New stuff from Jason Steady, David Nance; Lupines, Noah Sterba, Rusty Lord, Dog Party tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 12:38 pm July 11, 2018

Dog Party at O’Leaver’s, July 30, 2017. The band returns to O’Leaver’s tonight.

by Tim McMahan,

This past Monday Jason Steady (once of the band Talking Mountain, among others) dropped me a line about a new track he’s recorded — a cover of Gram Parsons’ “One Hundred Years From Now,” which, I must say, is sublime. It marks a new direction for Steady, a sound which I described as “psych-country,” but which Jason calls “outer space cosmic death nature sounds.”

Check it out below and/or download/buy it along with Steady’s cover of George Jones’ “Things Have Gone to Pieces” (and a demo  of the Parsons cover) at his Bandcamp page.

Speaking of new music, David Nance posted that his next record, titled Peace and Slightly Pulverized, will be released Oct. 5 by Trouble In Mind Records. The Chicago label’s roster includes Dick Diver, Paperhead and Ultimate Painting, among others. The seven-song vinyl features Nance backed by his band — Kevin Donahue, Jim Schroeder and Tom May. Nance blew a hole in the wall with last year’s Negative Boogie (Ba Da Bing Records). I can’t wait to hear this one…

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Two shows of note tonight…

Pageturners Lounge continues its summer concert series tonight with a triple-bill: Lupines, Noah Sterba and Rusty Lord. Is this the show that the real-life Rusty Lord finally makes an appearance? Find out. This one’s free and starts at 9 p.m.

Also tonight, Sacramento’s Dog Party — the garage rock duo of sisters Gwennie and Lucy Giles — returns to fabulous O’Leaver’s. Joining them are Mad Dog and the 20/20s and Muscle Cousins. $7, 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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Mark Mallman, Electric Six tonight at Reverb Lounge…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 4:39 pm July 10, 2018
Mark Mallman at The Waiting Room, Nov. 29, 2010.

Mark Mallman at The Waiting Room, Nov. 29, 2010. He plays tonight at Reverb Lounge.

by Tim McMahan,

I almost skipped posting today and then I saw that Mark Mallman is playing tonight at Reverb Lounge and wanted to make sure you knew.

The Minnesota-based piano-man has put out a lot of great records including career highlight Mr. Serious (2004, Badman Recording Co.) that’s filled with infectious sing-along pop ditties.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mallman back in 2010 in support of a Waiting Room gig. You can still read the feature article online here, wherein I describe Mark trying to win over an audience at the old Sammy Sortino’s pizza place on south 72nd Street (now long gone). Fans of Christopher the Conquered and Har Mar Superstar will likely dig.

Mallman opens for Detroit garage-pop act Electric Six, probably best known for their 2003 single “Gay Bar,” which I just heard played the other day on Sirius XMU. Starts at 8. $15 (worth it for Mallman alone).

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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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Dereck Higgins’ ‘The World is Burning’ tracks stretch back to Digital Sex days…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 12:51 pm July 9, 2018

Dereck Higgins’ The World Is Burning includes tracks that date back to his Digital Sex days.

by Tim McMahan,

Dereck Higgins has played in dozens of bands over the past 30+ years, but most notably was a member of seminal ’80s band Digital Sex. Higgins is still in at least a half dozen bands, including Son, Ambulance, Skuddar and RAF, not to mention his  solo work.

Last week a new collection of songs and recordings written and performed by Higgins that date back to his Digital Sex days was released by Randy LeMasters, a Pittsburgh-based music entrepreneur who released the last Digital Sex compilation Essence and Rarities back in ’94 as well as a 2012 collection of rarities by The Millions called Poison Fish.

“Randy is a super fan of my music, starting with his discovery of Digital Sex,” Higgins said. “When he traveled to Omaha in 2000 to meet me and see DS play we visited at my house. I played some of the stuff I recorded at home for my own sanity and enjoyment. He begged me to have copies.”

Over the years Higgins sent LeMasters CDs of recordings, which he said were never intended for public consumption. “A few years ago Randy approached me with the idea of releasing some of his favorites of the hundreds of songs I had sent him,” Higgins said. “I was reluctant at first but agreed.”

Titled The World Is Burning, the CD is limited to 300, of which about 100 already have been sold via Higgins’ website, which is the only place you can buy them locally. “Put simply, if you actually like the music of Digital Sex you will like this,” Higgins said. “Some music is as old as 1984, (with the) most recent likely from the ’90s. I wrote the original music and played all of the instruments on the home recordings, the same recordings from which Digital Sex sprang from — drums, bass, guitars, keyboards and vocals.”

