Tag Archives: All Young Girls Are Machine Guns

CJ Mills

December 23, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On a fresh autumn night, chatter filled a Lincoln home-turned-music-venue. A few guests trickled through the front door. “No big deal,” CJ Mills thought. It was just a handful of people. Moments later, more appeared. The trickle turned to a flood. All of a sudden, there were 80 people jam-packed against the makeshift stage.

An astonished Mills stood two feet from the standing-room-only crowd. “I couldn’t breathe,” recalls the 31-year-old singer from Omaha. “I went out the side door to take a few deep breaths.”

The moment was surreal.

This was all new to her. The jam-packed house party. The live acoustic sessions. The impromptu performances and scheduled studio time.

Life as a new musician moves fast—a constant hustle.

Three years earlier, Mills (a self-proclaimed introvert) could have never fathomed performing in front of other people. Yet, her soulful, bluesy-folk voice has garnered quite the reputation as a crowd-pleaser. Singing her most cherished words—short poems in lyrical form—only heightened the level of intimacy.

cjmills1Mills has a profound gift for turning raw expressions of human frailness into something bordering on sacred. There’s something about her voice that commands complete attention. She can make a song cry.

She began singing in church as a young child. “I had always been singing since I was a kid. My family was very religious…Because I could sing, I was always made to,” says Mills, who began writing poetry during her early years.

“As a kid, I was huge into reading,” she says. “When I did something well, my mom would take me to the library or buy me a book.”

Soon after, Mills felt compelled to write her own short stories, which turned into poetry she later sang. That was, perhaps, her earliest simultaneous personal and artistic growth.

As a teen, singing wasn’t much of a highlight. She attended Marian High School, then ran track at Kansas State University, but was injured her junior year. While weightlifting, she squatted heavy one day and suffered a bulging disc. “Only time heals that wound,” she says.

Six months to be exact. With all the down time, she saw a decorative ukulele and taught herself how to play. She progressed to a guitar rather quickly. “I didn’t like the way it was strung,” she says of the first right-handed guitar she purchased, “so I flipped it upside down and restrung it so I could play it left-handed.”

Ambidexterity is kind of her thing. “I’m pretty even-handed. I write with both hands,” she says. “[But] I could not play that guitar. I don’t know why. Seemed so odd to me. After a month of trying, I Googled how to restring it.”

In terms of playing chords, she learned by listening to others. She was influenced by the stylings of Lauryn Hill, India.Arie, and Tracy Chapman. “Simple chords, yet, powerful lyrics,” she says. Their music spoke volumes to how Mills hoped to be perceived as an artist someday. Writing songs was a natural next step.

Mills graduated from college, then went on to the workforce. She became a health inspector, not the restaurant kind. More like the Breaking Bad kind. Off stage, she has been sent to investigate meth labs.

Mills has been playing live music for about three years, and with a band for one year. The band—featuring Mitch Towne, David Hawkins, and Max Stehr—has been a great collaboration of like minds, she says.

Mills began to develop her own individual style after college. Blending a mixture of reggae, folk storytelling, jazz melodies, and atmospheric harmonies. She performed her first show at Pizza Shoppe Collective in December 2013. There, she met All Young Girls Are Machine Guns frontwoman Rebecca Lowry, who took to Mills. She asked her to take the stage with her at a local venue.

Now for the whirlwind. Mills released her illuminating debut EP Quiet in 2015, which appeared on multiple lists of the year’s best Nebraska releases. She played the inaugural Femme Fest (organized by Lowry) that same year and returned as the festival’s headliner on Sept. 2.

Since then, Mills has stayed busy playing shows in Omaha and Lincoln. The music newcomer was featured at this year’s Maha Music Festival. Most notably, Mills was nominated for two Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards: Best Singer-Songwriter and Artist of the Year.

Although she’s insanely talented, she’s modest and humble. “The only time I feel comfortable with music is when I’m by myself creating music or on stage playing it,” she says.

Back to that special autumn night. Mills turned that ordinary Lincoln house party into a musical theater.

She composed herself before stepping back on stage, frenetically rapping as she moved through her song “Retail Star” before launching into “I Can’t Be.”

Visit soundcloud.com/cjmillsmusic for more information.

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Being Ryleigh Welsh

October 8, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ryleigh Welsh, 15, didn’t have too many plans for the summer. She’d entered one of her songs in the Omaha Performing Arts songwriting competition. She worked on her International Baccalaureate curriculum. She returned to Omaha Girls Rock and hit up some open mic nights. She took ukulele lessons every day. All that after performing in a spring play with SNAP! Productions at Shelterbelt Theatre.

The Omaha Central sophomore has already accomplished more, artistically, than many folks twice her age. At 12, she released her first album, Being a Unicorn, and at 14 starred as Lottie Adams in the SNAP! Productions dramedy Harbor. She’s even headlined her own “Ryleigh Welsh and Friends” night at Barley Street Tavern, with her name on the marquee and everything—though she had to play first because she’s a minor.

