#TBT: Jan. 24, 2007: Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) drinks tea at Target and strolls the dying halls of Crossroads…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , , — @ 1:58 pm January 19, 2017

Dev Hynes circa 2007, then a member of Lightspeed Champion, stands next to a giant Buster Sword at Ala-Ka-Zam in the Crossroads. Blood Orange was still years away…

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

The future of Devonte Hynes was a bit murky 10 years ago when the following story was published in Lazy-i and The Reader. I’d never heard of the singer/songwriter and was simply looking for a way inside Mike Mogis’ at-the-time brand-spanking-new ARC Studios. Little did I know after working with the likes of Sky Ferreira, Carly Rae Jepson, Britney Spears even Kilie Minogue that Hynes would emerge years later as the break-out act Blood Orange, with the infectious dance hit “Best to You” off last year’s Freetown Sound.

On this Throwback Thursday, let’s step into the Wayback Machine and set the dials to 2007 and revisit Dev Hynes before he became Blood Orange…

Column 111: Englishmen in Omaha — Lazy-i, Jan. 24, 2007

Of Target, Chili’s and large knives

So I get this e-mail from UK label Domino Records telling me that one of their bands, Lightspeed Champion, was in Omaha recording with superstar producer Mike Mogis at ARC Studios — the new mansion studio that replaced Lincoln’s Presto! studios. Having seen the bands I’ve covered in the past, would I like to do an interview for Lazy-i?

Devonte Hynes, the mad genius behind Lightspeed, used to be the vocalist in Test Icicles, a band that only a couple years ago was on the verge of exploding across the London musical landscape, thanks to a rowdy style that combined noise with hardcore dance beats. After only a few club gigs around London in ’05, Test Icicles became the subject of a fierce label bidding war. Domino won, but a year after the release of their debut, For Screening Purposes Only, Test Icicles broke up. Here was a chance to find out why, while also getting a glance inside what I’ve been told is the sweetest recording studio in the region.

Domino set up the interview for last Monday. I was to meet Dev at the studio at 7 p.m. It was colder than hell the night I drove up to the large, ’60s-style house right on Dodge St. Sure didn’t look like a studio. I walked up to the door and knocked, certain that I had the wrong address. But no. Answering the door was Mike Mogis, spoon in hand. He was in the throes of making dinner for his family — a smiling wife appeared at the stairs, an adorable child skipped across the floor, and even Mike’s Brother, AJ, was there, standing next to the kitchen island by a large bowl of salad-looking food. I felt like an ass.

Dev? Oh, he’s over in the guest house. Mike pointed out his back window to another house across the compound. He kindly let me cut through his kitchen and out the back door. As I made my way across the frozen tundra, off to the right was the recording studio building, glowing in the night. That was the closest I got to it.

Instead, I made my way to the guesthouse where I was met by Tom Clarke, a cello player and part of Lightspeed. Inside, Dev sat behind a Powerbook near a kitchen table overflowing with sugary Halloween candies. Tiny empty boxes of Nerds littered the table. From upstairs came Ian Aeillo, an engineer who works with Mogis and is working on the Lightspeed project.

“They want to go to Target,” Ian said. “I’m sorry about all this.” There’s nothing like Target in London — at least not in the part of London where Dev and Tom are from — and the duo had become obsessed with it, having walked to Crossroads a number of times since arriving a week earlier to begin recording. So we all piled into my dirty Sidekick and headed to the mall.

So far, the English duo’s Omaha experience had been like Bowie’s in The Man Who Fell to Earth, aliens discovering mysteries in the most mundane things that we take for granted. Tom and Dev’s other memorable shopping experience: USA Baby, which they had mistakenly pronounced USA, Baby! and hence, expected a mod fashion boutique instead of a store filled with baby goods. “We have nothing like that in London,” Tom said. Nor do they have stores dedicated to cowboy gear, like Wolf Brothers next door — a store they were too intimidated to enter. “But we’re going back,” Tom said. “I want hats and spurs.”

“I could happily stay here for awhile,” Dev said, sipping his tea. “I’m quite content. I don’t need much.”

Omaha couldn’t be more different than the poverty-laden area where Dev lives, an East London borough called Hackney. “It’s one of the worst places in the UK,” he said. In fact, a few days before leaving for Omaha Dev was jumped by a gang brandishing guns and knives. He recounts the story nonchalantly. “The guy said, ‘You want your life to end right now?’ and I said, ‘I don’t fucking care.’ My friends had to pull me away, and pull me into my place so I didn’t get shot in the face.”

“We live there because our friends live there,” said Tom, who lives a few blocks from Dev in the nearby borough Towers Hamlets. “London isn’t like here. It’s so big. Here, it’s so small. Literally everyone is in this small place. It’s surprising, this Saddle Creek thing. There are a lot of bands in East London, but it’s not a connected scene, just a lot of people in bands. Here, it’s all local and integrated, it’s so awesome.”

Becoming part of that scene was the last thing on Dev’s mind when he made the demo that ended up with Mogis, who agreed to produce their debut album. “I was quite shocked,” Dev said. “He’s done some pretty awesome stuff, like Cursive’s The Ugly Organ.”

