Tag Archives: music

Revamped Radio

March 18, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When the band Train came to Omaha’s Baxter Arena for a concert in December 2016, there were plenty of flashing lights and excited fans. “But when the lights go out and the audience starts screaming, there’s no rush like it in the world,” says Andy Ruback, general manager of NRG Media. Ruback knows a great deal about screaming fans—when a big concert comes to town the likelihood is that Ruback had his hand in the planning. His role as general manager has evolved over the years from managing radio stations to include managing events brought to town by NRG Media Live.

The business is a natural fit for NRG, which owns stations ranging from Power 106.9 to 1290 KOIL. The company was looking to the future for broadcasting and leaning toward live shows as a way to increase profitability. NRG used their strengths in connecting people to music to expand into the business of concert production. With the radio stations’ on-air talent knowing their listeners’ preferences, the media company naturally knew what acts had potential to bring in revenue, and which ones might not.

Ruback came to Omaha from Lincoln, where he served as general manager for their NRG stations. Upon his arrival at the NRG offices in Omaha in 2012, Ruback went full speed ahead. He says the intention was never to focus on live shows over radio shows; rather, he called his plans a method for “diversifying for growth.”

Concert production is a challenge that Ruback gladly accepted, but in it, found unique bumps in the road. Some of those bumps included special requirements, such as permits, that needed the legal team’s help. Shock rocker Alice Cooper, for example, required the team to acquire special insurance because of the pyrotechnics involved with his show. Ruback and his team figured out how to get the right insurance, and now know who to ask the next time someone wants to light up fireworks onstage.

Ruback says some of the more surprising challenges he and his team have faced come from smaller, more routine details.

“I would say it’s more about the crowd experience logistics,” Ruback says. “How do we try to work with the arenas to make sure there’s enough concessions on the floor? What should be the entry ticket price? What should be the price for the front row?”

Logistics is the simplest description for the business of producing concerts. Is the specific artist available at the time? Is there enough interest in this artist to fill the seats? Is a venue available on the day needed?

“We could have the great idea, and the right price, but there could be a UNO hockey game and a Lancers game on the night we want, and we’re out of luck,” Ruback says.

It is a revenue stream in which many community businesses desire to participate, and there are many ways for them to participate, including attaching their name to experiences such as meet-and-greets with the band before or after the show, and attaching their name to souvenirs. Attendees at the Train concert, for example, vied for flashing bracelets and cups branded with a sponsor’s logo. Signage prominently displayed throughout Baxter Arena featured sponsor logos.

The scenario is beneficial to everyone involved: the band gets to play to a well-attended venue, the fans get to enjoy the band, and the sponsors get to present their message in an effective way.

“On that day, no other media group is producing a concert,” Ruback says. “So you’re looking at content that advertisers want to be a part of, but no other client can do.”

The diversification proved wildly successful. Ruback says that since 2014, more than 100,000 people have attended an NRG Media Live event. Associate athletic director for University of Nebraska at Omaha Mike Kemp enjoys his business dealings with NRG Media Live and says that when Ruback puts on a concert at Baxter Arena “… it’s not just a concert—it’s an event. He has great vision and ideas and that’s the true charm of what he does.”

“I think NRG Media does a great job of engaging the community to get behind the events,” adds Kemp. NRG Media has the ability to promote coming shows using the radio stations on their roster and their strong social media presence. This equals solid attendance numbers at concerts and happy sponsors.

“Andy’s full of energy and great ideas,” Kemp says of Ruback. “He’s an honest guy with great enthusiasm for what he does.” Rubak’s vision has evolved NRG Media into much more than an organization simply running local radio stations. In fact, the next time there is a popular concert in town, there is an excellent chance that Ruback can be found there, smiling and enjoying the rush.

Visit nrgmedia.com for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Orchestrated by God, Encouraged by Parents

March 12, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

At his first public concert, a benefit for disabled children in Ecuador, Washington Garcia realized that he was put on Earth to serve others through music. “It was a revealing moment,” Garcia says.

He was only 7 years old.

The next enlightening moment came when he was 10. He played and won his first national competition. The boy realized that he could earn money playing the piano.

Every step along his career has involved meeting the right people who could help at the right time. It’s something he and his parents believe God has orchestrated, placing him on a path that enables him to serve and give to a new generation of young artists.

