Rachel Tomlinson Dick’s pregnant belly moves her Fender Jazzmaster guitar sidesaddle. Head-banging, her short brown hair slaps the mom-to-be’s face while fingers fly over guitar strings at an April 28 show. Her co-writing and vocal partner, Katherine Courtney Morrow, jams next to her on a Fender Mustang bass. Morrow sings and sways in jeans, a black T-shirt, and a baseball hat. Nate Luginbill adds his own flair on drums with an understated head nod as his sticks slam along with the beat, not really aware of his surroundings as he tunes into the rhythm.
The trio combines forces in the grungy, stoner-metal band Bien Fang.
“We get all sticky when we talk about our genre,” Luginbill says.
The band came together two years ago when Tomlinson Dick was asked to do a solo Nirvana cover show. She wanted to add in bass and drums, so she asked Luginbill and Morrow to join her. Everything just clicked.
“It is the smoothest songwriting process,” Luginbill says.
Morrow or Tomlinson Dick will bring in a riff or some lines. The group collaborates and contributes until it works, like putting the finishing pieces of a puzzle together. Tomlinson Dick says it is all about having conversations through music. Their first six-song EP release, Garbage Island, is a mixture of sarcastic vocals, distorted guitars, and heavy drum riffs. Rather than angst-filled lyrics, many of the songs are unusually uplifting.
Morrow’s songwriting deals with body agency, or being in control of one’s choices, and not letting other people take advantage. “Push” explores the idea that when someone is shoved into the deep end, “I’ll scream like this.” She was once terrified to step on stage and sing, but gained confidence with Bien Fang. Morrow, 29, picked up her first bass just a few short years ago.
“Now I can have a good time,” Morrow says. “I’m happy to do it for others or for myself now.”
Tomlinson Dick, a sexual assault survivor, writes about real traumatic experiences. Leading with a murky guitar and a slower tempo, “Real Bad Man” is all about taking back power and healing with fierce lyrics like, “You can’t wash your hands clean of what they did to me.” She hopes her message will help other young women. Bien Fang has spread the word at such events as Rock Against Rape Culture: A Benefit for Voices of Hope.
“The element of playing shows is connecting with other people,” Tomlinson Dick believes.
Tomlinson Dick once hustled for other people’s approval, picking up her first guitar when she was a freshman in high school. Now that she is older, her perspective has changed. She has something to say and “whether people like it or not doesn’t matter.” It was difficult at first for a woman in a male-dominated bratty punk world. Tomlinson Dick felt she had to nail each performance for all women. This impractical pressure was short-lived. She realized imperfection is messy and normal.
Luginbill, 27, isn’t intimidated spending time with two strong women and balances it by shredding guitar in his all-male punk band, Bogusman. He started his musical career at 15 years old when he “got in with the wrong crowd.” He traded his two South Park dolls for a Terminator guitar with a built-in amp and two nine-volt batteries. After a little web-searching, he learned Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” Drumming came later, after tinkering on his friend’s kit after sets.
Whether it is at the 1867 bar in Lincoln or O’Leaver’s in Omaha, Bien Fang tries to gig at least two times a month. But they have been on pause recently.
Tomlinson Dick, 30, gave birth on June 11 to a daughter, Tomlinson “Linny” Thunder Darlington. Tomlinson Dick looks every bit the rocker-mom as she cradles her newborn: tattoos (including a skull which covers one entire knee), a nose ring, and old-fashioned cat glasses.
Will Linny pull a Yoko Ono?
“Stefan didn’t break up the band, so why would a baby be much different?” Luginbill asks.
“Yeah, and Stefan is pretty needy,” Tomlinson Dick agrees.
Stefan, her black cat, glances up from his cardboard box.
Tomlinson Dick feared she would have to give up everything as a mother-to-be. She performed her last show when she was eight months pregnant, and she created a zine, “Moms in Bands,” for the Omaha Zine Fest to encourage herself before the big due date.
“Music brings wonderful people into your life,” Tomlinson Dick adds.
Corin Tucker, a vocalist and guitarist for Sleater-Kinney, relates to the struggle of being a musical mother.
“I don’t think men who are fathers in bands are being asked the responsibility questions about touring with kids—up until recently,” Tucker says (quoted in the zine).
Tomlinson Dick has a very encouraging partner and bandmates who remind her she can still be a complete person as a mother. The group planned to head back into practice in late summer.
“When you love the music, sweating it out is so worth it,” Tomlinson Dick says.
Visit facebook.com/bienfangband for more information.
This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.