So far, Clark Baechle, Nate Wolcott and Mogis all have contributed to the Lightspeed recording. “The Tilly girls might do some percussion,” Dev said. “The music scene here is a bunch of friends. That doesn’t happen anywhere else. Ian and Mike don’t think twice about it. The other day they were talking about asking Tim to come over to watch football. I turned to Tom and said, ‘Is he talking about Cursive?’ It’s the way everyone wants their music scene to be.”

For the next hour over peppermint tea at Target, Dev and Tom talked about the recording and explained what happened to Test Icicles.

“We’d been saying we would split up for ages,” Dev said of his former band. “We didn’t like the music, we didn’t want the money, we didn’t want to be famous, why were we doing it? So we just split up. Everyone was saying, ‘Man, you could have played Brixton Academy.’ Well, wouldn’t you rather make music you like? People around London didn’t understand. Now they do.”

Dev said Lightspeed Champion gives him a chance to do what he wants. “The music shifts between country, folk and grunge, with a running story line,” he said. “And we’re doing this comic book with it. It’s all completely selfish. Being here now, recording it, it blows my mind.

“It’s going to be the best album in the world,” he added, half-joking. “Sometimes I’m recording and I hear a whisper in the distance, and that whisper is saying ‘Grammy, Grammy, Grammy…‘ I’m aiming for the shelves of Target, the ones with the picture above it.”

Certainly the indie scene could use a savior to lift it from its current doldrums. Dev and Tom seemed skeptical that a savior is coming from London or anywhere else any time soon.

“Nothing’s happened on a world-scale since The Strokes, and before that, Nirvana,” Dev said. What about Arcade Fire? Dev and Tom both lit up with the mention of the Canadian band, having loved Funeral, but said a lot is riding on the band’s follow-up, the forthcoming Neon Bible. “I like to think that no one cares about this sort of thing, but if Neon Bible doesn’t sell as much as Funeral, it’s instantly going to be deemed a failure. You see it all the time. People are now talking about the downfall of The Arctic Monkeys. How can that band fall from grace without even having released a second album or touring?

“Shit like that is why (Test Icicles) broke up,” Dev said. “Things got to a really weird point. I’m sure there are a million bands doing what Test Icicles was doing. It wasn’t groundbreaking.”

Still, songs like the brazen “Circle. Square. Triangle.” were pure dance-floor candy. “I was listening to Dance Macabre at the time that came out,” Dev said. “We were listening to Ex Models a lot, and the first Rapture stuff. When we wrote it, we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if this gets played and the club reopened? — The song is an ode to the club we played in, kind of like a joke.”

Did Dev outgrow his former band’s clubby sound? “We didn’t grow out of it, we weren’t into it as much,” Dev said. “You kind of change between 17 and 20. At the time, we all were making new bands every week out of complete enjoyment. We’d play a gig and break up. We did it repeatedly, constantly.”

Dev said that after the Lightspeed Champion sessions end — probably in the next few weeks — he’s going to disappear. “Mike will mix the record. I guess it’ll come out in the fall — it’s not up to me. After this is done I’m just going to lock myself away for awhile. I’m going to stay inside and chill until it’s time to tour.”

Before heading to Chili’s to pick up a “to go” order, the four of us strolled through the half-dark, dying mall to Ala-Ka-Zam, a store that features giant, 60-pound Final Fantasy “Buster Swords” (a best-seller, according to the store’s proprietor who was happy just to have someone to talk to), along with a collection of bizarre decorative weaponry inspired by comic books and role-playing games — the kind of stuff you see sold on cable shopping channels at 3 a.m. by guys who sound like trailer-park hillbillies.

Of course Dev and Tom had never seen anything like Ala-Ka-Zam, and took the opportunity to snap pictures holding the gigantic cheaply made metal swords. In a few weeks, they’ll be back in London, thousands of miles away from Omaha and Target and our dying mall. Ah, but they’ll always have the memories. — Lazy-i Jan. 24, 2007

BTW, the name of the Mogis-produced album Lightspeed Champion released a year later on Domino Records was Falling off the Lavender Bridge. It reached the No. 45 spot on the UK album charts. Pitchfork gave it a 6.3 rating and it pretty much has been forgotten in the annuls of time…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Mogis-produced Trashcan Sinatras hits shelves May 13; SXSW2016 coverage; Worried Mothers tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 12:42 pm March 16, 2016

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Two curious things about a press release that crossed my electronic desk yesterday…

First, when was the last time anyone thought of the Trashcan Sinatras? I bought a copy of their 1990 debut, Cake, solely on the strength of the band’s name. It turned out to be not a half-bad investment, though it’s not a disc that stands out in my mind. I would try to dig out my copy but Spotify has it, in all its jangly glory.

