"L.A. is either gonna work and kick ass, or
its just not."
"A lot of fucking shit out these days is dark,
almost like cow-towing to the Generation X woe-is-fucking-me mentality. Fuck that shit.
Im saying people, get off your asses and make something of yourselves.
All that stuff is just an excuse for these kids to be lazy."
Yeah, but is it any good?
Find out for yourself.
Listen to the track "Noel" online
at BZP Jukebox.
"Theres definitely a division, which is sad
because I dont give bands on the other side of the fence consideration one way or
another. I just want everyone to succeed and be happy. A lot of times we get shit, along
with bands who are trying to get signed and make a career."
"If we get out there and the first show has two
people, then 10, then 100 because were opening for a cool band, then we start to get
a few familiar faces, interest from labels, some radio play.... Every step from LA is a
step up, everything we do here is flat. Weve done it before, we know we need to get
by Tim McMahan
"Omaha is too easy," says an animated Curtis Grubb,
vocalist, guitarist and all-around leader of Omaha rock band Grasshopper Takeover.
Its soon to be LAs Grasshopper Takeover, if Grubb has
anything to say about it. For him, drummer Bob Boyce and bassist James McMann, Omaha has
been very, very good. But with all their Midwestern challenges met and rock n
roll dreams realized, its time to go before the trio gets too complacent and,
eventually, ends up like all the other Omaha bands that talked about leaving but never
did: Broken up. Bitter. Wondering, "What if?"
They talked about their futures from the tiny Dundee hut known as
the Homy Inn, one of Omahas classic taverns renowned for its Cold Duck on tap,
peanuts in dog bowls and top-to-bottom decor of drinking memorabilia from its coveted
world-wide assortment of beer cans to its dinner menus and color-saturated serving trays
mounted on the ceiling and turned a cruddy brown from years of cigarette smoke. Its
a wonder Grubb and Co. have never been to this Omaha drinking landmark.
Its crowded on a Wednesday night, with after-work business
drinkers in unslung neckties chatting next to tank-tops and tennis shoes. And though our
operations take up an enormous wooden table with tape recorder, lap-top and assorted
Xeroxed notes, no one seems to notice the band thats "going to make it big in
L.A." that sits smoking in their midst.
Grubbs long, crane-like neck, oval face and ear-to-ear smile
makes the would-be rock star look like that good-hearted, blue muppet, Grover, from Sesame
Street. The give-aways: his Elvis chops, glasses, the premature baldness. McManns
hand-made blond mop and smug expression is straight out of the trendy punk rocker school,
while Boyces clean-cut choir-boy features and powder-blue Polo-style golf shirt
combine to say "off-duty rookie cop."
Though the band says theyve talked about leaving their Omaha
roots since they first jammed together two years ago, the plans for their new life on the
Coast sound anything but well thought-out.
When are you guys leaving? "Were not exactly sure, but
sooner rather than later," Grubb says. Someone throws out "July 27" and
everyone nods sheepishly.
How are you getting out there? "Were taking the
van," Grubb says (like most band leaders, he dominates the conversation, the other
guys either nod or look away). "Weve got way too much stuff. Everyday we walk
up to each other and say, Do you think were gonna be able to fit the shit in
the van? We got lots of shit. Not clothes or anything, just shit."
Youve got a place to stay out there, right? "Weve
got friends out there who want to get a house. Were not really sure where its
at and I dont think they even know yet. Alls I know is that their lease is up
Sept. 1 or Aug. 13 and then theyre getting a house."
After much overlapping discussion, the truth comes out that they
really dont have a place to live in L.A. "But thats okay," Grubb
says. "Weve talked about being nomads from August until we get a house.
Well just travel and visit friends up and down the Coast."
And money? "Weve lived on absolutely nothing
before," Grubb says, sounding like a headstrong 49er headed for the Rush.
"You can live on nothing anywhere... (pause) That sounds kinda pathetic... But as
long as we know we have momentum, whether its getting a phone call or a new friend
or whatever, its a step up. If we stay here any longer, its all gonna be
"L.A. is either gonna work and kick ass, or its just
* * *
The bands charming faith that "everything will be all
right" pretty much explains their musics direction, too. Grasshopper Takeover
is a punch in the face of the cynicism, irony and gloomy pessimism thats become the
hallmark for the stereotypical Generation X slacker. Its obvious that Grubb hates
Gen X and all its trappings, though in many ways, he embodies its very nature.
He writes on the back of a Xerox note a message he typed on an
Internet bulletin board describing Grasshopper Takeovers sound: "A pop rock
trio with an edge. Positively minded with killer melodies and hooks at every turn."
