Review: The Sun-Less Trio ‘The Willow Tree,’ release show tonight; Saddle Creek’s latest ‘Document’ (featuring Hovvdy)…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 12:37 pm August 29, 2018

The Sun-Less Trio at Reverb Aug. 18, 2017. The band celebrates the release of a new EP tonight at Pageturners Lounge.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Tonight The Sun-Less Trio celebrates the release of a 5-song EP called The Willow Tree at Pageturners Lounge. S-L T is a project helmed by singer/songwriter Mike Saklar, who us old-timers remember for his guitar work in a number of bands including late-’90s post-punk projects Ritual Device and Ravine.

S-LT is geared differently than those metal-tinged efforts, leaning more toward minor-key slow-burners a la Disintegration-era Cure (but with more emphasis on guitars than keyboards). Dim-lit, tonal, emotional and ultimately atmospheric, The Willow Tree turns and sways on a dark edge. Saklar chose to open the collection with “Branches Sway,” the most somber song on the EP, desribed as “A hypnotic monotone rhythm captures the minory chords in a classic manner, only to be destroyed by an unforeseeable middle 8.”

A pity he didn’t come out of the gate with the title track, a rocker centered around a guitar riff and Marc Phillips’ pounding drums (of the dry-echo recording, Saklar does a particularly awesome job with Phillips’ booming stickwork). Drums are right in the middle of “The Station,” a slow-swing dirge that closes out the EP. “Exposure” is another echoing ghost track.

By contrast is the EP’s other highlight, “X-Y-Z,” a self-proclaimed drug song that features Saklar’s best guitar work.

This is one of those recordings that takes multiple plays to absorb. Saklar makes the most of his vocals, using them as a secondary tonal instrument that bends with the chords (lyrics, thankfully, were included in the liner notes I received).

The EP will be available as a 7-inch vinyl. The album’s Bandcamp page includes 14 additional tracks (including different mixes of the EP’s songs). Also on tonight’s bill at Pageturners are Styrofoamy (Jim Schroeder/Colin Duckworth) and Stephen Bartolomei. The free show has an 8:30 start time.

* * *

Saddle Creek Records’s 7-inch “Document Series” continues with a new release by Austin band Hovvdy.

Hovvdy (pronounced “howdy”) is the writing and recording project of a couple drummers, Charlie Martin and Will Taylor. Their debut album, Taster, originally released on Sports Day Records was reissued in 2017 by Double Double Whammy. The follow-up, Cranberry, came out this past February.

“Easy” b/w “Turns Blue” 7-inch drops Oct. 5. Pre-order here.

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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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker gets Saddle Creek solo; new Tomberlin video…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 12:51 pm August 7, 2018

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Saddle Creek Records announced this morning that it’s releasing the solo debut by Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker, titled abysskiss.

Songs can be slippery and following a 2+ years on the road with Big Thief, Lenker felt a growing need to document this particular time in her life in an intimate, immediate way. The result is her new album, abysskiss, out October 5,” sayeth the press release.

The album was co-produced with Luke Temple (Here We Go Magic) and recorded by Gabe Wax (Soccer Mommy, Ought, Palehound). This looks like another big score for Saddle Creek. Pre-order it here.

Speaking of Saddle Creek releases, the next one out of the gate is the Tomberlin’s LP At Weddings, which comes out Friday. Sarah Beth released a new video, “Any Other Way” this morning.

No shows tonight!

* * *

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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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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, Lazy-i.com

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 AllMusic.com 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 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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Saddle Creek at 25 — a look at the label’s past, present and future; Oquoa, Ojai tonight…

Category: Interviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:38 pm June 11, 2018

The Saddle Creek staff circa 2003, from left, Matt Maginn, Jason Kulbel, Jadon Ulrich, Jeff Tafolla and Robb Nansel. Photo by Ryan Fox.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

The June 2018 issue of The Reader — The Music Issue.

The June issue of The Reader — The Music Issue — is out. Or at it’s online. The cover story is a lengthy piece written by me about Saddle Creek Records on its 25th anniversary, and includes comments from label chief Robb Nansel, new A&R rep Amber Carew and recent label signee Stef Chura.

