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The '89 Cubs: There Are Giants in the Earth

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: Dec. 22, 2004

I interviewed Dan Brennan and Ryan Fox of The '89 Cubs way back in August 2004 (I never had a chance to speak with drummer Matt Baum, who fills out the trio). We sat on the deck behind Brennan's house in Little Italy, under a huge oak tree in our T-shirts and shorts. Halfway through the interview it began to rain, but we stayed safe and dry under those branches. There was no Reader assignment in conjunction with our talk; I just wanted to find out the story behind their remarkable then-yet-to-be-released CD, There Are Giants in the Earth. What a lyrical name for a record, but what did it, and the CD, mean?

"It's about transition and death, which is more interesting than singing about girls," said the always quiet, always reserved Fox, whose beard, glasses and wry smile make him look like a grown-up choir boy.




Brennan, on the other hand, looks like that guy you remember from high school -- the one with the wild hair and crazy grin who was always getting sent to detention. "2002 was a good year for death for us," he said. "I lost my brother, and Ryan and Matt both lost grandmothers. Making this record helped each of us individually."

"The losses brought us together," Fox said. "We never talked about it directly."
Fox broke the heavy moment with this story: "I went to lunch with my grandma and played one of our songs for her in the car, and she said she liked it. Then "Benny and the Jets" came on the radio, and she said, 'You sing so much better than this guy.'" Big laughs.

Pretty somber stuff. Balance it by the fact that Brennan and Fox's fathers -- longtime friends and veteran musicians from such bands as The Chevrons, Marquee Review and Bozak and Morrissey -- played guitar on a number of the CD's songs. "It took them a little while to figure out what was going on," Fox said. Those tracks were recorded in a homemade studio at Fox's parent's house in the room next to his parent's bedroom -- which he aptly named Adjacent Magic Studio.

With Fox a member of The Good Life, Baum a member of Desaparecidos and Brennan the touring soundman for Cursive, the Cubs garnered immediate attention from record labels, specifically NYC's Arena Rock Records, who began courting the band way back in June 2003 with talk of a recording budget, profit splits, the usual record deal mumbo-jumbo.

To seal the deal, Baum and Fox flew out to Brooklyn on their own dime to meet with Arena Rock label executive Greg Glover while Brennan also was in town on a Cursive tour. Glover gave the band the run-around up until their last day in NYC. "Then he calls us and says to meet him at this bar," Fox recalled. "After 15 minutes of chitchat, he said, 'We'll figure it out. I'll come out to Omaha.' We didn't hear from him again for a couple weeks. I asked in an e-mail if we were 'still dating,' and he said the label had overextended itself and couldn't do anything with us."

It was a crippling set-back, but just when all hope seemed lost, along came Ezra Caraeff of Portland's Slowdance Records. The label ended up releasing the CD in October. One of the driving factors for signing them? "They can probably out drink any band on the label," Caraeff said, "a talent which will probably sell few records, but impresses me greatly."

With Caraeff's comments, I thought I had the story, but it wasn't until after the interview that I really came to understand the gravity of the CD's title. That's when I bumped into Brennan again at O'Leaver's and he added an important detail. Though each one of the band member's losses had been giant in its own way, it was Brennan's brother, Tim, who fit the description from a stature standpoint.

"Tim was a big person," Brennan said of his brother, who had suffered with health problems his entire life. Despite constant setbacks, he had always kept in good spirits and was a joy to be around. "Everyone who met him loved him. He was a funny guy, and he just loved life."

A giant indeed.

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Published in The Omaha Reader Dec. 24, 2004. Copyright 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







"2002 was a good year for death for us. I lost my brother, and Ryan and Matt both lost grandmothers. Making this record helped each of us individually."