Matthew Sweet talks about moving home, Kickstarter, O’Leavers & Girlfriend; Oketo tonight…

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:55 pm March 12, 2015
Matt Sweet and his glasses.

Matt Sweet and his glasses.

by Tim McMahan,

This week’s podcast, below. Give it a listen…

That Q&A I did with Matthew Sweet for The Reader went online this morning. Sweet talks about moving back to Nebraska, why he did a Kickstarter campaign for his upcoming album, playing at O’Leaver’s and the legacy that is Girlfriend. You can read the Q&A online right here.

Sweet is playing at the 1200 Club in the Holland Performing Arts Center March 28. It’s a cool place to see a show. Even has a bar, with drinks and everything, nice tables. Definitely a good evening out. Tickets are $45 (all general admission, just grab a table) and $100 for VIP that let’s you meet Sweet and give him a big ol’ bear hug and get a selfie with him. Get tix here.

Proceeds from the Sweet concert go to Hear Nebraska, so you’re getting a great night out while helping out a worthy cause. DO IT.

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Tonight at Slowdown Jr. it’s Lincoln band Oketo. The band is closing out a spring midwest tour, so they should be honed and ready to rock. Opening the show is Chicago band The Boxers and CB’s Pancho & The Contraband. $6, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Jake Bellows talks about the return of Neva Dinova (Tuesday night at Slowdown); Live Review: Son, Ambulance…

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , , — @ 1:49 pm December 22, 2014
Neva Dinova circa a long time ago (but not that long). The band reunites Tuesday night at The Slowdown.

Neva Dinova circa a long time ago (but not that long). The band reunites Tuesday night at The Slowdown.

by Tim McMahan,

Somewhere in the past few years, Christmas week became thee time for local rock band reunions. I’m not sure when this began. The concert poster on the wall in my office is for a show dated Dec. 26, 1993, featuring Ritual Device, Mercy Rule, Secret Skin, Frontier Trust, Clayface and End Crowns All (holy shit, six bands), all of which were very much active and not “reuniting” in 1993.

This week, we’re all going to see and hear Ritual Device reunite on The Waiting Room stage, exactly 21 years to the day of that amazing concert at the Capitol Bar and Grill.

But before that, tomorrow night (Tuesday) we’ll all be at a reunion of Neva Dinova at The Slowdown, which isn’t really a reunion, because I’m not sure Neva Dinova ever officially broke up. They’re still listed as “active” on the Saddle Creek website. And Neva Dinova frontman Jake Bellows confirmed the band never did really call it quits.

“Our last show was in December 2008,” said Jake just before band practice last Wednesday evening. “We never issued a press release about breaking up. Everyone had other important things going on. They were trying to sort out careers that would provide enough money to raise babies. We just couldn’t afford to be in a band anymore.”

That date on that show poster — 1993 — also was the year Neva Dinova first started playing together, but the line-up that’s performing Tuesday night first came together in 1999 at a now infamous gig at Grandmother’s Restaurant on 84th and L streets. You can read about that show (which included guest drumming by Conor Oberst, and Todd and Clark Baechle) in this 2001 Lazy-i interview with the band, written shortly after their self-titled, self-released album came out.

That line-up is back: Bellows, bassist/vocalist Heath Koontz, guitarist Tim Haes and guitarist Mike Kratky. Drummer Bo Anderson (who was tending bar at Grandmothers that fateful night in 1999) also will play Tuesday night on a handful of songs, along with most recent drummer Roger Lewis (The Good Life, Oquoa). Both Anderson and Lewis are credited on the 2004 Neva Dinova/Bright Eyes split, One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels (originally released on Crank! but reissued years later by Saddle Creek).

“We’ve been looking for an excuse to play together again for a long time just for fun,” Bellows said. “Since everyone’s going to be in town, it seemed to make the most sense. We needed to make time to practice because we knew we were gonna need it.”

Bellows said Haes has the most rust of any of the band members… literally. “The strings on his guitar were literally rusty,” Bellows said. “I think he does all his playing in the rain.”

Bellows said for this gig the band has been thinking of itself as a Neva Dinova cover band. “The nature of this show is unusual,” he said. “Before, we just played what we wanted to play. In this case, the whole point is to get back together, and we felt like we should play songs people want to hear that we haven’t played or didn’t want to play before.”

That meant coming up with the quintessential Neva Dinova play list. “We’ve got 20 songs on the list, maybe 25,” Bellows said. “We’re kind of deciding what we think sounds cool.”

I threw out “Tryptophan” and “Supercomputer” as two possibilities; Bellows verbally nodded his head. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if they make the cut.

Those who might wonder if this is the beginning of something bigger, Bellows assured me the show is a one-time thing. He’s called Echo Park in central Los Angeles home for four years. “LA is fine,” he said. “I miss everyone back home and come back five or six times a year.”

As for his solo career, Bellows said he has a bunch of new songs that will either be on a Jake Bellows record or recorded under a different band name. “Naming a band after yourself is weird,” he said.

Tomorrow night’s show is rather big in scale. Playing with Neva Dinova is the latest addition to the Saddle Creek Records roster, Twinsmith, along with local faves Outlaw Con Bandana and hip-hop act The Both. This 8 p.m. show is happening on Slowdown’s big stage. Get your $10 tickets here.

