The Big Debut
Belles & Whistles release first CD, 'Look Up'
What: Belles & Whistles CD Release Show
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23
Where: Bushwackers, 7401 Main St., Ralston
Tickets: No Cover
By MarQ Manner
Omaha country mother and daughter duo Belles & Whistles are releasing their first CD, “Look Up,” this Friday (Sept. 23) at Bushwackers. “Look Up” is six songs that are part clever
fun and full of hooks and twists, and part heartfelt ballads.
The duo has been splitting time between performing around the country at county and state fairs, opening for national artists in Omaha and beyond and quite a bit of time writing on Music Row in Nashville. I sat down with Kelli and Jaymie Jones this past week and delved deep into the co-writing process they have been learning and experiencing these past couple of years.
MarQ - When did you decide that you wanted to perform together?
Kelli Jones - I had just turned 14 and it was over the summer, and I was kind of bored. I could hear the harmony in the songs. We practiced a little bit and did two shows where I was a backup singer. One of them was the Red Sky Music Festival. One of the stage managers was the road manager for The Judds. He kind of was like, "You guys should be a duo." I was like, "Ok,let's do it." I was already into acting and dancing. Mom was a little hesitant about it.
MarQ - Did you do this to appease your daughter, or did you take it seriously right away?
Jaymie Jones - I took it seriously as she had done a lot of shows at the Omaha Playhouse since she was 9. She grew up there. Those were really long runs. She got all of her homework done, did the shows and didn't get into trouble. I knew that she took it seriously and didn't take any of this lightly and she also did a lot of show choir at Westside High School. I thought she would be good at it.
Before we did it I had a couple of my sisters over to the house to listen to some songs and see what they thought about Kelli singing and they thought it was good and everybody thought she was ready to do it. One of the things I loved about working with her at that time and today also is her fresh outlook on the music industry and looking at it through her eyes. I’ve seen it, and you can get your heart broken easily and it's a physical grind. Before we went out as a duo, we played about three or four shows in a row and it was a tough schedule to see if she likes it, and she loves it. The apple didn't fall too far from the tree. After having her love everything from the small acoustic shows to the grungy bar shows , and not just the big stages, then I knew she loved it.
MarQ - Do you prefer a big stage or a more intimate stage or a dirty rock club?
Kelli - I think my favorites are the big stages, but it depends on my mood. Sometimes I like it with just the two of us and there is something magical about that, and we can really nail the harmonies. The big stages are exciting and with the full band all pumped up, it’s a lot of fun.
MarQ - Jaymie, you embrace social media and YouTube, but you've always seemed to like to get out and have face to face time with radio stations, promoters and fans. Kelli, do you also embrace that old-school method?
Kelli - Driving and traveling is not something we are scared of. Two years ago we spent most of the year traveling around to radio stations. Then we went back to focus on the music and focus on the CD. We took a step back and focused on the writing.
Jaymie - We did the radio thing and I wanted Kelli to get her feet wet on all levels. She's got so much stage presence now when we play those big stages, it's been so worth it. The last two years, besides playing live shows a ton, we haven't done a lot of radio and just worked with writers in Nashville.
Talking about the people connection you brought up, we just played the Tumbleweed Festival and we didn't have any CDs out yet, but we do have photos. There was a half-hour changeover, and I know that Kelli and the band sometimes thinks I am a little nutty. But there was a short runway and there were all these people at the end of the stage, and it was mostly girls and women. So I brought out the pictures and took my boots off as my feet were killing me and signed pictures in my bare feet and then Kelli came out.
Kelli - I didn't know where you were! I was loading gear off the stage, and your gear off the stage, and was, "Where's mom’?" And then I see her out there hanging off the stage signing pics.
Jaymie - A lot of people came up and that is what is wonderful with doing music with the Internet and Facebook and Twitter. You have that instant connection to people with your music. When I was doing that with Mulberry Lane, that didn't exist. And now it's much more rewarding when you write a song, and I think our songs are aimed more towards women, as they are who we write to, it’s so amazing to have people writing to you or talking to you after shows. It's just amazing, and it makes doing this a lot more comfortable. I can always recall what people wrote me if it's a tough crowd and that gives me the confidence to go onto that stage
MarQ - What is your songwriting process, right now? I think that it has changed.
