Tag Archives: The Mynabirds

Laura Burhenn

November 18, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There’s a lyrical tradition that seems to stem from popular songs titled “Omaha.” It’s a tradition that often involves the personification of the flyover city as a dependable friend or even a former lover waiting to be rediscovered for its less-exciting comforts. Waylon Jennings defects to San Francisco in his narrative but admits he “never really left it all” when crooning about Omaha. The Everly Brothers find D.C. and L.A. uninspiring compared to an Omaha that comprises “everything that [they] wanted.” And the Counting Crows are “coming home” to “roll a new love over.”

While Laura Burhenn’s “Omaha” perhaps involuntarily participates in this same ceremony on her latest Saddle Creek release Lovers Know, the Mynabirds singer-songwriter breaks one major trope: Her melancholy rendition makes no assumptions that the community she left two years ago would welcome her back if she wanted to return.

“That song was the hardest song for me to write and I almost didn’t even want to put it on the record because it’s so personal,” Burhenn, 35, says on the phone from her L.A. home. “Here I am, my heart is totally broken open and it’s like, ‘Here you go, guys!’”

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The D.C. native who moved to Nebraska in the late naughts says she wrote most of “Omaha” upon returning to the city after a grueling world tour with The Postal Service in 2013. At the time, Burhenn says she was having difficulty reconciling her life’s purpose of traveling as a touring musician with sustaining a relationship with her community.

“I feel like this is what the universe always does to you,” she explains, describing the budding disconnect she began to experience with Omaha. “You’re riding this wave of optimism and power and everything is amazing and perfect…and all of a sudden you just get crushed.”

Windows down, music loud, Burhenn says she took off in her car as a sort of therapeutic response to her existential pains, prompting a two-year odyssey that she would eventually package as Lovers Know.

“This record is probably my midlife crisis,” she says with a laugh. “Instead of buying a sports car, I took my dog and went camping all over the U.S.”

Burhenn’s journey, she says, reacquainted her with ’90s shoegaze and R&B, both of which stylistically pervade what she describes as her most emotionally unguarded material to date. And then there’s “Omaha,” which sonically sticks out like a logo-clad Woodmen Tower.

The minimalistic ballad, relying heavily on a tear-inducing piano lick and a sentimental ambiance, confronts the city, asking, “Will you still call me darling?” and “Will I still be your girl?” But “Omaha” is more than just an introspective look into Burhenn’s fear of letting down her former community: It’s also a love letter, a runaway note, a spiritual confession, a eulogy, an ode, and even a brochure. And ultimately, the song is a clue to unlocking its hosting album’s mysterious title:

“Lovers know that sometimes real intimacy can be beautiful and wonderful, but it can also be heartbreaking and treacherous,” says the artist who appeared at Slowdown in September.

”But even as dark as it gets,” Burhenn adds, “you still have this seed of hope.”

Visit themynabirds.com to learn more.

LauraBuhrenn

If Hearing Is Believing

February 6, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Do you hear what Angie and Andrew Norman hear?

If so, that’s the symphony of the Cornhusker state’s stacked arsenal of music makers. And if you don’t hear it now, you will, because they’re working to ensure that everyone recognizes these sweet (or punk, or country, or polka) sounds.

The Normans co-founded Hear Nebraska in 2010 as a “nonprofit cultural organization that cultivates the state’s vibrant, fertile music and arts community.”

Both were longtime students of regional culture; Andrew even worked at local newsweelies. When he needed a master’s project at Michigan State, Angie pitched the idea of a publication covering Omaha and Lincoln’s music scenes as one. The concept stuck and blossomed into an even larger 
project: a nonprofit.

“We realized Omaha and Lincoln’s music scenes were both super strong and great bands in both cities weren’t getting as much attention as they warranted nationally,” says Andrew. “We wanted to include Omaha, Lincoln, and Nebraska in general. It was just all these scattered voices, so we tried to gather them and speak through one confident, strong voice.”

And that voice is being heard, in Nebraska and beyond. A full 40 percent of HN’s website traffic comes from outside of Nebraska and seven percent of traffic is international. “Our mission is to make Nebraska an internationally known cultural destination,” says Andrew, “so I think that statistic really indicates that we’re doing something to reach that goal.”

Angie adds that “HN has received shout-outs from Garrison Keillor and has been featured on Al-Jazeera English.”

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“We want to tie the broader creative to HN, because we want to promote people making cool stuff in Nebraska,” Andrew says. “To support the musicians, the venues, the businesses involved—it all fits and works together. Around here all of these entities support each other.”

Andrew says that’s what makes Nebraska such an attractive location.

“There’s a sense that people want to collaborate. It’s such a good environment to be in when you’re trying to create art,” he says.

HN is known for executing unique, imaginative events that merge music and community. Angie’s favorites were the “An Evening” series of fundraisers, featuring meals from famed vegan chef and Omaha transplant Isa Chandra Moskowitz and music from such local heavies as Simon Joyner and The Mynabirds.

“It combines food, music, and community in an intimate setting,” says Angie. “The environment is amazing, and they are just such special shows.”

Andrew’s favorite was the NET-televised “HN Live at the 1200 Club” with Digital Leather, Big Harp, and Kill County.

“It was amazing,” Andrew says. “The state of the art [Holland Performing Arts Center] room, three amazing bands on stage, teaming with Omaha Performing Arts and NET, two absolute top-tier organizations in the state who represent what we strive to become…it was extremely flattering, encouraging, 
and motivating.”

Andrew described watching the sound check and imagined a kid from rural Nebraska watching the program and thinking, “This is possible. You can go for it and make your own sound.”

The Normans want HN to “grow smart.” They’re working to “focus on the foundation to make sure that we continue to grow and last,” says Andrew.

Five years from now the Normans hope HN will host regular showcases across the state featuring Nebraska music. Other goals include a physical space, more paid contributors, residencies, being one of the premier music websites in the country, and, as Andrew puts it, for everyone in the state to have a favorite Nebraska band “in the same way they love Husker football.”

In December HN released its second compilation on vinyl accompanied by a digital download. Such notables as Tim Kasher, McCarthy Trenching, Simon Joyner, Universe Contest, and Conchance are a few of the artists highlighting the eclectic collection.

They’re relaunching the HN site in 2014 and are at work on HN Radio, a web app/music player to feature Nebraska music, interviews, reviews, and other content. The effort is funded in part by the Nebraska Arts Council and Omaha Venture Group.

As Omaha invests in the young nonprofit, the Normans continue to invest in Omaha.

“We want to be an example of people who enjoy living here and cultivate a beautiful life here,” says Angie. “We hope that more people will look here and see opportunities.”

“We moved back and bought a house here,” says Andrew of the Benson home the couple shares with their adorable pup, Polly. “A large goal of Hear Nebraska is to stop the brain drain. I think Omaha, and Nebraska, in general, is just a really great place to start something.”

And on the topic of “starting something,” the couple is now awaiting their most ambitious of projects: a baby Norman due in 
early 2014.

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.”