Higgins said the title track reflects our current national state of affairs. “…Things have only gotten worse since I wrote the song,” he said. “It’s a totally topical song about the state of the world.”

You’ll get a chance to hear Higgins perform songs off the new album live at The Down Under Lounge July 19 as part of his residency at the club. The night also will include a performance by Todd Grant of the band Compost whose solo album, 1994’s Strangled Soul, is one of my faves.

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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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Living Deads, #BFF, Beat Seekers tonight; Jeff Rosenstock Saturday; Digital Leather, Proud Parents Sunday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 1:34 pm July 6, 2018

Digital Leather at The Sydney, April 6, 2018. They play Sunday at O’Leaver’s.

by Tim McMahan,

Good thing there’s fantastic weather this weekend so you can go out and enjoy instead of going to the clubs because ain’t hardly nothing happening. I’m looking and looking and finding very little from an indie-rock perspective (There’s some punk, though…).

Since you’ll be scratching your head trying to figure out what to do tonight, consider Benson First Friday (yes, it happens every month). The venues will be overflowing with art, which you can find out about here.

I beseech you to drop by The Little Gallery, the place run by my wife located across and just down the street from The Sydney in the east bay of the Masonic Lodge. The show, a co-op with Frogman’s Print Workshop, is called Personal Geographies: “Diana Behl, Tiberiu Chelcea, Sage Dawson, and Mary Jones use mapping conventions to talk about the passage of time, and to examine the essence of places seen, overlooked or imagined.” Booze and snacks, from 6 to 9 p.m. See you there.

Show-wise, The Brothers Lounge has nomadic psychobilly rockers The Living Deads tonight with Big Red Rawkit Riot. 9 p.m., no cover listed (but probably $5).

Also tonight, Lookout Lounge has The Beat Seekers with Switchblade Saturdays and Tame Suns. $10, 8 p.m.

Saturday night The Natural States and Houma are opening for S.F. doom act Body Void at fabulous O’Leaver’s. $8, 9 p.m.

Also Saturday night, Lookout Lounge is hosting its annual Punk Rock BBQ with Jeff Rosenstock, Remo Drive, Pseudo, Death Cow, Hand Painted Police Car, Dummy Head Torpedo, Liar Wire, Blandford, Midwest Depressed, and CatBeret. It all starts at 4 p.m. and just $15!

Which brings us to Sunday and a return to O’Leaver’s for the Sunday Social with Digital Leather and Proud Parents. DL you already know about. Proud Parents is a Madison, Wisconsin, punk trio whose debut LP was released on Dirtnap Records. The album was recorded and mixed by none other than Bobby Hussy (the Hussy, Cave Curse, Fire Heads, TIT) at his own Hex Empire. And yeah, that’s Heather Sawyer of The Hussy on drums and vocals. It’s good! This one starts early — 6 p.m. — and will cost you seven bones.

And that’s all I got. If I missed your show, put it in the comments section. Have a great weekend!

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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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Rolling Stone goes monthly; Esme Patterson, Sean Pratt/Sweats tonight…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:00 pm July 5, 2018

Rolling Stone changed its design and became monthly.

by Tim McMahan,

Last week I got a butt-slapper-sized issue of Rolling Stone in the mail and immediately knew something was up.

The previous issue, with Camila Cabello (???) on the cover felt more like a pamphlet than a magazine in all its 66 pages of content. RS has been declining for years in terms of page count and content.

Then along comes this new issue with Cardi B & Offset (???) on the cover (btw, the ??? signifies that I have no idea who these people are. And while I haven’t kept up with pop-chart music for years, at least in the old days I recognized the people on the cover of Rolling Stone. Apparently that’s no longer the case). The giant-sized, perfect-bound issue weighed in at a hefty 136 pages — twice the size of the previous issue. The reason: “A New Era for Rolling Stone” as Jann Wenner put it announcing the new format and the new monthly (instead of bi-weekly) publication.

It typically has taken about five minutes to flip through a Rolling Stone (with four minutes spent in the reviews section). I flipped though this new issue page for page and will likely go back and read the features about the cover people as well as a “booze and hash”-laced portrait of Johnny Depp.