So true, but the band could be more accurately
described as an American 80s rock outfit, heavy on guitar
and open-ended chords, thick with bravado and more than a little
cockiness. When I mention that my girlfriend thought tracks
off the bands new CD, Gaia, sound a lot like 80s-arena
idols Styx, frowns fly around the table, then...
"I can dig Styx," Boyce says, breaking the silence.
"I LOVE Styx, dude, I swear," Grubb admits, gushing.
"The melody lines of that era, whether its ABBA or REO Speedwagon, theyre
The next thing you know, were talking about AC/DC, early Van
Halen, and singing lyrics from "Keep on Loving You." Forced to select five CDs
to live with while stranded on a desert island, Grubb recites music he grew up with:
Elvis Greatest Hits, REO Speedwagon and Captain and Tennille, "the kind of
stuff they used to play on KOIL." McMann quietly says Weather Report, Theoneous Monk,
Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and the Jackson 5. And Boyce cant think of anything.
"I would just take them all. I really dont know. I dont think Id
take five albums with me if I was drowning."
"The key is that the music and words from the 80s were
positive, uplifting. They felt good," Grubb says. "Whether theyre poppy or
not, they make a connection. A lot of fucking shit out these days is dark, almost like
cow-towing to the Generation X woe-is-fucking-me mentality. Fuck that shit. Im
saying people, get off your asses and make something of yourselves. All that
stuff is just an excuse for these kids to be lazy."
Theres no question that Gaia, their calling
card for L.A., is one long Internet love letter to 80s
pop rock, an optimistic, heavy-metal ode to living good, loving
hard and making it in America. The CDs opener, "Congratulations,"
is a rock n roll affirmation from beginning to end,
with lyrics like, "Congratulations, youre a miracle
been laid unto the world," and "Im not crazy,
oh, you got to take to heart what youre doin..."
Its almost scary to believe that someone still thinks
this way in the 90s, especially if theyre not a
Young Republican or not enjoying the undying bull market.
"That songs really about us leaving," Grubb says.
"But it has a good attitude, nothing negative. Its saying this is what
Ive done and this is what Im going to do. Its about kicking ass!"
The rest of the guys nod enthusiastically. If theres one thing
they really agree on, its "rocking on, man." And though theres a few
moments of introspection on Gaia, the moments are few and unnoticeable,
especially when theyre sandwiched between layers of power chords.
What you wont find is any hint of Grunge, though Grubb even
has something nice to say about the music that represents everything he hates. Yes, the
Grunge movement, launched by bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, had its dark
side, but these bands were "in tune to the consciousness that was going on,"
"They launched it, now its time to end it," he says.
"We feel in a lot of ways that weve come to an end of an era musically, both
nationally and in Omaha."
And its that ending thats driving the Grasshopper
Takeovers departure from the Midwest. The boys say its time for them to step
aside and let the new bands in the area take over the proverbial helm, to do what they did
five years ago.
Grubbs first band was a short-lived, but locally successful
outfit called The Kind, that also included among its members Bruce Coddington, who would
go on to play with Blue Moon Ghetto and Clever, as well as Boyce, who had just left his
first band, Fifth of May.
When I saw The Kind play years ago at the
Ranch Bowl, they were surrounded by Deadhead types dancing the
Hurly Gurly in freshly ironed tye-dye T-shirts. Grubb says The
Kind was his lifeline from a world of meaninglessness. He cites
Emersons "Essay on Self Reliance" as the inspiration
that awoke him from a fog of complacency. Somehow, I dont
think Emerson had a rock band in mind when he wrote the piece.
"I had graduated from UN-L with a degree in communications in
June 1993 and said, What the fuck am I gonna do with myself," Grubb said.
"I didnt have a clue. The only thing that made me happy was music and writing
Though The Kind had a cult-like following that religiously came to
their shows, it wasnt enough to keep friction from forming between the members.
Three years after forming, the band became another rock n roll cliche. Grubb
and Boyce got McManns name from a member of Blue Moon Ghetto, called him, and the
rest is history in the making.
In two years, Grasshopper Takeover has reclaimed The Kinds
following minus the tye-dye, playing the kind of power pop that it loves at just about
every live rock music venue in the city. "Weve never pigeon-holed ourselves
with a certain sound," Boyce says. "We just write songs. One could be totally
heavy, the next could be clean and mellow."
"Our music is honest, despite everyone in the planet hating my
ass around here," Grubb says out of the blue. Whats he talking about? With his
good-natured love-thy-neighbor attitude, it seems ridiculous that anyone could hate the
loveable muppet, and when pressed for names, he reluctantly agrees.
"Oh, no one hates me, they respect me," he says.
"They just... I think its because Im not as ideological about things as
people think I should be. I dont think its my job to be down with the
cause. Im trying to live my own life, I love writing, thats what makes
me happy. A lot of times if someones not straight up business with me, I can come
across kind of harsh. Thats because its not a fucking game to me. Its
not to any of us."