Now comes word of a new Sinatras’ album, Wild Pendulum, slated for release May 13 on Red River Records, which brings me to the second stand-out point from the one-sheet issued by PR firm Grand Stand. Our very own Mike Mogis is the primary sell point in the headline. I guess Chloe Walsh (formerly of Press Here PR) figures if you don’t remember the Sinatras you’ll at least be familiar with “Bright Eyes’ member/producer extraordinaire” Mogis. For a while now, Mogis has risen to the ranks as one of those producers whose name can sell a record, like an Albini or Phil Ek.

Anyway, check out a couple Mogis-produced Trashcan Sinatra tracks below:

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Some SXSW2016 coverage.

— Kevin Coffey of the Omaha World-Herald wrote about Har Mar Superstar meltdown at Maggie Mae’s last night. Wonder what really happened…

— Paul Trap of The Reader writes about Beach Slang and O’Leaver’s, here.

— Hear Nebraska will be live tweeting throughout the day from the Nebraska Exposed showcase. Here’s their first snapshot:

From the Hear Nebraska twitter account @hearnebraska Follow them for more.

From the Hear Nebraska twitter account @hearnebraska Follow them for more.

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Tonight at Milk Run, rock giants Worried Mother opens for Silversphere. Also on the bill are Chalant and Blind Girth. $5, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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 © 2016 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Saintseneca (new record produced by Mike Mogis) tonight at Reverb…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 12:55 pm October 21, 2015
Saintseneca plays tonight at Reverb Lounge.

Saintseneca plays tonight at Reverb Lounge.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Been listening to the new Saintseneca album, Such Things, for the last day or so. The album came out a couple weeks ago on Anti- and combines a lot of modern folk-rock styles that you’ll be familiar with, from Decemberists to Okkerville River. AllMusic even compared one track, “Bad Ideas,” to The Cure and Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). That’s a stretch.

If the band emulates anyone it’s probably Neutral Milk Hotel, whose comparison is hard to ignore on the opening track and other moments like the jumping “Rare Form.” Front-dude Zac Little has that Jeff Mangum whine going on, and the arrangements at times have a similar acoustic jangle crunch.

The record has lush, multi-layered production brought to you by our own Mike Mogis, who worked on the band’s last album as well. The band plays tonight at Reverb Lounge with The Sidekicks and Yowler. $10, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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.

Lazy-i

Mogis/Walcott soundtrack; Desa to play TWR; Alessi’s Ark vid; Simon Joyner’s latest; I’m Wide Awake goes gold…

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Here’s some news bits found whilst going through my email box this morning:

For what may be the closest thing you’re going to get to a new Bright Eyes album in the foreseeable future, Varèse Sarabande Records will release the Stuck in Love – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack digitally May 28 and on CD and vinyl June 11, 2013.

Written and directed by Josh Boone, the film features an original score by Mike Mogis and Nathaniel Walcott (of Bright Eyes), and new songs “At Your Door” (by Mike Mogis and Nathaniel Walcott featuring Big Harp), “You Are Your Mother’s Child” (by Conor Oberst) and “Somersaults In Spring” (by Friends of Gemini: Corina Figueroa Escamilla, Nathaniel Walcott and Mike Mogis). The film, which IMDB lists as 2012 release but is slated for theaters June 13, 2013, stars Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, and Kristen Bell.

* * *

Speaking of Oberst projects, Desaparecidos announced this morning that they will playing at The Waiting Room Oct. 22. Tix go on sale this Friday at 10 a.m. for $25. The gig is part of a 12-date tour that starts Oct. 20 in Englewood, CO, and closes out Nov. 4 at The Fonda Theater in LA.

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You remember Alessi Laurent-Marke, don’t you? The super talented, super-cute Brit who once called Omaha home has a band that goes by the name Alessi’s Ark, and the video for that band’s first single, “Tin Smithing,” from their new album, The Still Life (Bella Union) just went online (embedded below). Alessi’s headed to these shores on tour, but so far, no Omaha date. We miss you Alessi!

* * *

Omaha’s songwriter laureate Simon Joyner announced yesterday that he’s teaming up with Dennis Callaci of the band Refrigerator (and of the label Shrimper) for a new 11-track LP titled New Secrets. Backing the duo are members of Simon’s band The Ghosts as well as guest spots by Franklin Bruno (Human Hearts, Nothing Painted Blue) & Kevin Morby (Woods / The Babies). The new record hits the bins June 11 on Shrimper. Check out track “The Frayed End of the Rope,” below:

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And finally, eight years after its release, Saddle Creek Records announced today that I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning has been certified gold (500,000 units sold) by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Measuring the value of art based on sales figures is a ridiculous idea; and clearly there is no direct correlation between album sales and quality,” said label chief Robb Nansel in this online message. “But every once in a while we get reminded of why we do what we do; that our efforts aren’t completely futile; and that music, as cliché as it may sound, can change the world. This feels like that type of moment.”

Congrats to Robb, Jason, Conor and everyone who took part in the making of that record. Soak in the achievement, because gold records for indie labels were extremely rare to begin with, and the way the industry has gone over the past decade, are destined to be a thing of the past.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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.