Kelli - Writing in Nashville is different than writing ourselves. We always come up with the ideas. I have a list of thoughts and ideas on my phone and little nuggets of songs. We bring that into the writing room with professional writers and pitch those ideas to them. Then they pick something they like and we write a song in four hours and then we have a demo on our iPhone or something recorded right there.
Jaymie - The first couple of these co-writes, it was hard.
Kelli - We started off writing in our kitchen just the two of us.
MarQ - But you did some co-writes in Omaha previously.
Kelli - With Daniel (Christian) and Rebecca (Lowry).
Jaymie - That was a good thing writing with Daniel, Rebecca and Mitch Gettman. All of that was so helpful. There is more of a bond writing in Nebraska. You sit down and you feel like you know the person or have played shows with them.
This is going in with someone completely new and you have to put your emotions out there and be brave. I told Kelli that you have to be brave and you can't clam up and turn on your editor, because so much of our writing and perspective is Kelli, and she has risen to that. She has come up with amazing ideas and lines. We both read a lot because I think reading helps you write. It was difficult, but then when you come out with something really good it's very rewarding. The standards that these guys write to is mind blowing. The lines or metaphors they come up with are so good. They also have this sense of timing and nothing we wrote goes over three-and-a-half minutes long with them.
Jaymie - Dan Frizsell produced the CD and he engineers all of Lee Brice's stuff, and he owns a studio called Legends and it's called Legends because Willie Nelson cut there, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. So, Kelli sings all the leads and puts down the vocals first. On some of the stuff Greg Morrow drummed, and was on the Dixie Chicks albums, and Tom Bukovac who did guitars for Taylor Swift and Rob Thomas. Dan does a lot detailed work and is painstaking on vocals. Kelly really grew up vocally recording this album.
MarQ - Walk me through some of the songs on the album.
Kelli - ”I’m Wild” came from me being in a high-school math class and a guy I didn't really know turns to me and tells me I "look like a wild one." I was like, "That is kind of weird." Then it happened to me a few years later and the same comment. That is not even in a music setting, but my regular life and I was like why do you think that? So that is where the line “if that's what makes you think I'm wild, I'm wild”. . We took it to Bruce Wallace, and we clicked with him right off the bat. He's a touring musician that flipped to be a songwriter.
Jaymie - He totally got us and when we get together with Bruce we are like, “yes”!
MarQ - What about “Strange Way”?
Kelli - That was line that mom came up with – "You've got a strange way of showing that you love me." We had lists and lists of song ideas and then we had the line twisted, “if you're going to be strange I’m going to be a stranger.” Sometimes it's cool if you can imagine a video in your head. It helps sometimes. I don't think we will do a music video for that song, but I see a lot crazy things happening, and an old amusement park and mirrors and weird clowns.
MarQ - Now I want to see that music video!
Jaymie - We should talk about “Fire." That was an intense write. This was with Jay Brunswick and Josh Dunn and was our first song written on music row in a publishing house.
Kelli - They are the type of songwriters that write to a loop.
MarQ - Does that get annoying?
Kelli - It gets kind of mind-numbing.
Jaymie - We enjoy writing ballads. We write a lot of ballads.
Kelli - We went in to write an up-tempo song with them, and it ended up being a mid-tempo song.
Jaymie - When you have the loop going you can't drag it down.
Kelli - I wrote that on the shuttle bus on the way to airport. We had just flown in that morning and had driven from KC, and so we were a little punchy.
Jaymie - ”Look Up” is a ballad and our favorite song on the album and we wrote it at a music publishing house on the row. We wrote it on Good Friday at 7 p.m., and it was real mellow. We wrote it about my sister Allie’s child Clover that she adopted from China. On the floor above us were a bunch of writers writing to a loop, and they were stomping and yelling and we were writing this song. Bruce is like , "This song is going to make people cry," and "This is where choir comes in," and up above, all that was happening.
MarQ - Tell me about the release party.
Kelli - It’s at Bushwackers and sponsored by The KAT and we play from 8-midnight with breaks. They have a huge country crowd on Friday nights and we thought that was the best venue. In between we will be signing CDs. There will be no cover and 18+, which they usually do not do, and we will be playing with the full band.
