Tag Archives: Bright Eyes

The Godfather of Tractor Punk

February 10, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Thank Gary Dean Davis for creating a genre of music original to Nebraska: tractor punk.

The progenitor of tractor punk has been performing and recording music for 20 years on the independent label—SPEED! Nebraska Records—that he established and jointly operates with fellow Omaha punk rocker Mike Tulis.

Although they have released music in various formats (and in various genres of punk rock), SPEED! Nebraska specializes in 7-inch, 45 rpm vinyl records. “The first record I ever listened to was a 45, and it’ll be the last record I ever listen to,” Davis says of his favored medium.

Davis and Tulis are no strangers to the local indie-punk scene. Davis, who grew up in Bennington, was in (what he refers to as) the tractor punk band Frontier Trust in the early-1990s.

Davis says when he was writing his punk rock songs, he tried to write about what he knew growing up in rural Nebraska. He followed the examples of then-elder statesmen of punk: “The Replacements are singing about Minneapolis, Television is singing about living in New York.”

Tulis grew up in a military family and moved around a lot. When Davis was touring with Frontier Trust, he was often surprised to find Tulis living in a different city.

“Mike would come to all of our out-of-town shows, and I’d be like, ‘you live in Chicago now?’” Davis recalls. Thus began a friendship that would lead to their collaborative management of SPEED! Nebraska from the third record onward (after Tulis moved back to Omaha).

Gary Dean Davis

Gary Dean Davis

In 1996, Davis had independently released the first SPEED! Nebraska recording. It was a 7-inch featuring two songs from the Omaha indie rock band Solid Jackson. Acclaimed Omaha singer-songwriter Connor Oberst liked the band so much he wrote a song about them (the track, “Solid Jackson,” is featured on Bright Eyes’ A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997 from Saddle Creek Records).

SPEED! Nebraska started with Solid Jackson because, as Davis says emphatically, “They had recorded this song called ‘Fell’ that was my favorite song, but they weren’t going to do anything with it.”

The label’s first 7-inch from Solid Jackson, however, was more low-fi punk release than Davis’ personal brand of tractor punk. Likewise, Tulis does not classify his own music under the tractor punk genre, but he enjoys Davis’ regional stylings. “It’s a very good fit, because it’s a major industry at this point,” he says with a sarcastic grin, alluding to SPEED! Nebraska’s 20 years in business.

As the Solid Jackson record sold, Davis was able to produce more music. SPEED! Nebraska’s second release came from Davis. His band at the time was called D is for Dragster, and it was true-to-form tractor punk.

Tulis’ band at the time was named Fullblown. Fullblown was responsible for the label’s third 7-inch release.

Once Tulis moved back to Omaha, he quickly became more involved in the record label. They recorded a variety of groups, including Davis and Tulis’ band The Monroes, the post-punk group Ideal Cleaners out of Lincoln, and Domestica (with former members of Lincoln’s Mercy Rule, who are longtime friends of Davis and Tulis).

Along with desire to promote local punk music, Davis also wanted to work with his friends. “The unifying thing all the bands on SPEED! have is I like them and they’re nice people,” he says.

Davis’ current band, the Wagon Blasters, released its most recent record in 2011. The Wagon Blasters often play shows with Tulis’ current band, the Lupines. On Oct. 22, they performed together at the label’s 20th anniversary show at Brother’s Lounge.

“In Nebraska, as a musician, you had to leave town [to be considered successful],” says Tulis of the unfortunate perspective held by many local bands. “We thought, ‘Let’s promote Nebraska!’” When a new band joins the label, Davis says, “Now you’re on the team.”

Visit facebook.com/Speed-Nebraska-Records-215079805178952 for more information.

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Yes She Is

June 16, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

No bone-honest Omaha scenester between the ages of 15 and 35 doesn’t want to be Kianna Alarid when they grow up. Alarid’s first band, Tilly and the Wall, indie-rocked the 00s with effusively youthful songs on Saddle Creek Records, opening for Bright Eyes and appearing on soundtracks. Firmly established by 2004, Alarid’s gone from a wide-eyed, 23-year-old-innocent to a seasoned music industry professional and mother. Alarid is now based in Kansas City, where she spoke eloquently between diaper changes about the new band (Yes You Are), lessons learned, and maturity.

“I see the events in my life as steps on an ascending road. I didn’t always see it that way. I didn’t even realize there was a road. I think that’s what it means to be lost in the wilderness,” Alarid says. “But now that I am aware of this, I can view good events and bad events as steps going upward toward a destination. The present moment in my life is always reaching for that next level and always being aware of the obstacles and pitfalls so I don’t slip off this narrow way.”

Yes You Are came into being two years ago when Alarid and writing partner Jared White felt inspired and set to work in a more methodical, practical manner than in years past.

