Sound of Beep Beep
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: July 24, 2003
w/ Criteria, My Name is Rar-Rar
1412 O St. Lincoln
you don't start articles with the story behind a band's name. But
in this instance, it seems fitting.
I went to use a drinking station at work, I would say 'Beep beep'
to get through a crowd because I didn't want to touch anyone,"
says singer/guitarist Chris Hughes. Hughes is intense. He is animated.
He stares you directly in the eyes and does not blink. "'Beep
beep' meant get out of the way, I want to make a fax. I never talked
to my co-workers, I just said 'Beep beep.' It's also a reaction
to the overt repression in the office environment. I don't want
to exude any sexuality at work."
The story is kind of
like the band's sound. It's weird. It's awkwardly sexual while being
strangely detached. It comes straight from the heart, which means
it's honest, maybe too honest.
At first blush, Beep
Beep's sound begs comparisons to art rock arbiters of the late '70s
and '80s, like tense, anxious, early Talking Heads or sneering,
confrontational Public Image Ltd.
But scholars of the '90s
Omaha punk scene could just as easily find Beep Beep's influences
in the quirky style of punkers Mousetrap -- a band that Hughes and
his partner in crime, guitarist/vocalist Eric Bemberger, both admired.
you could go back to their roots as players in a number of seminal
Omaha bands. The two first met in 1995 when Bemberger was playing
a show with Blandine Cosima, a band that also included Aaron Druery
(Criteria) and Beep Beep drummer Mike Sweeney. "Eric had just
finished his set and I thought 'Oh my God.' I approached him and
said, 'I want to be your friend as soon as possible.' It was almost
like a crush."
It was a meaningful compliment
coming from Hughes, a veteran of The Magnetas, a band that included
Todd Baechle (The Faint), Ben Armstrong (Head of Femur) and Conor
Oberst (Bright Eyes); as well as an early version of Norman Bailer
The two would first join
forces in 1996 with the band Gabardine that included Hughes' roommates
Joel Petersen (The Faint) and Armstrong. Gabardine recorded a 6-song
EP and two tracks for a Saddle Creek sampler before breaking up
in the summer of 1998.
Afterward, Hughes and
Bemberger both considered dropping out of music altogether. Bemberger
had simply lost faith in his own abilities. "I had played a
little with Bright Eyes and tried out with Cursive, Son, Ambulance
and The Faint. I kind of write guitar parts that double as melody,
but I'm not a lead guitar player at all and that's all they wanted.
I fell into this pit of self doubt because I didn't want to play
Meanwhile, Hughes was
battling his own personal demons in the form of a bi-polar disorder
that had forced him to "spend some time in the booby hatch
and work shit out." When he emerged from his fog in September
of 2000, he again struck up his relationship with Bemberger.
"Musically, we hadn't
communicated with each other," Hughes said. "I had been
in a black hole and hadn't been introduced to anything new. Eric
brought me up to date and I said, 'Let's see what we can do from
They spent almost a year
working on songs with a drum machine and a four-track, formulating
ideas to explore once they could get a rhythm section together.
Katie Muth (Real Time Optimists) joined on bass. Finding a drummer,
however, proved a bigger challenge. The duo won't say how many drummers
they went through before rediscovering Mike Sweeney. "We wanted
someone like Spoon's drummer (Jim Eno) or Charlie Watts," Bemberger
said. "Someone with amazing tone who knew when not to play.
We found Sweeney."
"He is Charlie Watts,"
Though their first live
show was in January 2001, Hughes and Bemberger said they only recently
found their voice as a band, captured on an unavailable 6-song demo.
"Up until these
songs, we played music from the perspective of what we thought a
serious band should be doing," Bemberger said. "For whatever
reason, we said, 'Fuck it. Let's just freak out and enjoy what we're
doing and stop being uptight.'"
whatever reason, we said, 'Fuck it. Let's just freak out and
enjoy what we're doing and stop being uptight.'"
unhinge your skull and show them your brain in a stream of
said the new approach was liberating. "You unhinge your skull
and show them your brain in a stream of consciousness mode,"
he said. "When Eric writes a guitar part that is particularly
slinky, I'm translating it lyrically."
The result can be both
groovy and unsettling. If you think The Faint's lyrics are strangely
sexual, Beep Beep's will seem downright pornographic. Songs like
the seamy "Electronic Wolves," which gives an insider's
view of the Internet porn industry, and "Oh, No!" that
talks about making "your lap a snack and your skin my religion,"
have the same literary texture as a Bret Easton Ellis novel (You
know which one I'm talking about).
"It's me celebrating
my sexuality," Hughes said. "When we recorded 'Giggle
Giggle' with A.J. Mogis, he thought it was pedophilic. In fact,
it's about my fiancée, who I first had a crush on 13 years
ago when she was a cheerleader."
Among the lyrics: "I
get to see you in your school clothes / I'm going to bounce you
up and down on my knee / We're gonna giggle until our giggles become
tickles / Until my work pants are soiled."
Hughes spits the lyrics
inside the edges of a guitar riff that is as arch and angular as
it is pure funk. The basic recipe for most Beep Beep songs is Hughes
or Bemberger tumbling their vocals over a jagged, bouncy riff, minimal
and harsh, and oh so deceptively simple.
"We tried to take
these very abrasive, powerful, destructive noises and cram them
into a somewhat pop structure that we like to think is extremely
concise," Bemberger said.
The rest of the world
will get a chance to hear those noises either live at Duffy's July
30 or in a future CD, as the demos are being rerecorded. The band
spent five days in June at Presto! Studios in Lincoln working with
A.J. Mogis and plan to finish the recording sometime in August,
with a finished product in hand hopefully by October. The goal is
to entice a label to put out the CD and to back it up with a tour.
Bemberger is calculated
about his future. A chemistry major at UNO, he already has his pre-pharmacy
requirements completed. But school can wait. "We're just after
a shot at this point in our lives," he said. "I have three
years to do nothing but music. I have never toured in my life, and
it's something I've always wanted to do."
Hughes agreed. "We
do want label support, but I just want to see other cities. I've
never been to New York or California. That's what it's all about."
Published in The Omaha Weekly-Reader July 23,
2003. Copyright © 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
Illustration by Chris Hughes. Used by permission.