Tag Archives: Indie

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.

 

Steve Gordon

August 20, 2012 by
Photography by minorwhitestudios

Designer Steve Gordon’s urbanized sense for what’s in-vogue permeates his lifestyle and RDQLUS Creative signature work. He indulges a love for hip hop, sneakers, and bikes. He provides brand development, identity design, and creative direction services for corporate clients, big and small, near and far.

Growing up in the North Omaha projects, Gordon displayed an inquisitive mind and aptitude for art. Attending Omaha Creighton Prep exposed him to a larger world.

“I was encouraged to explore, and I think exploration is a major part of creativity and innovation,” he says. “All of that comes from the wide-open spaces of being able to reach and grasp at straws, get some things wrong. After I bought into that, so many things opened up. At Prep, I fell in love with architecture. It still drives a lot of the work I do. My work is a lot more structured than the free-form work of some other designers. Mine is very vertical and Art Deco influenced.”

His design endeavors shared time with his passions for music and competitive athletics. He “fell in love” with music as a kid and went on to success as a DJ, producer, and remixer. His skill as a triple jumper earned him scholarship offers from top colleges and universities. After two years as a Cornhusker in Lincoln, he transferred to the University of South Dakota, where he won multiple national titles. He was ranked among the world’s best.

Gordon with the shoes he designed for NIKEiD.

Gordon with the shoes he designed for NIKEiD.

His pursuit of an Olympic berth and a music career took him around the world. Back home, he worked corporate gigs before launching RDQLUS Creative in 2005.

“As an artist, you want that creative outlet to do something a bit more outside the box, something you’re passionate about,” he says of going the indie route.

The sneaker aficionado recently combined two of his passions when NIKEiD invited him to design shoes and to document the process online.

“I didn’t want to just put some pretty colors on a shoe, I wanted there to be some story, some branding. I’m very much into fashion, style, aesthetics, and athletics, and so I wanted to design a shoe that spoke to all of those things.

“Guys like myself, though we dress in denims and sneakers rather than wing-tips and a tie, we’re no less in tune with wanting to look sharp and present ourselves well.”

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He’s authored two books on freelance design for Rockport Publishers, whose Rock, Paper, Ink blog features his column, “Indie.” He also does public speaking gigs about design. He’s a big tweeter, too. “I love communicating with people.

“At times I wonder how I keep everything up in the air. All of the things I’m involved in, I really have a true belief they feed each other. Someone asked me once, ‘What is it you do for a living?’ and I said, ‘I hope my answer is always, I live for a living.’ What I do to sustain that, well, that’s a different story.”

This one-man shop embodies the independent creative class spirit of engaging community. “Design and creativity are not about art,” he says, “but communication. We’re visual problem solvers.” He says “the really fervent” way he worked to better himself as an athlete “is a lot of like how I still approach life in general,” adding, “If I could work so hard at something that was a game and that gave me fulfillment and made a lasting legacy for myself, then how can I not enjoy life that same way?”

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.