The new format emphasized lots o’ photos (including a Sebastian Salgado feature — he’s been doing pictorials for Stone for decades), “lists” (“100 Greatest songs of the Century… So Far” which is (you guessed it) off the mark), and chart stories (a la Wired), along with its usual fare: Random Notes, National Affairs, and of course, Reviews, which have been expanded (though in the same format).

As a whole, I like what they’ve done with the magazine. The bi-weekly format has seemed somewhat slap-dash for a while now. No doubt this is a last gasp by a magazine that has managed to survive while so many others have been taken down by the internet plow. And while their focus on pop music / bad fashion can be rather gagging, I still enjoy getting it in the mail, as I have for decades….

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Denver folk-pop singer/songwriter Esme Patterson (Grand Jury Records) plays tonight at The Sydney. Joining her are Sean Pratt and the Sweats, Mike Schlensenger and Annalibera. $10, 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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Gobbinjr, Sam Martin, Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate), Rememberables tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 12:53 pm July 3, 2018

Sam Martin in the Sweatshop Gallery at Sweatfest, July 15, 2015. He’s playing tonight at O’Leaver’s.

by Tim McMahan,

Word came this morning that singer/songwriter/producer Richard Swift passed away at the young age of 41. As a producer, Swift worked with Foxygen, Guster, Sharon Van Etten, Damien Jurado, Pure Bathing Culture, and Saddle Creek Records act The Mynabirds, having produced their first two albums. He also put out some great stuff of his own, such as Dressed Up for the Letdown (2007, Secretly Canadian), which I’ve been listening to this morning. He was definitely too young to go. More on his life and work at Pitchfork.

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For once someone booked some shows the night before a national holiday, which is sort of a no-duh kinda thing when you consider most of us have tomorrow off.

Gobbinjr a.k.a. Emma Witmer headlines at fabulous O’Leaver’s tonight. Her latest, Ocala Wick, is out on Top Shelf Records (check it below) and is sugar-sweet singer/songwriter stuff in the K Records vein. Just as sugary sweet are openers Sam Martin and Megan Siebe. $5, 9 p.m

Meanwhile, down at Slowdown Jr. Jeremy Enigk of Sunny Day Real Estate and The Fire Thief fame is doing a solo set with a full band. His last album, Ghosts, was released in 2017 on Lewis Hollow, but this tour celebrates his solo debut Return of the Frog King (1996, Sub Pop). Chris Staples (Twothirtyeight) opens. 8 p.m., $18.

Finally, there’s a house show at 20th and Poppleton featuring D.C. indie rock act The Rememberables, who sound like they walked right out of the ’90s. Baltimore dark wave act Blacksage opens along with Haggis, CBN and Lifeguard. $10, 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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Remembering Harlan Ellison; Post Animal, Hussies tonight; Sean Pratt/Sweats, Dave Nance, Dirt House, Centerpiece Saturday; Big Bite, BiB Sunday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , , — @ 12:42 pm June 29, 2018

A portion of my Harlan Ellison library… and my 45s.

by Tim McMahan,

First, a non-music note: Harlan Ellison passed away yesterday. The best requiem I could give him beyond the photo of my personal Ellison collection at the top of this entry is the following, written for The Reader back in 2013:

Known primarily as the guy who wrote the best episode of Star Trek (“City on the Edge of Forever”) and for penning the material that became the 1976 Don Johnson bomb A Boy and His Dog, I’d read Ellison’s short stories for years before picking up his collection of essays and criticism called Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed in 1984. That was followed a year later by An Edge in My Voice (in fact, this column’s title is a play on that book’s title). It is impossible to read Ellison’s essays and not absorb his rhythm, syntax and style. His is a voice of measured anger bordered by reason, sarcasm, intelligence and wit. I spent a good chunk of my college years emulating Ellison’s writing style before figuring out one of my own.

A day does not go by where I don’t think about Ellison and his writing.

Onward (but with a heavy heart)…

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Tonight’s the annual Memorial Park concert/fireworks display featuring Mickey Thomas’ Starship and Boston/Styx cover band Bostyx. I can’t imagine a worse combination, but the folks going to the concert aren’t there for the music, they’re there for the fireworks.

I assume organizers are aware no one cares about the music and thus book the most benign acts for this show. If they’re going to get 50,000 people in the park regardless of the entertainment, they should consider other options, but I’m sure I’m not the first person to suggest that.