Lazy-i

Lazy-i Interview: Pete Yorn on Mogis, Frank Black, Omaha and cornfields; Bright Eyes’ strong first day…

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:48 pm February 16, 2011

Pete Yorn

Pete Yorn

Pete Yorn: Let’s Get Lost

Indie rock’s golden child returns to the Heartland.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

It’s late in the day; the sun barely blinks over the horizon. The familiar bleached light bounces off the pavement and through the dirty windshied while white stripes flicker below like a busy signal on the highway. The man behind the wheel is lost.

That man is Pete Yorn, his trademark Prince Valiant mane tossing in the wind blowing through an open window. He wears the same T-shirt and jeans he wore earlier that day in ARC Studios, where he stood behind a microphone, “cans” on head, singing, while producer Mike Mogis listened and twisted the dials atop the massive control board, glancing up occasionally to watch Yorn through the window.

It was 2008 when Yorn found himself in Nebraska only a few weeks after finishing recording sessions with producer and living legend Frank Black of Pixies fame for Yorn’s self-titled rock record, which has become known by some as “the Black album.” Between those Frank Black sessions and the release of the “Black album” in September 2010, Yorn released the Mogis-produced Back and Fourth (in June 2009), along with a collection of duets with Scarlett Johansson called Break Up, recorded two years earlier but released in September 2009.

It is only now that Yorn has had a chance to really perform the songs on the “Black album.”

“Ever since I recorded those songs I’ve been excited about the opportunity to play them live,” he said from his home in Santa Monica, California. “I haven’t been out touring in a bus in a year. I’m ready to play some good rock shows again.”

Pete Yorn, self titled (Vagrant 2010)

Pete Yorn, self titled (Vagrant 2010)

Yorn recalled the contrast between Frank Black’s recording style and working with Mike Mogis. “They’re both guys who I really respect a lot and enjoy working with,” he said. “Mike is more detailed, more layering and I knew that going in. I also knew with Frank that I’d only have five days (in the studio) to capture something fast and not be too fussy about it. It was the antithesis of what we did in Omaha. That said, it’s all rock and roll, and both have different energies.”

The final products also couldn’t be more different. Yorn’s eponymous album, which will be the center point of Saturday night’s concert at the Whiskey Roadhouse, is barebones and abrasive, a rough ride that, on songs like “Velcro Shoes” and “Badman,” sideswipes garage rock without losing any of Yorn’s songwriting depth. Black’s influence saturates every track, from the chugging guitars to Yorn’s gravelly vocals.

In comparison, Back and Fourth is downright ornate; a soulful, personal album with the subtle touches that Yorn — and Mogis — are known for. Instead of five days, Yorn spent two and a half months in Omaha working on Back and Fourth. Over that time, he became immersed in the Omaha scene, hanging out at a wine bar in Dundee, eating at a Middle Eastern restaurant downtown, becoming involved in the spiritual center of Omaha, and going to rock shows. Maybe you were at one of the clubs on a night when someone leaned over, pointed and whispered: “Pssst… Look. Pete Yorn’s here tonight.”

“I never go out when I’m home; it’s very rare that I go to bars,” Yorn said. “But when I was there, I wanted to take it all in. I went to a number of shows at Slowdown. I remember going to see The Notwist after a group of kids told me about the show. I’d never even heard of them. That night I ran into the guys in Cursive and a bunch of other people I’d met. I started to realize that there was a cool group of really creative people that made up the scene, a tightly knit scene, and from an outsider’s perspective, it was refreshing to see.”

But just as memorable about his months in Nebraska were the times Yorn spent exploring the highways alone. “After we laid down tracks, there was a lot of down time,” Yorn said. “I like to go on drives. I had a car and drove around for hours, exploring the area.

“One time I was driving in the middle of the day and heading south. I was on my cell phone talking to someone in New York and became distracted. I looked around and thought ‘Where the hell am I?’ I was surrounded by cornfields. I love getting lost in cornfields.”

Yorn said for Saturday night’s show, expect to hear not only songs off the “Black album,” but from his full catalogue, including his landmark first album, musicforthemorning after. “When I go see a band and they play 20 songs I’ve never heard before, I think, ‘What the fuck is this?’ I’m not interested in doing that. It’ll be a balanced show. I’m excited to see what the catalyst in every room will be. There are always different people yelling different shit. I love it when people yell at me.”

Pete Yorn plays with Ben Kweller & The Wellspring, Saturday, Feb. 19, at Whiskey Roadhouse at The Horseshoe Casino, 2701 23rd Avenue, Council Bluffs. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. For more information, visit horseshoecouncilbluffs.com.

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Some extra copy that didn’t make it into the Pete Yorn feature:

Just the night before our interview, Yorn stood alone on stage at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan playing a solo acoustic version of “Rockin’ in the Free World” at a Neil Young tribute concert that also featured, among others, J Mascis, Glen Hansard, Jakob Dylan, Shawn Colvin and Patti Smith.

“Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield did ‘Cinnamon Girl,'” Yorn said. “Both played Gibson SG electric guitars, it was really cool.”