That path led to Omaha in 2016. Today, the former child prodigy from Ecuador is the director of the School of Music at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

He started down his musical path at an early age, reaching for the piano as an infant and trying to recreate music before he was in school. “It was natural when we were little, my parents wanted us to be involved in music,” Garcia says.

At age 4, he tagged along with his 6-year-old sister to the music conservatory. By the end of the school year, his sister’s teacher contacted Garcia’s mother, Miryam Eljuri, and told her that he was a prodigy.

Miryam knew at that moment Garcia’s wish to play music was something the family had to support.

“Washington’s success was achieved as a team,” Miryam says through her son’s translation. It was Miryam who helped him apply for the Kennedy Center cultural exchange program in his teens, Miryam who lined up an airline sponsorship to fly her son around the world for his concerts.

Garcia’s father, also named Washington Garcia and one of the most respected neurosurgeons in Ecuador, helped as well, driving his son to classes and guiding him to become a responsible young man.

At age 18, Garcia simultaneously graduated high school and college, earning a Bachelor of Music from the National Conservatory of Music in Ecuador. By then, he’d played with the national symphony and performed for a former Chilean president. He’d won first prizes at the Guillermo Wright-Vallarino National Piano Competition in Quito, the Elizabeth Davis Memorial Piano Competition and the 19th International Young Artist Piano Competition in Washington, D.C., the 2004 Baltimore Music Club Piano Competition, and the Harrison Winter Piano Competition.

Garcia was accepted into the Kennedy Center cultural exchange program, earning a $25,000 fellowship to help cover his master’s studies at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. He graduated at age 20, returning later to complete a doctorate. At 25, Garcia became the youngest Latin American pianist to have ever earned a doctorate performance degree from the university.

Throughout his studies, he cultivated an impressive international concert portfolio, which up to that point, included performances and lectures in Asia and Europe. His desire to continue playing while helping students led him to a career in education. He taught seventh and eighth graders in Baltimore before taking his calling to a higher level.

Garcia became an assistant professor of piano at Texas State University. In nine years, he rose in rank to become the appointed chair of the keyboard area and then the assistant director. It was a dream position, allowing him to work with more people, fundraise, build relationships internationally, and play music. He knew his next step in life was to become a director of a music school.

He was hired at UNO in January 2016.

His career path has taken him around the world, and so, his choice to reside in Omaha has puzzled some people. He tells them that he fell in love with the friendliness of the city and the culture of the school on his first visit.

“The faculty at the school of music was so talented and so collegial that I fell in love with them,” Garcia says. “We have one of the best faculty in Nebraska. It’s a collaborative faculty, and this is huge, because it doesn’t matter how good you are if you cannot collaborate with others.”

Already, Garcia has helped establish an international concert series at the school. In the next year, he hopes to begin renovating UNO facilities, including adding another concert hall; start a radio broadcast program to showcase students; and increase community engagement with other organizations.

The School of Music already has a student recital series at First Christian Church and, in the fall, will begin another one at Gallery 1516. At the end of March, the school will be among many cultural institutions performing at the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping and FEI World Cup Dressage Finals at the CenturyLink Center. In 2019, he hopes to launch an international music festival in Omaha.

“My goal is to continue to establish Omaha as one of the most important cultural and academic destinations in the U.S.,” Garcia says.

It’s an exciting time at UNO, according to Garcia. And it’s exciting for his family. While visiting over Christmas to see Garcia and his wife’s newborn son, Garcia’s parents spoke about their son’s career.

“Obviously, he came here with a clear mission and vision from God,” Garcia’s father says. “I know that he is going to fulfill his mission here in Omaha.”

Garcia will debut with the Omaha Symphony Orchestra Oct. 8 at Joslyn Art Museum. He will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, K. 466 under the baton of maestro Thomas Wilkins. Visit washingtongarcia.com for more information.

From left: Miryam Eljuri, Washington A. Garcia, and Washington H. Garcia

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

The Best Is Yet to Come

March 10, 2017 by

Wow! A city of “Bests!”

Omaha is filled with so many amazing businesses, innovators, artists, entrepreneurs, vendors, doctors, venues, restaurants, and… well you name the category. The “Bests.” They make us proud to be from Omaha.

And yet, how many times have you been on a trip to some exotic locale like Bora Bora, Paris, Costa Rica, Portland, or even Lubbock, and upon being asked where you’re from, you’ve mumbled, “Omaha,” furtively, under your breath?