Son, Ambulance at O'Leaver's Dec. 20, 2014.

Son, Ambulance at O’Leaver’s Dec. 20, 2014.

Saturday night’s Son, Ambulance gig at O’Leaver’s wasn’t a reunion, though it felt like one (maybe because Dereck Higgins was back on bass). The band had a new sway in its step, a pronounced swing that it lacked in its prior, more stoic form in year’s past. Their set included old and new, but all of it sounded new to me. I credit a more relaxed Joe Knapp, the band’s mastermind, songwriter and frontman. In the old days, Joe always looked nervous — or at the very least tense — on stage, as if he was expecting something to go wrong at any moment.

Saturday night Joe looked and sounded like a guy having a good time playing his music with a large group of friends, despite the technical glitches that hampered the first three songs (including a keyboard that refused to play).

Son, Ambulance's Joe Knapp, left, and James Cuato.

Son, Ambulance’s Joe Knapp, left, and James Cuato.

Knapp always has reminded me of Elvis Costello at his most playful, but even more so now. Maybe his confidence comes by way of a solid band built on the bedrock rhythm section of Higgins and drummer David Ozinga. A bongo player also was crammed into one corner, though you couldn’t hear him. Dylan Strimple handled electric guitar, but the most arresting moments were between James Cuato on sax and flute and cellist April Faith-Slaker. Their layered interplay added a whole new dimension to the band.

BTW, if you’re counting, that’s six people crammed onto O’Leaver’s tiny “stage” area, and I’m told that wasn’t even the entire band — a few were missing, including Joe’s brother Daniel.

Everything came together for funky set closer “Copper Lady” with a back beat that bordered on blues rock. So hot was this number that the band brought it back for a crowd-demanded pseudo encore.

Rather than a reunion, Saturday night sounded like a rebirth for Son, Ambulance. The band has a new energy. I’m told they’ve got at least six new songs recorded and ready to go (including a version of that aforementioned “Copper Lady”). When and where those tracks eventually show up is anyone’s guess. Saddle Creek, who put out past Son, Ambulance records, hasn’t mentioned the band in regards to future releases, though I believe they’d be wise to welcome them back to the active roster.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Reader Interview — The Return: Ritual Device, Cellophane Ceiling and Main Vein Productions…

The cover of this week's issue of The Reader featuring a profile on Ritual Device, Cellophane Ceiling and Main Vein Productions.

The cover of this week’s issue of The Reader featuring a profile on Ritual Device, Cellophane Ceiling and Main Vein Productions.

by Tim McMahan,

That cover story in support of the Dec. 26 Ritual Device / Cellophane Ceiling reunion show at The Waiting Room is now online at (right here).

The story covers the history of both bands as well as the rise and fall of Main Vein Productions — the concert promotion company run by Ritual Device’s Tim Moss and Cellophane Ceiling’s John Wolf.

The story also talks about the Omaha music scene circa the early ’90s when a handful of bands (including the ones mentioned above) attracted national attention thanks to recording and touring outside of the state. It was those bands that set the stage for what would come later in that decade — the rise of Saddle Creek Records’ bands and Nebraska’s notoriety as an indie music Mecca.

Check it out and try to pick up a printed copy. It contains a ton of photos including old Main Vein show posters from back in the day. And get your $10 tickets to the show (while you can) — Dec. 26, 9 p.m. The Waiting Room. Nightbird (also performing Cactus Nerve Thang songs) opens.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Reverb: Omaha’s Mid-Century live music lounge (in the column); and how many bars are in Benson, anyway?

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:01 pm October 2, 2014

by Tim McMahan,

A look inside the new Reverb Lounge as well as some Q&A with one of its owners, Jim Johnson, is the subject of my column this week. Jim talks about his vision for the club and why One Percent decided to open another bar literally feet away from two other bars they own. It’s in this week’s issue of The Reader and online right here.

As I say in the column, I foresee that I’ll be spending a lot of time at Reverb. As Omaha continues to get bigger and bigger, I’m spending more and more time in a smaller geographical location — i.e., Benson. Back in the old days, going to shows would mean driving to way south to Sokol, to downtown Omaha, out to The Asylum on West Center, and so on. These days most of my time is spent on Maple Street, with the occasional trek to O’Leaver’s. I haven’t been to The Slowdown in a few months (due to a combination of factors including 1) going to fewer mid-week shows, 2) Slowdown booking more private functions on weekends, along with 3) Slowdown booking fewer indie shows).

My coverage is definitely becoming too Benson focused, both in this blog and in my column. There is a world west of 72nd Street, though these days, I rarely step foot in it. And with clubs like Reverb opening, I’m less apt to.

So what’s the current bar count in Benson? Let’s see (not counting restaurants that serve booze): Jerry’s, Full House, Beercade, Krug Park, The Waiting Room, Burke’s, 1912, The Sydney, The Musette, St. Andrews, Benson Brewery, Infusion, Jake’s, The Barley Street and now Reverb. That’s 15 (and I’m probably missing something). That’s a lot of bars in about a half-mile stretch of road.

