Reviews

When We Break

Author: Martin L. Johnson
01/20/2006 | Raleigh News and Observer | www.newsobserver.com | Live Show Preview
Stephen Pedersen, a corporate lawyer in Omaha, was having trouble letting go of the musical life of his past -- a past that included stints in the bands Cursive and the White Octave. That last one he felt particularly close to since he formed it while in law school at Duke University.

In the end, the music bug proved too powerful, and Pedersen decided to forgo the desk life and try to make it as a musician with his newest band, Criteria.

The two interests had little in common, he said, but having to focus on just one is a new experience.

"There is so little crossover between the two interests that I see them as parallel lines," he said. "One is as much a part of me as the other. They exercise different parts of my brain. This is the first time I'm not doing twelve things at a time, and it's an intellectual adjustment."

After releasing Criteria's first album, "En Garde," in 2003 on Initial Records, and watching it languish in the often-tough indie rock charts, Pedersen managed to get signed to Saddle Creek Records in 2005. Saddle Creek, the label best known for Bright Eyes, has diversified in recent years, issuing releases from former members of old Saddle Creek bands (like Cursive) as well as branching into new genres.

Criteria's big rock sound is a bit louder than the average Saddle Creek release -- imagine Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst turned up on high for an entire album -- but the soul-baring lyrics are right in line with the label's trademark mood.

The band's debut CD, "When We Break," does not sound like a first album. Pedersen and his band confidently play their punk-inflected anthems, and the lyrics suggest a kind of professional angst not often found in the deeply personal rock sound that many call "emo." Just one breakup song -- "Grey Matter," written about the demise of the White Octave -- appears on the album, unusual in a genre that often seems built entirely from the debris created by bad relationships.

Pedersen was so pleased with the record that he put it on a year-end top ten list he compiled for Filter Magazine in December. He said he makes his records for himself and listens to them constantly.

"I don't release or record something that I don't absolutely love," he said. "I don't shy away from listening to my own music. I thought it was a really great record. I don't think that there's anything per se arrogant or self-aggrandizing in loving what you do."

In the years that elapsed between when Pedersen left his hometown of Omaha and returned there to pursue music full-time, the indie rock scene, and emo in particular, has found itself the unsuspected darling of television show and movie soundtracks. When asked whether he sees contributing to such things to be a violation of the independent ethos that characterizes his music, Pedersen gave a lawyerly answer.

"I don't write songs for commercial purposes, [but] once the song is written, it's uncompromised," he said, acknowledging that he might consider licensing his music after that point. "But there is a practical element to becoming a musician. You need to have income to do what you love. There's no bright-line rule for me."

As a veteran of several bands, Pedersen is familiar with the changing fortunes of musicians. But he said that he expects Criteria to stay together.

"Every time I've left a band, it wasn't because of the band, but something else," he said. "As much as [Criteria] is a band of four guys, it's the most closely connected to me."

What: Criteria.

When: 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Where: Local 506, 506 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill.
Admission: $8.
When We Break

When We Break

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When We Break

When We Break

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Prevent the World Single

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