Lazy-i Interview: Ladyfinger on new record, new media; Love Drunk #104; Thermals sign to Saddle Creek…

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , , , , — @ 1:50 pm January 31, 2013
The men of Ladyfinger, from left, are Pat Oakes, Dan Brennan, Chris Machmuller and Jamie Massey.

The men of Ladyfinger, from left, are Pat Oakes, Dan Brennan, Chris Machmuller and Jamie Massey.

by Tim McMahan,

Love and Aliens: Ladyfinger Releases Errant Forms

The evolution of Ladyfinger can be heard from the first track of the band’s new Saddle Creek Records release, Errant Forms.

“Renew” opens with brittle, electric guitar chords before the rhythm section of drummer Pat Oakes and bassist Dan Brennan slides beneath warm keyboards, Jamie Massey’s smokey, twirling guitar and frontman Chris Machmuller’s cool growl.

You could say Machmuller also sang on the band’s 2006 debut, Heavy Hands, but not like this. These days Machmuller really sings, confident on the ghostly, glowing high notes that follow the song’s prophetic line, “I will grow old.”

If it sounds “pretty” compared to the howling noise of Ladyfinger’s early years that’s because it is. Still, the music is no less bracing or powerful, just easier to grasp in its clarity.

Or as Machmuller put it, “There’s more space between the parts on this record.”

A brief history: Ladyfinger (also known by the legal restriction Ladyfinger (ne)) formed in 2004 out of three other bands: Massey from Race for Titles, Machmuller from Bleeders for Treats, and Oakes and bassist Ethan Jones from Putrescine The original foursome produced two albums, Heavy Hands and the 2009 followup, Dusk. After that, Jones left Ladyfinger to be replaced with “new guy” Brennan, formerly of rock band The ’89 Cubs.

Ladyfinger, Errant Forms (Saddle Creek, 2013)

Ladyfinger, Errant Forms (Saddle Creek, 2013)

Back to the present: Better singing means understandable lyrics. Good thing Machmuller knows how to tell a story. On Errant Forms‘ first single, “Dark Horse,” he spins a non-autobiographical yarn about a wild, irresponsible party hound who’s “looking for a road I ain’t ever gonna find” but finds it when he discovers his wife or girlfriend is carrying his baby. Coincidentally, Machmuller discovered his wife was in a “family way” shortly after writing the song.

Then there’s “Galactic” — also not auto-biographical…probably. The brutal rocker describes a guy who picks up signals in his head — numbers and images — obviously messages about an alien coup, which he explains with the line: “I’m a space invader and I think I can save this planet from galactic destroyers from space.” Rush’s 2112 has nothing on these guys.

Like their previous albums, Errant Forms was recorded by their old pal Matt Bayles, whose track record includes working with Mastodon, Minus the Bear, Pearl Jam and fellow Saddle Creekers Cursive.

Working with such an accomplished producer puts pressure on the band, Oakes said, especially when the band isn’t sure it’s ready to enter the studio.

“This record seemed like it was pieced together out of random parts more than the last ones,” Oakes said. “When we went in for Heavy Hands, we knew exactly what we wanted to do, and had played those songs a million times, but for this one, we asked ourselves, ‘Are we ready to record? What if this whole thing falls apart?’”

When it comes to working with Bayles, uncertainty could spell trouble. “Matt does not indulge you,” Machmuller said. “He refers to our sessions as ‘abridged.’ He’s used to having six to 12 weeks in the studio. We only had two weeks (at Omaha’s ARC Studio) to track 13 or 14 songs.”

“He’s very thorough, very meticulous, and that’s what makes him a good producer and engineer,” Oakes said. “If you push back, Matt will stand his ground and be a dick about it. He knows that time is of the essence, and he’s not going to negotiate with you.”

Good thing he likes these guys.

“He doesn’t do our records to make money” Massey added. “He’s been good to us when he didn’t have to be. He bends for us and we appreciate it.”

While the way they make records hasn’t changed much, the way the band and label sells them has. In the old days bands simply released records and hit the road, hoping college radio and good reviews piqued people’s interest.

These days marketing is all about online placement and social media. “The social network sphere is completely different than when Dusk came out,” Oakes said. “As a result, we’re seeing things happen with this record that have never happened before.”