Needless to say, I’ll once again be stationed on my front porch with my trusty over-and-under cradled on my lap telling the passing mob to “Get off my lawn!

Now for the real music news…

Why haven’t they cleared out the tents from CWS? Because they’ve got a home run derby at the park Saturday night. They shouldn’t get in the way of tonight’s show at Slowdown Jr., where Chicago psych-rock band Post Animal (Polyvinyl Records) headlines. Minneapolis “dream-punk” act Slow Pulp opens. $12, 9 p.m

Tonight Hussies headline at The Brothers Lounge. KC band Red Kate also is on the bill along with Tiananmen Squares. $5, 9 p.m.

Sean Pratt and the Sweats return to fabulous O’Leaver’s Saturday night. They’re bringing with them Brooklyn’s Becca Ryskalczyk (of Bethlehem Steel). Dave Nance opens the evening at 10 p.m. $5.

Dirt House celebrates the release of its debut EP Come Over at Slowdown Jr. Saturday night. Opening is Kait Berreckman and The Jim Schroeder Quintet (Schroeder plays guitar with Dave Nance, among others). $8 adv/$10 DOS, 9 p.m.

Also Saturday night, Centerpiece, a band I just heard about yesterday, is celebrating the release if its debut EP Simple at Reverb Lounge Saturday night. North by North and I Forgot to Love My Father open. $7 adv/$10 DOS. 9 p.m.

Sunday night there’s a 5-band indie-punk show at Reverb headlined by Big Bite. Also on the bill is Supercrush, BiB, Death Cow and Ginger Ale. $8, 9 p.m.

Finally, The Waiting Room is hosting its annual Canada Day showcase — 10 bands playing Canadian covers including Mike Saklar, Korey Anderson and The Electroliners. This is a benefit for the Siena / Francis House with food available and everything. $8, 8 p.m. More info here.

And that’s all I got. If I missed your show, put it in the comments section. Have a great weekend.

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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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


That Saddle Creek at 25 story you may have missed…

Category: Interviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:49 pm June 28, 2018

Saddle Creek Record’s Benson offices circa sometime in the early 2000s…

by Tim McMahan,

There’s been a bit of a lull in music news lately. It’s the end of the month, it’s summer, it’s Omaha.

That being the case, I’m taking this opportunity to post that Saddle Creek at 50 cover story I wrote for the June issue of The Reader. You may already have read it, I know. This is being posted more for posterity’s sake and to ensure there’s always a version online should something unsavory happen to The Reader‘s website. Because Lazy-i is forever….

I promised out-takes from these interviews, but I haven’t had time to put them together. I will eventually (or I’ll use them for other stories). In the meantime, here’s the story, which is also in the current issue of The Reader. Pick up your copy today before the August issue hits the stands…

Saddle Creek at 25
The label that defined indie cool over a decade ago is suddenly cool again.

by Tim McMahan

It was sometime in 1993 when a group of guys pulled their resources together and released a cassette tape by a 13-year-old boy named Conor Oberst. That cassette, titled Water, was the first release on Lumberjack Records, catalog number LBJ-01.

Earlier this year catalog number LBJ-270, the debut album by Stef Chura called Messes, was released on CD, LP, tape and digital by Saddle Creek Records, the company that Lumberjack Records became. The label’s name isn’t the only thing that’s changed over the past 25 years.

Just ask the Saddle Creek founder Robb Nansel. “What’s changed since we started? Everything.”

Nansel reminisced about days gone by and days ahead alongside Amber Carew, the label’s new A&R representative, over beers at The Trap Room, a small bar he co-owns along with music club The Slowdown, which sits about 30 feet south of us.

Like all independent record labels, Lumberjack/Saddle Creek started as a business run out of a bedroom. “At the time, it was very day-to-day, you know?” Nansel said of the early years. “Our concern was ‘How are we gonna put out this Norman Bailer record?’ When I had to write the business plan for an entrepreneurship class, the goal was to sell 10,000 copies of a record. That was the definition of success.”

It would take years for the label to hit that goal. Nansel said he considers the first “real” Saddle Creek release to be LBJ-19 — Bright Eyes — A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997 — which came out in 1998 and was the first Saddle Creek album distributed outside the area.

“Everything before that was just consignment around town — make a hundred copies of a cassette or seven inches or whatever, take them to Homer’s and The Antiquarium and call it a day,” he said.