You have to ask yourself if there’s enough people to keep them all afloat.

BTW, news to me (though probably news to no one else), Jim told me that The Waiting Room is only open when an event or show is booked. Did not know that.

Some other comments that didn’t make it into the column:

— There will be tables and chairs added to Reverb’s concert space when appropriate. Jim is even considering adding row seating for some performances.

— There are no TVs in Reverb, nor video games or pinball.

— Jim said they’ll be adding some “sound treatment” to the concert room in the near future.

Again, you really need to check it out, whether there’s a show scheduled (check out their website to see) or not. And man, they make a potent mai tai.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Lazy-i Interview: The Both (Aimee Mann & Ted Leo); Maha: The Head Vs. The Heart (in the column)…

Category: Blog,Column,Interviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 12:57 pm August 14, 2014
The Both = Aimee Mann + Ted Leo. They're playing at Saturday's Maha Music Festival.

The Both = Aimee Mann + Ted Leo. They’re playing at Saturday’s Maha Music Festival.

by Tim McMahan,

The Maha Music Festival pre-coverage is hitting the streets today, including the stuff I worked on for The Reader.

Every year I do one Q&A with one of the traveling Maha artist, and this year it was with Aimee Mann and Ted Leo of The Both. Among the questions asked:

  • - Is playing together everything you dreamed it would be?
  • - Are you creating something with a new fan base or building on your solo fan bases?
  • - During the songwriting phase, Aimee, did you ask Ted to throttle back / Ted, did you ask Aimee to ramp it up?
  • - Aimee, did you foresee the decline of the music industry when you created your own record label in ’99?
  • - What do you think of Kickstarter?

And the question I was most interested in asking:

  • - Aimee, I have to ask a two-part Magnolia question: 1) What did you think when PT Anderson had the characters sing the lines to “Wise Up,” and 2) What did you think the first time you saw it in the finished film?

And so on. You can read the answers to those questions and more in this week’s issue of The Reader, or online right here.

Aimee and Ted were a lot of fun to interview, especially Ted, who reminisced about past shows he’s played in Omaha and how lousy they were. Leo came through with Dismemberment Plan in 2001, as a headliner at Sokol Underground in 2003, and opened for Against Me at Slowdown in 2008. He always puts on a great show, whether he thinks he does or not.

I have not had the best shows of my life in Omaha, and that’s not inflective of Omaha per se,” he said. “There’s so many factors that come together like a perfect crap storm to make a show crappy, there are so many moving parts and every day you’re on tour, you can’t blame it on one thing. I’m happy to be back in this context with Aimee at the Maha festival.”

This is the first time Aimee Mann’s been to Omaha, and she had no preconceptions about our fair city.  “I’ve heard nothing (about Omaha), so it’s a lovely clean slate,” Mann said. “The reason any musician doesn’t or does go to a town or area has nothing to do with personal preference, it’s all about the promoter or booking agent. If there’s not a promoter that thinks that people will come to see you, you don’t show up at that town.

Go read the interview. It’s long.

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In other Maha news, my column this week focuses on the future of summer music festivals and how Maha fits into the equation. For perspective, I interviewed Tre Brashear, one of Maha’s founders, about the challenges he and his team face putting the festival together every year, and where he thinks Maha is headed. You can also read that in The Reader or online right here.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Faint’s Todd Fink on their return, their new music, and their new attitude (and Digital Leather); Scaphe, Goon Saloon tonight…

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , — @ 12:54 pm June 12, 2014
The Faint play at Sokol Auditorium tomorrow night and The Waiting Room Saturday night.

The Faint play at Sokol Auditorium tomorrow night and The Waiting Room Saturday night.

by Tim McMahan,

This week’s issue of The Reader features my cover story/interview with Todd Fink of The Faint. The interview was actually conducted months ago, before the band went out on tour, but as Todd said, not much happens on tour, so the data is still current.

Topics include their hiatus, their return, SQE, Saddle Creek, as well as Todd’s roll in Digital Leather and how that experience impacted the songs he wrote with The Faint. You can read the article in the paper or online right here. Go read it!

As of this writing, $20 tickets are still available for both Friday night’s Faint concert at Sokol Auditorium and Saturday night’s show at The Waiting Room. Tix info at

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The Brothers Lounge has a show tonight with Minneapolis double-bass band Scaphe. Powerslop and Garoted also are on the bill. $5, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, Greenstreet Cycles is hosting its all-city party at its new temporary digs at 2452 Harney St. (making way for the CWS). Goon Saloon performs. Fun starts at 7:30. More info here.

And speaking of cycling, read Pt. 2 of my series on Omaha B-cycle and what it will take to make Omaha a bike-commuting-friendly city. Ben Turner of B-cycle is interviewed. It’s in this week’s issue of The Reader and online right here.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Return of Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies (in the column); Snake Island, McCarthy cinema tonight…

Category: Blog,Column,Interviews — Tags: , — @ 1:47 pm February 20, 2014
Brad Hoshaw towers over the crowd...