Titled Saddle Creek at 25 with a subtitle “The label that defined indie cool over a decade ago is suddenly cool again,” the story focuses not so much on the label’s early years (which you can read about here and here) as much as how they survived though the changes impacting the music industry, and how they’re positioned for the future.

As detailed in the story, I characterized (and Nansel generally agreed) Saddle Creek’s history in three eras — the time up to and including the label’s biggest successes, the awkward middle years right after their heyday when they began booking non-Omaha-connected acts, and the “New Era” they’re currently enjoying hallmarked by the success of roster acts Hop Along and Big Thief and a handful of other up-and-comers.

Nansel and Co. touch on the label’s history but also talk about adjusting to technology’s negative impacts, how the philosophy behind who they sign hasn’t changed and the future.

You can read the story online right here.

The interview with Nansel took two hours and was around 20,000 words of transcribed copy, so yeah, there’s out-takes, which I’ll likely post in the coming days, along with the full text of the story (for posterity’s sake, and to ensure that if The Reader ever goes belly-up there will be another copy online). Among those out-takes are Nansel’s self-proclaimed biggest success and biggest disappointment. You’ll have to wait to read the answers.

Anyway, give it it read, and pick up a copy of the printed version at your favorite news stand. Also included is The Reader‘s controversial list of Omaha’s Top 20 bands. More on that here in the very near future (including my own list)…

* * *

Pageturner’s summer concert series continues tonight with Oquoa and Ojai. The fun starts at 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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

 

Lazy-i

Azure Ray heads East; Saddle Creek signs Tomberlin…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 12:46 pm June 5, 2018
Azure Ray at The Slowdown, Nov. 3, 2010.

Azure Ray at The Slowdown, Nov. 3, 2010. The duo is headed to China in a couple weeks.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Some news…

If like me you’ve been wondering what Azure Ray has been up to, well, the duo of Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor are headed east, as in the Far East for a tour of China.

The dates for this mini tour, announced on Facebook and elsewhere:

June 17 / Shenzen, A8 Live House
June 19 / Ghungzhou, Mao Live House
June 21 / Shanghai, Modern Sky Lab
June 23 / Beijing, Tango Live House

If you’re in the area, drop by one of the shows! Seriously, I didn’t even know the duo had been playing together. The last release I’m aware of was EP As Above So Below, released on Saddle Creek Records in 2012. Their last live show was a reunion gig at Lodge Room Highland Park this past Jan. 20.

BTW, this is not the first Asian tour for Azure Ray. The duo played China and Taiwan back in 2013.

* * *

Speaking of Saddle Creek Records, the label today announced that it’s signed Tomberlin a.k.a. Sarah Beth Tomberlin. Her debut album, At Weddings, was released as part of Joyful Noise Records’ “White Label Series” last October. Saddle Creek is re-releasing it Aug. 10 with three new songs added (pre-order here).

Born in Jacksonville, Florida, and now based in Louisville, Kentucky, Tomberlin wrote most of At Weddings while living with her family in southern Illinois during her late teens and early twenties,” according to Saddle Creek. “At Weddings is laden with reverence for music itself, for the power it has to heal others and help people navigate their lives.”

It’s turning out to be a big year for Saddle Creek, and I’m sure there are more announcements to come…

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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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Live Review: Stef Chura; 15 Passenger signs Campdogzz…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:35 pm May 31, 2018

Stef Chura at O’Leaver’s, May 30, 2018.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

It was a small but lively crowd for last night’s Stef Chura concert at O’Leaver’s. Chura wisely played third among the four slated performers, possibly to prevent getting Omaha’d. Her act was a trio with bass and drums and Chura handling electric guitar and vocals.

I assume the first couple songs were new ones off the upcoming record produced by Will Toledo as they were heavier than stuff on her debut album and featured “trick endings” or at least they tricked the audience, who weren’t sure if the song was over or… oh, I guess there’s another verse. Super cool and catchy.

She brought it down in the middle of the set for a few songs off Messes, including a stirring version of personal favorite “Human Being,” where she sounded like a nerdy Stevie Nicks. Chura has a sweet croon that easily slips into a high, country-esque warble that could become her trademark if she’s not careful. On the whole, her vocals were under-powered last night and hard to hear except for those quiet moments.