By 2005, Saddle Creek Records had become one of the most respected and well-known small independent record labels in the country, thanks to the success of its crown-jewel acts — Bright Eyes, The Faint and Cursive. Nansel points to that period as the label’s most successful era in terms of national exposure and record sales, with all three bands releasing albums that sold more than 100,000 copies.

“That was when reporters were flying in from all around the world to write stories about what’s in the drinking water,” Nansel said, “and when Dave Sink told me not to fuck up Omaha.” Sink, the owner/operator of the late, great Antiquarium Record Store, was revered among local musicians.

“He said ‘You’re gonna ruin this town; it’s going to turn into the next Seattle,’ and I said no it’s not. We have a small label, and that’s it. There’s no venues in town, there’s no other record labels. It’s hard to have that much of an impact on a city.”

Nansel knew all the national attention wouldn’t last. “Everything’s cyclical,” he said. “Scenes happen all over the world. It just so happened that people had their microscope on Omaha then. I knew they’d move their microscope somewhere else soon enough.”

But by the time the national spotlight had shifted away from Saddle Creek, the label had built  new offices in the so-called “Lo-Do” area of Omaha above what would become The Slowdown. The staff had grown to seven, including primary partner Jason Kulbel, who had originally come to Omaha to run a nightclub. Meanwhile, the roster of artists had ballooned to well over a dozen. As the label was entering its next chapter, Saddle Creek faced a number of new challenges.

In 2008, Conor Oberst signed to Merge Records, while The Faint started its own record label, Blank.Wav. And for the first time, Saddle Creek had turned its attention away from Omaha and began signing bands that had no real local connection— acts like Tokyo Police Club and Two Gallants and Canadian acts like The Rural Alberta Advantage and Land of Talk. It was a dramatic departure from the early days when Saddle Creek only signed bands that either came from Omaha or were friends of bands already on the label.

At the same time, Saddle Creek finally began to feel the impact of technology that had been ravaging the music industry for years.

Until then, the internet had been the label’s best friend. “It was so important for our growth,” Nansel said. “It allowed Saddle Creek to exist on a national level. When the major labels were yelling ‘The sky is falling,’ our business was growing. They were seeing the massive catalog sales that they’d had for decades plummet. We didn’t have a catalog, so all we saw was growth. There was a point when Saddle Creek could put out anybody’s record, and it would sell at least 5,000 copies,” Nansel said.

Fast forward just a few years and “we were putting out records that were selling like 150 copies,” Nansel said. “This was what everyone had been talking about when they said (the internet) was going to ruin the industry.”

It was a problem no one at the label had an answer for. Instead, Nansel and his staff simply put their heads down and kept going.

“We always felt that solving the music industry’s problem was not something that we as Saddle Creek were going to be able to do,” Nansel said. “That was going to be figured out by tech companies and major labels. All we could do was find bands we were passionate about and work with them and hope everything sorted itself out in time.”

Part of the answer for small independent labels like Saddle Creek has been banding together to create trade organizations that can compete with major labels for the attention of massive tech giants like Apple and Spotify, who now control the industry. The American Association of Independent Music (or A2IM) and global rights agency Merlin Network are two primary examples.

“If Saddle Creek goes up against Apple and tries to get a better deal, Apple tells Saddle Creek to fuck off,” Nansel said. “But if Merlin goes to them representing Beggars Group and Matador and 4AD and hundreds and hundreds of independent labels, then they can get a seat at the table. In a sense, Merlin and A2IM are pushing things forward on behalf of the independent label community.”

While signing those non-Omaha-related acts, Saddle Creek continued to release albums from old favorites like Cursive, The Good Life and Azure Ray while signing locals and friends like Icky Blossoms, Twinsmith and pals Big Harp. Nansel said despite new struggles to generate income via music sales, the label never signed an act with the intent of striking it rich.

“I guess I’d be naive to say that (album sales) are completely not in my mind,” he said. “There might be some super-aggressive weird punk record that I love, but then realize we can’t do anything with it. We wouldn’t be doing them a service by working with them. It would be a disastrous relationship. But I don’t think we’ve ever signed something because we thought it would sell. We have to like it first and figure out if it’s a good partnership.”

Has making money ever been a motivation?

“No,” Nansel said. “I think that’s boring. You have to work with these people every day. Imagine having to work with a band that you don’t like. You might make money, but that doesn’t sound very fun.”