Things like first single “Dark Horse” being selected as the “Daily Download” at, where readers can listen to and download the track for free. Massey credited Saddle Creek’s Jeff Tafolla, in charge of licensing and new media, for the increased exposure, including Errant Forms being available as a digital stream from taste-making music blog

But these new-fangled sales methods go beyond blogs. Tafolla suggested Ladyfinger launch a Twitter account (@ladyfingerne) as well as a Facebook page (

“All four of us have access to these accounts and can do what we want with them,” Oakes said, “but it gets complicated.”

“I’ve been signed up to six brand new things that I have to figure out,” Machmuller said. “I’m worried about keeping all the passwords straight.”

With fans now able to hear the entire album from their computers for free, some of the “specialness” that comes with buying an album has faded. That’s one reason Errant Forms is being offered on vinyl in addition to digital download. “We considered going the vinyl route with Dusk,” Machmuller said. “Vinyl has become less of a novelty and more of a collectible. We saw the trend even back then.”

Saddle Creek says Ladyfinger’s combined sales for their past two releases was somewhere north of 1,200 units, far from what’s needed to make a living. All four band members have day jobs. Brennan, 34, is a sound engineer at The Slowdown when he isn’t on the road working sound for bands like Cursive. Massey, 37, is an art director at Turnpost Creative Group and proprietor of The Sydney in Benson. Machmuller, 32, launched Workers Take Out and now runs O’Leaver’s Pub, while Oakes, 35, is a production manager at Ink Tank Merch, a custom screen printing company owned by Saddle Creek.

With families to support and a music industry in decline, why keep putting out records?

“At the end of the day, for me, it’s all about playing shows,” Oakes said. “And if we sell more albums, that could mean playing bigger shows.”

“None of us have never not been in a band,” Machmuller said. “I love hearing things in my head and hearing them become recorded music. That’s the best part.”

Ladyfinger plays with The Seen and Hussies this Friday, Feb. 1, at The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St. Tickets are $8. Show starts at 9 p.m. For more information and tickets, go to

First published in The Reader. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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More Ladyfinger… The fine folks at Love Drunk today released the new video for Ladyfinger’s “Away Too Long.” If you ever wondered what Saddle Creek Records’ world headquarters look like, here’s your chance to get a peek. Check it out below:

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The Thermals, Desperate Ground (Saddle Creek, 2013)

The Thermals, Desperate Ground (Saddle Creek, 2013)

Saddle Creek Records announced via Pitchfork (Who needs to issue a press release when you’ve got Pitchfork?) that the label signed (former) Sub Pop act The Thermals. The details, from the actual press release issued by the band:

“The Thermals are pleased to announce they have signed to Saddle Creek, a label the band has known and admired for many years. The Thermals and Saddle Creek have a long history of sleeping on floors together: The Thermals have toured with Cursive and Ladyfinger, and Hutch and Kathy organized the first Bright Eyes show in Portland way back in 1999.

“The band formed in 2002 and has released five records and toured 15 countries. The Thermals’ sixth LP and debut for Saddle Creek, Desperate Ground, will be released April 16 and is available now for pre-order at the Saddle Creek Online Store. The album was produced by John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth) in Hoboken, NJ. Agnello and The Thermals completed the record and evacuated the studio just hours before Hurricane Sandy ravaged New Jersey, a fate quite fitting when you consider the product. Desperate Ground is a true scrappy and scratchy return-to-form for The Thermals, with all the raw power and unhinged adolescent energy that made their early LP’s so insanely enjoyable.

“Lyrically, Desperate Ground is a brash and irresponsible ode to human violence, a black celebration of the inevitability of war and death. A dark and yet joyous affair, Desperate Ground tells the (murky) tale of a lone rogue in the night. One man, one path, one sword. An unceasing urge to destroy. A never-ending battle against the forces of nature. A destiny impossible to avoid.”

The signing could be good timing for Saddle Creek, as Sub Pop announced last week that it’s reissuing the band’s first three albums on vinyl. “On March 5, fans can own limited-edition, colored vinyl copies of 2003’s More Parts Per Million, 2004’s Fuckin’ A, and 2006’s The Body, the Blood, the Machine. The triple-reissue (which also includes the rare “No Culture Icons” 7″) comes on the 10th anniversary of the release of More Parts Per Million.”