What made Yorn’s performance particularly special was the song choice. “(Rockin’ in the Free World) was the first song I ever really sang in front of a band,” he said, adding that prior to that he sat behind a drum kit. “They coaxed me out front to sing. I was 15 years old in a talent show in New Jersey where I grew up. So it was coming full circle.”

Yorn also talked about what he’s been doing since finishing his last record: “I’ve been working on something loose over at a buddy’s house, a covers record,” he said. “It’s a palette cleanser for me to explore other songs and reinterpret them. We got 10 songs worked out. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, but it’s fun.”

And he talked about his flight from Omaha after the Mogis sessions ended. “I drove cross country back home on  Halloween,” Yorn said. “I listened to The Shining book all the way through Colorado. I was driving through the mountains listening to The Shining.” It doesn’t get much spookier than that.

* * *

Everything points to strong opening-week numbers for Bright Eyes’ The People’s Key. Mike Fratt, who runs Homer’s Music, said his stores sold a total of 76 copies of the recording yesterday — 45 CDs and 31 LPs. Fratt also said the The People’s Key was the No. 1 seller at indie retailers yesterday. A glance at the iTunes Store shows The People’s Key charting at No. 7 on its albums list. And yesterday Amazon began offering an mp3 download of the album for just $3.99 — a price point that helped catapult Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts for its first week of sales.

Hurting Bright Eyes’ quest for the top Billboard spot, however, are strong sales by artists who performed on Sunday night’s Grammy broadcast. “The grammy spike is REAL big this year,” Fratt said. In fact five of the six spots above The People’s Key on the iTunes top-sellers list are all Grammy performers (Mumford and Sons currently sits at the top).

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Tomorrow: Tennis

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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 © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Lazy-i Interview: The Mogis Brothers — Past, Present and Future…

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — @ 1:36 pm December 2, 2010
Mike and AJ Mogis

Mike and AJ Mogis. Photo by Bryce Bridges

The Mogis Brothers: Past, Present and Future

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

How important is the work of Mike and AJ Mogis? The brothers have been involved with every significant indie music recording produced out of Nebraska for the past 20 years. It’s that simple.

Along with Saddle Creek Records (which they were involved in creating), their studio work is a common denominator that runs through the entire story of Nebraska’s rise as an internationally known hub for indie music in the early 2000s. Glance at the liner notes for recordings released by Saddle Creek’s crown jewel triumvirate — Bright Eyes, Cursive and The Faint — and you’ll find one or both of the Mogis brothers’ names. From WhoopAss to Dead Space to Presto to ARC, their studios have been at the center of a conversation that goes beyond Saddle Creek to out-of-state national bands that are now their bread and butter.

During a 90-minute interview in the control room of ARC’s Studio A, the Brothers Mogis talked about the past, present and future, in a world where technology is making recording studios obsolete.

Their story begins in North Platte, Nebraska, where at the age of 2 (Mike) and 4 (AJ) the brothers moved after their father purchased a Chevy dealership there.  It was in the basement of their family home that they first began tinkering with recording equipment as an offshoot of being in bands in high school.

“Mike and I had this band called Inside I,” AJ recalled.

“It was kind of a Rastafarian thing,” Mike added.

“Which the band didn’t sound anything like,” AJ interjected. “It was a Bad Brains thing, but we recorded at Studio Q in Lincoln, and seeing that process opened our eyes that it was something we could do. In addition to that, we got American Musical Supply catalogs in the mail that sold home recording kits. We were like, ‘Hey, we could do this. This could be really fun,’ and we just pulled our money and bought an 8-track set-up and started recording ourselves.”

The earliest recording in the All Music Guide that lists the Mogis brothers is Fun Chicken, released on Dan Schlissel’s Ismist label in 1994. It’s not something either recommends you seek out.

“(Fun Chicken) was like a high school Mr. Bungle sort of joke band,” Mike said.  “It was recorded in ’92 or ’93. Prior to that we had been recording stuff on cassette decks using a RadioShack mixer. Then I got a four-track by working at the car dealership when I was 15 or 16. Then we bought the 8-track reel-to-reel that the epic Fun Chicken was dialed in on.”

Opium Taylor "Sun Foil" b/w "Livin'" (Caulfield, 1994)

That 8-track recorder, which the brothers still have and use, became the centerpiece of WhoopAss, their first recording studio, located in the basement of their parents’ North Platte home. In addition to that Fun Chicken debut, the Mogis Brothers recorded the first single by Opium Taylor at WhoopAss — a band that included Mike Mogis, Matt Focht, Pat Noecker and Chris Heine. “Recordings done to eight tracks January 1994 in North Platte, NE. Engineered by AJ Mogis. Mixed by Opium Taylor and AJ Mogis at WhoopAss,” says the liner notes for “Sun Foil” b/w “Living,” released on Lincoln’s Caulfield Records.