Brad Hoshaw towers over the crowd…

by Tim McMahan,

In this week’s column, an interview with Brad Hoshaw on what went wrong with the last album and what he hopes will go right with the new one. You can read it in this week’s issue of The Reader or online at website right here, or since this is a music-related installment, you can read it below:

Over the Edge 95: The Second Coming of Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies

When Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies released their debut album five years ago, I thought for sure it was going to be a breakthrough.

That record was pure bliss. If you haven’t heard it (and apparently not many of you have), it’s worth seeking out. It’s as good — if not better than — most records that came out in 2009, loaded with heart-wrenching hook-laden folk-rock songs that once heard are impossible to get out of your head.

Despite my growing pessimism about the ever-decomposing music industry, I still believe the only thing that matters is good songwriting — no matter how much music gets thrown into the giant milk barrel we call the internet, the cream will always rise to the top to be discovered by some enterprising record label exec looking to break the Next Big Thing.

And yet, that Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies’ debut album went nowhere. What happened?

Hoshaw said the record’s failure to gain traction outside of Omaha wasn’t for lack of trying. “I did as much as I could to capitalize on that last record, but trying to do the job of a record label by myself was probably unreasonable,” he said over a decaf Americano at a Benson coffee shop.

Hoshaw’s formula to break that first record involved a home-grown college radio campaign, where he personally sat down and called more than 300 radio stations from a promotion list he gleaned off a fellow musician.

“I sent out 120 copies of the CD to radio stations, but when it came time to do follow-up calls, I was burned out,” Hoshaw said. “I hit a threshold with what I could do by myself without going crazy.”

What about touring? Hoshaw said his band went on a two-week East Coast tour, but afterward band members said they couldn’t afford to do more. “They have families and jobs, and it didn’t make sense to lose money on the road,” Hoshaw said. Eventually the “Seven Deadlies” evaporated to just one — guitarist Matt Whipkey.

Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies, Funeral Guns (self-released, 2014)

Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies, Funeral Guns (self-released, 2014)

Now Hoshaw has a chance to try again. He’s celebrating the release of his new Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies album, Funeral Guns, this Friday night at The Waiting Room. The 10-song opus continues along the same path as the debut, with songs destined to be radio-station fodder (if they ever catch a programmer’s ear). Tunes like sinister opening ballad “New Tattoo,” sleek West Coast-rocker “Company” and album-closing magnum opus “It Falls Apart” continue to define Hoshaw as one of the best songwriters to come out of Nebraska.

So what’s he going to do differently this time ‘round? “I want to widen my fan base,” Hoshaw said. In collaboration with Whipkey, Hoshaw has picked Minneapolis, Des Moines/Ames and Kansas City/Lawrence as target markets where he’ll play gigs at least once a month.

Funeral Guns got made thanks to the support of 130 people who funded a Kickstarter online crowd-funding campaign. Hoshaw said he wants to keep that fan base happy and grow it as much as possible because he’ll need to call on them again when it comes time to fund his next record. Call it a grassroots effort rather than the traditional music career path that involves attracting the attention of a record label with hopes of signing a contract.

“Record companies are difficult; the odds are always against you,” Hoshaw said. “On the other hand, every time you go on stage you have a chance to make connections with new fans. It’s not a comfortable living, not like having a record deal where you can say, ‘We’ve made it.’ It’s hard work and constant stress.”

That said, Hoshaw still wouldn’t mind landing a record deal or a booking agent or a promotion company that could take some of the load off his shoulders so he could focus on what he says is his biggest priority: songwriting. He’s already talking about recording his next album this year, and has reached out to producers, including Saddle Creek Records’ veteran Andy LeMaster, whose credits include albums by Bright Eyes, Azure Ray and Now It’s Overhead.

And then there’s Nashville. “I have some friends who are songwriters down there,” Hoshaw said. “I’ve considered moving to Nashville. It would be more as a songwriter than a performer. I would pursue writing songs with other songwriters for other artists. For me, all the business stuff begins with the song — it’s the most important thing to develop, and writing with different people will make that stronger.”

Imagine Hoshaw selling a song like “Funeral Guns” to a hotshot like Blake Shelton. “I would consider it,” he said with a smile. “I would have to look at the contract and decide if it made sense.”

But what would make even more sense is writing songs for other Nebraska musicians. Hoshaw originally wrote the track “Delta King” off the new record for local band The Black Squirrels, while “New Tattoo” was written in collaboration with three other songwriters and album closer “It Falls Apart” was written by former Nebraska songwriter now poet Kyle Harvey.

Hoshaw’s contemplated recording an entire album of covers of songs by local songwriters, and would love for a fellow Omaha songwriter like John Klemmensen to record one of his songs.

“I would love more of that to happen locally the same way Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson played each other’s songs,” Hoshaw said. “I would love to see less fear about sharing art and letting other people interpret it, because in the end, it’s really about performing the best songs.”