Other highlights included the new singles, which also were produced by Toledo and are  catchy. Who knows how much influence Toledo will have on her sound. I guess we’ll have to wait unto the new album. Regardless, I think she’s going to be another strong addition to the “New Era” stable of Saddle Creek artists forging the label’s future.

* * *

I’m a few days behind in mentioning that the Cursive guys’ new record label, 15 Passenger, just signed its first act – Chicago band Campdogzz.

According to their bio, the band has been kicking around for years, self-releasing their debut, Riders in the Hills of Dying Heaven, back in 2015. The new one, In Rounds, which comes out Aug. 3 on 15 Passenger, was written over a couple years and recorded in 2017 in Chicago. They’ve played around a lot, opening for Saddle Creek acts Big Thief and Sam Evian, among others.

The new record is solid and sounds like something that would fit into Saddle Creek recent catalog. Check out the first single below and pre-order here.

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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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Stef Chura (Saddle Creek Records) headlines tonight at O’Leaver’s…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 12:49 pm May 30, 2018

Stef Chura plays tonight at O’Leaver’s.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

I had a chance last week to talk to Stef Chura about a number of things, but mostly about recently signing to Saddle Creek Records. Chura, who’s played DIY shows in the Detroit area for 10 years, talked about how she was re-introduced to the label by Creek’s new A&R person Amber Carew and why ultimately the signing made sense. “I like what they’re doing now with Big Thief, Hop Along and Land of Talk,” she said. “I relate to them; sonically it’s a good fit.”

There’s more to the interview, but you’ll have to wait until the big Saddle Creek at 25 story comes out in next month’s issue of The Reader (the annual music issue!).

Saddle Creek already has re-released Chura’s debut album, Messes, and will be releasing the follow-up, which was produced by Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest. The first products of her pairing with Toledo were released April 20 in the form of the single “Degrees” b/w “Sour Honey,” which you can check out via Bandcamp below. Something tells me Saddle Creek has another hit on their hands.

Come hear what the hubbub is all about tonight when Chura plays at fabulous O’Leaver’s. It’s a stacked show with Jordan Smith, House Vacations and Joe Knapp of Son, Ambulance opening. $7, 9 p.m.

* * *

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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Music Visions of 2018 (What will happen next year in the Omaha music scene (and beyond)?)…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 12:00 pm January 2, 2018


by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

You’ve seen what happened in 2017, now read what will happen next year in the world of music. This was originally published in The Reader, also in print this week.

* * *

The year 2018 is the Year of the Dog in the Chinese Zodiac, but something tells me the music of 2018 will be anything but doggy! But wait, before we get to the predictions for next year, let’s see how well I did with my 2017 predictions

2017 Prediction: With the inauguration of Donald Trump, most indie artists will write at least one controversial track this year, but don’t look for these protest songs on the pop charts.

Reality: Downtown Boys lit the fuse with their take on “The Wall” between U.S. and Mexico; Fiona Apple went after a certain someone with “Tiny Hands,” and Priests sang about a “Pink White House,” but for the most part, we’re still waiting for the anger to come out. Come on, rock stars.

2017 Prediction: A system will emerge that will give starving musicians some sort of subsidy that will allow them to perform their craft.

Reality: Wishful (and some would say deluded) thinking in the Trump Era.

2017 Prediction: Hear Nebraska will emerge in 2017 bigger and stronger than ever, with programs that are even more artist-focused than in the past.

Reality: Nebraska’s music non-profit merged with Lincoln’s The Bay to form super non-profit Rabble Mill that will be bigger and stronger than its parts.

2017 Prediction: More quasi-independent booking agents will emerge to help finance and organize the booking of touring indie shows at local clubs.

Reality: It’s happening, though you may not notice it, yet. To keep up, check out “Nebraska DIY” on Facebook.

2017 Prediction: Watch as Virtual Reality (VR) integrates into live performances, allowing people to feel like they’re at live rock shows while standing in their underwear in their bedrooms.

Reality: On Oct. 4 Matchbox Twenty broadcasted a concert from Denver billed as the “first fan-controlled virtual reality experience” in 360 VR.

2017 Prediction: This will be the year we see a sort of “singularity” with streaming, when so many people will be listening to streaming services that record labels and artists will finally begin to see real income from having their music hosted online, not unlike how film studios make money from HBO and Netflix.