“Oli Blaha of Polecat named the studio,” Mike said. “We brought the band out to record, and he said, ‘You sure opened up a can of WhoopAss,’ or something like that. When they needed to put a credit on their cassette tape, someone called the studio ‘WhoopAss.’ The name stuck.” Polecat, which is reuniting for a show at Slowdown Dec. 23, also included Boz Hicks and singer-guitarist Ted Stevens. Another North Platte recording was Superglue, a band that included Ben Armstrong and Mike Elsener, who would go on to form Head of Femur, and Ben McMann.

Raw and reckless, each of those early recordings was a learning experience for the brothers. “We never learned how to record aside from just doing it,” Mike said. “We never went to (recording) school.”

But it was a school that drew them from North Platte to Lincoln, where they attended University of Nebraska-Lincoln and met most of the characters that would become part of Saddle Creek Records, including label chief Robb Nansel, Ted Stevens and Tim Kasher. Lincoln also was where the brothers’ next band, Lullaby for the Working Class, formed.

“Lullaby was a project that we did just for fun,” Mike said. “Ted (Stevens) played me some songs and said, ‘I want to do something different, acoustic.'”

“Everyone was very much ‘punk rock’ back then,” AJ said.

“Emo as well,” said Mike. “The idea was, ‘This would be a fun little experiment, making acoustic indie rock.’ We recorded four songs in ’94, right after Ted moved out of the dorms into his apartment. (The tracks) didn’t see the light of day for a couple of years. We didn’t make it a real band until a few folks had heard it and gave us some encouragement.”

By then, WhoopAss had moved to a different basement, in Lincoln. And while the brothers had gained regional attention recording bands like Giant’s Chair, Boy’s Life, Christie Front Drive, Sideshow and The Get Up Kids, Lullaby for the Working Class was the first band that garnered international attention with the 1996 release of Blanket Warm on Bar/None Records.

Lullaby for the Working Class, Blanket Warm

Lullaby for the Working Class, Blanket Warm (Bar/None, 1996)

“I don’t think about that time much anymore,” Mike said. “It was very formative, though. It instilled a good work ethic. Before the Internet, if you wanted to get a gig, you had to call and send a fucking tape. You didn’t e-mail; there were no cell phones. I was sending out Lullaby cassettes to get a gig in Iowa City. You really had to work at shit. I sound like an old-timer. I guess I am, I’m 36. This plays into the ever-changing landscape of music, especially independent music, which is everything now.”

By 1998, WhoopAss Studio had changed its name to Dead Space. “It was the transition to a ‘real studio,'” AJ said. “It was where we had a real console and Pro Tools, but everything was still in the basement. That didn’t last very long, because we moved to the 19th and ‘O’ location and renamed it Presto.”

It was the summer of 2000. “We had bought a 2-inch machine that we couldn’t get into our house,” Mike said. “So we ended up storing it in Omaha at Studio B, and did some recordings up there and went band and forth. It was such a pain in the ass. I remember going on a Bright Eyes tour and coming back and seeing a For Rent sign in a window in town that I knew used to be a studio that was being built by a guy with the lofty goal of making it the best in the Midwest.”

But because of personal and financial issues, that guy never finished the studio, and had to give up the building. “We moved in there amicably and bought some gear from him and said we’d finish it for him,” Mike said.

And that’s exactly what they did. Located on the very edge of downtown Lincoln, Presto was just a stone’s throw from the Foxy Lady strip joint on “O” St., a non-descript white building that went unmarked except for an ornate “Open” sign and the address in the front-door window. It was where I first met the Mogis Brothers in 2001 while they were recording Austin band The Gloria Record.

“It was probably our most creative time,” Mike said.

“There were a lot of things to learn,” AJ added.

“I still feel like I learn something and get slightly better at what I do, that hasn’t stopped,” Mike added, “but back then, it was more exponential growth. It was exciting.”

“I also remember being really busy because we were the only studio in Lincoln at the time,” AJ said. “Studio Q had closed, and the whole basement studio thing hadn’t taken off the way it is now.”

The Faint, Blank-Wave Arcade

The Faint, Blank-Wave Arcade (Saddle Creek Records, 1999)

From the late ’90s through early 2000s, the Mogis Brothers produced some of the most important recordings in the Saddle Creek catalog. AJ recorded The Faint’s Blank-Wave Arcade in ’99 while Mike is credited for 2001’s Danse Macabre. Both Mike and AJ worked on Cursive’s breakthrough album, 1999’s Domestica. How well the two worked together depends on who you talk to, although neither can remember arguing in the studio… at least not very much.

“Me, personally, I would not argue, but I’d say what I was thinking,” Mike said. “We would work together on Lullaby records and earlier records like Commander Venus, where AJ was the engineer, and I was just helping and learning. In our professional adult lives, I don’t view us as being argumentative. The only times I can recall is Lullaby, where I could sometimes be, not stubborn, but assertive.”

AJ said he didn’t remember any conflicts between the two of them. “There were times when you would get mad at the band, The Faint or something, and I would come in and smooth the waters,” Mike said. “I had the ambassador role. Domestica was one of the first ones I tried to do by myself. The Bright Eyes stuff I did myself as well. Bright Eyes was my learning curve tool, fromLetting Off the Happiness, that’s how I learned how to record.”