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Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at

First published in The Reader, Feb. 20, 2014. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Tonight at The Waiting Room Snake Island headlines with Swamp Walk and Time Cat. $5, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, it’s the first in Film Streams’ Hitchcock 9 Silents in Concert Repertory Series featuring the silent films of Alfred Hitchcock brought to life sonically by live musicians. Tonight it’s the 1929 film The Farmer’s Wife featuring live music by Dan McCarthy and James Maakestad. Tickets are $12 general; $10 students and $8 for Film Streams members. The curtain rises at 7 p.m. Find out more here.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Opening Pandora’s Box (and finding Matt Whipkey inside)(in the column); Phantom Scout, Sowers tonight…

Category: Blog,Column,Interviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:20 pm January 23, 2014

by Tim McMahan,

In this week’s column, a look at Pandora from the vantagepoint of local singer/songwriter Matt Whipkey, who outlines the steps he underwent to get his music included in the streaming service, and included in the Music Genome Project. You can read it in the current issue of The Reader or online right here at, or, since the column is centered around music, you can read it below…

Over the Edge No. 91: Opening Pandora’s Box

pandoraIs Pandora the new “radio”?

And by that I’m asking, could digital music streaming services such as Pandora replace terrestrial radio stations, especially after car stereos become “internet ready,” allowing drivers to punch in a website from their dashboards?

While I can’t answer that in this column, I can say that Pandora at least gives unsigned musicians a glimmer of hope that a stranger will find their music, a glimmer of hope that they’ll never get from old-fashioned radio.

That hope is what drove local unsigned singer/songwriter Matt Whipkey to submit his latest album — an ode to the late, lamented Peony Park called Penny Park — to Pandora.

Before we get to that, what is Pandora? The service is a website and a smartphone app that plays music based on an artist’s “station.” For example, when I typed in “Led Zeppelin Radio” the four songs Pandora belched out were Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love,” Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar,” Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Chile” and Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden” — basically the same thing you’d hear on Z-92.

Where Pandora gets interesting is when it “suggests” songs you haven’t heard before. That rarely happens when tuned into dinosaur acts like Zep; but it happens all the time when tuning into indie band “radio stations.”

Not just any act can get its music in Pandora. Whipkey said bands signed to record labels have a clear path. Unsigned artists, on the other hand, undergo a process that isn’t exactly easy.

Step One: Open an Amazon Marketplace Account and offer a physical copy of your CD for sale. Step Two: Submit two songs from your record to Pandora. Whipkey said it took two months for someone from Pandora to notify him that his music had been accepted. Hooray! Step Three: Fill out a ton of legal forms. Step Four: Send Pandora a complete copy of your CD.

Three months after Whipkey began the process, “Matt Whipkey Radio” was on the air, but more importantly, his music became part of Pandora’s sci-fi sounding “Music Genome Project.”

According to Pandora, every song in the Music Genome Project is analyzed using up to 450 distinct musical characteristics by a trained music analyst. Those attributes capture not only the musical identity of a song, but also the many “significant qualities that are relevant to understanding the musical preferences of listeners.” Pandora does not use machine-listening or other forms of automated data extraction.

I envision a huge warehouse filled with hipsters and tweed-wearing music professors sitting behind row after row of desks like headphoned elves. As they thoughtfully listen to each CD, they check boxes from a long list of descriptions that includes traits such as rhythm syncopation, key tonality, vocal harmonies and displayed instrumental proficiency (i.e, bitchin’ guitar solo).

“By utilizing the wealth of musicological information stored in the Music Genome Project, Pandora recognizes and responds to each individual’s tastes. The result is a much more personalized radio experience – stations that play music you’ll love – and nothing else.”

And nothing else.

So what does Matt Whipkey Radio sound like? In the first hour I heard songs by Delorentos, Second Dan, Boys School, Sissy and the Blisters, Two Cow Garage, Kirby Krackle and Peter Elkas — all artists and bands I’ve never heard of. Whipkey thinks Pandora groups unsigned indie artists with other unsigned indie artists.

Not everything on Matt Whipkey Radio was anonymous. I also heard songs by The Thermals, The Cynics, Gasoline Heart, Maps & Atlases and one of my all-time favorite bands, The Feelies. Pandora lets users “thumbs up” songs they like, and as a result, it learns a listener’s tastes. I “thumbed up” The Feelies, for instance.

As a whole, the music streamed for Matt Whipkey Radio was pretty good and in character with Whipkey’s style of music. I can’t say the same for “Eli Mardock Radio.”

Mardock is one of my favorite Lincoln singer/songwriters whose debut album was released by tiny label Paper Garden Records. An hour of his station included commercial-friendly music by unknown acts Black Lab, Golden Bear, No Second Troy, The Click Five, a Pat Benetar cover (“Love Is a Battlefield”) by Jann Arden, and songs by familiar (but dreadful) artists Blue October and Travis. None of the music bore the unique, sinister quality that makes Mardock’s songs so interesting.

On the other hand, listening to “Little Brazil Radio” (a popular local punk band) resulted in a very satisfying hour of music that included songs by classic indie bands Superchunk, Silkworm and The Academy Is… Cursive Radio was a veritable hit parade of ‘90s indie, with songs by Radiohead, The Pixies, Modest Mouse and Brand New. The groupings oddly made sense.

What would make Pandora really cool? Imagine the thousands of people listening to “Bruce Springsteen Radio” being fed a Matt Whipkey song. Whipkey says it (probably) will never happen, though he’s heard of bands that have become “Pandora famous.”