Her life sounds like a juggling act, but she seems to handle everything with uncanny ease—particularly her music, which is catchy as hell.

“I was never really a crying, screaming child, so all I did was write songs,” she quips.

“I’ll come up with a couple lyrics, write that down, and then mostly it’s just playing chords over and over, filling in words with the chords. Eventually it comes together.”

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When that happens, she says it takes about five minutes to finish a song, a pace that rivals that of a young Bob Dylan when he first hit Greenwich Village.

The young artist also has the best resource a beginning songwriter can have: a seasoned musician/mentor to help edit her material, who also happens to be her mother.

Molly Welsh is a staple of Omaha’s art scene. She’s acted in, and directed, several performances; played guitar and sung backup for multiple high-profile Omaha bands, including All Young Girls Are Machine Guns; and has worked for the Omaha Symphony, Omaha Performing Arts, Nebraska Shakespeare Festival, and Film Streams. Ryleigh is the beneficiary of a household suffused with creative energy.

Take, for instance, the song “Reality Avenue,” (search her name and Boombox Productions to have a listen) which Ryleigh wrote in 2011. She says she “kinda had it all jumbled because I was so young…it was like ‘What are you saying?’”

Molly knew. “I could tell what she was trying to say, but none of the words were in the right order that would make sense to a person listening to it.” So Molly helped Ryleigh clarify the song. The result is a catchy, ukulele-driven tune with such lyrical gems as “You planted a yellow seed for me / to grow a bubblegum tree, and I don’t live in a house on Reality Avenue.”

When asked if she’s internalized any mantra to keep her going, Ryleigh pauses, then rattles off the title of an obscure book from the ‘60s which she recently read: How You Live Is How You Lose Your Mind. But she doesn’t look quite satisfied with that answer. Though fun-loving, she wants to do her best at everything. So she substitutes something better.

“My mantra is: I do what I want. I’m punk rock.”

Believe the Omahype

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha resident Will Simons has worn many hats. As the managing editor of the now defunct Omaha City Weekly, he flexed his journalistic prowess while balancing a music career in the local band Thunder Power and jumpstarting his own business venture, Omahype. The curated online events calendar aims to provide locals with all of their entertainment needs. It solves the problem of having to sift through several different websites and papers just to find out what’s going on, plus it’s optimized for mobile operating systems. Simons had a little help coming up with the concept.

“I can’t say it was my idea initially. It was definitely a team effort. I used to interview local musicians at a previous job. One of those interviews was with Laura Burhenn, who, at the time, was a recent Omaha transplant from D.C. She was about to release the debut album for her group, The Mynabirds,” Simons explains. “She mentioned that she was in the early stages putting together an online youth culture-oriented events calendar and blog for the Omaha area and asked if I’d liked to help out. Of course, I said yes. With a background in arts and entertainment journalism, I knew Omaha sorely needed a one-stop website that listed all the best events in town for a younger, more culture-savvy audience. What sealed the deal was when Laura told me that two of the most talented web designers in town, Dave Nelson and Cody Peterson [of Secret Penguin], were already on board to help build it.”

Getting it off the ground hasn’t exactly been simple. To run Omahype successfully, obtaining multiple advertisers is key for Simons and the rest of the team. People are slowing coming around, but with all four founders having time-consuming day jobs (and rock careers), it’s difficult to juggle it all. However, Simons is working on a solution.

“The biggest challenge is generating enough money from advertising to justify someone working for Omahype full-time. I am transitioning into a part-time situation at my job so I can direct most of my energy toward Omahype,” he says.

Will Simons

Will Simons

“Aside from advertising, we’re seeking sponsorships from companies with employees and customers in sync with the readers of Omahype. We also plan on throwing more events. Our goal at Omahype is to support, nurture, and expand the cultural landscape of the city.”

Peterson is currently working on Omahype’s redesign and once that’s done, Simons assures visiting Omahype will be a “beautiful and intuitive experience.” In addition, browsers will discover the most relevant listings for concerts, art galleries, comedy shows, and independent films. Also, local restaurant reviews and concert photographs are popping up more regularly. Simons is optimistic.

“With the new redesign, we hope to realize our goal of having an online calendar that is the one go-to source for all of the Omaha area’s best events and major cultural happenings,” he concludes. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll be able to expand to [other] cities at some point. Oh, and an office space would be nice, too [laughs].”

In the meantime, Simons and crew have executed a handful of fundraising events to help generate funds. They are planning on throwing more music events to keep up the momentum. Most recently, Omahype sponsored its third annual Rock-n-Shop event at The Slowdown on December 14. It featured a slew of prominent Omaha bands such as All Young Girls Are Machine Guns, Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship, Laura Burhenn of The Mynabirds and, of course, Thunder Power. Several local vendors were also on hand to showcase their goods. If Simons keeps this up, Omahype could very well be the go-to calendar for all of Omaha’s “cool kids.”