Column 16: The Return of Omaha’s Original Strangled Soul

Category: Blog — @ 1:11 pm March 10, 2005

The origin of this week’s column is explained in the lead. Todd Grant, his girlfriend Stephanie and I talked for about two hours at the Dundee Dell Saturday afternoon, discussing topics way beyond his upcoming project with Tim Kasher. Grant’s role in the Omaha music scene during the ’90s Golden Age can’t be understated. Now he’s making a new mark on today’s scene with the musicians who were influenced by him. Kinda poetic, ain’t it?

Grant said a sense of camaraderie is what separates today’s Omaha music scene from the one 10 years ago. “One of the biggest differences is that a spirit of cooperation wasn’t around back then. It was one big pissing contest,” Grant said. “I was always open to working with other people, but the only ones who took me up on it was Tim (Kasher) who was 17 at the time, Pat Buchanan (of Mousetrap) and Greg Cosgrove (Clark County).” Grant remembers playing at Kilgore’s back in the day with a 13-year-old Conor Oberst opening. “I’m proud of all those guys,” he said, referring to the Saddle Creek artists. “Nansel and Tim and the Baechles. Seeing Tim go from The March Hares to Cursive to today, it’s just phenomenal really. They say the Saddle Creek thing is a fluke, but in all the cities I’ve played at, I never heard bands that made you raise an eyebrow like the ones from around here.”

Column 16 — Grant-ed a Second Chance

If you went to rock shows back in the ’90s you’ve heard of Todd Grant, either as a solo act or as part of Compost, a band he fronted with Matt Rutledge, Mike Fratt and others.
Out of the blue last fall, a buzz began ringing around the city that Grant was back and working with none other than Tim Kasher, frontman of Cursive and The Good Life. Kasher mentioned the Grant project when I interviewed him last August, saying he and drummer Roger Lewis were involved and calling Todd “a good friend and a role model.”
Role model? Some would raise an eyebrow over that one. After all, where had Grant been the last five or six years?
About a week ago, a friend of mine found a used copy of Grant’s 1994 solo CD, Strangled Soul, at Cool Stuff for $4.99. He passed it onto me for research purposes. I spent the next three days enjoying a collection of music that has held up remarkably well over the years. Not your usual singer/songwriter fair, Grant’s songs are like listening to pain spikes or peering into a cellar of dark loneliness. The CD sports song titles like “Valium & Coca-Cola,” “Happy Going Nowhere,” and “The Know,” with its telling line, “Wouldn’t it be better / To be left alone / Where these demons inside you / Can bother no one?” Grant has a showman’s charisma, belting out the lines in a style that recalls Warren Zevon, and more recently, American Music Club’s Mark Eitzel.
I got Grant’s number from a local promoter and set up an interview. The days leading up to it, people came out of the woodwork with odd requests like, “Check out his teeth” or “Ask him about the scar on his back.” Everyone had a weird Grant story. I expected a badly damaged, war-torn lost soul to show up at the Dundee Dell and not the hip-looking guy dressed in black with long black hair and soul patch, his girlfriend, Stephanie Wyscarver, in tow. Over a couple hours, a gallon of Diet Coke and too many cigarettes, Grant, 34, told me how drugs had gotten the better of him most of his adult life, and how he has managed to free himself.
“I had a lung removed when I was 17. The medication led to other drugs, and it all caught up with me in ’99,” he said casually between puffs. “One thing about being an outlaw, you can never turn to the law for help.”
Grant says his turnaround began after getting arrested by the state patrol, who had been watching him for months. He said his three days in jail without drugs “were hell.” He would eventually get probation and re-enter a methadone program that he’d preemptively began prior to the arrest.

And then he just disappeared. “From ’99 until now, I haven’t been out of the house,” he said. “I don’t know why I stayed disconnected for so many years. Methadone was the hard part. For two and a half years I didn’t have a guitar, didn’t write. I was literally a zombie.”
When he finished the methadone program in January 2004, Grant slowly began rediscovering old acquaintances. Among them Wyscarver, who he’s since moved in with. And Kasher, who had a different opinion of Strangled Soul. “Tim thought the songs were great, but that the production was too slick and over the top,” Grant said.
Kasher, who had never produced a band before, took Grant as his first project. “Tim and I got together between his tours. We started practicing in the summertime and it came together quickly.”
Between Cursive and Good Life tours, Grant and Kasher laid down tracks at Mike Brannan’s Artery Studios, with Kasher on bass, Roger Lewis on drums, and Brannan on guitar. Old friends Matt Rutledge and Mike Daeges also are involved, while ’89 Cubs guitarist Dan Brennan manned the board.
Grant says the new music isn’t much different from the stuff on Strangled Soul, “but with Tim’s arrangements, there are things that are undeniably Kasher-esque.” With Kasher now back from tour, Grant hopes to finish the CD in the brief window of time before he leaves again.

In that window, Grant and a band that includes Kasher, Brannan and drummer Dan Crowell will perform on stage as an opener for Dolorean March 13 at Sokol Underground.
Grant said a label has expressed interest in releasing the finished recording, and perhaps a tour will follow. But after that, his future is blurry.

“I feel like there’s still a lot of work to do, but I’m now in a position to do it,” he said. “When I look back at what I’ve done and how I went about it as a beast, it’s ridiculous to think that having cleaned up my act and grown up a bit that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off with a clear head. It’s humbling to know that after all I’ve been through that so many people still care.”

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