Mike would go on to record all of the Bright Eyes albums, eventually becoming a permanent member of the band with 2007’sCassadaga. Through the years, there has been speculation as to Mike’s role in creating those early records. While there’s no question that Oberst wrote all the songs, just how much influence did Mogis have on the final product? Was he The Great Oz pulling the strings behind the curtain, especially considering that Oberst’s musicianship was questionable back then?

“He jokes about having the best right hand in the business — all he can do is strum a guitar,” Mike said. “But back then he couldn’t even really do that. He was really shaky. Now he’s a very solid musician and plays a lot of keyboards and is really good at it. Back then he gave me a lot of leeway.”

AJ remembers finding musicians to fill in the blanks. “There was always people saying, ‘Hey, we need a clarinet on this thing,’ and we’d find someone who knew how to play clarinet.”

“Those Bright Eyes recordings and Lullaby as well are the reason why I learned a lot of instruments,” Mike said. “I thought ‘I’d like to hear banjo here,’ and I’d go find one. Same with mandolin and pedal steel guitar, which I still never learned, but know how to play. Same with recording — there’s intuition to almost everything aside from physics. Music is very intuitive, every step of the process, if you have the ability.”

Early in the Presto years AJ’s role at the studio changed. “I bowed out at the point where I needed to focus on my electrical engineering degree,” he said.

Superglue, "Circles" "Ball" b/w "Violet Secorah" "<3<3<3"

Superglue, "Circles" "Ball" b/w "Violet Secorah" "<3<3<3" (Novelty Yellow)

“So basically I took over managing the day-to-day recoding opportunities,” Mike said. “After that I did three or four Cursive records in a row, and he did the newest one, so it still switches up. It’s not like there’s one exclusive person, it’s just during the period where everybody was getting attention, I was doing all the recording.”

The rise of Saddle Creek’s status came as a surprise to some, but not the Mogis brothers.

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” Mike said. “I liked that music, and at that time it was some of the best stuff people were putting out. The Faint were cutting edge. Cursive had a great blend of good songwriting and storytelling, powerful rock grooves. With Bright Eyes, the songs that Conor was writing rivaled music anyone was making at that point in time. All of that was happening in Nebraska — three totally different sounds in the same group of friends and scene — the power rock of Cursive, the dance rock of The Faint and the, whatever, sorry emo folk, poor whiney kid… I’m just kidding, but with Bright Eyes, those three sounds getting national attention, I wasn’t surprised, and I wasn’t being biased.”

It was during the height of the Saddle Creek hype that Mike Mogis considered moving to Los Angeles. “I had an offer,” he said. “A guy was willing to relocate me out there and set up a studio, but it didn’t pan out because it cost so much money.”

Instead, in 2006 Mike built ARC Studio — which stands for Another Recording Company. The complex, located on the edge of Fairarcres, includes Mogis’ family residence, a house for visiting bands and the studio facility. It was Mike’s wife, Jessica, who found the compound online. “She forwarded me the listing and thought it would be perfect,” Mike said. “It was listed for $1.2 million, well beyond what it was worth. I gave them what I considered to be a complete lowball offer and they took it, and then lowered it a little bit more after the home inspection, and they took that, too. They just wanted the fuck out.”

To pay for it, Mike got a loan from Saddle Creek Records (which he’s already paid back), and through a bank. “There’s no reason I should have gotten the loan I got for this place,” he said. “I haven’t paid it off obviously, but I make my mortgage payment and I plan on doing it until I pay it off. I don’t have that much money because pretty much everything I make goes to the mortgage.”

It was money well spent. Go to anotherrecordingcompany.com — the studio’s website — for the full equipment rundown of both Studio A and Studio B, which is essentially a replica of Studio A but smaller and without Control Room A’s crown jewel — a Neve 8048 console that was custom built by Rupert Neve for George Martin — yes, that George Martin.

Bright Eyes, Lifted, or the Story's in the Soil... (Saddle Creek)

Bright Eyes, Lifted, or the Story's in the Soil... (Saddle Creek, 2002)

Mike said he put a “feeler out” for a Neve board with 1081 modules “because they’re the best Neve EQs ever made, which would rival the best EQs ever made,” he said. “The company I bought most of our gear from had bought a guy’s personal studio in Santa Barbara, including one of 13 boards commissioned by George Martin. There’s nothing special about it, but it was made for him for Air Studios in Lyndhurst. I have two pictures of him at the board. The layout is the same, but it’s been refurbished. There are only a few in the world like it with its center section. There’s one at Capitol Studios, and that’s one of the elite studios in the world. This facility has the goods to compete with anybody.”

The business comes mostly through word of mouth and on the strength of Mike’s reputation as a producer. “I don’t really advertise,” Mike said. “I don’t even list it as a commercial studio. It’s in my back yard. I have a family. I don’t want people just rolling up to my house with ‘I heard there’s a studio here.’