Which brings up the issue of indie-cred, because as successful as
the band has become, its name is never mentioned among the pretentious circle of
indie-rock bands that play at venues such as the Cog Factory or Duffys in Lincoln.
Theyre quick to point out that, yes, theres a distinct separation between the
two styles of music and their followers; and it bugs them.
"Theres definitely a division, which is sad because I
dont give bands on the other side of the fence consideration one way or
another," Grubb says with a hint of bitterness. "I just want everyone to succeed
and be happy. A lot of times we get shit, along with bands who are trying to get signed
and make a career."
"Ive quit bands because of it," McMann chimes in.
"Bands that wouldnt play a bar because another band played there. Its the
stupidest bullshit ever."
The difference, they say, comes down to being labeled a sell-out for
wanting to be big rock stars. Kinda like 311. They stand as the example of what can happen
when a band hits the road for superstardom, as they did a few years ago. For better or
worse, 311 moved to sunny Van Nuys with dreams of MTV, platinum records and all the dope
you can smoke in a personalized tour bus. Now their ultra-cool videos are in the Buzz Bin,
their records are in heavy rotation on KROQ and Nick Hexum is a teen fave of the Tiger
Beat generation. Oh yeah, and dont forget the bales of hay and the tour bus.
Despite it all, 311 is still a dirty word in the alt/punk/indie
scene. "Even if they wrote, Were sell outs on a million pieces of
paper and sent them out across America, who cares?" Grubb says. "Let them do it.
They want to go out and make a million bucks a day, let them. Whos to judge?
Its unfortunate, but in this city, its easier for factions to grow between the
punk scene and the indie scene and the people-who-want-to-get-signed scene."
"Its almost like a cop-out if
you're talking about it," McMann says. "Youre
hiding something. You know in your heart that your music isnt
gonna hit the modern radio waves and get you signed. Or youre
afraid to try because someone might think its pussy."
Which again brings us back to why the band is headed to Los Angeles.
"Some people think were going out there for the big deal,"
Grubb says. "Thats part of it. We just feel were ready. Were going
out there for new experiences, inspiration, and a fucking really good time."
And, they say, there is nowhere for their careers left to go in
Omaha. "Weve done it all," Grubb says. "If we were to stay here for
another three months, it would be like starting over, because wed be so out of
material, out of a vibe to play, and wed simply not give a fuck. Wed break up
like every other band."
Repetition, it seems, breeds inertia.
"Its really about this mission to meet everyone in the
world," Grubb says, "and making a connection to many more millions of people. We
have to have a foundation to support us out there. Our shit will speak for itself, in a
sense. Getting gigs is the first thing. Were so excited to play our first show in
LA, even if theres only fucking two people there, because it will be a new
But do they know the odds of making it on the Coast? The rock world
is a fickle planet. Think sports -- maybe 2 percent of the college stars are going to make
it in the pros. The same stats play out for rock bands. You could have more talent than U2
and the Rolling Stones combined, but it doesnt mean a hill of guitar picks if you
dont have the right connections.
Boyce says failure simply isnt in the bands
vocabulary. "Theres a certain amount of giving up
that none of us will do. Well never get to a point musically
or personally where we're gonna say, Hey, its just
not gonna happen. Well be fighting to the day we
"The key is to keep momentum going," Grubb adds. "But
if we get out there and the first show has two people, then 10, then 100 because
were opening for a cool band, then we start to get a few familiar faces, interest
from labels, some radio play.... Every step from LA is a step up, everything we do here is
flat. Weve done it before, we know we need to get out. The whole music scene is
coming to an end of a cycle. We dont want to get caught in it."
* * *
And so we say goodbye to Grasshopper Takeover, on the road to LA
sometime in the near future. The bands "Last Waltz" -- being billed both
as "their final Omaha performance" and CD release party -- is slated for July 17
at Sokol Auditorium. In addition to Old Boy Network, National B and Clever, other special
guests will likely include the boys families, friends and well wishers.
So, with The Reader as its Hallmark card, how would the band say
goodbye to Omaha?
Boyce: "Id say, Goodbye to Omaha, good friends and
good times. And many positive things to them and us and me personally. And rock on."
McMann: "Id say good luck to everybody, and all
"James is a man of many words," Grubb says, before he
picks up the tape recorder and walks to a table off in the corner. He cant do it in
front of everyone.
"First and foremost, goodbye to my mother and father, whose
support I appreciate more than you will ever know. And to the people Ive known
always, old school especially, ever since the music started. To the people who have been
with the band for the last five years, thank you. And as James said, good luck to
everyone. This isnt an end, its a beginning."
(return to lazyeye band profiles)
Originallly Printed in The Reader July 9, 1998.
Copyright © 1998 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.