Tag Archives: Rick Carson

Roots Down

September 5, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ask Keith Rodger where he got his sharp musical tastes and his answer will be simple—from his mother. The 28-year-old Omaha musician, recording engineer, and co-owner of Make Believe Recordings grew up with an eclectic range of influences, which truly shaped his preferences.

“My mother always had a solid taste in music,” Rodger explains. “She gave birth to me as a teenager and I think that had a huge difference on what I was exposed to compared to other kids my age. She was never a musician, but always had an ear for interesting music. She introduced me to the reality of Prince’s lyrics, the anger of Prodigy’s sound, and the essence of Bjork’s personality. There were few limits in our household.”

He also credits his older brother, Alan, with inspiring him to pursue music despite the fact they grew up in separate households.

“When he visited with a guitar and amp one day is when I really wanted to become a musician,” he recalls. “He also introduced me to computer software that was used to make beats, which was what really changed my life forever.”

As he stumbled through various phases of what he refers to as “extreme attachment” to a bevy of different musical genres, he quickly realized there was an infinite amount of exploring to do. He tasked himself with learning the history and adapting to the culture as a young, inquisitive student.

Rodger eventually met Motor City native Rick Carson, another aspiring entrepreneur who was obsessed with music and had recently completed a course in recording/audio engineering at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. The two would establish Make Believe Records and Make Believe Studios in 2012.

“I met Rick in a dusty basement when I was in a band called Lightning Bug while recording our first record,” he says. “I really enjoyed his vision for the music industry and Omaha. What he was trying to build aligned with what I was interested in pursuing as a career. We came from completely different backgrounds and share very different interests in music, but our goals and views are very similar.”

Make Believe Records has been steadily working its way into the publishing realm. The masterminds behind the label have hit a point where their catalog is ready to be launched into the musical stratosphere. With artists like rapper Conny Franko, hip-hop duo BOTH, and soul group Sam Ayer & The Lover Affair—as well as Rodger himself—on the roster, there are several full-length projects on the horizon.

Similarly, Make Believe Studios is buzzing. Carson recently engineered Grammy Award-nominated artist Terrace Martin’s 2016 album Velvet Portraits, and recently mixed and mastered Danny Worsnop’s 2017 effort The Long Road Home. There’s a sense of exciting things coming together behind the scenes.

“We are busy, busy, busy,” he says. “We have some projects coming through this year that I never would’ve imagined getting the opportunity to experience.”

For now, Rodger, Carson, and Tristan Costanzo are hard at work on one of their latest endeavors, the Kismet production team, which recently scored a documentary series for boxing promotions company Top Rank about boxer Terence Crawford and his team at B&B Boxing Academy. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“I’ve also been working on an EP and film titled Evoleno,” he says. “This has been a project years in the making. It took me several attempts to try to lock in a concept that was worth pursuing to become my first release. Over time, I got the opportunity to work with a wide variety of musicians that helped me shape my ideas into the concept it has become.”

“I also recently locked in a very small crew for this film to keep our ideas consistent and confident without our own bubble,” he adds. “I tapped Miguel Cedillo to direct and Maria Corpuz as one of our main characters. These people believe in the project as much as I do, and I believe we will make something that challenges everything we know about making a film that is timeless.”

Rodger has undoubtedly blossomed into a key player in Omaha’s consistently evolving music and art scenes. From touring with The Faint as a stage technician and DJing for Omaha Fashion Week to writing music and co-helming the Make Believe Records empire, his tireless work ethic parallels that of any successful artist or entrepreneur. However, he always sees room for improvement.

“I think it’s growing into a scene that is more diverse sonically,” he says. “I’ve noticed there are more younger people embracing new types of popular music, and putting down guitars and picking up synthesizers. My inbox is usually filled with musicians asking me about sound design and I find it exciting and refreshing.

“I truly wish there were more women creating electronic music,” he continues. “I always try to encourage parents to allow their daughters to learn how to program and edit in a DAW (digital audio workstation). Fair balance between genders, race, and cultures helps create better ideas within communities.”