Despite the fact that our hometown boasts a 6-foot-tall bronze statue of Chef Boyardee, and the archetypical power of our name emblazoned on the Wizard of Oz’s escape balloon, we feel shy about claiming our place as one of the best places on earth.

Admit it. We’ve always had a bit of an inferiority complex about where we’re from—where we live. But, why? Well, I suspect that bit of shame might be rooted in the lyrics of an old song that described this town of ours back in the early days:

“Hast ever been in Omaha,
Where rolls the dark Missouri down,
And four strong horses scarce can draw
An empty wagon through the town?
Where sand is blown from every mound
To fill the eyes and ears and throat?
Where all the steamers are aground
And all the shanties are afloat?
Where whisky shops the livelong night
Are vending out their poison juice;
Where men are often very tight,
And women deemed a trifle loose?”

Hardly a “New York, New York” or “April in Paris,” that’s for sure. The lyrics are no match for “Bombay Se Gayi Poona,” either.

We started with a pretty brutal musical self-image. Maybe this nagging sense of “less than” is rooted in the dearth of good tunes about our fair city.

Groucho Marx tried to lift our spirits with a ditty that included, “There’s a place called Omaha, Nebraska, in the foothills of Tennessee.” The geographical illiteracy, however, negated any positive image building.

Stan Freberg didn’t help with his musical Omaha! that included lyrics like; “Who me? Miss the weenie roast in Omaha?” and “Omaha moon keep shining. You shone on Council Bluffs last June. Leaving Dundee lovers pining. Please remember you’re an Omaha moon.”

Nobel Prize winner Robert Allen Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan) sang, “I’m going to ride into Omaha on a horse. Out to the country club and the golf course,” in 1964—no comfort there.

Psychedelic ensemble Moby Grape did us no favors with their 1968 single, “Omaha,” which didn’t mention Omaha even once beyond the title.

Bob Seger sang about “A long and lonesome highway east of Omaha” in his paean to touring as a rock star but he never mentioned actually coming into town while he was in the neighborhood. So, thanks a lot, Bob.

We did hit it big in 1973 when Grand Funk Railroad sang about “four young chiquitas in Omaha,” in their No. 1 hit “We’re an American Band.” The problem was, Little Rock got top billing in the verses, and, after the chorus we ended up getting a hotel torn down.

So here’s the deal, we need an Omaha anthem. A song with the Omaha equivalent of “little cable cars,” and some parallel to “that toddling town.” We need to be where “little town shoes” are headed. Omaha needs a “Best Song About Omaha” winner next year. We need to patch up the psychic scars we’ve borne for all these many years.

It won’t be easy. Others have tried and failed. I’m counting on you, we all are.

Do you have an anthem for Omaha? E-mail a video of your song to Omaha Magazine at editor@omahamagazine.com to be considered for prizes.

This article was printed in Omaha Magazine’s 2017 Best of Omaha” issue.

Ren
ais
sance 
Man

February 22, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A boozy brunch between girlfriends, a meeting of coworkers over coffee, a couple splitting a glass   of wine—conversations captured around the city, all serve as fodder and inspiration for Brion Poloncic’s work. In the quiet corners of Omaha’s local coffee shops and wine bars, Poloncic puts pen to paper, his ear tuned into the surrounding babble, creating art that he feels represents those around him and the experiences they discuss.

But don’t expect a still life of women gossiping between sips of their Venti mochas. As a visual artist, author, and former musician, Poloncic is a man of many hats but always remains a creator of thought-provoking and idiosyncratic work that paints middle America in a psychedelic wash.

“I’ve always fancied myself an artist,” Poloncic says. “My art is an affirmation of my peculiar skill set, and it just so happens to make me happy. It’s my own blend of therapy.”

It was through chance that Poloncic was first bitten by the creative bug. After he didn’t make the baseball team, he traded mitts for guitars and started writing music. A fan of everyone from Pink Floyd to Johnny Cash, he parlayed his early love for listening to his parent’s records into seven albums, all released under the moniker “A Tomato A Day (helps keep the tornado away).” A prolific songwriter, his discography is filled with character and colorful song titles, including ditties like “You Little Shit” and “Weirdo Park.”

