Tag Archives: indie rock

The Faint

October 9, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Perhaps we’re spoiled in Omaha. While mainstream America suckles on pop-tart music offerings, we’ve grown fat on a steady diet of indie rock.

thefaintFor goodness sake, independent record label Saddle Creek Records is in our backyard. Indie rock star Conor Oberst considers Nebraska home. And hometown music legends The Faint continue to release new music for fans to devour.

In fact, the Omaha-based and internationally touring band, The Faint, just released a career retrospective, CAPSULE: 1999-2016, featuring 17 years of hits along with two brand-new tracks. The band currently consists of Clark Baechle, Dapose, Graham Ulicny (in place of long-time keyboard player Jacob Thiele), and Todd Fink.

“The new release is a collection of songs from the time when we started making music until now,” says Fink, the band’s lead singer, in a recent phone interview while on tour.

The new album, CAPSULE: 1999-2016, is filled with heavy, punky, electronic, pulsating, dark dance music of the past. The two new songs are titled “Skylab1979” and “ESP.” After a September digital release, the vinyl double LP was scheduled to debut on Oct. 28.

The Faint’s newest album signals a return to a familiar label, Saddle Creek. (That’s right, after briefly breaking away to start their own label, The Faint has returned to Saddle Creek.) In August, Saddle Creek shared a video for the band’s second new track, “Skylab1979,” which compiles old footage from outer space missions into a static-laden supercut.

We’re always looking for what’s going to happen next. We never quite get the momentum of other trends. That might hurt us, but we make music that we like and hope that fans like.”

-Todd Fink

While on tour, lead singer Fink shared his thoughts about the recording process, the band’s live shows, and his 17-year career with The Faint.

Although the band was conceived in 1994, and performed under the name “Norman Bailor” with a young Oberst, it grew into something much more. Songs faded. Faces changed (other former members included Matt Bowen and Joel Petersen). But the band’s insatiable desire for perfecting their sounds never wavered.

The Faint was electro-dance-punk before there was such a genre. “We were trying to push something futuristic, trying to find something that felt beyond guitars and traditional (rock) sounds,” Fink says.

In 1997, the band was renamed as The Faint. Two years and a lot of experimenting with synthesizers later, The Faint nailed its signature sound—throbbing and moody. CAPSULE: 1999-2016 takes fans on the band’s musical journey.

“That whole time we were figuring out what we were doing,” Fink says. “We waited. We were waiting to find out who we were as musicians, what our vision for music was going to be.”

Being visionary helped The Faint quickly find their audience. With Blank-Wave Arcade in 1999, the band began to enjoy breakout success, and people took notice.

Throughout the new release of CAPSULE: 1999-2016, The Faint continues to keep their die-hard fans in mind. “We’re always looking for what’s going to happen next,” Fink says. “We never quite get the momentum of other trends. That might hurt us, but we make music that we like and hope that
fans like.”

Visit thefaint.com for more information. Omaha

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lazy-i

April 22, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Tim McMahan’s position: Indie rock’s not dead. It’s just clotting and receding back into the deep cuts from which it first bled in the early, alternative 1990s.

The Lazy-i rock critic and music columnist for The Reader would know. He’s been writing about the genre since before it had a name…or two…or three.

“Indie is now back underground,” McMahan, 50, declares in his Bensonish home office, which is lined with CDs, vinyl, and local show posters of yore. “What people don’t realize, though, is it’s always had a small audience—it’s never been a popular thing.”

For nearly three decades, McMahan has been independently covering the niche indie rock scene in Omaha and beyond, making him the de facto authority on the subject within the ranks of the local subculture and giving him one of the more recognizable bylines in Nebraska journalism.

Of course, chronicling his hometown’s 15 minutes of Mecca during the Saddle Creek Records boom in the early naughts didn’t hurt his readership. Neither does his crisp, confessional prose, which habitually skirts fluff and hyperbole.

“What you see is what you get—it’s pretty straight-forward,” McMahan says, lamenting the Pitchfork poetry that inundates some music journals. “It’s a style of writing that’s pretty common, but back when I started writing, people weren’t doing it that way.”