The ambitious Rodger finds surrounding himself with creative individuals, staying focused on his goals, adopting routines that exercise his mental and physical health, and teaching others is the way to reach his ultimate nirvana. He’s ready to put in whatever amount of work it takes.

“Omaha still has a long way to go as far as musicians’ and DJs’ careers being taken seriously by people outside of the music industry,” he says. “We plant seeds and starve during their growth, but when they bloom, we will have a garden to feed families. Music is about to change very drastically for consumers and creators. I’m very excited about the future and want to be a part of it when it happens.”

Visit soundcloud.com/kethro to hear some of Rodger’s music.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Encounter Magazine.

Keith Rodger

Required Listening

June 11, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For years, Chelsea Balzer and Matt Walker ran in the same circles, but somehow didn’t cross paths until Balzer joined the art performance group aetherplough in 2010 and was suddenly thrust into a musical relationship with Walker. Their undeniable compatibility was too much to ignore, and the duo soon formed their own outfit—Vital Organs—a band that fosters Walker’s unquenchable thirst for bold melodies and cinematic qualities, but is danceable at the same time. 

“Back in the day, I was exclusively into hard rock music,” Walker says. “In recent years, I had been dying to write something that made me want to dance.”

Balzer, on the other hand, gravitated toward country artists like Reba McEntire and early LeAnn Rimes because of her father, a loyal country music fan. 

“I would perform for our neighbors and their friends, which I think helped me develop that frontwoman identity from early on,” Balzer says. “But once I hit middle school, I was pretty into Alanis Morissette and Fiona Apple, and then soon after I got into stuff like Nine Inch Nails, P.J. Harvey, and The Cure. I’ve always loved vocalists who are brave and provocative—from Christina Aguilera to Zach de la Rocha.” 

Fortunately, Vital Organs isn’t their first endeavor, as aetherplough thoroughly prepared them for what they would do in the future. The collective was built on collaborative creativity and taught them how to compromise.

“It always felt a little like we had no idea what we were doing at the beginning of a project,” Walker says. “As more people threw in their ideas and questions, it would start to take on a life of its own, and suddenly you’re rehearsing a full piece that you all helped bring into being. It was magical.

“I would say our whole philosophy for creating and collaborating is informed by that experience,” he continues. “aetherplough taught us to say, ‘Yes,’ to go all in, to be flexible, and also to listen to each other in a dasdrtist, and I’m so grateful to have been encouraged to play and explore in that community.”

“I personally feel that it taught me to think of all art and performance as ritual that has the power to change its players,” Balzer adds. 

Officially established in 2015, Vital Organs dove right in and pulled from Omaha’s rich musical community, including Make Believe Recordings’ CEO/engineer Rick Carson. The Grammy Award-nominated producer worked on the group’s debut album, The Hysterical Hunger, a decision they didn’t hesitate to make once they fully realized Carson’s “rare combination of expertise, intuition, and top-notch gear.” The album itself gave Balzer and Walker opportunities to explore feminist ideals and the theme of honoring inner desires. 

“We were both going through some real loss, and we needed to rediscover some kind of inner guidance toward true north,” Balzer explains. “For us, that feels like a hunger. We liked the idea of reclaiming the word ‘hysteria,’ which has previously been used as a weapon against women and as a form of gaslighting, but ultimately implies that emotion itself is untrustworthy and that giving yourself over to an experience is dangerous and even insane. We feel that this message is really prevalent in society today and continues to cause harm. We wanted the album to be a way of proclaiming to ourselves and others that we are taking the leap and giving in to that hunger.” 

Drawn to synthesizers and soaring melodies, Vital Organs is actively honing in on its distinctive sound. However, they’re admittedly still trying to figure out how to navigate the rough waters as an indie band. 

“It’s a lot of work and also a lot of head-scratching,” Walker says. “We have been both discouraged and really honored by the process of getting our work ‘out there.’ Some aspects of it are much harder than we anticipated, and yet there are these people who seem to appear from thin air and develop this relationship with your music, and really want to help you succeed. That has been a beautiful experience.”

Vital Organs plans on hitting the road this summer, despite Balzer being in grad school in Boston and Walker busy working at Omaha Children’s Museum. They managed to carve out a few weeks to play some new cities and share the bill with other bands. 