Sticking with that philosophy would eventually pay off. In October 2014, Saddle Creek signed Philly band Hop Along. The folk-rock four-piece fronted by singer/songwriter Frances Quinlan hit pay dirt with its third full-length, Painted Shut, released in May of the following year. Songs like album opener “The Knock” and “Well-dressed” earned millions of Spotify plays, while publications like called Quinlan “among the most captivating rock singers of her generation.”

Next Saddle Creek signed Brooklyn band Big Thief in February 2016. The four-piece, fronted by Adrianne Lenker, saw its debut, Masterpiece, released in May 2016 to a hail of critical huzzahs, but it was the follow-up, Capacity, released in June 2017, that really caught fire, making it onto a number of national critics’ annual top-10 lists. The infectious single “Shark Smile” would gain heavy rotation on nationally broadcasted (via satellite) radio station Sirius XMU.

Brooklyn singer/songwriter Sam Evian (a.k.a. Sam Owens) would come next in June 2016 and in March 2017, Saddle Creek launched its “Document” singles series that featured unreleased music from artists outside the Saddle Creek roster, starting with bands Posse, Palehound, Hand Habits and Wilder Maker.

The label was entering a third life that included opening a satellite office in Los Angeles’ Eagle Rock neighborhood with new-hire Amber Carew, the label’s first-ever A&R representative responsible for talent scouting and artist development. One of Carew’s first run-ins with Saddle Creek was when the label signed Sam Evian out from under her while she was employed at label Anti- Records.

“At the time I was like ‘Saddle Creek? I didn’t know they were still doing stuff,'” Carew said. “I was in my own bubble. Then I looked at the label and realized that Saddle Creek was putting out records I like and doing new things.”

Carew’s first signing for Saddle Creek, Detroit singer/songwriter Stef Chura, who joined the label last November and whose debut album, Messes, was re-released by Saddle Creek in February, said she was familiar with the label in high school because of Bright Eyes, who she counts as an influence.

“When (the signing) was announced, I got a lot of ‘They’re still a label?’ questions and asked if I was going to meet Conor Oberst,” Chura said. “I love a lot of their stuff, new and old; I love what they’re doing now. There are separate eras (of the label) that are attracting different audiences. They’ve always signed artists with a lot of integrity, really good songwriters. It’s a big compliment to be on the label.”

At around the same time Chura joined Saddle Creek, the label signed Chicago rockers Young Jesus, whose debut, titled S/T, they re-released in February. The album is a departure for the label, with tracks that range from six minutes to over 12 minutes, jangly noise collages and epic jams that could be filed under “experimental.” Far from a commercially influenced acquisition.

“We’re not playing the analytics game,” Nansel said. “We’re not seeing who’s got a bunch of followers on Facebook.”

“If that were the case, we would have never signed Young Jesus,” Carew adds, “or Stef. I’ve made a concerted effort to talk about the new era of Saddle Creek. When I talk to new bands, I ask them if they want to be part of it.”

Nansel said plans call for doubling the number of releases the label puts out next year. He discussed new acts that Saddle Creek is either about to sign or announce (including an Omaha band), many of which will be unknown to most fans. “They’re not even necessarily known within their communities,” he said. “They’re just brand new bands. The goal is to give people their first shot at putting out a record. It’s hard to build a band from the ground up. It’s fun. It’s the most rewarding thing possible.”

So how does a label like Saddle Creek judge success in 2018? “It’s all about streams,” Nansel said. “It’s not really about physical sales anymore. I mean, that’s an important piece of it for us and our fan base. We still like to sell records, but the number of streams is the barometer of success — how many people are listening to your band online.”

And while getting your artists’ songs added to a Spotify curated playlist is a boon, Nansel said the key is for listeners to add albums and artists to their personal lists. “That’s how you retain that listener,” he said.

Streaming also is what pays the bills these days, specifically with checks from Spotify and Apple Music. “Those two primarily,” Nansel said. “Pandora and YouTube not so much. It’s like real money now. Our Spotify check is our biggest check every month; they’re bigger than ADA, our (physical) distributors.”

Good thing, too, because the label has a lot of mouths to feed. Nansel said the staff is the largest it’s ever been with the addition of Marketing Director Katie Nowak, who literally joined the label the day of this interview. Nowak, a New Yorker, will be joining the Los Angeles staff. The Omaha staff consists of C.J. Olson, radio/project management; Jadon Ulrich, art director; Jeff Tafolla, licensing, and Sarah Murray, retail/distribution. Nate Welker, digital marketing, lives in Seattle. Jason Kulbel, who manages Slowdown and other properties, stepped away from the label years ago.

