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Criteria and company
Criteria and members of the Pedersen clan, from left, Aaron Druey,
Mike Sweeney, John Pedersen, AJ Mogis, Mark Pedersen, Stephen
Pedersen and Grant Pedersen.

Criteria: Dream Job

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: Dec. 11, 2008

w/ The Beat Seekers, The Envy Corps
Saturday, Dec. 13, 9 p.m.
The Waiting Room
6212 Maple St.

Sometimes giving up on a dream isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Stephen Pedersen, frontman of Omaha indie band Criteria, has held his rock 'n' roll dream since his days in Cursive and The White Octave in the late '90s. His final stab at a full-time rock career began in April 2005 after Saddle Creek Records offered to put out Criteria's When We Break and reissue En Garde (first released by Initial Records in '03). Three months later, Pedersen left a kill-for job as an attorney at Omaha's prestigious Kutak Rock to tour full-time.

"The idea was to do the hell out of it and tour as much as we could and rock as virtuously as possible among North America and Western Europe," Pedersen said. The rest of his band -- drummer Mike Sweeney, bassist A.J. Mogis and guitarist Aaron Druery -- agreed.

Other than an occasional freelance entertainment law gig, Pedersen dedicated himself to a tour that lasted from July '05 to October '06. "I was prepared to lose money for two years," he said. "I'd saved up enough cash to where I could pay my mortgage and student loans and slowly deplete my savings. I had no expectations that there would be significant financial reward, just the fact that we had written what I thought were good and relatively accessible rock records."



How to describe Criteria's sound? The word "soaring" comes to mind. As do the words "epic" and "anthem" and "bombastic." Criteria's music is blistering, dense, intricate indie rock that takes Cursive's angular style and places it on its head. In contrast to Tim Kasher's stark, internal struggles, Criteria's music celebrates Pedersen's outward hopes and dreams, etched in pop-bright Technicolor. 

And crowds dug it. "We had more kids show up to shows than any Cursive or White Octave tour I had been on," Pedersen said. "From a turnout standpoint, it was awesome."

The high-water mark may have been selling out a 400-capacity club in Boston during their first headlining tour in January '06. The band also netted great support tours, thanks to booking agent Tim Edwards of Flower Booking, who handled acts like Jimmy Eat World and Interpol.

But they weren't all sell outs. "We had our share of stinkers," Pedersen said, including a return to Boston months later that drew only 40 people. Overall, though, Pedersen said the band made money. "The year and a half of cash that I had saved up did not get touched. It wasn't the tour that stopped the band from touring."

Instead, what stopped the tour had more to do with growing up. "Our guitar player, Aaron, got married. He now has two kids," Pedersen said. "Our bass player got married, and I got engaged."

And then drummer Sweeney quit between tours. "He had told us he was leaving," Pedersen said. "We flew in a guy (Chris Enriquez) from New York who learned 12 songs in 18 hours."

But more than just personal issues weighed on the band. "Touring is fun about 15 percent of the time," Pedersen said, adding that he's not a "partier" and can't read in a moving vehicle. "There was a lot of downtime for me and I don't like being idle. I like to spin a lot of plates, and there are not a lot of plates to spin when you're a fulltime musician."

Kutak Rock had never left his mind. "There was no point where I did not see myself going back as a lawyer, unless there were hundreds of thousands of dollars being made," he said. And that clearly wasn't the case, especially when it came to CD sales. To date, When We Break has sold 7,147 copies, according to Saddle Creek.

So, Pedersen returned to Kutak Rock Oct. 23, 2006. The dream, it seemed, was over, though Criteria never broke up. It wasn't until about a year after the tour that Pedersen "reached out" to Sweeney. "I was testing his pulse to see if it was something he'd be interested in," he said. "Eventually he responded in the affirmative. It was like nothing had happened. We were talking about when we were going to get the band together to practice again."

Criteria returned to the stage May 3 of this year at Slowdown Jr., but this time things were different. "It's never been spoken but it's understood that now the three of us are married and have more serious jobs and this is something that we do when we have time, and for fun."

That means no more touring. "We don't have any plans for it," Pedersen said. "We're going to write another record and play shows and maybe do some weekend warrior stuff." He won't say when the band will return to the studio. "We're not setting any deadlines; we're not making any hard and fast rules about when and how. We will know when we're ready. We'll record eventually."

Looking back, the full-time attorney and part-time rock star has no regrets. "For a lot of people, the best year of their life was being quarterback of their high school football team," he said. "I continue to have the best year of my life pretty much every year."

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Published in The Omaha Reader Dec. 11, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.




















Criteria's Stephen Pedersen

"I like to spin a lot of plates, and there are not a lot of plates to spin when you're a fulltime musician."