs that didn’t make the cut where I tried to write very specific themes. Hot Scott's Name got brought up in several songs. I was writing this one song about the ballroom that went through the '20s and '30s and I was like, "what am I doing? This is is the stuff that people make fun of you for." My favorites have more than a few of those actually.
MarQ- Talk to me about the record release party.
Matt- We are trying to present the album as close as we can. With adding the members to the present lineup it sounds the way the album sounds. It will be a great show. Moses Prey is fun and with Jess (Errett) and Tara (Vaughan) they are starting a band..so it’s not just their individual songs it is their own thing. The song Bec (Rebecca Lowry) sings is worth the price of admission alone. It’s the place to get the copy of the record and there are only 300 copies and I can see them going quick.
This past weekend featured the Omaha Entertainment Awards Summer Showcase in Benson where more than 80 bands and solo artists performed. I am on the board of the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards. We also teamed up for this first time with Benson First Friday as they celebrated the first anniversary of the popular Benson visual arts showcase. It was an extremely successful event, with Friday night having more of block party feel with the weather being so nice. The bands were also vying for a spot opening up the 2013 Maha Music Festival on Saturday, August 17 at Stinson Park. One of the bands out of 80 was chosen by public vote to perform with the Flaming Lips, Matt & Kim, Bob Mould, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, the Thermals, Sons of Fathers, Millions of Boys, Digital Leather, Rock Paper Dynamite, the Millions, Criteria and Hers. The band that won is Purveyors of the Conscious Sound, an Omaha hip-hop group that has been making waves in that scene over the past couple of years.
PCS has been opening for a lot of touring hip-hop acts coming through the area, such as Dessa, Flobots, Kosha Dillz, Kendrick Lamar and many more. The band will be opening up for legendary hip-hop band Souls of Mischief on their 20th anniversary tour of their classic album 93 to Infinity at the Waiting Room on Tuesday, June 18 along with Galvanized Tron. They will also perform with the Luminaries on June 20 at the Bourbon Theatre in Lincoln. PCS has been gearing up for their new album Lifers 2, which should be out soon. The band is poised to go well beyond just the Omaha hip-hop scene, as they have catchy hooks provided by Liz Graham and credible rhymes and fun beats. You can check out the first video for the song “Ketchup” at right. The band will be releasing a new song for download on Friday, June 15 on their Facebook https://www.facebook.com/purveyorslive. The track is called “The Battle” and is said to be a solo track from Graham from the Lifers 2 album.
Witness Tree CD Release Show
With Bullet Proof Hearts, Thunder Power, Two Drag Club
9 p.m. Friday, May 31
The Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St.
$5 in advance, $7 day of show
It is rare to see a band come back from a break up and not only do so successfully, but also reinvent themselves at the same time. Omaha band Witness Tree has done just that and will be celebrating the long road to the release of their new album Breathe In this FRIDAY at The Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St., with Bullet Proof Hearts, Thunder Power, and Two Drag Club.
Witness Tree first made the rounds starting in 1992. This was during a high time in the Omaha music scene, which saw 311 leave town, Blue Moon Ghetto all over the radio, and packed shows at the Ranch Bowl, the Capitol, the Saddle Creek Bar and Sokol Hall with bands like Five Story Fall, Old Boy Network and Grasshopper Takeover. Witness Tree was very much in this mix and had a solid fan base to draw from. It was surprising, after hanging it up in 2000, when the band reformed eight years later not just for a one-off reunion.
The band has spent the past five years re-inventing themselves and re-introducing themselves to a brand new music scene with a lot of new players. The transformation was successful because of stronger songs, a fresh sound, and exemplary musicianship. Witness Tree is a cross between power-pop and power rock, with some influences coming from the college rock scene of the '80s. The band fits on stage with many of the current bands of today and some of the younger musicians in town, such as All Young Girls Are Machine Guns frontwoman Rebecca Lowry, even perform on Breathe In. The album was recorded with Jeremy Garrett over quite a long period of time. I expected this record a year ago, but the band wanted to make sure they got it right so they could put out the best product possible. The effort put into the album can be heard in its tight songs and production, hook-filled guitar riffs, and driving rhythms.
In a live setting, the band puts on a straightforward, energetic rock show that relies on nothing but their playing and feeding off the audience. Vocalist and guitarist Steve Kudlacek is very serious about his craft and it shows, as he is the quintessential frontman. Alan Mansfield is widely regarded as one of the best guitar players in the area and his excitement playing live onstage is hard to miss. The rhythm section of PJ Harding and Wade Hephner hold it all together when needed, but more often they drive it forward. The bottom line is that these are fun guys and they put on a fun rock show. They are out supporting other local bands all the time and have a genuine love for what they do and for our Omaha music scene. Check out a couple of tracks from Breathe In above and head down to the Slowdown on Friday and see a great local lineup with some special guests rumored to be taking the stage with the band.