We Be Lions Take a Break
Rockers decide to cool the jets for a while
What: Pandora's Box, with We Be Lions, Dominique Morgan, Dummy Head Torpedo, and Ryan Osbahr with Billie Frost
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24
Where: Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
By MarQ Manner
Omaha band We Be Lions is going on a break. The members of the long-running and popular hard-rock and funk-rock band want to take some time off due to their busy schedules. They say they are going to take some time to write, relax and see where it goes.
The band will be playing a final show before the break on Saturday (Sept. 24) at the Waiting Room Lounge as part of the Pandora’s Box event. I met up with band member Ricky Szablowski to discuss the band's decision to take a breather.
MarQ - So what has We Be Lions been up to?
Ricky - Trying to get together as often as possible, and we get all of these show offers and have been doing a lot of those and haven't had time to write and everyone has so much stuff going on.
MarQ - So you are taking a break?
Ricky - We came to the decision that everyone needs to cool it for as long as they need to get that inspiration back. I'm the only one with not a lot going on.
MarQ - Is it just kind of the end of a chapter for the band?
Ricky - We are playing the same songs and people are starting to notice, and we are not playing new material. We want to come back and be totally revamped and have brand new music. It doesn't reflect what we are capable of right now and we want that to change. When we come back it will be a whole new feeling I think.
MarQ - What would you predict the future is for We Be Lions?
Ricky - We are about to enter a growth experience where we can take a step away from each other, where taking some time off is really what we wanted. If everyone doesn't want to come back then we will look at that. We kind of felt stuck and the way to dig us out of this hole is to let everyone off from practice, and playing and relax.
MarQ - What can we expect from the show this weekend?
Ricky - This show is going to be special. We are bringing back Craig Mustard for lights and playing some older songs that have not been in our sets. Yeah, the light show will top it off. We want everyone to come celebrate with us and party with us and have a good time.
Jump the Tiger offers 'knuckle-head, gnarly rock'
What: Jump the Tiger, with Timecate and For the Birds
When: 9 p.m. Saturday, July 23
Where: The Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St.
Tickets: $5 in advance, $7 day of show
By MarQ Manner
If you’re a fan of fun hard rock and feel that it has been missing for quite some time, Jump The Tiger could be the answer to your desires. No need to break out the big hair and spandex, though. While the band is rooted in decades of upbeat hard rock, it is not meant to be a throwback.
Nevertheless, it's hard not get flashes of the past as driving rhythms, actual guitar solos and bombastic vocals spill out of of your speakers. The progression of the style, playing and writing is also right there for your indulgence. It's truly an update, and it's honestly fresh and exciting. They call it “a classic brand of knuckle-head, gnarly, fist-pounding rock n’ roll.” I would say it’s more than that.
The band consists of Lawrence Deal on vocals, John Claus on guitar, Scott Michels on drums and David Backhaus on bass. Past bands that they have been involved in include Secret Weapon, Paria, Civicminded, Lonely Estates, Ketchup and Mustard Gas and many more. The band will celebrate the release of their first EP “Nightlife” on Saturday at Slowdown with Timecat and For The Birds.
I met up with David and John to talk about their desire to play fresh original music based in their roots.
MarQ - I think there is a "why" you started this project instead of a "how." Why did you start this project?
John - I just wanted to do something different that was non-pretentious and just fun. I wanted to do something like Secret Weapon with more of the attitude of heavy metal and it came very very naturally.
David - John hadn’t done anything original in the last couple years.
MarQ - What was the last original band you were in?
John - Canonista, and that was with Lawrence. That ended probably in 2013/2012. It just kind of fizzled and I just wanted to do a knucklehead rock and roll band and I had been talking about it for years. I knew I wanted to have Scott Michaels on drums. Me and him had the same conversation and he wanted to do something similar, to do something wide open and balls out. Dave was always going to be the bass player I always had him in the back of my mind.
David - We had a good vibe, chemistry-wise in what we were doing.
John - We had an energy all of our own in Secret Weapon. We were like, aside from that we were ready to do something else, so the timing of this is right. The whole thing was pretty organic to be honest with you. The only thing that stopped us up was finding a singer. That held us up for about six months.