For Poloncic, music wasn’t enough. He needed to sink his teeth into his next artistic outlet. So when a friend needed help setting up an Iowa art studio, he asked Polonic to draw pieces that illustrated his career. With no formal training or experience, unless coloring backpacks with magic markers counts, he dove in.

Two years later, Poloncic sold his first piece at a gallery in Lincoln. He has also shown work in Omaha and Kansas City and has a collection represented at Gallery 72, all those diploma-yielding pros be damned.

“My art isn’t constrained by my knowledge or training, and I think this makes me naturally less critical of my work,” Poloncic says.

Filled with abstract shapes, haunting faces, and stark use of color, his off-kilter yet original drawings mirror the tone of his written work. Through The Journal of Experimental Fiction, he published his first book Xanthous Mermaid Mechanics in 2012, following this up in 2014 with his second printed work On the Shoulders of Madmen. Both explored concepts of the subconscious mind, and the novel he is currently working on will follow suit.

“I’ll be surprised if anyone can read it,” Poloncic says. “It’s got no characters, no story arc, and isn’t about anything in particular.”

And he admits this is his niche, comparing his art to improvisational jazz or free-style rap where “things just happen.” For whatever he’s working on, he says the hardest part is just getting started. Once that happens, everything else just falls into place, and if he can’t get over a block, he always has another craft to turn to.

“If I stumble off the creative wagon with drawing, I get back on with writing and vice versa,” Poloncic says. “As you work on one, the other comes right along with it.”

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Sexy & Slow

Photography by Keith Binder

Is it terrible the pain in Peedi Rothsteen’s voice is musically satisfying?

His honest mix of pleasure and vulnerability blended over incredibly sexy slow jams makes your knees buckle.

Rothsteen knew he was tapping a vein when he emerged on Omaha’s music scene nearly two years ago with a brand new sound unlike any of his other rhythm and blues projects.

Many may know him as lead singer to Voodoo Method or “P. Minor,” a local R&B artist and former radio personality, but he’s since evolved from typical masculine crooning. His delicate vocals now have depth. Musical grit, if you will. And, ultimately, rock influenced his creative trajectory.

Watching the evolution of Rothsteen has been quite entrancing. A lyrical twist intrinsically influenced only by time and experiences.

Music is second nature to the Chicago-born singer, who played trumpet and French horn as a child. He sang for his high school and church choirs. In fact, he got his start as a scrawny 7-year-old who took his church talent show stage in an oversized suit, patent leather shoes,  and a skinny black tie belting out Bobby Brown’s “Roni.”

Music was a persistent influence in his early years, but he stepped into his own in 2006 while working at Omaha’s hip-hop radio station Hot 107.7 FM.

P. Minor became a local R&B crooner who opened for some of the early 2000s’ hottest hip-hop musicians, including Donell Jones, Ciara, Akon, Ludacris, Ying Yang Twins, and Yung Joc. At the time, his single “Can I” was one of the most requested songs at the radio station. He garnered radio play outside Nebraska. His song “Keys to the Club” played in Arkansas, Missouri, and Minnesota.

Omaha’s R&B scene still is relatively small. Only a handful of soulful singers have landed regular gigs or made successful albums. He was tired of being stuck in a genre filled with repetitive melodies and predictable style. So he tried his hand at a new genre: rock.

“I liked the energy of rock music,” he says.

Minor was introduced to a couple of guys who were putting together a band. After a few jam sessions in 2007, the group formed Voodoo Method. With that band he toured and learned more about music than he’d ever imagine.

Voodoo Method featured an unexpectedly good combination of punch riffs, accurate lyrics being soulfully delivered by Minor, who almost always sported a tuxedo shirt and bow tie.

In the eight years performing with the band, his songwriting, voice, and look changed. He stepped into his own distinctive, expressive style. It was multi-dimensional.

“In rock, you have to be ready to take it up another level,” he says. “You have to be able to get out of your level. You have to be a magnetic frontman and push your vocals. And, without being in a band, I wouldn’t … my sound wouldn’t have developed that way.”

Voodoo Method is still around.  “We’re taking our time writing and just exploring music,” Minor explains.

But he got the bug for R&B music again.

“I wasn’t trying to get out or push anything, just exorcise my own demons,” he says.

He knocked the rust off and started producing again.

“What if I take what I’ve learned with the band and some of those experiences and move them over with R&B,” he ponders. “I might have success.”