Reality: Streaming service subscriptions now comprise 62 percent of total music revenue in the U.S., according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Labels are seeing some of the money and so are the big artists, but the little guys are still left with pennies.

2017 Prediction: After reaching a 28-year high, vinyl sales finally will reach its ceiling, either leveling off or falling compared to the last couple years’ numbers.

Reality: Year-end numbers weren’t out at press-time, but as of mid-year 2017 vinyl album sales were up 3 percent, to $182 million in revenue.

2017 Prediction: You’ve heard of mix tapes, mix CDs and, of course, Spotify playlists? This year someone will offer the ability to create your own mix vinyl album.

Reality: Uh, no.

2017 Prediction: Too many legends died in 2016. This year no one leaves this earthly plane.

Reality: Unfortunately, we lost a legend in Tom Petty this past October.

2017 Predictions: Bands we’ll be talking about this time next year: Black Keys, Algiers, LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, Beck, Father John Misty, Monsters of Folk, Jenny Lewis, St. Vincent, Matt Whipkey, Spoon, Courtney Barnett, High Up, Nine Inch Nails, Little Brazil, and friggin’ U2. Bands we won’t be talking about: Kanye, Bright Eyes, Lady Ga Ga, The Rolling Stones, Phil Collins, Metallica, Morrissey, Beyonce and R.E.M.

Reality: Pretty dead on, actually, except for Black Keys and Morrissey.

2017 Prediction: While no local act will make his or her way onto a national television broadcast for a live performance, one local band will hit pay dirt in 2017 with a licensing deal that results in hearing their song in heavy rotation… via a TV commercial.

Reality: If there was one, I didn’t hear it.

Final score: 7 for 11, not bad. Now onto the Year of the Dog…

2018 Prediction: With Milk Run gone another DIY venue will emerge to try to fill the void in booking up-and-coming touring indie artists. The hook: It’s a venue you already know about.

2018 Prediction: Saddle Creek Records has been on a roll the last couple years, signing two new artists last year and hitting it out of the park with Big Thief and Hop Along. With new California offices, expect as many as three or four new bands added to the Creek roster in 2018, including at least one veteran indie band looking for a new home.

2018 Prediction: With its numerous world-class venues and recording studios, Omaha always has attracted national musicians to adopt it as their new home, but this year watch as some rather big names leave NYC and LA behind for the cheap digs and central location only Omaha can provide.

2018 Prediction: Those who freaked out when vinyl returned will be doubly shocked when cassette tapes begin to make a comeback this year. Cassettes provide a low-price alternative to music fans looking for a tangible fix who can’t afford to buy vinyl, and for musicians who can’t afford to press it.

2018 Predictions: Speaking of vinyl, as albums sales begin to flatten this year, watch as prices for new vinyl finally begin to drop. Can the $9.99 album be far behind?

2018 Prediction: Fed up with facing a crowd of people holding up smart phones during concerts, artists will implement new technology that will block smart phone cameras from operating inside venues. Now what are we gonna do between acts?

2018 Prediction: With Hi-Fi House going public last summer and Hear Nebraska merging with Lincoln’s The Bay, look for yet another music-related organization to emerge, this time as a non-profit performance venue.

2018 Prediction: In an effort to avoid suffering a sophomore (or junior) slump, more and more bands will change their names after their first of second release. Same band, different name, all to keep their music in front of the ever-fickle music public always looking for the next big thing.

2018 Prediction: With the opening of the new Capitol District we will see even more live original music somewhere downtown other than at No-Do. When was the last time you went to an indie show in the Old Market?

2018 Prediction: As the Maha Music Festival turns 10 this year, expect a mega-spectacular headliner and possibly the festival’s expansion to a two-day event. The time has come.

2018 Prediction: You thought Prince’s and Bowie’s deaths were earth shakers, someone even bigger will be knocking on heaven’s door this year.

2018 Predictions: Bands we’ll be talking about this time next year: LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, Monsters of Folk, High Up, Little Brazil, David Nance, Low, Stephen Malkmus, Cursive, Car Seat Headrest, Whitney, Navy Gangs, Bib, Hop Along. Bands we won’t be talking about: Eminem, St. Vincent, U2, Kendrick, Lorde, The National, Fleet Foxes, The xx.