MarQ - How did that journey go?
David - We went on Craigslist, we put up old-school fliers, and went on Facebook and we did it both the old-school way and the new way. We are not in college anymore, we don’t know a zillion kids out there. I even put something up at Panera and coffee shops. We got a lot of responses, but people wanted to do the nu-metal rock and roll. There were people that could work, and people you wanted to work, but are not available. Nothing against people we worked with, because we worked with them for a reason, but we wanted a fresh start. We didn’t want to come out and people are, "It’s just those guys" doing a different band.
MarQ - What was the fruition of this search?
David - We did take an entire summer off as we got busy with the Secret Weapon schedule and we are all family men now and we were knocking a hole in our head with no singer.
MarQ - How did you choose who you chose?
John - Oh, Lawrence? I knew Lawrence and I was in a band with Lawrence. I sent a message out to him and I know he does a great job. I thought maybe this is a little out of his wheelhouse, but again, he was the guy I thought could work. I sent him the demos and he was like, "Woah, I don’t know what to sing, but why don’t you give me some time with this." In about a week and a half he had two full songs done and he wanted me to hear them and I was really proud of him.
MarQ - So you put up these fliers and do all of this and you come back to someone you knew already?
David - We should have just done that from the beginning.
John - I think we just wanted to know that we went out there and looked out there, and we talked to alot of people and the first person that came in and impressed us was Lawrence. I am not opposed to playing with someone I have played with and we just wanted something fresh.
MarQ - And that did end up being refreshing for you.
David - And we have Scotty on drums, and of course all of the people we know from the old school are like , "Wait a minute, who is that young killer drummer?" He is really impressing our old friends.
MarQ - So going back into a rock band, what did you call it , a knucklehead rock band? Where are you going with that?
John - It kind of made a slow resurgence in the early 2000’s and you had a handful of bands kind of doing it with kind of a good 80’s sound.
David - Are you talking The Darkness or Andrew W.K.? Party rock essentially?
John - Yeah, but also Jet and The Donnas. We are not trying to be a throwback band, either. We just want to play hard, gritty rock and roll. We set out to make a rock and roll band, and we are, but with a heavy metal influence. With Scott on drums he’s got this foundation in hard-core and post harcore influence and I think that is how we are building our own identity and our own sound. I am not going to ignore the heavy metal side of it. He has influences from all decades and generations, so there is not any boundaries.
MarQ - What is your songwriting process in this band?
John - We write in practice as a band.
David - John and Scott had two iPhone recordings and they sent them to me and I was like “woah” it’s going to take some time to figure out what is going on here. It’s not bridge, verse, chorus, verse, solo and done. There might be a song or two, but it was pretty hard to follow at first, in a good way. It was very challenging to put some bass to. At first I wondered if I had the ability to play with you guys. I just sat down and it made me better.
John - I just said, "No, you are listening to it wrong." It’s just a lot of changes and phrasing.
David - It’s speed, John is fast. I didn’t grow up with a pick.
MarQ - Where did you record at, by the way.?
David - ARC with Ben Brodin.
John - He was an outside-of-the-box choice for us as his stuff is very organic and other people were having great luck with him and we didn’t know our sound yet. I think it worked out great for these songs. There are parts where you might have gotten that big overproduced rock sound and we didn’t want that.
MarQ - So not bombastic, but organic?
John - Something in-between.
MarQ - What would you like to convey with your live show?
John - We want to be a tight powerful bombastic band and have an energetic stage presence.
David - I have more fun being more energetic.
John - Dave and I are definitely performers and we like to get to the edge of the stage and rock out and perform for the crowd, and I want to get something out of it and get sweaty and have fun.
MarQ - Where do you see yourself fitting in with the current landscape?
Dave - That is the big question mark. We don’t know if there's a scene or if there is one.
John - Right now we are a community band and if there is anyone that wants to play, we can fit any bill. We are never going to be a scene band. We will find our niche if there is one, but if we have to stand alone as a band we will also.
MarQ - Where did you get the name from?
David - We got the name from Dio. In the lyric book he says, "Jump for the tiger," but when he sings it it’s “jump the tiger."
MarQ - You guys have an original background, and how is doing that again?