“We know that the music will always mean something different to us than it means to others,” Walker says. “Every song reflects a time in our lives and a message we felt we needed to express. At the same time, we hear the songs and sort of forget that we wrote them. There is a kind of energetic release that comes from finishing songs and letting them exist in the world. It feels simultaneously intimate and mysterious.” 

facebook.com/vitalorgansband

This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Encounter.

 

In the Land of Make Believe

March 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Somewhere on the fringes of Downtown Omaha, behind a retractable gate that only evokes dystopian fantasies, in an industrial complex turned swanky domicile turned half-built musical fortress, sits Rick Carson, deliberately strumming a Telecaster through a low-humming Marshall JCM800 amplifier.

The studio engineer and brain behind Make Believe Studios looks on through a psychotropic haze as an assembly of bustling bodies prepares the surrounding space for its spring launch.

With each nail they hammer, the realm that Carson, 26, says he dreamt up over a decade ago, when he first became fascinated with recording, becomes more apparent and more available to do his bidding.

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“Anything you’ve ever thought of or wanted as far as being a musician, it’s here,” Carson says matter-of-factly. “Whether it’s direction or some stomp box you saw Jimi Hendrix use in a video in the ‘60s—any of those little things that you think can take your music and art to the next level, we’re going to help you with that.”

Though slightly unproven, save for within the ranks of an esoteric guild of gearheads and sonic wizards, Carson has been getting noticed as of late for his broad catalogue of work and polished curation of musical machinery. In fact, his soon-to-be world-class studio recently became the newest entrant into the Miloco group, an international conglomeration of studios that has a client list including U2, Kanye West, and Coldplay.

“Ever see this before?” studio manager Justin Valentine cuts in while exhibiting the faceplate of some PWM compressor. “We think they sent it to us by accident.”

“Since it’s here, let’s build one,” replies Carson decisively. “Tell him to buy the circuit board and parts—I would like one.”

Carson says he came to Omaha six years ago on sheer market research. Before then, he worked in studios in Prague and Chicago. And even further back, the Michigan native says he was, at the time, the youngest student ever to attend Full Sail University, an audio-engineering school located in Orange County, Fla.

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“If anybody wants to know the sad truth about Rick Carson,” he reflects dryly, “I left high school my sophomore year and got into college on nothing but a GED for Dummies book, and I didn’t even take the GED or read the book.”

In fact, Carson says he earned his bachelor’s degree before his high school diploma on a technicality. But that’s just where his unconventional nature begins. For instance, Carson doesn’t drive. Instead, he has a former taxi driver, Dan the Cabman, on retainer. Carson doesn’t believe in money, either. He says it changes too dramatically and therefore he refuses to save it.

“I have less than one thousand dollars in the bank and a lot of gear,” he says.

The educated and outspoken Carson, who also isn’t shy about criticizing the local music community for what he calls its nepotistic tendencies, says he hopes Make Believe Studios will foster a culture of musicians who’ll put their product, or music, first.

“Our hope is that Omaha becomes more enriched,” he says. “That more people will get to hear Omaha music.”

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The Hip Hop Transformer

November 18, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A man wearing a backpack walks up to the stage where a DJ sets up a turntable. He sets his backpack down, takes a swig from his water bottle, and checks the microphone once, twice, three times. When the lights dim, he is no longer “the guy with the backpack” to the audience. He is Marcey Yates (Op2mus).

Yates, 28, was born and attended school in Omaha. He studied at University of Nebraska-Omaha for four years but found himself often escaping class to make music. “I tried the music program at UNO, but it wasn’t as advanced in mixing and recording music.” So he headed to Arizona, where he attended the Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences for two years. There, Yates learned studio engineering, sound production, recording, and more. But when he finished, he realized his true passion was making music, not just producing it.

That’s why he returned to the Omaha music scene in 2011. Compared to the music on the West Coast, Yates saw progression in Omaha, and that was a huge draw. “I would rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond,” he says. “I wanted to bring something to the table and represent hip hop here.”