“Someone listening to Led Zeppelin Radio who was fed an indie band that sounds like Led Zeppelin probably wouldn’t be too cool with that,” he said.

Whipkey said he submitted to Pandora purely for the chance of gaining wider exposure (He never expects to see a royalty check). “When you tell people you’re on Pandora, they think it’s cool,” he said. “It’s kind of an achievement of sorts. They did have to pick me. They won’t take just anything.”

And who knows, strangers might actually hear his music, which is something they won’t hear on the regular radio. Whipkey said he’s done his share of in-studio performances on local radio stations, “but I never understood how my two minutes live on the air is different than putting on one of my CDs and hitting ‘Play,’” he said. “That’s a no-no. They can’t do it. The guys that host the shows say they have to play what they’re told to play, and that’s it. On the other hand, it’s super-cool that they let me come on their shows.”

So is Pandora the new “radio”?

“I think of Pandora as radio,” Whipkey said. “It’s out there, it’s always on my phone, it’s easy. I just hit the button and there it is. That’s kind of cool.”

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at

First published in The Reader, Jan. 22, 2014. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Before radio host Dave Leibowitz can chime in with “What about my show, New Day Rising on 89.7 FM The River? We play local music,” I want to point out that Whipkey did mention how much he appreciated Sunday programming on The River. And I’ve written a couple times in my column about Dave’s radio show, which airs from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday afternoons (In fact, New Day Rising was the subject of the very first installment of my former music column, way back in 2004).

But I don’t think I need to remind Dave that three hours — along with a couple other shows aired on Sundays — do not make up for The River’s abhorrent play list the rest of the week. I explored this topic with Sophia John in my column as well — go here, and scroll down to the May 9, 2005 entry. The River’s perceived shift in format referenced in that column never happened. The station is still a glowing bastion of growly, Cookie Monster goon-rock, and  likely will remain so until Sophia moves on. Her justification for not changing format: “If I did that, I wouldn’t be doing what’s best for everyone. I want to bring the masses what they really want while opening their minds to something different.

Argue all you want about the quality of terrestrial radio, it’s not changing. If you like the kind of music The River spins, then you’re lucky; you’ve got an outlet right here in your home town. If you wish a station had a full-time playlist similar to what Dave plays on his show — or for a radio station that spins local musicians regularly — well, you’ve always got Pandora, Spotify and your record and CD collection. Technology will catch up eventually, and you’ll soon be able to tune into that music in  your car as if it were a terrestrial radio station.

This begs the question: Why doesn’t someone create an online radio station that focuses solely on Nebraska music? Keep watching, folks, it’s just around the corner.

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Tonight at The Barley Street Tavern it’s Phanton Scout (featuring Jeremy Stanosheck). Also on the bill, Sacramento band Misamore and Sowers. $5, 9. More info here.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Are record collectors the same as comic book collectors? (in the column); Jake Bellows tonight…

Category: Blog,Column,Interviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:56 pm January 9, 2014

by Tim McMahan,

In this week’s column, a discussion about 2013 music sales and industry trends with Mike Fratt, general manager of Homer’s Records. While national album sales were down, Homer’s enjoyed a double-digit increase in business vs. 2012. Read about it in this week’s issue of The Reader or online right here at Or, since the column is centered on music, you can read it below…

Vinyl Sales Help Homer’s Buck Industry Trend

by Tim McMahan

After spending the last two weeks writing about the current state and predicted future of the music industry, it’s time for a dose of reality in the form of the 2013 Nielsen SoundScan numbers.

Billboard Magazine reported last week that album sales suffered an 8.4 percent decline in 2013, CD sales declined 14.5 percent, even digital music sales declined last year for the first time since the iTunes store swung wide its online doors in 2003. Digital track sales fell 5.7 percent, while digital album sales fell 0.1 percent, all according to SoundScan.

The Billboard story said industry executives concede that “ad-supported and paid subscription services were indeed cannibalizing digital sales.” Call it the Spotify effect. Those same execs went on to say growth in streaming revenue offset the decline in digital sales.

But what about brick-and-mortar? That’s where Mike Fratt comes in. Fratt is the General Manager and buyer at independent record store Homer’s Music, 1210 Howard St. In the face of all the doom and gloom, Fratt said 2013 was a good year for Homer’s.

“Sales were up 10 percent, vinyl was again a big driver, up 40 percent for the year,” Fratt said. “DVDs, gift, accessory and lifestyle sales were also up.” It’s a trend that began in 2010. But it wasn’t all good news for Homer’s. Fratt said CDs saw their first sales decline at his store since 2009, slipping 3 percent.

So is it time to go all-in with vinyl? Not so fast. According to SoundScan, vinyl sales indeed rose from 4.55 million in 2012 to 6 million last year, but that’s only enough to make vinyl 2 percent of all U.S. album sales. CDs are still king of the mountain commanding a whopping 57.2 percent of the market, while digital albums sales comprised 40.6 percent.

Still, Fratt says Homer’s business plan is to continue to focus on vinyl and lifestyle/gift items. “We embarked on a project to replace all our vinyl browsers in 2013 to increase space efficiency and improve merchandising of 7-inch singles,” Fratt said.