Kianna-Alarid-1“We just set our focus on the next step: determine what it is we need to do to make that happen or get that ball rolling,” says Alarid. “For me, it’s like night and day. With Tilly I didn’t realize what I was doing. Inspiration came sporadically and felt organic yet fleeting. With Yes You Are, I have learned to invoke inspiration at will.”

Alarid admits that while managed productivity seems obvious in many professions, to an artist, it feels like “a strange secret no one could’ve taught me.”

“There are no handbooks when you start. No one clocks you in or out, and no one but you can hold you accountable. It feels like a natural kind of artistic maturity.”

Alarid says the charm of Tilly’s music was in its eclectic collaboration of five songwriters and the innocence of their sound. In the best sense, she says, they were amateurs.

“We didn’t even know what we were doing,” Alarid says of Tilly glowingly. “Like we were kids dancing and singing in a basement and it sounded so pure and free. It just came out that way with no predetermined concept. Tilly songs were my songs of innocence. Yes You Are songs are my songs of experience. That’s how it feels to me.”

Every Yes You Are song is a two person collaboration between Alarid and White. What will define their sound will come from their “very different” current interests.

“There’s always this contrasting dual source,” Alarid says. “The magic happens when I try to write him a classic 60s pop melody and he tries to write a Swedish electronic song for me. Interesting things happen when we pass through each other’s filter.”

Being a mother has made Alarid realize she is duty-bound to actualize dreams she never knew she had.

“I need to teach my daughter by example that life is meant to be a quest. We’re meant to grow towards something,” Alarid says. “We’re meant to believe in things before we can see them. I intend for my life to be the proof for her that she can be great at whatever she feels called to do. If I’m going to be great, I have to know what I want, be resolved to achieve that, and work hard until I do, never giving up.” Encounter

Visit weareyesyouare.com for more information.

The Essential Conor Oberst

October 15, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Conor Oberst, since age 13, has released one of the strongest catalogs in modern American music. His unmistakable voice and penetrating lyrics stand front and center, whether under his own name; the adolescent, yet strangely adult Commander Venus; the defining work of Bright Eyes; the all star Monsters of Folk; or the topical rock of Desaparecidos.

Do You Feel At Home – The title track from Commander Venus’s 1994 debut presents many Oberst signatures: wise-beyond-years lyrics; a controlled, yet shaky delivery; catharsis; and hooks that set the singer-songwriter apart.

Touch – Bright Eyes’ Jan. 1998 debut A Collection of Songs presented the lo-fi blueprint of the confessional songwriting to come, yet their September release, Letting Off the Happiness, is where the magic happened. “Touch” blends the manic vocals of Oberst’s acoustic songs without acoustic: blitzed out drums and “broken” keyboards make “Touch” an amazingly honest, fractured gem.

Something Vague – 2000’s Fevers and Mirrors solidifies the eclectic instrumentation of modern Bright Eyes. “Something Vague” perfectly expresses the confusion and passing of adolescence to early independent adulthood.

You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? – 2002’s Lifted is the album that placed Oberst in the national spotlight, with ambition bursting from everywhere. “You Will …,” is a simple message and melody that not only sticks in one’s head but practically signs a lease on the place.

Poison Oak – Bright Eyes most popular album, 2005’s I’m Wide Awake it’s Morning, is a classic. “Lua” and “First Day of My Life” are Oberst staples; however, his work is rarely more personal than on “Poison Oak.” The humanity and pure emotion Oberst displays across this track is staggering.

Easy/Lucky/Free Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, also released in 2005, explored Oberst’s electronic inclinations. Digital Ash brought a new sheen and darkness to Bright Eyes’ take on electro rock. “Easy/ Lucky/ Free” closes this underrated collection with a meditation on an apocalyptic mortality.

Cape Canaveral– Oberst returned to the stripped down leanings of earlier releases for his 2008 self-titled solo album. Weaving vivid imagery and mysticism, Oberst achieves a new sense of universality on “Cape Canaveral.” Using acoustic guitar as accompaniment, Oberst wisely sings: “Victory’s sweet even deep in the cheap seats.”

Time Forgot – Oberst entered the major label world in 2014 with the well-polished Upside Down Mountain. “Time Forgot” presents us with a familiar Oberst landscape, though with a new sense that with fight and dedication, the tunnel may just have some light.

City on the Hill – Desaparecidos have become one of America’s more relevant rock bands. Despite a 13-year gap between their debut and the 2015 release Payola, Denver Dalley, Matt Baum, Landon Hedges, Ian McElroy, and Oberst have only gained strength. “City on The Hill” exhibits one of the strongest-ever Oberst vocals as he joins the body count of a nation needing, hoping, and fighting for something more.

Oberst will headline the Holland Stages Festival on Saturday, Oct. 17. The free, all-day event celebrates the 10th anniversary of Omaha Performing Arts and the Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St., and will be held on five stages inside and outside the building.

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