Column 142 — For Against returns; The National, St. Vincent tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 12:24 pm September 19, 2007

This isn’t the first time I interviewed For Against. The first time was actually back in August 1993 for an article for the Lawrence music monthly, The Note. The story lead with a description of a For Against show, and went something like: “Only 60 people. That’s all who showed up for a night of music from Lincoln’s For Against July 13 at the Howard St. Tavern. ‘The show went real well,’ said dejected-sounding lead singer/bassist Jeff Runnings. ‘It just wasn’t well attended.'” From there, Runnings goes on to describe the new For Against line-up that included Steve “Mave” Hinrichs on guitar and Paul Engelhard on drums. Even then, the band’s prospects seemed headed skyward. For Against had just signed a deal with Dutch East India Trading in New York to release Aperture and there was talk about touring. Ah, it seems like only yesterday. Now 14 years later, here they are again, poised this time not to conquer America, but the rest of the world, starting with The Waiting Room Saturday night. Let’s make sure more than 60 people show up this time.

Column 142: For Against Again
The seminal Lincoln band is reborn.
There’s a lot of For Against information to get to, but I don’t want to bury the most important piece of data, which is that the seminal Lincoln band will be playing at The Waiting Room this Saturday night — their first Omaha performance in over a decade.

It dawned on me while as I was driving to Lincoln Sunday afternoon to interview the two core members of the band — singer and chief songwriter Jeff Runnings and guitarist/keyboardist Harry Dingman III — that most people who read this column may not be familiar with For Against. After all, their (first) heyday was back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. And even then, For Against didn’t exactly fit into a Lincoln scene that included bands like Mercy Rule and Sideshow.
“I don’t think For Against in the ’80s felt like a part of the Lincoln scene at all,” Dingman said. “We played benefit shows and shows with other bands, but we did our own thing and had our own audience, and they had their audiences.”

The separation makes sense considering that while SST-style punk was all the rage in Omaha and Lincoln, For Against was making 4AD/Factory Records-style Euro-pop that bordered on today’s version of electronic dance music. Their sound was directly influenced by ’80s and ’90s-era European post-punk from bands like Durutti Column, Joy Division, Gang of Four and Kitchens of Distinction. The trio, which included drummer Gregory Hill, combined droning, chiming guitars, buzzing synths, and machine-precise percussion with Runnings’ hollow, ghostly voice. The result was both bleak and intensely danceable, and can be heard echoed in modern bands like Interpol, Editors and The Faint (who, if they ever get their new album recorded, would be wise to bring them along on tour).
A brief history: The trio began performing in Lincoln in 1985. After self-releasing a 7-inch, the band signed with Independent Projects Records (IPR) and released its debut full-length, Echelons, in 1987. They went on a brief US tour, then recorded their follow-up, December, in 1988, and afterward, unceremoniously broke up, just as things were getting interesting.

“Capitol was interested in the band,” Dingman said. “I started thinking that maybe something could happen. I wasn’t planning on leaving. Greg had already left, and I wasn’t sure of my role in the band, and really… I don’t know.” He paused for a moment. “It’s hard to say why people do what they do. That was almost 20 years ago.”

Dingman went on to join The Millions with Hill before he and his wife eventually moved to Ft. Collins, Colorado. Runnings continued For Against with new personnel, releasing four more records before the project petered out in 2002.

Then in 2003, Dingman and his wife returned to Lincoln. “I called Jeff a couple of times and he didn’t return my calls. We hadn’t said more than ‘Hi’ to each other in 16 years.”

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it again,” Runnings said.

“And Jeff probably felt burned,” Dingman added.

Runnings nodded his head. “We were young, back then,” he said, reflecting on the break-up. “Harry and I had ideas and I was being very headstrong. So was Greg.” Eventually, Dingman found himself in Runnings’ living room, and the two decided that For Against should live again.

“I think we both realized we had grown up,” Runnings said.

But a funny thing happened in their absence. For Against had quietly become big… in Europe. “We have this song called ‘Amen Yves’ that only came out on vinyl, but that DJs throughout Europe have been playing for years,” Dingman said. “We thought the Internet was fueling the resurgence in our popularity, but it was actually coming from the dance clubs.”

Since reforming, both Echelons and December have been reissued by Minneapolis-based indie label Words on Music, who also just rereleased In the Marshes, a recording originally released as a 10-inch by IPR in 1990 that includes that dance hit, “Amen Yves.” And, early next year, Words on Music will release Shade Side, Sunny Side, For Against’s 7th studio album, and the first one to feature Dingman since December.

Until then, the band will continue touring. They’ve already toured Greece last spring, and are headed to Spain for the Tanned Tin Festival in Castelló this November, thanks in part to Spanish label Acuarela Discos, who will be releasing a new For Against EP next year. A full European tour is slated for early ’08. “Europe is simply where our fan base is,” Runnings said. “We’ve had offers to play in Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam, Athens and all points in between.”

The U.S., it seems, will have to wait. Fortunately, both have lives that bend easily to tour schedules. Runnings works at Lincoln’s Homer’s, while Dingman stays home with his 18-month-old daughter and teaches guitar. At 45 and 43 respectively, Runnings and Dingman aren’t letting their age slow them down.

“I don’t see being older as being an issue,” Runnings said. “You look at a lot of groups our age right now, and they don’t seem to be getting shit heaped on them. Bands like REM and Guided by Voices, even though they’re older, they’re still relevant. That’s all that matters.”

Tonight at Slowdown, one of the more long-awaited shows of the year: The National. If you missed my early interview with the band’s frontman, Matt Berninger, read it (or reread it) before you head on down. Tickets are still available from The Slowdown website for $15. And I suggest you get there at the stroke of 9 p.m. to catch opener St. Vincent, who stunned a crowd at The Waiting Room back in July with her amazing music. Here’s my review of that show, where I call her the next PJ Harvey (she really is). See you there.

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