The only Thermals album I’ve owned was More Parts… which reminded me a ton of Superchunk. I haven’t heard their last couple of albums. After 2008’s “Returning to the Fold” single, the band jumped ship from Sub Pop (or was pushed) and landed at Kill Rock Stars for two more LPs, the last of which was Personal Life in 2010.

The Thermals are no strangers to Omaha stages. They last played in Omaha at The Waiting Room in May 2011. Before that, they played Slowdown Jr. in April 2009, and before that, Sokol Underground with Thunder Power back in November 2007.

Hey Maha, here’s another band for you to consider for this year’s festival…

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The Whipkey Three opens tonight for touring Columbus, Ohio band Red Wanting Blue (Fanatic/EMI/Caroline) at The Waiting Room. $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 © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Cursive Buys, Takes Over O’Leaver’s Pub; Night Moves, Renfields tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , , — @ 1:29 pm December 5, 2012
O'Leaver's is under new management, and they're a bunch of martyrs.

O’Leaver’s is under new management, and they’re a bunch of martyrs.

by Tim McMahan,

Remember way back in October when I said two bits of red hot news fell into my lap? One bit was that Red Sky Festival was dead (ho-hum); the other I said you’d have to wait for. Well now the news can be told (though just about everyone who follows local music already knows it).

The guys in Cursive bought — and are now the proprietors of  — O’Leaver’s, Omaha’s garage rock ground zero and home to the functionally inebriated. Last Saturday night, the George Washington of O’Leaver’s — Chris Mello — handed over the keys to Tim Kasher, Matt Maginn and Ted Stevens, along with the fourth partner in the venture, Chris Machmuller, who I think is actually a permanent fixture of the club like the album-sleeve-covered walls and the smell.

The full story about the handover is in my column in this week’s issue of The Reader and includes an interview with Cursive bass player and paint fetcher Matt Maginn. Matt talks about why they bought the club and what they plan to do with it. It’s online here. Go read it now and we’ll discuss. Go on, we’re waiting….

Done? OK. The central news from a music perspective is that O’Leaver’s will continue to book bands at the same pace it did before — just enough to keep music fans coming but not too much as to alienate the smelly drunks who JUST WANT TO BE LEFT ALONE.

A few musicians have snickered at the news, worried that the new management will ruin their playpen and will no longer allow their bands to play there. Poppycock. That’s the last thing they’d ever do, though Maginn said Stevens might try to help book a wider variety of bands, which has been sorely needed. For the past year there’s been a revolving door of about six bands that play O’Leaver’s regularly. At the very least, Maginn said they’d like to extend an invitation to bands they meet on the road to come and play at the club the next time their tour crosses the Nebraska landscape.

I doubt anything will change at O’Leaver’s except perhaps the smell. Here are a few other things that didn’t make it into the column: The new crew plans on putting a functional tiki bar in the back room where the Foosball table and punching bag machine (soon to leave) are now located. It’ll be a place where people can hang out if they want to escape the music. I’ve seen the new bar — its uber cool.

I also forgot to mention that the volleyball facilities were part of the deal. It’s a well-kept secret that all three Cursive guys are former collegiate sand volleyball stars with the tan lines to prove it. I suspect we’ll be seeing all three in Speedos and sunblock come next summer.

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Fantastic show tonight at Slowdown Jr. — Domino Records artist Night Moves headlines a show with Lincoln band The Renfields and Omaha surf rock kids Adult Films. $7, 9 p.m.

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Tomorrow: The Reader AND The Lazy-i Top 20 (and Next 10) of 2012. Don’t miss it.

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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 © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Interview: The Sentimental Sounds of The So-So Sailors

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:26 pm December 7, 2011
So-So Sailors

So-So Sailors, from left, are Alex McManus, Dan Kemp, Chris Machmuller, Brendan Greene-Walsh and Dan McCarthy.

by Tim McMahan,

Those who wonder what spawned Omaha indie band So-So Sailors’ thoughtful, piano-driven rock need look no further than frontman Chris Machmuller’s other band, Ladyfinger.

Tucked toward the end of Ladyfinger’s last collection of rowdy screamers titled Dusk is a chugging rocker called “Plans” that sports a gorgeous, arcing piano line. The rather wordy song features Machmuller doing something he rarely does on other Ladyfinger songs – Machmuller sings, clearly with notes and everything.

“’Plans’ could have been a foreshadowing of what was brewing in my subconsciousness,” Machmuller said over drinks Saturday afternoon at The Leavenworth Bar with drummer Dan Kemp and bassist/vocalist Brendan Greene-Walsh.