Dave - It’s kind of going back to your roots and reinventing yourself to people who probably never knew you were in an original band. It’s been a long time since I was in Old Boy Network or you were in Paria. I will tell you what though: This band, these songs are for a live band. Whatever the album does, it sounds cool, it sounds great. But these songs are meant to be played by a really good live rock band.
The Dispatch Q&A
Christopher the Conquered
Former Icares frontman takes his music in new direction
By MarQ Manner
Christopher the Conquered has seen his star rise in recent months after singer-songwriter Natalie Prass gave an early copy of his newest album, "I’m Giving Up On Rock & Roll," to Ryan Adams, who went on Twitter and Instagram and called it “crazy and incredible.”
This set off a small firestorm of press and attention for the musician from Des Moines, Iowa. Christopher has been putting in hard work for many years prior to this, though, including playing many shows here in Omaha and even doing a five-week residency at the Slowdown last December.
Christopher is a songwriter, performer and pianist who doesn’t really like his shows to be too hyped up ahead of time. He wants to take an audience by surprise and engage them. His new album is receiving rave reviews and he is an artist that you should try to catch, whether he wants us to tell you that or not. There is an honesty and sincerity to his music that does give the audience an opportunity to connect with the band, and the performances are also a lot of fun.
I had a quick chat with him over the phone recently where we talked about his history, making music in the Midwest, the new album and the differences between playing America and Europe.
You can see Christopher the Conquered on Friday, June 3, at O’Leavers with Rothsteen and Fun Runner.
MarQ - How did you get started in music?
Christopher - I started with Christopher the Conquered in 2006, but prior to that I had been playing in school and taught myself piano in the summer of my sophomore year. We started playing in my dad’s workshop we were recording on cassette things like Duke Ellington and stuff and then rock stuff like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Green Day.
MarQ - What was it like playing in Des Moines?
Christopher - We discovered other bands through Pure Volume and we were like, "This band is really great – oh, they are from Iowa." I went to a local shows and was so took by it and got involved in the scene and started touring in bands. That is how I met Patrick Tape Fleming (Christopher’s partner in the project Gloom Balloon and member of Poison Control Center) as I was going to Poison Control Center shows.
MarQ - You have toured a lot in America and just toured Europe. When did you start touring?
Christopher - I started touring actively on my own in 2013.
MarQ - You are known for putting on performances at a certain level. Does that put pressure on you to be “on” every night?
Christopher - I don’t feel like it puts pressure on me at all. I think, like for me, the only thing that puts pressure on me, is when a reviewer advocates, "This person is a wonderful performer and you must go to this," and I have had people that come to the show with that and there is a pressure to make sure it is really good. I almost do better when I have the element of surprise, as it can only be better than what they are expecting it to be.
MarQ - Do you write from personal experience, fiction or both?
Christopher - Most of my songs have been in a response to personal experience, but as I do this more, you have to depend on intense experiences to write songs and that is not a healthy way to live. Now I make observations, and if something can be the foundation of a song I write it down. I have tons of ideas down and that is the hard part of writing a song. That one phrase, and then I can write the rest of the song in context to that one phrase and foundation of the song. I try to write very honestly from that foundation. Like, "What what was my life like in the last 24 hours?" and creating a character or whatever using that. I don’t sit down at a piano with a new song until I have the chorus, or maybe the verse and I have some structure of the song and I can sing it a cappella.
MarQ - Are your shows different in America and Europe?
Christopher - Yeah, definitely in Europe where you can’t rely on language. Playing a show is trying to get people to interact on an emotional level. Depending on where you play people may not speak English as a first language. People have a grasp of English and you are adding music, rhythm and layers to someone's second language. My shows in Europe are much more about the physical performance and melodic performance and trying to create something beautiful.
MarQ - I assume Des Moines is a lot like Omaha in that the isolation from the music industry can shape the artistry.
Christopher - Being in a town where there is not really much of a music industry infrastructure. We don't have any record labels, publicists or management companies. We don’t have any of that stuff. There is no sense that someone is going to be talking about you in town and that someone is going to hear you and give you leverage on your career. I feel like people artistically really just do whatever they want because there is not even a subconscious bias that they are going to play for someone in the audience as that can affect their career. Musicians here are more independent and more unique and that doesn't mean it's better, but in communities that are independent from the industry they have more freedom.