What: The Decatures
With Artillery Funk and John The Bastard
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, May 25
Where: Barley Street Tavern, 2735 N. 62nd St.
The first time I saw the young, pure rock-and-roll band the Decatures, I – and a lot of my fellow chronologically gifted colleagues – were the ones to take notice. It was a noticeably young group churning out classic rock-influenced riffs and songs with experience and manic energy that turned our heads and made us walk to the front of the room. This is the reaction the Decatures do not want. Sure, they want heads turning and people energetically eating up their every note – they just don't want that reaction to be because of their age.
It’s a natural reaction, though, and probably something the band will have to deal with for a while. The Deactures is not a novelty act – this is a real deal rock and roll band that woke up and warmed up a mellow cold afternoon crowd recently at Omaha’s Earth Day event. The band is recording with Omaha producer Curt Grubb, and plans to have a full-length out soon. The band has been hitting all the major clubs in town and will be performing at Barley Street Tavern on Saturday May 25 with Artillery Funk and John The Bastard. I recently hung out with the three-man band at the Pizza Shoppe and discussed where they came from, their influences, and where they would like to go from here.
MarQ – How did the band get together?
Charlie Encell – Well, they were in a death metal band before I met them. They broke up and they didn’t have anyone to play with for a while. We started jamming at our friend's house on Decature, and that is how we got our name.
Ryan Call – Lots of jamming
Charlie – Played our first show July of 2011 at the Sandbox.
MarQ – How did you guys evolve from death metal to what you are doing today?
Ryan – We just kind of jammed and we just developed.
Charlie – There is still some metal influence. There is more classic rock than there is metal. They didn’t just give up the metal cold turkey.
Patrick Stutzman – It is kind of like with hot sauce – there is just enough in it.
Ryan – I also think we have a little Midwest twang . Not country, but just a little twang it.
Charlie – My parents are Deadheads and so I grew up listening to the Dead and Phish, and then I started listening to these guys and they opened me up to Black Sabbath and Zeppelin.
Patrick – We did a lot of extended jams. We would jam for three-hour sessions.
Charlie – We never played any songs – we just played for the hell of it. We actually went through a couple of drummers, too.
MarQ – I have seen great reactions to your live sets. How does that make you feel?
Charlie – It’s great, and we are really glad that people like it a lot. We don’t want to be liked because we are young. We do not want to be “good for our age.” So we are trying to do this with a certain level of professionalism and maturity.
MarQ – What are the advantages to playing as a three-piece?
Patrick – I think we function well under the three-piece setting. We act like a triangle with space between for different parts. We are not trying to out-do ourselves.
Charlie – Jimi Hendrix is a big influence because they were a three-piece.
MarQ – How has you sound evolved since you first started?
Charlie – There are songs that we played at that show that we don’t play anymore. They didn’t cut it and I guess that is how we have evolved. We are making better songs and shedding the skin of being a new band. I think the challenge is doing something that other bands in town do not do. There needs to be more bands that are not afraid to get out of the Omaha comfort zone. We don’t want to get in that rut.
MarQ – Who are some of the bands you like to play with in Omaha?
Charlie – There are not a lot of bands that play the same style of music. It’s hard to find bands to play with. Rock Paper Dynamite is one we like. We would love to play with the hardcore bands but we just do not fit in.
MarQ – What is the reaction you would like to get from a live audience?
Charlie – I want them to not just watch the band and clap because the song is over. You wonder, are they clapping because the song is over and they are being polite? We want them to want to see us again. We want people to be genuinely excited.
Ryan – We want them to tell other people and have those people tell other people.
Charlie – I want people to say they are seeing something they haven’t seen in Omaha. I think if you play rock and roll and play it well people will like it. There is this kind of mindset where people think that rock and roll is kind of already done and let’s move onto this other stuff. I think that is bulls**t. You have to change it up and make it current but rock and roll is not dead.
MarQ – How is the recording going?
Charlie – Slow but steady. We have never done it before. So it is kind of a new experience. We run into a lot of newer things. Those microphones are unforgiving. We want to make it good but not overproduce the Decatures out of it.
MarQ – How do you want to release the record?
Ryan – Vinyl and download cards and CDs.
Charlie – I don’t want to have to force people to get the vinyl.
MarQ – Why have you chosen vinyl?
Charlie – It just sounds cool.
Patrick – We are all collectors.
Charlie – It is not a computer reading something, it is a needle going across the record.
MarQ – What are some things that inspire the songs?
