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Beep Beep: Celebrating Deviance

 
story by tim mcmahan


 

 

Lazy-i: Aug. 19, 2004

Beep Beep
w/The Show is the Rainbow & Kite Pilot
Saturday, Aug. 21, 9 p.m.
Sokol Underground
13th & Martha
$7






When we last talked to Beep Beep a year ago, the band had little going for it but a demo CD and a couple local gigs.

A year later, Beep Beep has a debut CD recorded by at one of the country's hottest studios released on one of the country's hottest labels, and the opening slot touring with one of the country's hottest bands.

Beep Beep co-founders Chris Hughes and Eric Bemberger hope the best part of their story is still ahead of them.

"We're on this huge label and I don't think we're a popular band," said Hughes, sitting across the same oak mission-style table where we spoke last year. "People feel strongly about our music in either a bad way or a good way. I don't have any preconceived ideas that we'll be successful."

But if they stopped right now, Hughes and Bemberger would still have achieved more than most bands that have come out of the Omaha area, including the ones they've been in before.

 

 

 


A brief recap: The two first met in 1995 when Bemberger was playing a show with his band Blandine Cosima. Hughes was 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 with Baechle.

The two would eventually 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.

It would be four years later until Hughes and Bemberger would play their first live show as Beep Beep in January 2002, with Katie Muth on bass and Mike Sweeney (Criteria) on drums. It was at Muth's last Beep Beep gig a year later -- a blow-out at Duffy's in Lincoln -- that caught Petersen's attention.

"He came up to us after that show," Hughes recalled, "and said, 'Don't chinch out, pay what it takes to do as good a recording as you can and I'll see what I can do.' Joel basically became our pro bono manager."

Petersen, who had already signed a deal with Tiger Style Records for his other project, Broken Spindles (He has since left Tiger Style for Saddle Creek), had connections at a number of top-drawer indie labels including French Kiss (Les Savy Fav, Ex Models) and Gern Blandsten (Radio 4, Ted Leo/Pharmacists).

After Beep Beep finished the first cut of their full-length in December, recorded at Presto! studios by A.J. Mogis, Petersen helped shop it to the labels. "I wasn't going to give a copy to Saddle Creek," Hughes said. "They're my friends and I didn't want to deal with them not liking it. I also wanted to see if we could make it outside of Omaha. It would look so obviously like nepotism if Saddle Creek signed us. But Joel just looked at me and said, 'I am giving them a copy.'"

Even before the CD's final mix was completed by Now It's Overhead frontman Andy LeMaster, offers began coming in. Petersen called Saddle Creek and a meeting was called to consider if Beep Beep fit in the label's overall picture. The process has become somewhat legendary.

"The same thing happens every time we add a new band to the label," said Saddle Creel Records manager Jason Kulbel. "The last time we sat down and did it was with Rilo Kiley, so it doesn't happen too often."

The core group, which includes primary members of Saddle Creek's longest running and most popular bands, passed around the CD and discussed its merits. The meetings are sometimes a model of democracy and can include taking a vote, Kulbel said. "There was not one taken for Beep Beep," he said. "The conversation we had was positive all around and it was obvious that we should put out the record."

Hughes said the benefits of being on Saddle Creek are enormous. "It gives us an immediate connection with licensing in Europe as well as booking agents over there," he said.

Bemberger pointed to the financial benefits. "Most labels split with the band 60/40 or 70/30," he said. "Saddle Creek is 50/50."

 

 

 

 

 

 



"They're my friends and I didn't want to deal with them not liking it. I also wanted to see if we could make it outside of Omaha. It would look so obviously like nepotism if Saddle Creek signed us."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
"I've always been puzzled by something having 'that Saddle Creek sound.' I still have no idea what that means."

 

 

But it's Beep Beep's role in the label's overall picture that was the biggest lure. "For years Saddle Creek desperately has wanted to diversify its catalogue, especially with a hard rock band," Hughes said. "Whether we meet that bill, I don't know. We don't sound like anything else on the label."

"We stick out like a sore thumb," Bemberger said, "which will provide attention both positive and negative. There's the possibility that we'll be prejudged because of what the label represents to some of its audience."

There's no question that there's nothing like Beep Beep in the Saddle Creek catalogue. If you haven't heard them before, leave your preconceived notions at the door. Don't expect the singer-songwriter musings or Bright Eyes and The Good Life or the electro dance beats of The Faint.

Business Casual, the band's recently released full length, is an exercise in sneering, confrontational mayhem. The easy throwback influences are as diverse as Public Image Ltd., early XTC, Gang of Four and even Omaha's own Mousetrap. None of them quite fit. Hughes said one reviewer compared the vocals to caterwauling. "That literally is the noise cats make when they're in heat," he said, grinning. "It's perfect." Meanwhile, the songs' lyrics have a weirdly sexual, almost prurient nature as they describe everything from Internet porn ("Electronic Wolves") to kinky teen crushes ("Giggle, Giggle"). Hardly the broken-hearted laments heard on the latest Conor Oberst or Tim Kasher ballad.

Kubel ignores any notion that Beep Beep is an awkward fit for Saddle Creek. "A lot of bands on the label have a different sound," he said. "I've always been puzzled by something having 'that Saddle Creek sound.' I still have no idea what that means. Beep Beep doesn't sound like any other band on the label, but neither does The Faint, you know? I think Beep Beep brings something different and fresh, and at times completely over the top and annoying, but in a good way."

Shortly after the band was signed to Saddle Creek in February, Petersen joined on bass, which Hughes and Bemberger said had nothing to do with the Creek contract. But there's little doubt that The Faint's admiration and friendship for Beep Beep helped them land the opening slot on the upcoming Faint tour in support of Wet From Birth, the long-awaited follow-up to Danse Macabre.

"The Faint have wanted to take us out with them for years," Hughes said of the tour that starts in October and runs through the end of November, and which also includes red hot Brooklyn band TV on the Radio. "This was an opportune time. They'll be in a tour bus and we'll be in a minivan."

"A tour bus doesn't sound like fun to me," Bemberger said.

"Well it does to me," Hughes retorted.

The two do see eye to eye on what motivated them over the past year. "It was pretty much about making the band entertaining to us," Bemberger said. "We had been working from the perspective that music was something that you had to take seriously whether or not you enjoyed the process. We reached a point where we wanted to start entertaining ourselves."

"I'm not trying to spend the rest of my life as a professional musician," Hughes added. "I'm just enjoying it.

"I want to share a piece of ourselves with the world and try to convey my feelings, whether they're healthy or not, in the best way possible. Sometimes it's a celebration of deviance."


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Published in The Omaha Reader Aug. 18, 2004. Copyright 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.