In addition, Homers will continue to broaden its CD selection. “We have been adding new distributors that stock imports, budget and rarities,” Fratt said. “Despite potential declining sales (in CDs), customers will still expect a large selection.”

Fratt said streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora actually have driven his sales numbers. Customers often come into his store asking to buy an album that’s streaming on their phone.

He said overall, consumers’ buying habits are shifting. “As mall music stores have disappeared and mass merchants (Target, Walmart, Best Buy) reduce selection to below 1,000 different titles, music buyers are forced online to buy CDs,” he said. “This has also helped the indies.” Billboard reported that indie merchants as a whole saw a nearly 12 percent decline in album sales last year. Fratt said that number was wrong, and closer to a 5 percent decline.

“Right now, SoundScan only pulls sales data from about 60 indies nationwide and attempts to determine total national sales for indies,” he said. “Record Store Day website lists 1,000 stores in the U.S.” Fratt thinks vinyl sales were probably closer to 10 million last year. We won’t know the real numbers until a new media company begins tracking physical and digital sales this year.

I told Fratt I noticed another shift in consumer buying. More and more, record buyers are following a model similar to comic book collectors — they’re buying vinyl and limited edition hard product based on collect-ability (and maybe investment).

I speak from personal experience, as both a record and comic book collector. There is certain vinyl I collect just because I want to own it — Factory Records stuff, early copies of Smiths albums with unique cover art, for example. These are albums I probably will only listen to once, but will display in my house or just want to have. If I want to listen to the actual music, I listen to a digital version.

The amazingly successful Record Store Day in some ways supports my idea — it’s a great way for collectors to find and buy cool collectible limited-edition pieces. But I wonder how many people who buy rare or limited edition stuff actually play the recordings, especially if the music is already available online via Spotify?

The old arguments about purchasing physical seem to be dying away. The “need for a back-up” argument will disappear when people become familiar/comfortable with cloud computing. The “inferior audio quality” argument will eventually fade when technology provides a better, flawless audio file type (which is inevitable). Spotify gives access to nearly everything now, and if you’re a paying user (as I am) you can even listen when you’re away from a wi-fi/cellular connection.

So why buy hard assets like vinyl? Because you want to own it. You collect it. It’s finite. It’s physical in a world where fewer and fewer entertainment options involve physical things. If the above is true, than records stores will become like comic shops. Maybe they already are?

“Collectors certainly make up a strong customer group for us and play a large roll in RSD, but vinyl has become so big, it draws all kinds of customers, both casual and hard-core collector, young and old,” Fratt replied.

He said cloud computing, streaming and cars with internet will impact how people collect and access music, but early adopters (like me) remain a minority. “Over the last few years I’ve read that CD is dead, is dying and will be gone. Yet it is still 60 percent of album sales. So, a lot of people are still buying CDs to listen to and load onto their phone or PC.

“Vinyl is a fad,” Fratt added. “Yet, even a recent iPhone commercial started with the image of a record spinning on a turntable only to have an iPhone set down next to it. It’s 10 million new (vinyl albums) being bought (per year) and another 30 million used trading hands. Somebody’s playing this stuff, not just collecting.

“Collecting occurs in so many categories anymore. What you’re saying is not untrue. I think only a small minority sees it the way you do. Right now. We’ll see how that evolves. Ask me again next year.” I’m sure I will.

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at

First published in The Reader, Jan. 8, 2014. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Tonight at Pageturners Lounge, 5004 Dodge Street, it’s a homecoming of sorts for Nebraska’s favorite wandering musical soul, Jake Bellows. On a brief tour through the Midwest, Jake is taking a evening between gigs to play a show in his hometown. If you have yet to check out Pageturners (and I haven’t, even though it’s been open for more than a year) tonight might be the perfect opportunity. The show is free and starts at 9:30.

Also tonight, Lincoln blues rock guy Josh Hoyer and his band The Shadowboxers are playing at The 21st Saloon, located way the fuck out on 4727 96th St. (south of L on 96th). This is their International Blues Challenge send-off show before they head to Memphis for a battle royale. $10, 6 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Unread Records and the joy of cassettes (in the column); The Stone Roses tonight…

Category: Blog,Column,Interviews — Tags: , , , , , — @ 2:01 pm November 6, 2013

Unread Records logoby Tim McMahan,

In this week’s column, the story of Unread Records and why the label, which is celebrating its 19th birthday this Saturday with an 11-band concert at the Sweatshop Gallery, continues to release (primarily) cassettes. It’s in this week’s issue of The Reader, and online right here

And heck, since the column is music-related, online below.

Celebrating Cassettes: The Joy of Low Fidelity

by Tim McMahan

Every year right around now, I put my Mini Cooper convertible in storage and replace it with a ’96 Geo Tracker. My Cooper has virtually no ground clearance, which makes it useless in any measurable snow, while the Tracker not only stands high above the ground but also is four-wheel-drive, making it virtually unstoppable.

The downsides of my Geo: It’s beginning to rust. The driver’s side door handle is broken. The rims are the wrong size, so the tires have a habit of deflating overnight. It smells like my dogs.