All the while, he was producing a podcast and doing audio production.

“I wanted to create something new.”

He quietly started making R&B music again, he says. “A few songs here and there and then it started to feel good.”

So, here he is: a promising, ambitious, and talented songwriter and musician with one foot in rock, and the other in soul. This musical metamorphosis brought him to create his stage
persona, “Peedi Rothsteen.”

“Peedi” is a family nickname that stuck and Rothsteen is homage to Sam “Ace” Rothstein of Martin Scorsese’s brilliant and brutal 1995 film Casino.

Ace’s claim to fame is being an excellent gambler, he says. The way he approached the game. He knew all the ins and outs to gambling and could pick a winner.

“That the way I feel about music,” he says. “I know a song, what it needs. I know how to pick a winner. That to me, it’s symbolic.”

Hence, the brilliantly collaborative Peedi Rothsteen.

“There aren’t many things I can do great,” he adds. “Music is one. I work really hard, too. What comes out in the end is something people can enjoy.”

In 2015, Rothsteen released his debut EP Moments Before,  a five-song compilation of incredibly soulful lyrics. The music scene took notice. That same year, Rothsteen took home the Best New Artist award at the 2015 Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards.

Exactly a year to the date, Rothsteen released Moments During, a five-track EP follow-up. The songs are full of foot-stomping grooves and fiery grooves vocals. Two songs to wrap your nodding noggin’ around are “Righteous Giant” and “Clap.” Rothsteen hopes to continue his music collection by releasing Moments After this summer–same June 11 date, of course.

His audience is just as diverse. Young. Old. Black. White. Metal. Soft rock.

“I don’t want to be just one thing,” Rothsteen says.

“In rock, you can go anywhere you want,” he says. “Good music will never be bad. It doesn’t matter how you box it up, how you deliver it.”

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

The Evolution 
of Pop Music

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Admittedly, 34-year-old Omaha native Jonathan Tvrdik doesn’t sleep much. Between co-owning Benson’s Krug Park, working as a consultant for his wife Sarah Lorsung Tvrdik’s business Hello Holiday, being a father to 2-year-old son Hugo, directing music videos and commercials, making music, and holding down a day job as both the executive creative director at Phenomblue and head of product design at Rova, there’s not a lot of room for much else. It’s a path he can trace back to childhood.

“When I was a little kid, I played by myself and was always building things,” Tvrdik recalls. “I’m an adult version of that kid who is constantly making new project—like a band, bar, new app, or music video. I’ve always been a goal-oriented person with lots of irons in the fire.”

Ironically, that’s where the inspiration behind the name of Tvrdik’s upcoming solo album came from. Titled Irons, it’s a project over two years in the making and one that took careful crafting with the help of longtime friend and drummer for The Faint Clark Baechle. Busting at the seams with heavy themes of introspection and emotional growth, Irons illustrates a tumultuous period in Tvrdik’s life.

“For better or for worse, that’s where I’ve always been—busy,” he says. “I don’t even know what that has created in me—like who am I as a person? I’ve always been a workhorse, but who am I really? Each song dissects a different thing I am doing or interested in, or a certain vice I have as a result of all the stuff I am working with. It’s a very self-analytical sort of record.”

Beginning with “Something Better” and culminating with “Star Stick,” the 11-track album is like Joy Division meets The Faint, or as Tvrdik describes it, “Frank Sinatra on top of electronica-goth.” It was a true labor of love and Tvrdik really trusted Baechle’s expertise. Some tracks he thought were polished and ready to go; Baechle would hear them and mistakingly refer to them as “demos.” It took the experience of his fine-tuned ear to sew up any loose ends.

“We’ve made a lot music together over the years from a musician and engineer standpoint,” Tvrdik explains. “For this one, we started working through the process of what it was going to look like. I always knew when I was done mixing and recording it on my own, I would take it to him to refine. My producorial technique is very raw. For songs I thought were done and perfect, Clark would be like, ‘I got your demos’ [laughs]. I’m very right brained and he’s very left. I wanted his brain to go through it with a fine-toothed comb and nit pick the hell out of it, which he did. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”