“It’s not even really profitable,” he added. “I’m not running a recording studio to make money. I’m trying to keep it maintained, really. I like to break even, and that’s what we do. The insurance, the property tax, all of that shit is expensive. I have a studio because I play in a band. That’s essentially why we started recording music, and my main interest is trying to keep making myself interested in music.”

Still, Mike said the key to keeping the studio afloat is having two recording rooms. Mike primarily uses Studio A, while AJ, who no longer is a part owner in the studio after Mike bought out his share of the business, books Studio B as a freelance producer, though anyone can book either room if it’s available. “We’ve lowered the rates to make it more affordable for bands,” Mike said. “It’s been fairly slow, but a few projects a month that come in pays the bills.”

The guest house for visiting bands is an obvious attraction. “I like local music, but getting out-of-town bands is really the key to our success,” Mike said, “not recording local bands.”

Bands like Jenny and Johnny, who recorded their debut album at ARC this past February. Despite being on Warner Bros., Jenny Lewis paid for the sessions herself. In the case of Philadelphia band Man Man, who recently wrapped up recording at ARC, the band’s label, Anti Records, paid for the sessions. While AJ’s current project in Studio B, Des Moines band Envy Corp, is paying its own way.

“Now more than ever, bands are not looking for major labels to support art, they want to do it themselves so they can have a more autonomous role over their careers,” Mike said.

“At the end of the day, bands who pay as they go own the recordings,” AJ added, “With most major-label deals, you don’t own the record.”

“Bands just want to find some place to get their music recorded cheap, and then they can license it to a label,” Mike said.

That’s part of what’s driving the move to home studios. Suddenly anyone with a laptop and a few hundred dollars in software can make a respectable recording if they know what they’re doing. Ironically, it was the initial shift to digital recording technology that allowed the Mogis Brothers to get started.

Cursive's Domestica (Saddle Creek, 2000)

Cursive's Domestica (Saddle Creek, 2000)

“I wouldn’t be sitting here in my own recording studio if wasn’t for the technology,” Mike said. “The ’80s were the glory days of recording studios. To open a studio in ’80s you needed $200,000 to buy the DASH Digital Recorder and the board and all that stuff. But in the ’90s ADATs and D88s were undermining the big recording studios, and that’s how we got into it, and that’s exactly how these kids are doing it now. We had to invest ten grand into some recorders and a Mackie Board. You still had to buy the compressors, the board, the recorder, now all of those devices are in your laptop. And I don’t see it as bad thing.”

“It’s been going on for a while, the democratization of the technology and the ability to make records,” AJ said.

“To some degree, it’s made records a little sub par, even starting in the ’90s,” Mike added. “If you go back to the stuff in the ’60s and ’70s, the musicianship and the tones, you can’t beat that stuff. Technology’s been a blessing and curse.”

But just how good are home recordings? “I remember reading a thread on a discussion board about what was needed for a good home studio,” AJ said. “One guy said, ‘I was just working with Marc Riboud with an SM57(microphone) and an MBox (Pro Tools personal studio), and it was amazing.”

“If you have talent, you can fucking open up your iPhone and make a good recording,” Mike said. “It depends on who’s doing it. You can make a great recording at home.”

But doesn’t that threaten studios like ARC? Not at all, they said. “There is a certain set of skills that an engineer or producer brings to the table,” Mike said. “There’s no ‘Mike Mogis plug-in’ that can get that pedal-steel sound or drum sound or guitar sound. As long as I can maintain a level of quality with the work that I do and push myself to make as good a record as I can, I feel like it’s going to be OK.”

A bigger threat to traditional studios, AJ said, is the breakdown of the economy of the music business in general. “There aren’t budgets the way there used to be,” he said. “There’s just less revenue for recording, whether it’s due to the record labels not selling as many albums or the fact that they’re tied to these major corporations that are losing money in other ways.”

The iPod generation doesn’t appreciate the quality difference between a home recording and a studio recording anyway, Mike said. He pointed to the new Maroon Five album, recorded in a studio, and the most recent Vampire Weekend album that was recorded in a home studio. Both are equally as popular.

“Fundamentally, I think people just want good songs and want to be moved by something, and you can do that outside of a studio,” Mike said, adding that Simon Joyner’s early low-fi albums “are still in my memory as classic records.”

“If the song is awesome and the performance is awesome, the recording quality doesn’t matter because people will love it,” AJ added.

“And it’ll be around forever,” Mike said. “That’s what I try to focus on, and I find myself sometimes frustrated because to me it’s not about technology, it’s about trying to get music to mean something and be relevant to me, and hopefully other people.”

That’s certainly what he’s finding with his current project — the next Bright Eyes album that Mike said has sprawled out over several months. “I’m supposed to be finishing one of the last songs today,” he said.

After the Bright Eyes album is released next year, Mike said he’ll be on the road touring with Bright Eyes for year and a half. “We’re going to take breaks, and I hope to do little things during those breaks, but it’s hard to plan,” he said. “When I get back, I hope I still have a job.”

Published in The Omaha Reader Dec. 1, 2010. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Photo by Bryce Bridges, used with permission.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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.

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