MarQ - Tell me about the album "I’m Giving Up On Rock & Roll"
Christopher - I wanted to make a big-sounding album and I got Patrick to produce it and I had 30 songs and sent them to him. So instead of just picking the best songs we picked the best songs that would come together in a theme. The theme is not the album title, but moving on from my previous career when I had no vision of what I was doing or why I was doing it. I was looking at myself and I had become this artist that I don’t recognize. The album title is about that finding balance in life and finding vision in your entire existence and being present minded and appreciating the gifts you have in your life.
By MarQ Manner
Ryan Osbahr’s story coming out of the Omaha music scene involved some starts and stops along with some highs and lows. The former hard rocker has found a new direction and one that lay in his roots: country music. After performing with with his longtime rock band Icares for a decade, Osbahr took a break from music and Nebraska.
Upon returning, he worked on his friend Dan Olsen’s (Sack of Lion’s) album and found a calling rooted in his small town upbringing, trips on the road in his father's big rig and a desire to write music more fitting of the now 38-year-old. Osbahr still finds himself performing with longtime Icares band mates Tim Blair and Mike Torczon, among others, but this is a project that allows him to do what he needs to do on his own if need be.
Osbahr will be celebrating the release of his first solo album, “Easy Way Out” in Avoca, Iowa at Fred’s on May 27th and at Barley’s Bar in Council Bluffs on May 28th. I recently spoke with Osbahr about his history and transition to country music.
MarQ - Give me an overview of your history in the Omaha music scene.
Ryan - In about 1998 I moved to Omaha. I am from Avoca, Iowa, which is a small town of less than 1,000 people. I had left for college from 1996 to 1998 and came back in here to the Omaha music scene just as Grasshopper Takeover was forming and The Kind was ending. Five Story Fall, Box, Blue Moon Ghetto were coming around and I came into that scene. I formed a band called Goodspeed, that was my first band, but I could never keep the same members in that band. It was me and whoever else would play my songs, and it never gained any traction. I was in the first original version of Mandown and a version of Davis Hurley that had people that I worked with in the band. I did an acoustic album at that time that I never really released, but I gave out a hundred copies of so. I also played down at the The Exchange on acoustic nights with Michael Hobbs and Pat Gherman.
MarQ - How did Icares form?
Ryan - When I met the guys which eventually became Icares they already had seven songs and I was not the chief writer and I fought vehemently to not name the band that name. I joined and over time became the chief writer and took it in my direction and we made two albums, one in 2002 and one in 2009. We had several versions of the band but Mike and Tim were the same members throughout the entire thing. Shep was a member for awhile and that ended in 2009. I moved to Denver with my wife and I was ready for Icares to end at that time. I was burnt out from the music scene, I had been in it since 1998.
MarQ - And the music scene in Omaha at the time was changing.
Ryan - Hard rock was kind of popular when I was coming up. It started changing. I had taken Icares as far as I thought I could go with it and no one was really committed to touring. I was done being in a band. We tried very hard to be as good as we could with it. I was just really excited to move and get away from it and say that "‘I am not going to do music." I literally did not play guitar for two years while I was down there. I had it locked away in storage and after two years I got the itch. I met this guy and we called ourselves Red Letter Day, which is the name of about 9,000 other bands. I knew it was going to be short term and I knew we weren’t going to stay there because my wife started missing home. Played out with them and played quite a bit and got a little momentum. Came back here and played at the Hideout with Dax Riggs. That ended and we moved to Des Moines for a year and a half and then moved back here. My first idea was that I still want to play with Tim and Mike, but that I don’t want to call it Icares. I felt that was done. I didn’t want to do that. We started playing and we had all new material and I had nine new hard rock songs and I loved them. We started going right back into Icares mode and started playing the old songs. That kind of went on for a year and a half when Icares was one foot in and one foot out and we had started recording. One day I just woke up and said, "I am done doing this." I wasn’t done with Tim and Mike, I was just done writing for Icares.
MarQ - So when did the switch to country music happen?