Although Tvrdik’s music background goes back to The Cog Factory days, where Omaha staples like Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, Cursive’s Tim Kasher, and The Faint’s Todd Fink (Baechle’s older brother) got their start in the early ’90s, naturally he’s experienced plenty of evolutionary changes in terms of his musical output. At one point, he was in a hardcore band, and later a noise-based outfit. While he felt he was still emotionally expressive in all of them, it’s with the forthcoming Irons he felt he was truly able to effectively communicate to the listener exactly what he was experiencing.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Keeping Up With Kasher

February 3, 2017 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Anyone who went to dances or homecoming festivities at Creighton Prep, Marian, Duchesne Academy, Cathedral, or other Omaha high schools from late-1989 through the early ’90s probably bounced their head to the beat of a cover band called The March Hares. At the time, no one realized they were witnessing one of the most original talents ever to come out of Omaha.

Tim Kasher,  “like most ragged teenage guitar players,” had already been bitten by the underground bug when he and four Prep mates, including Matt Maginn and Matt Oberst, older brother of future indie singer-songwriter Conor Oberst, formed the group. They performed covers of bands like The Clash, The Cure, and R.E.M. in public, while playing original music in one another’s basements.

“It was a good little business,” recalls Kasher fondly, from his home in Los Angeles. “We found what got us most excited and, instead of baseball, it was music.”

tim-kasherMore than 25 years later, music still gets the indie rocker excited and “out of bed every morning.”  He’s writing and recording original songs for his current bands, Cursive and The Good Life. He’s also using his degree in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to write screenplays and, as always, testing the limits of his vocal cords.

“It’s definitely getting tougher to push the voice,” admits Kasher, 42, whose nasal and sometimes pitchy cries of anguish make his voice unmistakable. “I long to be 20 again, when I could scream as much as I wanted to. I can’t mistreat it now.”

Kasher will have to pace himself this spring when he goes on tour promoting a new solo album, his third. Titled No Resolution, the album comes out in March and, according to Kasher, features the lush sounds of strings, which he helped arrange.

True to form, Kasher wrote and directed a low-budget, feature-length film of the same name that uses all the songs from the album. “The film No Resolution is about a couple in their 30s who get engaged because she’s pregnant,” Kasher explains. “It’s set over New Year’s Eve, an appropriate backdrop to expose that the guy isn’t quite ready.”

Omahans saw an early edit of the film during the Omaha Film Festival last March. The final cut comes out this summer. Unlike many of his lyrics, the movie contains no autobiographical details. A happy and devoted Kasher married an editor at L.A. Weekly about one year ago. The couple live in the Silver Lake neighborhood, where they mingle with a sizeable group of Omaha transplants.
The musician’s private contentment hasn’t tempered his desire for professional independence. With the new year comes an announcement sure to send tremors through Omaha’s indie sphere: Kasher now has his own record label called 15 Passenger, a nod to an old touring van.

“The new album is on it. We also have all our master reels for Cursive, so we’re going to be releasing our back catalog, along with new stuff” he says. “We’re not planning on getting into the game of taking big gambles on new artists. Just self-releasing.”

What about Omaha-based Saddle Creek Records, the label formed and grown, in part, from Kasher’s talent? “Saddle Creek is alive and well. We’re just transitioning over.”

With a new album, new film, and a new record label, the beat goes on for Tim Kasher.

Visit timkasher.com for more information.

JAGAJA

October 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

We’re literally like clones,” says Gabriel Burkum, describing what it is like to be in a band with his twin brother, Graham. The 29-year-old, Council Bluffs-born twins are the musical duo behind JAGAJA (pronounced jag-uhh-jaw).

Their sound breaks away from what many expect from the Omaha scene. Dense guitar riffs, played by Graham, cascade over layers of rhythm, melody, and reverb. Then comes Gabriel with the bass line. Mixed with instruments and vocals, the brothers blend modern pop with tinges of psychedelia. Gabriel described it as if early 2000s Flaming Lips were recording in New York with the Strokes. In their terms, they’re happy to be from the Omaha area, but they claim to be an “American band” and try their best to take “all our influences and make them ours.”

jagaja2They started playing together in a band called Skypiper, their first official band (from 2007 to 2015). “Skypiper was more folky, or adult contemporary,” recalls Gabriel. It began as an acoustic project, but became more elaborate once they hit the studio. When Skypiper called it quits last year, Graham and Gabriel trudged on and formed JAGAJA. They are the only official members of JAGAJA with an ever-changing lineup of drums, synthesizers, and other instruments that they add into the mix. “It has to be just me and Graham,” says Gabriel. Graham plays guitar, Gabriel plays bass, and they share vocal duties. They try to keep JAGAJA small and between the two of them because “we want to make the record we want.”