The upside: It has a cassette deck. There’s something particularly awesome about digging out a mixtape from the summer of 1994 and listening to forgotten bands like Uncle Joe’s Big Ol’ Driver or Morphine or The Wedding Present or Game Theory.

But for Chris Fischer, the label executive behind Unread Records, cassette tapes are more than just a nostalgia trip. The motto on the homepage of “Creating homemade tapes from empty aluminum cans since 1994.”

Fischer used to live in Omaha. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania, native, now living in Pittsburgh, was wooed to our city in the late ‘90s by none other than Conor Oberst after Fischer set up a show for him in Lancaster back in the early Bright Eyes days.

Back then, Fischer’s Unread Records was part of the underground world of cassette-tape-only record labels. Now 19 years later, it still is, even though super-cheap digital music technology should have made cassettes obsolete. Instead, Unread boasts a catalog of 148 cassette tapes by artists such as Charlie McAlister, Ramon Speed, Spirit Duplicator and Omaha’s own Simon Joyner.

Those artists will join seven more from the Unread Records roster for Junkfest #19 — a concert at the Sweatshop Gallery in Benson this Saturday at 6 p.m. Fischer said the event, which celebrates the label’s 19th birthday, will be “a great show, very bizarre, an experience.”

When I interviewed Fischer back in 2000, the central question was: Why cassettes? Not so strangely, the question remained at the forefront when I talked to him last Saturday. He admitted cassettes have inferior sound quality, degrade faster and are more expensive to mass produce than CDRs. And if you thought finding a turntable was hard, finding a cassette deck means scouring eBay, Craig’s List or your local pawn shop.

Fischer said his love of cassettes is a product of growing up idolizing tape labels of yesterday like Shrimper, Catsup Plate and Omaha’s Sing! Eunuchs. “Cassettes are more artistically attractive to me,” he said. “It’s a mechanical thing, a physical object. It feels better to hold a cassette. It jangles around a bit. It has screws. It’s not that I’m anti-technology, there’s nothing wrong with CRSs, they just don’t look as attractive, and I don’t understand how they work.”

Plus, like vinyl records, cassettes have two sides. “Everyone now just wants to purchase a song off iTunes or just buy increments of music as opposed to a whole album,” Fischer said. “There’s nothing better than listening to an album — the A side, the B side, hits or no hits, I like to hear it all for what it is.”

Over the years, Fischer has gone from a production process that involved plugging tape decks together to dub six tapes at a time to using professional dubbers. He dubs between 50 and 150 tapes per title, depending on how well he thinks they’ll sell, then gives half of them to the artists. Not a total Luddite, Fischer said if an artist provides the master on CD, he makes the tracks available for digital download. But it’s the cassettes that are the cool, collectable thing, not the downloads.

Simon Joyner, who ran Sing! Eunuchs with Chris Deden, said cassettes became an important medium in the late ‘80s into the ‘90s because everyone had a cassette player and recorder at home. “So, people who wanted to create music could do it very easily and inexpensively. They could try anything they wanted because no studios were necessary, no label was necessary. Out of this, labels formed around this DIY concept that artists were everywhere and here’s the music, cheap and accessible.”

But Bandcamp and other digital music file-sharing sites have made cassettes unnecessary. “What’s going on now is fetishistic, econo-chic,” Joyner said. “There is nostalgia around the cassette medium because so many great, important artists and bands started out that way, during that time when it was the cheapest, easiest way to get music out there. (Today) most people releasing music on cassette are feeding that population of cassette fetishists while also releasing the same music in other ways, having their tape and eating it, too.”

Joyner said when he was putting out tapes, he “longed for vinyl, and that hasn’t changed.” Fischer agreed, and Unread has released a number of vinyl records. “I would love to do a lot more,” Fischer said, “but 80 percent of my catalog is cassettes only because of cash flow. If I won the lottery, I’d do more vinyl.”

But even if he did, there would still be a fascination for cassettes. “Nowadays, cassettes are cool and retro,” Fischer said. “A friend of mine approached me to put out a cassette and didn’t have the first idea how they worked or what they were. It blew my mind.”

Joyner, who never liked the “low-fi” label placed on him early in his career, accepted tape hiss as an unavoidable product of recording limitations.

“You should only love that sound if the music in the foreground is good,” Joyner said. “Then as now, a lot of music released on tape is no good, and having it on tape doesn’t change that fact. But when it is good, there is something nice about the hum and hiss as I drive around the city in my decrepit Ford Escort just to hear it.”

Or in my Geo Tracker.

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at

First published in The Omaha Reader, Nov. 6, 2013. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

The latest mysterious message about O'Leaver's Black Friday event...What could it mean?

The latest mysterious message about O’Leaver’s Black Friday event…What could it mean?

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Village Pointe Cinema is hosting a special screening of Made of Stone: The Stone Roses. The documentary by covers the Manchester band’s 2012 and 2013 reunion tours, which culminated with a headlining spot at the 2013 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in California. The screening is scheduled for 7:30.

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OK, now O’Leaver’s is just playing with us. This showed up on the email right before lunch. Can you decipher its meaning?

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.