2018 Prediction: Director Alexander Payne, who is about to move back to Omaha, will be so bowled over by the area’s music scene that he not only will try to integrate Omaha music into one of his upcoming films, he’ll begin work on a movie based loosely on the Omaha music scene circa 2003. I know where you can find a screenwriter, Mr. Payne…

First published in The Reader, Jan. 1, 2018. © Copyright 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Lazy-i Best of 2017

Hey, don’t forget to enter to win a copy of Lazy-i Best of 2017 Comp CD!

The collection includes my favorite indie tunes I’ve come across throughout last year as part of my tireless work as a music critic for Lazy-i. Among those represented: Sheer Mag, David Nance, LCD Soundsystem, Digital Leather, Beck, CLOSENESS, King Krule, Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile and lots more. The full track listing is here, or take a listen if you have Spotify.

So the big news is you, too, could win a copy of the CD. To enter, either: 1. Send an email with your mailing address to tim.mcmahan@gmail.com, or 2) Write a comment on one of my Lazy-i related posts in Facebook, or 3) Retweet a Lazy-i tweet. You also can enter by sending me a direct message in Facebook or Twitter. Hurry, contest deadline is midnight Jan. 5.

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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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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How Saddle Creek signed Stef Chura (and more); Night Shapes, Box of Stars, The Drums, Methyl Ethel, TOP Nachos tonight…

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , , , , , — @ 1:44 pm November 7, 2017
The Drums at The Waiting Room, May 1, 2012.

The Drums at The Waiting Room, May 1, 2012.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

About that recent signing by Saddle Creek Records…

Saddle Creek executive Robb Nansel said the label’s signing of singer-songwriter Stef Chura was the handiwork of the label’s new A&R rep Amber Carew.

Carew said she discovered Chura via a friend of hers from Houston who sent her Chura’s Bandcamp link.

“At that time, I was working for Anti Records and was considering pursuing her for them,” Carew said. “After a few missed connections between me and Stef over the following year, we finally connected during my transition to Saddle Creek.”

Chura’s debut LP, Messes, already had been on store shelves for some time, and Chura expressed interest in reissuing it. “We really clicked and I trusted her passion and plans for the future,” Carew said. “I felt more confident in her as a fit for Saddle Creek than I did Anti, so I felt compelled to explore that.”

Carew said that beyond Chura’s songwriting and tenacity as a musician, she understands and promotes community-based ethics “much akin to the Saddle Creek spirit — authentic and compassionate. Some artists on the label, like Big Thief, were already fans as well. It just felt right. I thought that Messes was great and deserved another push, so we made it happen.” Saddle Creek will reissue Messes on CD, cassette and LP Feb. 2.

Carew said the follow-up to Messes already has been recorded, produced by one of the hottest new names in the indie world. You’ll just have to wait to find out who that is. Here’s a clue: The producer has performed in Omaha a few times in the past couple years.

Chura and Carew represents one aspect of the continuing expansion of the Saddle Creek empire. Nansel said Saddle Creek also is opening a formal office in Eagle Rock, a section of Los Angeles between Burbank and Pasedena. He and Carew will eventually be joined by a marketing director, which the label currently is seeking, and “we’ll likely be inviting some other music industry friends in to the space to share it with us.”

Now we all have somewhere else to visit the next time we’re in La La Land.

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There’s a good rock show going on tonight at The Brothers Lounge. Oakland’s Night Shapes headlines. They’re described as what would happen if “Yuppies and Nick Cave joined forces.” Opening is Vermont band Box of Stars, New Englander Jake McKelvie and our very own FiFi NoNo. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Also tonight, Brooklyn band The Drums (Anti Records) plays at The Waiting Room with Aussie act Methyl Ethel (4AD). $15, 8 p.m.

That’s not all. There’s an indie punk show tonight at OutrSpaces, 528 So. 24th St. The headliner is TOP Nachos from New Paltz, NY. Also on the bill are NYC’s Dolly Spartans (Noble Media) and Omaha faves Hussies and Magu. $10 donation, 7 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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Saddle Creek Records sells Ink Tank Merch; and the winner is…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 1:49 pm January 10, 2017

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

It was nearly 10 years ago when I reported here in Lazy-i that Ink Tank Merch was open for business. The new  Saddle Creek Records subsidiary, operated by Chris Esterbrooks, screen printed T-shirts and other items for touring bands, including Saddle Creek acts. Esterbrooks came to Ink Tank after working at Impact Merchandising for four years handling their clients’ tour merch. At the time, Esterbrooks also was frontman for punk band Virgasound and was the former guitarist of the legendary Carsinogents.