Charlie – It comes from really simple things like having a girlfriend and getting sick of her and breaking up with her. Right now, I have a girlfriend that I love to death and I will draw inspiration from that. Or that rock and roll is dead thing that piss me off. Policemen and how I want them to leave me alone. Mostly, it is just about women and the complications that come with them.
With Cowboy Indian and Twinsmith
When: 9 p.m. Saturday, May 25
Where: The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
My interview with Skypiper was one of the more refreshing interviews that I have done in some time. The band has been around for a while, despite their relatively young age. The band has played all the major stages in town, opened for many touring acts and is considered one of the more mature and professional acts, both in their musical arrangements and the way they carry themselves on stage.
So what is refreshing about this interview? Well, the band that considered chamber pop felt like maybe they got ahead of their age and are feeling the need to drop back and live it up a little. We will call it less Wilco and more Weezer. The band will be releasing a new EP on May 25 at the Waiting Room Lounge with Cowboy Indian Bear and Twinsmith. I met up with Gabriel Burkum and Conner Giles of the band at Jerry’s to talk about the switch in sound and attitude.
MarQ-Tell me what you have coming up?
Gabriel - We are coming out with a brand new EP on May 25th, and it is easily our favorite thing that we have ever done. I think we have found our exact sound of what we are going for. We had a member change and we have a drummer who is in our band permanently. This is our first actual drummer. We have had six drummers previously . We brought on Connor, who is a cellist from the area. He now plays piano, accordion, mandolin, baritone guitar, cello - he is our go-to guy. He gives every song the flavor that we need.
MarQ - How have you evolved your sound since your last release?
Gabriel- This new EP is a truly fresh sound. We turned up the pop knob. It’s a little heavier than our last stuff.
Conner - Melodically driven and rhythmically driven. It’s dance music.
Gabriel - Now it is more power pop and less chamber pop.
MarQ - What made you change your sound?
Gabriel - We decided to just put away the maturity of the past influences and act our age. We are between the ages of 21-25. We have been playing music more as musicians, such as Wilco, who are in their 40's and there is time for that later. We have other influences, too, and we want to be energetic and have fun with that also. The new EP is more poppy and more aggressive than our other stuff. It is the first album that I have ever done that we have produced. We tracked live in Minneapolis with Levi Stugelmeyer. We originally went up there for a show and we had a day to hang out before. We asked to demo and everything was set up and we went through one song and it sounded awesome and we were like, "Should we just record the entire EP right now?" We just decided to do it right then. We had three songs done and when we finished recording those three songs we had an idea for another and recorded and did four songs in one day.
MarQ - Where does the “more aggressive” come from? Not something I thought I would hear from Skypiper.
Gabriel - Three of us came from metal bands and my favorite bands are all power pop bands and rock n roll bands. We just kind of are into having more fun with the music.
MarQ - What did you find appealing about the band to make you want to join?
Conner - I have been in just about a year now. I have known the guys for quite a while. Gabe was a student of my dad.
Gabriel - He played mandolin for the Kanesville Boys and when we had the member change we were all depressed and we were like, "Kyle (Christiensen), you are a left-hand guitarist, you want to play lead guitar?" And he became the lead guitarist. We thought of who could play that part of piano and accordion and he came down and already knew all of our stuff. He just clicked and we knew him and he was in.
Conner - I was just pounding these songs out and learning them so fast. I have done a lot in the classical realm. I have always just been playing music and recording music as a creative process with the math and science behind it, which is what much of the classical world is based on. This was a prefect opportunity to do what I want to do with music.
MarQ - So you became more pop and more aggressive and less chamber pop, and yet you add someone with this much musicianship behind him.
Gabriel - Like I said, he adds flavor where needed. The piano is less Wilco and more Elton John, where you are almost breaking the piano and it is more rock and roll piano.
Conner - So much of Skypiper music is so melodically driven and with a lot of the songs the melody is in your song immediately. The cello is a second line melodically that really changes the song.
Gabriel - I would also like to throw out that we are classically trained, but I love playing loud with my upright and I like to stay away from the stereotypical rockabilly. I like to play like I am playing P bass. I use a distortion pedal on the first song called “Bag of Dicks” and it sounds like the bag of dicks. I like to stay away from the the flames on the bass and play it classy but play it heavy and not dumb it down.
Conner - You never see a cello and a bass having harmonizing parts that are substantial parts of the song.
MarQ - When you say power pop-what parts of the genre are you pulling from.
Gabriel - We like stuff like Rooney and we are friends with Robert Schwartman. We are into the power pop stuff like OK Go and Dr. Dog. We are heavily influence by them. We are totally into Elton John and Queen. On the other hand it is like I will never say that we are totally original. There is never a practice where we do whatever this band does. We do what we do and our influences just seep out.