“The Ladyfinger stuff has a purpose and a plot, but it can be more ambiguous,” he said. “Lack of ambiguity makes So-So Sailors more compelling. It’s hard to convey sentiment when you’re screaming.”

There’s no screaming on Young Hearts, So-So Sailors’ debut EP, which is being celebrated at a release show Friday night at Slowdown. Though only six songs long, the album stretches over 32 minutes, thanks to tracks like the nearly 5-minute opener “So Broken Hearted,” a grand, elegant number that starts with a sentimental Machmuller singing over soft piano chords, “Lost out on love / Or so it seemed / A useless thing is the pain you hold onto…” moments before the rest of the band breaks through in classic E Street style.

The song is a story about a bartender wooing a broken-hearted patron in a club not unlike O’Leaver’s, where Machmuller tends bar and Greene-Walsh has been known to run the soundboard. “You could place that song in any bar across the country,” Machmuller said, “but in my mind, that’s where I picture it.”

Other EP standouts include “Broken Glass and Blood,” a cinematic rocker about a dirt-poor boy trying to hold onto a woman who’s skipped town for an East Coast college, conjuring up images of The Graduate and Goodbye Columbus. While the album’s gorgeous title track recalls an instructor/student love affair thick with warning and regret. Machmuller belts out the lines “But when it comes to us / I probably shouldn’t write the stuff  / My heart wants to put on the page” just before breaking into a massive alto sax solo. With its strong central melodies and sentimental showmanship, Young Hearts is more ’70s arena ballad than modern-day indie, and is better  for it.

The band formed in the fall of 2009 when Ladyfinger was on a break from touring. Machmuller said he started working on some new material, which he bounced off friend and “very capable piano and keyboard player” Dan McCarthy.

“I’d already talked to Brendan and Dan (Kemp) about forming a new project,” Machmuller said. “Then I gave (guitarist) Alex McManus a call, and he was aboard from the get go.”

Calling themselves So-So Sailors, the band played its first show opening for The Mynabirds’ CD release party at Slowdown May 2, 2010. The debut was something of a surprise to those who had only known Machmuller as the screaming guitarist in Ladyfinger. With So-So Sailors Machmuller emerged as a crooner seated behind a keyboard, his scratchy voice fully exposed for all to hear for the first time.

Later that year the band began recording with engineer Ben Brodin at ARC Studios. The 12 songs produced from those sessions clocked in at over an hour — too much to include on a vinyl LP, a format the band prefers. Instead, they proposed releasing some of the material as a CD EP. After Saddle Creek Records – Ladyfinger’s record label – passed on the project, the band decided to release it themselves in the U.S., while the EP is being released digitally in Europe in January on No Dancing Records.

The longterm plan is to include a few of the songs from Young Hearts along with new material on a vinyl LP to be released sometime next year. In the meantime, the sailors will support the EP with limited local large-market touring, while they continue to try and line up something even more elusive than a record label – a booking agent. Machmuller said despite being signed by a well-known label like Saddle Creek, Ladyfinger never was able to sign with a national booking agent.

“If you have a booking agent, it’s a lot easier to secure a record label,” Greene-Walsh said. But landing a booking agent during an era when the music industry continues to spiral downward is akin to winning a lottery.

“The odds are a thousand to one,” Machmuller said. But even if they never get a break outside of Omaha, he said he and the rest of the band will continue to make music together.

“There’s something inside you that keeps you going,” Greene-Walsh said. “I took a couple years off from playing and severely missed sitting in a room with creative minds and bouncing ideas off each other, and then having the space to create something new.”

“Being in a band is almost like being back at school,” Kemp said, “and I miss school, to be honest with you. I’d be super drunk all the time if I didn’t do music.”

“I wouldn’t hang myself if I didn’t play music,” Machmuller said, “but there’s a compulsion. I’ve been writing songs since I was 15 years old, and (today) I’m not a rich man or a veteran of world tours, but I’m still doing it.”

So-So Sailors plays with Sam Knutson and Kevin Pike & John Kotchian Friday, Dec. 9, at Slowdown, 729 No. 14th St.. Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $10 and includes a copy of the new CD. For more information, call 402.345.7569 or visit

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Tomorrow’s column: The 7-Year Itch

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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 © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.