Reviews

Business Casual

Author: Hays Davis
02/28/2005 | Richmond Times Dispatch | www.timesdispatch.com | Live Show Preview
When fortune smiles on a band, the result varies. Maybe the group will land a recording deal. A hit song. A tour bus. Or maybe there's a moment of real magic: when the members know they have truly touched a listener.

Chris Hughes, singer-guitarist for Omaha, Neb.-based Beep Beep, can attest that his band has had that happen. Recently, his group played an opening stint (on an otherwise headlining tour) in Fayetteville, Ark., for the band Lucero, which Hughes describes as "your traditional bluesy, good-old-boy rock music."

"There were over 400 people there and a lot of them were just not aware that the music we make existed," Hughes said. "One person yelled out, 'You're the worst band ever!' And that to me was sweet.

"That's a great compliment, because there are so many mediocre bands, and to be someone's worst band -- that's actually an accomplishment."

Hughes, speaking from a recent California stop, seemed unfazed by what some musicians would consider to be a pretty nasty barb.

"Our whole goal is to create a response, either positive or negative. It would [stink] to just be a Wonder Bread band; yeah, it's a food unit, but it's not flavorful. It's not even nutritionally sound. It's there. It takes up space."

It's easy to imagine the polarizing effect that Beep Beep might have on an unsuspecting live audience that's primed for something easy to swallow. Its debut album, "Business Casual," marries the tight structure of early XTC with the unhinged punk fervor of Blood Brothers, managing a quality that could be described as an uncompromising accessibility.

"What you hear on the record is, I would say, pretty close to what we do live, and some people say not as good," Hughes said. "There's a lot more spontaneity in what we do live. We ad lib a lot of stuff, and we improvise. I think we communicate fairly well as a band."

After the disbanding of an earlier group of which Hughes, singer-guitarist Eric Bemberger and bassist Joel Petersen were members, Peterson went on to success with The Faint, while Hughes and Bemberger eventually began playing together. As ideas started coming together, they brought drummer Mike Sweeney and bassist Katie Muth into what became Beep Beep.

Muth later departed for graduate school, much to the shock and dismay of the rest of the band, though her shoes were ably filled by the returning Petersen, who is still a regular member of The Faint as well as Broken Spindles. The recording of "Business Casual" began in 2003, and while the studio process was slowed by the retooling of songs as well as jockeying for studio time with other bands, the disc is finally seeing release.

Beep Beep signed to hot Omaha indie label Saddle Creek, and while the band's home-base proximity to the label and its long-friendly association with its staff might have seemed like a natural connection, the group's signing wasn't a given at any point.

"Just because you're friends with people on the label doesn't guarantee that you're going to have your band released on the label, and that's something we've always known," Hughes said.

"Initially, we didn't even solicit Saddle Creek because the music Beep Beep was making wasn't really representative of what was on their catalog. So we made this recording, and Eric and I were soliciting it to other labels, and Joel was serious about saying, 'Hey, let Saddle Creek listen to it.' And we thought, well, fine.

"We just didn't want to put the label in a position. They are our friends, and we didn't want to have that conversation where it's like, 'Yeah, it's not really what we're looking for.' It's just hard, because that's mixing business with friends."

The band began to get offers from various labels, but when Saddle Creek (best-known for its releases by Bright Eyes) heard the recordings the label was ready to make a deal, Hughes said.

After an extensive tour of the United States and Europe with The Faint and TV On The Radio, Beep Beep is enjoying its first headlining swing through the States.

One encouraging moment did emerge from that same Arkansas show: One fan had driven from Louisiana just to see Beep Beep.

Despite being pleased at that thought, Hughes said, "I thought, your life must [stink] if you've got to drive that far to see a show."
Business Casual

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