Ryan - I grew up on country music, a lot of country music. You know when I started doing this I asked my wife, "Am I completely selling out who I am by doing this?" She said, "You are probably more country than 95% of people out there playing country music." I grew up in a small town, I grew up partying on small town dirt roads, I worked on farms and I am a small town kid. She said I should write whatever I want, and so that gave me the courage to do it. She has always been very supportive. And that is where I am. I wrote this album in a week's time. I don’t do anything for months and months and then it all comes out.
MarQ - Was your songwriting process different for a hard rock band versus country? What is different?
Ryan - I wrote everything on acoustic, where I used to write on electric. I bought a brand new Gibson J-15 guitar which I saved up up for and wanted for a long time. A new guitar can change your outlook on things and this one did that for me. My wife's cousin’s husband is a honky-tonk guitar player and I have known him for years and we have always talked about getting together and I had him in mind when writing all of these songs with him coming up with stuff on top of it. The process wasn’t all that different, but I sat down and said I was going to write something more easily digested. People have only heard hard rock from me, and I turn 38 tomorrow and my fan base doesn’t want to hear hard rock or grunge anymore. They want to hear something more digestible.
MarQ - Something more songwriter based.
Ryan - Right, in Icares I cared about the lyric but I wasn’t writing stories, it was more about the riffs. In this I am writing more about songs where the words tell a story or mean something and it comes together. I focused on that and this album came out of that.
MarQ - Were you writing from more of a fiction based or half reality/half fiction?
Ryan - It’s half reality and half fiction. My dad was a truck driver growing up so when I was 8 or 9 I remember going out with him on trips and so when I lived here from 2001 to 2009 I worked here as a dispatcher. So I have been around truck drivers my entire life. Now I work at the same company as I worked at before as a safety director.
So some of the songs on the album are about traveling. There is a song on there called "Two Trips To Nashville," and I have only been to Nashville like three times so I am not singing that Nashville is my place or anything. The opening track is “State Line” and it mentions a bunch of states and I wrote that from a truck driver's point of view.
I have songs on the album that are about my wife, that are about my family that are about my hometown and some of it is from a point of fiction and some from my own experiences. I never wrote that way. I always felt that I had to write about something that I knew about or that was mine. I had never thought about writing from another person’s point of view and that brings me to this girl I have been playing with, Billie Frost. She is relatively unknown around here, I met her through Dan Olsen from Sack of Lions and she used to play with Dallas Hendrix and then she played with Dan for awhile. I hooked up with her and she did that title track “Easy Way Out” on this album. She has a real country vibe to her and when people ask me about her I just say she is a firecracker, because she is. She is a lot younger than me and she just has a great energy and aura about her and she brings a lot to our live performance.
When I wrote this album I wanted it to be a full band and we have banjo, electric guitar, rhythm guitar, mandolin, steel guitar. It has so many parts on it and I wanted something to sell at shows, but also have something to play live. With me and her playing live and harmonizing it has opened a whole new door to me and now I am writing songs from a female standpoint. I am more excited now playing music than I have have been and I think the music I play now is more digestible. This is probably more of a me thing, but I never felt like Icares, even though we were up for three OEAA’s so we did get some recognition, I never felt like we fit in the Omaha music scene, or I didn’t fit in the Omaha music scene.
MarQ - You guys were pretty popular.
Ryan - I knew a lot of people and I knew a lot of faithful friends from out of town who would flock down, and they will for my CD release show also. So, I wanted to be able to do this myself, but try to translate it live. So now my shows consist of me and other parts that are on the album. So if my drummer can show up he can do it, if the person that does the mandolin can do it then he can do it and if I have to do it myself I can. I don’t have to maintain a practice schedule, and I like to practice by myself. Sometimes I play guitar like two hours a day. I wanted to be self reliant. So about two years ago I stopped trying to book Omaha. I still play here a handful of times, but I stopped trying to get into the in clubs and get onto certain bills.
MarQ - So you have been opening up for some national acts.
Ryan - That is exactly it, we started playing at The Twisted Tail in BeeBeetown who has national acts. We started playing out from where we are from. We (me and Dan) don’t need to constantly play Omaha venues to be relevant. I used to break my back to get into venues and it was so important and we decided to do our own thing and play these small towns and the response has been huge. Everyone is excited and they are there to hear us and that is different from what I grew up on.
