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sorry about dresden

no emo, please...



by tim mcmahan

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Tour Schedule:
10/14 knoxville
10/15 lexington
10/16 indianapolis
10/17 chicago
10/18 wisconsin
10/19 minneapolis
10/20 st. paul
10/21 omaha-the
cog factory

10/22 kansas city
10/23 louisville

Sorry About Dresden bass player Matt Tomich describes Chapel Hill, N.C.'s music scene simply: "If you stand on the roof of a building on Franklin Street and throw a penny, nine out of 10 times it will hit someone who plays in a band."

And although that wasn't the chief reason Tomich moved from Omaha to Chapel Hill in November 1995, the Westside High School graduate would be lying if he said one of his goals wasn't forming a band.

"I moved here because I knew I would have no trouble getting a job," said Tomich, who has a degree in biology from Truman University. "But the other reason is I loved a lot of bands that came from out of here. From the '80s, there were bands like The Connells, Corrosion of Conformity and The dBs, and if you talk early '90s, there's Superchunk, Polvo, Archers of Loaf."

Maybe it's time to add Sorry About Dresden (or SAD for short) to that list of famous Chapel Hill bands. The indie sound that defined those early pioneering bands is tastefully apparent on SAD's new album, The Mayor Will Abdicate, on Route 14 records.

It's a guitar-driven, post-punk monster in the tradition of Archers of Loaf, Superchunk and early Pavement. More pop than punk, SAD harvests twangy guitars with solid melodies, and Matt Oberst's raw vocals for an indie-opus that will remind you of that thing that made you love Husker Du so much the very first time you heard them.

The band's Omaha connections don't stop with Tomich. Lead singer and guitarist Matt Oberst also hails from the river city, and is the older brother of Bright Eyes' singer Conor Oberst. In fact, Tomich and Oberst first talked about forming SAD at a January 1997 Commander Venus concert (a band in which Conor sang lead) in Chapel Hill. Tomich introduced Oberst to drummer James Hepler and guitarist/vocalist Eric Roehrig, both North Carolina natives. Six months later, the four played their first gig at a local club as Sorry About Dresden.

Where did the rather poetic name come from? "I was looking through a Let's Go Europe book, trying to find places to visit in Germany," Tomich said. "Then I flipped to Dresden, and the first thing that I said was, 'Dresden, who would want to go there? Sorry about Dresden.'"

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"Emo to me is a hardcore band that's decided to start singing about girls."


Somehow, the name stuck. Tomich said people still think the name is somehow related to Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse Five, a novel that takes place in World War II Dresden. "The closest thing I've come to Vonnegut was once hanging out in Troy, N.Y., where he lives," Tomich joked.

The other misnomer about the band is that it plays music commonly classified as "emo." Seems no one's really able to define what emo is. Tomich was just as perplexed when asked for a definition.

"I wouldn't classify us as emo," he said. "Emo to me is a hardcore band that's decided to start singing about girls. Both bands I'm in (he's also in an outfit called The Scaries) have been called emo and neither sounds alike, which shows how difficult the term is to hammer down.

"Up until 1996, people called this kind of college music 'indie rock.' Then those people graduated from college, and the incoming freshmen that year started calling their earnest music 'emo,' short for emotional. It's become a catchall phrase, like New Wave, which is more of a fashion than a music genre. In emo's case, the fashion is all about knapsacks, striped sweaters and Canadian-government -ssue glasses."

Mention emo to just about any indie-style band and they'll want to tear your head off, then beg you not to hang the label on their band. Tomich said the backlash is the result of so many people using the term in an exclusive and non-inclusive manner. "It's rather pretentious," he said "That's not what music is suppose to be about."

Whether Sorry About Dresden is emo or not, the young band already has attracted a sizable audience on the East Coast, thanks to the success of a 7" single, Me and Kim Il Sung b/w Crusades. Released in February 1998, the single rocketed up the Ivy League radio stations' play lists, clocking in at No. 5 at Harvard, No. 7 at Duke, and No. 12 at Princeton, Tomich said.

"It's really weird when you hear your own song on the radio," he said. "The first thing I said was, 'Damn, this sounds familiar.' Then you feel like a moron because you don't know where you heard the song before. It's actually really hard for me to listen to; it's like watching yourself in a home movie."

He credits heavy East Coast touring, college airplay and good distribution for the single's success, a recipe that the band hopes to apply to The Mayor Will Abdicate. Although he wouldn't explain the CD's title ("It's a convoluted story with an Omaha reference in a roundabout way"), he said Omaha is "written all over Oberst's tunes."

"He never really left," Tomich said. For example, one song's title, "2540 N. 55th St.," is an Omaha address with personal significance. Oberst also is a fanatical Nebraska Cornhusker football fan. "When our cable company was screwing up his Husker game, he called them and said, 'You better get someone out here and fix this or this cable box will be in the yard.'"

The band also has played alongside a number of Omaha bands, including The Faint, Bright Eyes and Commander Venus, outfits that have at one time or another, included Conor Oberst in the line-up. Tomich said Saddle Creek Records, the label that all three bands record on, has garnered quite a following outside of Omaha.


"Omaha doesn't realize what great bands they have in their back yard," he said. "I don't have the new Superchunk CD, but I have the new Gabardine record (also released on Saddle Creek). We played in Atlanta with The Faint and there was a group of kids there who listen to nothing but Saddle Creek records. It's sort of like a decade ago, when there were kids who only listened to Sub Pop or Dischord releases."

So why doesn't Omaha embrace its own brood? "Before Nirvana came along, nine out of 10 kids in Seattle had never heard of Sub Pop," Tomich said. "The average person in Omaha doesn't listen to anything but (the local commercial radio stations). Saddle Creek bands take a certain level of musical appreciation to understand what's going on. It's for people who are big fans of music."

Tomich himself said little about missing Omaha. "Six months out of the year, Omaha was meteorologically depressing, just brutal," he said about why he left. "If you don't like it, there's no reason to put up with it.

"Do I miss it? You can move here or to New York or to Rome, but you'll always have the memories of the place where you grew up. They're irreplaceable."

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Printed in The Reader October14, 1999.

Copyright 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved

"Before Nirvana came along, nine out of 10 kids in Seattle had never heard of Sub Pop."