Yates started performing under the stage name “Op2mus” when he was in college. The name, he says, came from one of his three kids. “My son likes to play Transformers. So we’d be playing, and he’d call me Optimus [Prime].” The name just seemed to fit since Yates longed to transform hip hop music.

Over the last few years, however, he’s been trying to wean himself off the moniker. That’s when he adopted the name “Marcey Yates,” which, by the way, is not his real name. If you try to ask him what his real name is, he’ll just smile and shake his head. “I wanna brand myself as Marcey Yates. That’s how people know me.”

The backpack, on the other hand, has remained his thing. He wears it everywhere. He even wore it when he performed on KMTV’s “The Morning Blend.” In it, he carries whatever he needs—laptop, notes, music. But above all, the backpack reflects his transformative journey as a student of life, he says.

“He’s out there, he’s talking to people, he’s working. That’s what’s really special about Marcey Yates. He understands that, to get it, it takes work, not the easy decisions with the hard consequences.” —Rick Carson

It’s that journey that permeates his latest album, The MisEducated Scholar, according to Theardis Jay. “It’s about his story through school, through going to Arizona, through it all.” The graphic designer has seen a good deal of Yates’ story, helping to brand his albums since 2009. “I try to just help him any way I can. I remember I went over to his apartment for the first time, and I saw his studio in his basement that he put together himself. No one taught him that or showed him that.”

Today, Yates produces, writes, and performs hip hop. His most recent work includes writing and producing The MisEducated Scholar, and producing the hip hop album Eat, Drink & Be Merry for Blk Diamond out of California. Currently, he’s working on producing several new records for other artists and writing new songs for upcoming albums of his own.

“I don’t write songs for other [artists],” he explains. “Sometimes, I’ll ghostwrite if I’m in a studio session and an artist needs help. Otherwise, I write for myself.”

Listening to Yates’ music, you can hear various hip hop and rap influences. Kanye West is one that comes to mind. But Yates has taken those influences and breathed some fresh air into them. And “fresh” is exactly how he describes his music. “The genre’s so muddy,” he explains. “I feel like hip hop has been saturated with a certain sound. So when I write, I write against it.”

“Vinyl hip hop that’s smooth and soulful” is what Yates wants his music to sound like. The track “Soda N Cream” off of The MisEducated Scholar is the perfect example of this sound, as Yates raps over a doo-wop mix in the background.

Even more interesting is that he wants to get away from the whole “gangster” feel of the genre. “I wanna use the platform for something good. If you’re speaking in this outlet, don’t waste it with feeding listeners garbage. Feed them positive things that make them think, you know?”

“The thing about Marcey Yates is he’s one of the only people out there making real hip hop but also party music.” Rick Carson, owner of Make Believe Studios, pauses before going into detail about the artist whose records he mixes. “A lot of people get into hip hop to just talk [crap] on each other. I’ve never seen that from him.”

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Yates respects rappers who don’t need to cuss to sell records. “If you do it, it’s gotta have meaning. Don’t just do it to do it. Like I only have four songs where I cuss, and I dropped a full-length record with 19 tracks. You gotta step up your game by stepping up the substance.”

“He grinds,” Carson emphasizes. “He’s out there, he’s talking to people, he’s working. That’s what’s really special about Marcey Yates. He understands that, to get it, it takes work, not the easy decisions with the hard consequences.”

You can find Yates performing all over Omaha. Barley Street Tavern in Benson, The Slowdown in NoDo, and House of Loom in the Old Market are some of his frequent stages. He has done a few showcases and business openings as well. Lately, he’s performed with bands instead of other hip hop artists, which he says he likes because he can introduce his music to a completely different crowd. “I’m just trying to market myself a lot,” he says.

“He put together a plan, and he’s stuck with it,” Jay adds. “There’s a system to it. It’s an exciting time to see what happens when you work so hard.”

A tour in the Midwest is Yates’ five-year goal. A Grammy® is the big game for him though. “I want this. I’m not just doing music to say I’m doing it.”

 

Find Marcey Yates’ music at op2mus.bandcamp.com or on YouTube by searching “Marcey Yates Op2mus.” Follow him on Twitter @op2mus or find him on Facebook.