When McMahan started writing about music, he says, it was mostly about scoring free CDs. He had been the editor of UNO’s Gateway student newspaper in 1988 and had done some work with The Metropolitan, a precursor to The Reader, but his big Columbia House haul came four years later when he was hired as an Omaha rock correspondent by The Note out of Kansas.

“I’d go to Lawrence and get a big box of CDs once a month to review, it was kind of cool,” he says. “It sounds silly now, but that’s why a lot of people got involved in that.”

As McMahan’s chops evolved and the Internet started making its presence felt, the writer says he began archiving his articles online to appease his hiring publications and add to the discourse on indie rock-related message boards.

Lazy-i was born. And with it, McMahan’s compulsion to weblog about the budding sound that was about to put Omaha somewhere on some map in some forgotten atlas. The Saddle Creek Records explosion—featuring Bright Eyes, The Faint, and Cursive—brought a new crop of readers from around the world to the writer’s domain.

“I watched the readership of the website balloon during that period and now it’s really receded,” he says. “I don’t have that many readers, but I don’t care because I know that there’s a certain audience that likes this music.”

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Now amidst what McMahan dubs the “Post-Saddle Creek Era” of Omaha indie rock, Lazy-i—a play on the perceived laziness of Internet-era music consumption—still offers the same thought-provoking critiques, interviews, and predictions as when it mattered to more people. The site’s design hasn’t lost its GeoCities-esque charm and McMahan still prides himself a balanced reporter, even among the musicians he’s vetted the most.

“The fact is: I know these people, I’m acquaintances with them, but I don’t party with them, I don’t hang out with them, I don’t go to their houses, I don’t go to their barbecues,” he says. “I’ll see them at clubs—they know who I am, most of them. I respect them, but they know I’m going to write what I feel about stuff. And that’s fine, and they get it.”

McMahan says he still enjoys going to shows and he still likes new music, which he understands would make him stick out as a 30-something, let alone someone who’s recently breached the half-century mark. The perception, he notes, is that indie rock is a young person’s game. But in the typically mature themes of the genre, McMahan says he’s found a fountain of sonic youth for his ears, which keeps bringing him back to concert halls and bars.

“I never feel odd being the old guy at the show—I’ve never really cared,” he says before humorously adding: “I don’t go to house shows typically, because I think it just scares kids and everyone’s uncomfortable.”

Tim McMahan’s position: indie rock’s not dead. And neither is rock journalism for that matter, which has recently been hijacked by the untrained ears of comment-section trolls and social media fanboys and fangirls alike. No, McMahan still has an important job to do.

“I think criticism has never been more important than it is now, because there’s so much music out there that it’s impossible to filter through it all,” McMahan says. “Now the new problem has nothing to do with access, it has to do with time—we just simply, physically don’t have the time to listen to everything, so we have to have someone curate for us.”

Maha Music Festival 2013

June 20, 2013 by

It’s hard to believe the Maha Music Festival will celebrate its fifth anniversary this year. First held in 2009 at the Lewis & Clark Landing in Downtown Omaha, the all-day outdoor indie rock festival moved to Stinson Park at Aksarben Village in 2011, where it remains today. Each year, the event expands and evolves into a bigger musical machine than it was the year before.

Even more surprisingly, Maha is a nonprofit endeavor, run strictly by volunteers and supported by a host of generous corporate sponsors, including Centris Federal Credit Union, Weitz Investment Management, Schnackel Engineers, and 20 other local and national companies. The event is built on a love for the Omaha community and a passion for music. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy feat. Maha Board President Tre Brashear admits he didn’t exactly know what he was getting into when it first began.

Photo by Chip Duden.

Photo by Chip Duden.

“I jokingly say if we knew how much work [Maha] was going to be, we probably would have never done it in the first place,” Brashear says. “But once it gets in your blood a little bit, you want to make it better and better so it keeps going. It was hard to explain to our families that we weren’t making any money [laughs].”

This year’s music lineup announcement sent shockwaves through the Omaha community when people got word The Flaming Lips were headlining the August 17 event. Lips’ frontman Wayne Coyne and his wild, gray-streaked Afro are all over television lately, with Coyne serving as the spokesperson for Virgin Mobile. Not only are The Flaming Lips huge right now, they’re also the most expensive act Maha has ever booked. The organizers spent 25 percent more on talent this year than last, Brashear shares.

