Burst and Bloom
Examining the musical connection between Omaha and the Triangle
Since the paradigm we know as 'indie rock' coalesced some twenty-odd years ago, it has become not preposterous but likely that any given burg with enough residents to merit a traffic light also supports some sort of local music scene. While the Triangle shares token similarities with any one of these, it is Omaha, NE, with which we seem to have developed a unique symbiosis. Over the last few years, the stars have aligned over the 1,200 mile gulf which separates our regions, and Omaha, by logics both mundane and cosmic, began to funnel some premium musicians directly into the Triangle.
The three bands we're mainly concerned with are Cursive, The White Octave, and Sorry About Dresden. All three can be traced back to a mostly unknown Omaha band called the March Hares. It included Jim Robino on vocals, Matt Oberst and Tim Kasher on guitars, Matt Maginn on bass, and Casey Caniglia on drums. The young band played mostly covers, including the Pixies, David Bowie, and REM, plying them on what ex-member Stephen Pedersen wryly calls the “Catholic high school dance party circuit."
As Kasher began writing original tunes and injecting these into the set, he took on more of the vocal duties, and vocalist Jim Robino's time with the band was drawing to a close. It was during this period of transition, circa fall of 1990, that Matt Oberst left the band (playing in other Omaha bands such as Way Station and Weld before making his NC debut) and Pedersen, a longtime friend and fan of the Hares, was asked to join.
“I met Tim in Indiana," says Pedersen. “We were both at a soccer tournament playing for our respective Catholic grade schools. When I first encountered Mr. Kasher he was running bare-chested up to people and flexing his fifth grade muscles."
When Robino departed and Kasher became the lead singer, the band changed its name to Slowdown Virginia. In the summer of 1995, they kicked out drummer Casey Caniglia and took on Clint Schnase. Thus Cursive was born.
Cursive released their first album on Crank! Records, but Kasher's proclivity for disbanding the group caused friction between the two entities.
“We broke up after one album, but we still wanted to release the second," he says. “And they were just like 'Sorry...if you're going to break up we're not going to do it,'" But Saddle Creek, a small local label started by Matt Oberst and his brother Conor (Bright Eyes, Park Ave., Commander Venus), was glad to pick up where Crank! left off.
“I remember back in those days it was really cool that Saddle Creek was around, but everyone was always looking for bigger labels. Now we're all glad that we stuck around," says Kasher.
So Cursive released its second album on Saddle Creek (which is quickly becoming one of today's most trustworthy conservators of indie music), but the real world, as is its wont, was beginning to intrude. Upon graduating high school, Pedersen was accepted to law school at Duke University. The move was agreed upon on all sides, and no bad blood boils between the old friends.
Cursive briefly broke up again, then reformed with guitarist Ted Stevens replacing Pedersen to release their tour de force Domestica, a stark and harrowing album impelled by Kasher's imploding marriage. They are currently touring on the strength of their new EP, Burst and Bloom, and tonight marks their first Triangle show with their new cello player.
Pedersen couldn't stay out of the music scene for long, even under the rigors of law school. He soon met Eric Roehrig, whose band Sorry About Dresden (which contains Matt Tomich and Matt Oberst) would often open for Cursive when they played in the area. Roehrig introduced him to bassist Linc Hancock, Linc introduced him to drummer Robert Biggers, and he introduced himself to guitarist Finn Cohen. As self-proclaimed “nerdy boys who rock like men," the four formed the White Octave, releasing their debut LP Style No. 6312 on Deep Elm, followed by the superlative Menergy on Initial Records.
The aforementioned Sorry About Dresden contains two transplanted Omaha boys, and so one would assume that they came here together. Not so.
Matt Tomich moved to Chapel Hill after finishing college in Missouri. “Basically after 20 years of living in Nebraska I was kind of done with it," says Tomich. “I just needed someplace different, a far milder climate. I knew about Chapel Hill because Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, and Small 23 were like my favorite bands. It's a really wonderful place to live, I think."
Similarly, Oberst moved to the area independently, attending graduate school at NC State.
“January 2, '97, I saw Commander Venus at the 506," recalls Tomich, who went to show his support for the Omaha band. “Matt Oberst was there, and I was like 'Oh, hey, what's up, touring with your brother's band?' And he was like 'No, I live here now.' And I was like 'No way!'" Trusting fate, the two decided that they should start a band together. Though future SAD guitarist/vocalist Eric Roehrig and drummer James Hepler were roommates, Tomich met them individually, another coincidence in the long series that actuated the band's formation. He met Hepler while they both had jobs at Walnut Creek, then met Roehrig through a band they had each befriended called Raygun Theater, who, according to Oberst, “moved to Chapel Hill to be rock stars."
“[Raygun Theater] needed a bass player for one show, and I think Tomich answered a flyer," recalls Oberst. “And so we kind of became friends with them."
Tomich gave Oberst a tape of Roehrig's four-track material, and Oberst liked what he heard. Sorry About Dresden released an LP, an EP, and several singles before making the seemingly inevitable move to the Saddle Creek label with which they had such strong connections. SAD's Saddle Creek debut (the most manifold and polished album they've released), The Convenience of Indecision, hits stores next week.
So there you have it, a multi-faceted drama far too convoluted and star-crossed to be anything but true. Despite all the vagaries that bind them, there is one major difference between the Triad and Omaha that Stephen Pedersen sums up nicely: “Chapel Hill has its history. Omaha is making theirs right now. I think both are similar in that the bands making music recognized on a national level are part of a close group of friends." The friends will reunite tonight at the Cat's Cradle. Just be sure to show up early before they drink all the beer.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / CD / MP3
LP / CD / MP3