From that 2007 Lazy-i article:

“Saddle Creek felt they could offer their bands a cheaper product, so why not get into the market?” Esterbrooks said from Ink Tank’s world headquarters, located in the industrial ghetto around 88th and H St. Ink Tank is little more than screen-print presses, a dryer that looks like a giant Quizno’s sandwich oven, and lots of storage. Add some computer equipment and a website (inktankmerch.com) and you’ve got yourself a start-up.

Now it looks like Esterbrooks has moved on, as Ink Tank has been purchased by Kansas City company Seen Merchandising. The following press release, which announces the change, came to my attention last week, but it was only this weekend that I was able to confirm it:

We are excited to announce that Seen Merchandising has purchased Ink Tank Merch. My name is RL Brooks and I am an owner of Seen Merchandising and now Ink Tank Merch.

Seen Merchandising is a full service screen printing shop and e-commerce distribution center located in Kansas City. We have been in business since 2009 and have over 30 years of combined experience among our leadership team. At our Kansas City location, we have a daily capacity of 20k shirts with a staff of 15 team members to support high quality, fast turn arounds with today’s most progressive inks. Working with acts such as August Burns Red, Hum, Shiner, Eric Andre, Electric Lady Studios, We are Scientists, Marian Hill, Dexter and many other amazing artists and businesses. We specialize in tour merchandising, retail-ready clothing lines and online store fulfillment

I have been a fan of Ink Tank Merch for sometime now and have become good friends with Pat Oakes, the current production manager at Ink Tank Merch. Over the years, I have felt adopted by the people and culture of Omaha and consider myself a Nebraska native son, as I was born in Lincoln, Nebraska. Pat and I have enjoyed several rock and roll excursions together as well as our shared love for all things screen printing. This purchase is an exciting opportunity for me and my company as we partner with Pat to bring Ink Tank Merch to even greater heights. This partnership will allow Ink Tank to grow its capacity, improve production, offer new products and services as well as provide a better overall experience. Ink Tank Merch will continue to operate under the same name in Omaha.

Pat Oakes, the production manager of Ink Tank for the past eight years, has become an owner in the business and will continue to run production at Ink Tank as well as take on operations management. Pat is committed to working with the team at Seen Merch to grow and improve Ink Tank Merch to be able to provide exceptional products and outstanding customer service…. Pat will become your primary contact at Ink Tank Merch with the full support of Seen Merch’s ownership and production staff.

LeAnn Jensen, the current art department manager, will stay with the company and continue to provide the exceptional attention to detail in preparing jobs for for production and lead the outstanding design work you have come to expect from Ink Tank.

Chris Esterbrooks is no longer with Ink Tank Merch and no longer represents Ink Tank Merch in any way.

You may have heard rumors that Ink Tank is closing. We want to assure you that this rumor is entirely false. We have the endorsement of former Ink Tank Merch owner Robb Nansel and Saddle Creek Records to continue and grow Ink Tank Merch. We will be staying open in Omaha with a strong commitment to improving and expanding the services Ink Tank offers you. All online stores will remain up and running without any interruption.

I’m told Esterbrooks is gainfully employed by another local merch/promotions company. I’m also told that Saddle Creek bands will continue to have the option to use Ink Tank, or any other merch company they wish to use, just like they’ve always had.

Why Saddle Creek sold Ink Tank remains a mystery. Believe me, I asked. Considering how merch has become more important than ever to bands as a source of income in a time when bands can’t depend (as much as they used to) on revenue from record sales, you’d think a merch company would be a valuable asset, especially to a record label. On the other hand, Saddle Creek may have seen Ink Tank’s sale as a convenient (and profitable) way of getting out of a costly operating expense they no longer needed to carry to satisfy the bands/musicians on their roster…

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And the winner of this year’s drawing for a copy of the Lazy-i Best of 2016 comp CD is… Joe Liebentritt! Congrats Joe. Your CD will be dropped in the mail tomorrow. Thanks to everyone who entered.

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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.

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