Photo by Josh Hollowell.

Photo by Josh Hollowell.

The initial Maha concept was to generate enough profit from the event to donate to various nonprofit organizations around the community; so far, that hasn’t happened. But the Maha committee is determined to make that goal a reality. With The Flaming Lips headlining and prolific artists such as Matt & Kim, The Thermals, and Bob Mould (Sugar) rounding out the bill, Brashear is hopeful this is the year.

“We thought we’d come out gangbusters out of the gate, but we didn’t do that,” he says. “We’re trying to get enough money to put aside so we know Maha is safe and will continue on, even if it rains or nobody likes the headliners. We are slowly getting there, but it’s not to the point we can distribute anything [to nonprofits] yet.”

Despite the challenges, Maha always has an eye on the future. Hip-Hop has been noticeably absent over the years, and the festival also seems a bit confined with just one day of performances.

“Our vision for Maha is to have multiple days on a weekend,” Brashear explains. “We want to be able to expand to different genres. We still want to be true to all of our indie fans that have grown up with us, but we’re not trying to only be this indie music festival. We want to go beyond that.”

Tickets for the Maha Music Festival are available for purchase online at mahamusicfestival.com. Advanced general admission tickets are $45, and day-of general admission tickets are $55.

Let’s Get Icky

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Derek Pressnall’s enthusiasm is warm and contagious. Get him talking about creating music or playing live, and he’ll get a light in his eyes and say, “I love it.” He’s the veteran, been in a few bands before, and brings a certain sense of knowing how things go. On tour, bandmates would call him Daddy Derek because he’d lay down the law about making too many stops: “Nope. We’re either getting Burger King, or we’re not eating.”

Nik Fackler wears a ridiculously huge pair of gloves, monstrous and furry. He’s fun and young, but he’s directed a feature-length film, Lovely, Still, which stars Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn—and Elizabeth Banks and Adam Scott. Film will always be part of his life, he says (he’s been directing the band’s music videos), but it’s good to do music now, while he’s young.

And then there’s Sarah. Sarah Bohling has babydoll eyes; her lids might close if she tilted her head back. And she has big pouty lips. When you hear her sing in her smooth, sultry voice, it suddenly makes sense: She was born to be a rock star.

Icky Blossoms is big on being greater than the sum of its parts (The line is used on their website, ickyblossoms.com). The three individuals started exploring musically together last winter. Something clicked, and soon their collaboration became Icky Blossoms—an indie-rock band with a sexy beat, heavy on the synthesizers.20130116_bs_1328-Edit copy

Saddle Creek Records picked them up, and their self-titled debut album came out in July. Then they went on tour, playing 36 shows before the year’s end. They played in Dallas, San Francisco, Philly, Chicago, even Canada.

Shoe and accessory design company Cole Haan invited them to play at a New York Fashion Week after-party. Each band member received a sweet pair of boots—and each raised a foot in salute as they talked about it. “It was really exciting to get out there and play our music for people who have never heard of us,” says Pressnall.

Even more exciting was returning to a city, like Denver, a few months later and discovering they had a community developing, a pocket of fans who knew the words to their songs.

“People even came in their Perfect Vision masks,” Bohling said, referring to their song’s music video. In it, a guy and a girl destroy a house, finally setting fire to it, and put on their dust masks emblazoned with Icky Blossoms’ logo before fleeing the smoke.

They did grow weary of the loop of tour, and the food: teebs, tubs, or subs. “Teebs. Taco Bell. Tubs, like tubbies. Like Cheez-Its. Gross gas station food. Subs. Subway,” explains Bohling. Being on tour, slammed together like a family on a road trip, they learned to communicate in new ways, learned to fight like siblings and get over it quickly.

And, of course, they grew as musicians and as performers. They got ideas for how to improve their current show and ideas for creating new stuff, the emphasis always on their live performance.

They’re playing in Austin, Texas, at the annual music and film festival South by Southwest this month. Find out when to catch them here in Omaha on their website, Facebook, or Twitter.