MarQ - You grew up playing rock and now you are playing to country music fans and are they accepting to you?
Ryan - It took awhile. I would go out there and still play a couple Icares songs, a Stone Temple Pilots song, an Alice in Chains song and then I was like, I would be watching Dan and he would be playing some country cover and they would love it. So, I was playing a lot of the wrong songs. I will tell you, seeing Dan record his Sack of Lions album sparked me, I thought I should be doing this also. It was exciting to change, and I went from 80% rock covers, and we do a lot of covers, we do our stuff, but now 60% of my set is country. I grew up on Dwight Yoakam, and that is why I love what Matt (Whipkey) gets to do. I think of Dwight as the king. It’s different for me, but it’s better. We started doing the pre-sale on this album and nothing has been easy for me in this process down to the iTunes pre-sale. I would say that I have sold more on my pre-sale, though, than Icares did in nine years as a band. I think that is because it is a lot more digestible.
MarQ - There has to be less pressure now also.
Ryan - It took me awhile to realize and let go of that, and it's not that I didn’t want to and that I didn’t know. I didn’t know that I could write something different and do something different. It was the best thing I have ever done. I do everything on my own terms, and that is the nice thing.
One More Round
Forness keeps Johnny Cash's music alive and well
What: Bill Forness & One More Round, with Tiny Monsters
When: 9 p.m. Saturday, May 28
Where: Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
By MarQ Manner
There are few artists that can maintain a fan base, and one that seems to get increasingly younger after their passing. Johnny Cash is one of those artists. Omaha sees a few Johnny Cash tributes every year, but the one that has been the most consistent is One More Round featuring Bill Forness.
One More Round is endorsed by the Cash family and played the grand opening of the Johnny Cash Museum. The band will perform songs from Sun Records to Def American and Johnny and June tunes will be in the mix also. One More Round perform at The Waiting Room on May 28th with Tiny Monsters. I had a quick chat with Bill Forness over the phone this past week.
MarQ - Before performing Johnny Cash, what kind of music were you performing?
Bill Forness - I was signed to an indie label in the '90s doing rock music and that sort of thing. I was transitioning to more of my writing being acoustic based. Eventually, I had some Johnny Cash songs in the set, and they were going really well. A couple of incidents happened that showed me how much Johnny Cash has touched people's lives. Someone proposed to his girlfriend to "Ring of Fire" and he was waiting for it-as he said I was the closest thing to Johnny Cash. I was like, "Wow this is something." People gravitate to him.
MarQ - When did you start doing Johnny Cash?
Bill - Six years ago was my first solo performance. May 2nd, 2010.
MarQ - What attracts you to Johnny Cash?
Bill - His longevity is really impressive. Someone that is able to write material that the kids still love. College kids will come up to me sometimes and tell me about a song on Sun Records and ask if I do it. He was about ready to go to Branson. He had done a couple of shows there and they were going to give him his own theater and he would do the Johnny Cash TV show there. Rick Rubin kept reaching out to him for just one meeting. When that happened he made those albums and kept touring.
MarQ - Do you find it hard to perform Johnny Cash every night?
Bill - This is different for me to play. I love to play acoustic and that in itself is cool for me. His songs start with acoustic and go from there. There are not any songs I get tired of doing. A lot if it depends on the audience and we don't do the same show every time. Everyone goes wild for "Ring of Fire," but some also crack up at his humorous songs. He put humor into a lot of his songs. We also do '90s songs like "Rusty Cage" "Personal Jesus" and "Hurt."
MarQ - Do you feel pressure from long-time Johnny Cash fans to "get it right"?
Bill - People travel from far away to see us sometimes. They take it very seriously. This is not like an Elvis in a jumpsuit tribute. They will come up to you with a gentle, "It's good, but I have my eye on you." We get a lot of requests to learn songs, but he has written over 1000 songs and we do take those considerations seriously.
MarQ - You've come through Omaha for sometime now. What is the reaction like?
Bill - Each show is getting bigger and I love the crowd here. Some shows are sit down, and that is fine, but in Omaha they are up front and ready for it.
MarQ - If you couldn't perform as Johnny Cash, who would you want to perform as?
Bill - Jim Morrison