Why does the Saddle Creek bother to keep an Omaha presence? Nansel, who’s lived in LA for nearly four years, points to the staff who live here. “I have a lot of roots in Omaha,” he said. “It’s an important place to me.”

Nansel, who turns 43 this year, never thought he’d still be running the label 25 years after releasing that Water cassette.

“That’s because I’m not a planner in that way,” he said. “I never saw myself doing anything else, either. People kept making music. We kept caring about it. We kept having opportunities to do stuff with it. As long as that happens, why would we stop?”

First published in The Reader, June 2018. Copyright © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Reviews: The Feelies in DC, Sunflower Bean, Public Access T.V.; Cold War Kids tonight (SOLD OUT)…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 2:15 pm June 26, 2018

The Feelies at 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., June 22, 2018.

by Tim McMahan,

Back from a long weekend in Washington D.C., where last Friday night I got to see The Feelies perform at the 9:30 Club. The venue been located a couple places around town since opening in 1980. The current location feels as if someone took Sokol Auditorium and sliced it in half, added a great stage and sound system as well as a kitchen and numerous bars, which I guess makes it nothing like Sokol Auditorium. It’s sort of like an old, lived-in high school gymnasium with a balcony that circles outward from either side of the stage. A small room in back is filled with CDs from every band that’s performed at the club — thousands and thousands lined up in floor-to-ceiling book cases.

The show was “An evening with The Feelies” which meant no opening act. The band went on around 9:30, sounding exactly like the band I’ve been listening to for ages. Frontman Glenn Mercer sounds no different than he did on albums that came out 30 years ago, a low mumbling voice that’s more spoken murmur than singing. Alongside him guitarist Bill Million and bass player Brenda Sauter were on point.

But what really fueled the performance was drummer Stan Demeski and percussionist Dave Weckerman looking like a couple accountants on leave pounding out the crazy rhythms. Anyone even vaguely familiar with The Feelies knows that their music is sort of a formula — a simple chopping guitar riff, followed by another, followed by crisp, tasty backbeat drums and rhythms. It’s a style that’s unmistakable and that’s influenced an array of bands from R.E.M to Luna to The New Year.

The first set was dedicated to newer stuff — or at least stuff I wasn’t familiar with that sounded like all their other stuff. The second set was dedicated to the “hits” — tunes off my favorite albums, the crowd erupting with every opening rhythm and chord. For the uninitiated, the songs can all sound very similar, but to those who’ve followed them for years, the favorites stand out.

I realized while watching the show that chances that this band will ever come to Omaha is nearly zero, and that the only way I’d ever have gotten to see them was to travel. The fact that the show was happening while I happened to be in D.C. was a stroke of luck, but now I’m starting to get the itch to go to other towns to see bands I know will never come here. Where will I go next?

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Sunflower Bean at Reverb Lounge, June 25, 2018.

A crowd of less than 50 showed up at Reverb last night for Sunflower Bean. The band is riding high on an Sirius XMU hit, the easy-listening indie rocker “I Was a Fool” on heavy rotation and, as I mentioned the other day, sounds like a track from The Sundays.

Frontwoman Julia Cummings’ voice comes in two flavors — a sweet, clear coo a la Harriet Wheeler (of the Sundays) and a pronounced Joan Jett snarl which I wasn’t ready for. Cummings rolled out her Jett growl throughout the set, mostly on songs from their new album, Twentytwo in Blue, which is a more straight-forward pop record than their debut, 2016’s Human Ceremony. The debut is darker and fueled by a post-punk shoe-gaze sound. Whenever the band lit into one of the earlier tracks, like standouts “2013” and “Easier Said,” they shifted into a blue-toned gear.  Kudos to Nick Kivlen’s clever guitar solos throughout the set.

Cummings tried about as hard as any performer I’ve ever seen (outside of a cover band) to get the crowd into the spirit, coaxing call-and-response fist-shake audience choruses, leading overhead hand-claps, and pleading (a number of times) for people to please come closer to the stage. Just another Monday night in Omaha.

Sunflower Bean is a band in transition. I liked where they were headed on their first album; but was less enthusiastic about the pop rock of their sophomore effort. The division between couldn’t be more stark. Where they end up on their third record could make all the difference.


Public Access T.V. at Reverb Lounge, June 25, 2018.