“The best part about being in a band with your twin brother is you can (want to) kill them, but like 10 minutes later you’re still twin brothers and can get back to business,” Gabriel says. Their close work relationship is assisted by time apart. The brothers write songs separately and collaborate later. “Half of the album was written by me, and the other half was written by Graham,” says Gabriel. When it comes to process, Graham says, “Maybe I’ll have a hook, and we’ll build on that…We like hooks.”

They have been steadily touring and hope to play an Omaha homecoming show in December. Graham says, “When we play a show, we want it to be an event.”

The band self-released their first, self-titled album in June, which is available on streaming services and at many record stores in Omaha.

Visit jagajamusic.com for more information.

Encounter

jagaja1

Brent Crampton & the House of Loom

August 19, 2016 by
Photography by Amy Lynn Photography

The concept was pure, simple, true. A come-as-you-are, judge-free zone. But billing a “safe space” in Omaha’s nightlife scene comes with a great deal of responsibility. House of Loom co-owner Brent Crampton understands this responsibility from experience.

Crampton, 32, fathered Loom 10 years ago. Initially started as a pop-up dance party, Loom circulated through some of the city’s most prestigious venues, operating under the values of inclusivity, unity, creativity, and respectability.

BrentCrampton2“In that era, we were known as a space open to all different types of people that might not normally interact,” Crampton explains in a recent interview. “A space for them to go and be accepted.”

Crampton is a calm, soft-spoken man, full of purpose and persistence. He is keen to talk about Loom’s infancy and how it evolved into a popular brick-and-mortar nightspot on South 10th Street. A place where anyone can relax and fully express themselves without fear of being judged or harassed on account of sex, race, gender identity, religious views, age, or physical or mental ability.

Running a “safe space” is about sharing and creating, trying to build something better. It is not just a nightclub or bar, but a place that connects people on a higher level and facilitates meaningful discussions.

Music is not just a backdrop, Crampton says.

“Music is very much at the forefront, and the events we do take the focus, but the vehicle that we use, to do our best to create a harmonious environment, is rooted in safe
space principle.”

Unintentionally, Crampton, who also serves as the director of management talent and booking, has brought Omaha to the forefront of several larger discussions on what our city could do to make it a more inviting and welcoming place for all.

Crampton collaborated with countless arts and community organizations to help make Omaha a more culturally progressive city. In fact, he sits on the board of Safe Space Nebraska, a grassroots, local non-profit that formed as a response to the need to simply enjoy a good night out, free of assault or harassment.

People are becoming more aware of harassment issues, Crampton says, and realizing they should have a support system to counter harassment when it happens.

He recently took part in a Huffington Post live webcast discussion about safe spaces and why they’re essential to nightlife. He has also met with other local bar owners to discuss how their businesses could become more inclusive and safe for all to enjoy.

Crampton is optimistic about creating an environment filled with like-minds—an optimism that many bar owners quickly replace with the very real practicalities of running a dimly lit bar with loud music and unwelcomed alcohol-induced conversations. Women’s bottoms are grabbed. Harassment happens.

It’s a pervasive issue, Crampton says. One that shouldn’t be ignored.

“Responsibility,” Crampton says. “We need to be conscious of that and how to respond as bar owners.”

Everyone is hyper-aware of the value of space. Safety implies privacy, but even with a strict door policy, in bars, the variables are much less controllable.

Crampton has established a code of conduct and stuck to it. As patrons visit, they’re encouraged to respect the House of Loom values. In fact, the nightspot is one of the first Omaha bars to initiate a zero-tolerance policy for any form of harassment, Crampton says. If patrons feel unsafe, they are encouraged to notify staff immediately in order to remove the person responsible for the harassment. The incident is then documented in a report.

The House of Loom’s code has inspired many, igniting a current of social rebellion in Omaha’s nightlife scene. But as with all paradigm shifts, people must understand the new way of thinking before change happens on a larger scale.

Crampton continues to strive for an inclusive and safe community. He considers it his passion project.

“Positive response. It empowers people,” he says. “Collectively we can change nightlife culture.” 

Visit www.houseofloom.com for more information.

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.