Last night’s opener, Public Access T.V., was a fun-loving indie-pop trio that reminded me of early Strokes or The Fratellis. Fun, young and fashionable, I could see them catching fire with the kids.

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Tonight it’s the return of Cold War Kids, this time to The Waiting Room. The band has a new album called Audience (Live) recorded on stage in Athens. Thomas Abban opens. This one is SOLD OUT and starts at 8 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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Ten Questions with Sunflower Bean (at Reverb 6/25); Whipkey tonight; Eric in Outerspace Saturday; Bambara Sunday…

Category: Interviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:00 pm June 22, 2018

Sunflower Bean plays Reverb Monday, June 25.

by Tim McMahan,

Few bands have taken indie stardom by storm quite like Brooklyn’s Sunflower Bean. The trio of Nick Kivlen (lead guitar and vocals), Jacob Faber (drums) and Julia Cumming (bass and lead vocals) exploded onto the scene with the critically lauded Human Ceremony (2016, Fat Possum), a compilation of songs the trio wrote while still in their teens.

Their new maturity is apparent on Twentytwo in Blue (2018, Mom + Pop), released this past March. The band takes on a more rock-fueled tone while Cumming, who handles the lion’s share of vocals, comes off like a modern-day Harriet Wheeler but without the acoustic lilt of The Sundays.

I caught up with the band and gave them the Ten Questions treatment. Here’s what they had to say:

1. What is your favorite album?

Julia Cumming: Transformer – Lou Reed

2. What is your least favorite song?

Cumming: Anything by the Chainsmokers.

3. What do you enjoy most about being in a band?

Cumming: It’s a dream come true. I love being on a team with people I trust and care about, and making art with them. We get to travel the world, and no show we play is the same as any other. Each show has improvisation and is kept super live so that we can create these special moments every night. Creating those moments is the best part of being in a band.

4. What do you hate about being in a band?

Nick Kivlen: There’s nothing we really hate about being in a band but sometimes when you’re on a 4-week tour you really start missing your own bed.

5. What is your favorite substance (legal or illegal)?

Kivlen: Coffee

6. In what city or town do you love to perform?

Jacob Faber: NYC will forever be the best.

7. What city or town did you have your worst gig (and why)?

Faber: Not sure of the worst gig but one that stands out is when we played a frat house and fight broke out and everyone went to watch the fight instead of our show.

8. Are you able to support yourself through your music? If so, how long did it take to get there; if not, how do you pay your bills?

Faber: We are lucky enough that we can support ourselves through music, nothing is ever guaranteed, but we work really hard and are able to do it full time.

9. What one profession other than music would you like to attempt; what one profession would you absolutely hate to do?

Faber: Would love to be a traveling food critic; would hate to be a car salesman.

10. What are the stories you’ve heard about Omaha, Nebraska?

Faber: All I know about Omaha is that Nick’s old dog, Casey, was from Omaha and he was a great guy RIP.

Sunflower Bean plays with Public Access T.V. Monday, June 25, at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. Showtime is 8 p.m., tickets are $12 Adv./$14 DOS. For more information, go to

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OK, but what about this weekend?

Tonight Matt Whipkey is playing a free show at Harney Street Tavern. Whipkey has grabbed some national attention lately when his cover of The Beatles’ “Drive My Car,” which appears on his new album Driver, was played on both Little Steven’s Underground Garage and Breakfast with the Beatles, a show hosted by Chris Carter, founding member of Dramarama. Both shows are on Sirius XM satellite radio. Driver also received a positive nod from roots music journal No Depression. See what the buzz is about starting at 9 p.m.

Also tonight (Friday) Denver’s Slow Caves (Old Flame Records) plays at O’Leaver’s with Ojai and Win/Win. $7, 10 p.m.

Saturday night Eric in Outerspace celebrates the release of their new album Later Days at Brothers Lounge. Joining them are Chicago’s The Sueves and The Cassowaries (Andrew Gustafson). $5, 9 p.m.

Also Saturday night Montee Men opens for Jump the Tiger at O’Leaver’s. Living Conditions kicks it off at 10 p.m. $5.

A busy weekend for O’Leaver’s ends with a special Sunday matinee featuring Brooklyn’s Bambara (Wharfcat Records). FiFi NoNo and The Show Is the Rainbow opens at 6 p.m. $5.

That’s all I got. If I missed your show, put it in the comments section. Have a great weekend.

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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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.