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What's it take to make it in California? Just ask Rock City News' Ruben. MacBlue. Grasshopper Takeover: Goin' to California
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"L.A. is either gonna work and kick ass, or it’s 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. I’m 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.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"There’s definitely a division, which is sad because I don’t 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 we’re 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. We’ve done it before, we know we need to get out."

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by Tim McMahan

"Omaha is too easy," says an animated Curtis Grubb, vocalist, guitarist and all-around leader of Omaha rock band Grasshopper Takeover.

It’s soon to be LA’s 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, it’s 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 Omaha’s 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. It’s a wonder Grubb and Co. have never been to this Omaha drinking landmark.

It’s 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 that’s "going to make it big in L.A." that sits smoking in their midst.

Grubb’s 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. McMann’s hand-made blond mop and smug expression is straight out of the trendy punk rocker school, while Boyce’s clean-cut choir-boy features and powder-blue Polo-style golf shirt combine to say "off-duty rookie cop."

Though the band says they’ve 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.

For example...

When are you guys leaving? "We’re 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? "We’re taking the van," Grubb says (like most band leaders, he dominates the conversation, the other guys either nod or look away). "We’ve got way too much stuff. Everyday we walk up to each other and say, ‘Do you think we’re gonna be able to fit the shit in the van?’ We got lots of shit. Not clothes or anything, just shit."

You’ve got a place to stay out there, right? "We’ve got friends out there who want to get a house. We’re not really sure where it’s at and I don’t think they even know yet. All’s I know is that their lease is up Sept. 1 or Aug. 13 and then they’re getting a house."

After much overlapping discussion, the truth comes out that they really don’t have a place to live in L.A. "But that’s okay," Grubb says. "We’ve talked about being nomads from August until we get a house. We’ll just travel and visit friends up and down the Coast."

And money? "We’ve 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 it’s getting a phone call or a new friend or whatever, it’s a step up. If we stay here any longer, it’s all gonna be plateau."

"L.A. is either gonna work and kick ass, or it’s just not."

* * *

The band’s charming faith that "everything will be all right" pretty much explains their music’s direction, too. Grasshopper Takeover is a punch in the face of the cynicism, irony and gloomy pessimism that’s become the hallmark for the stereotypical Generation X slacker. It’s 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 Takeover’s 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 band’s 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, they’re great."

The next thing you know, we’re 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 can’t think of anything. "I would just take them all. I really don’t know. I don’t think I’d 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 they’re 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. I’m saying ‘people, get off your asses and make something of yourselves.’ All that stuff is just an excuse for these kids to be lazy."

There’s 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 CD’s opener, "Congratulations," is a rock ‘n’ roll affirmation from beginning to end, with lyrics like, "Congratulations, you’re a miracle been laid unto the world," and "I’m not crazy, oh, you got to take to heart what you’re doin..." It’s almost scary to believe that someone still thinks this way in the ‘90s, especially if they’re not a Young Republican or not enjoying the undying bull market.

"That song’s really about us leaving," Grubb says. "But it has a good attitude, nothing negative. It’s saying this is what I’ve done and this is what I’m going to do. It’s about kicking ass!"

The rest of the guys nod enthusiastically. If there’s one thing they really agree on, it’s "rocking on, man." And though there’s a few moments of introspection on Gaia, the moments are few and unnoticeable, especially when they’re sandwiched between layers of power chords.

What you won’t 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," Grubb says.

"They launched it, now it’s time to end it," he says. "We feel in a lot of ways that we’ve come to an end of an era musically, both nationally and in Omaha."

And it’s that ending that’s driving the Grasshopper Takeover’s departure from the Midwest. The boys say it’s 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.

Grubb’s 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 Emerson’s "Essay on Self Reliance" as the inspiration that awoke him from a fog of complacency. Somehow, I don’t 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 didn’t have a clue. The only thing that made me happy was music and writing songs."

Though The Kind had a cult-like following that religiously came to their shows, it wasn’t 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 McMann’s 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 Kind’s 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. "We’ve 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. What’s 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 it’s because I’m not as ideological about things as people think I should be. I don’t think it’s my job to be ‘down with the cause.’ I’m trying to live my own life, I love writing, that’s what makes me happy. A lot of times if someone’s not straight up business with me, I can come across kind of harsh. That’s because it’s not a fucking game to me. It’s 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 Duffy’s in Lincoln. They’re quick to point out that, yes, there’s a distinct separation between the two styles of music and their followers; and it bugs them.

"There’s definitely a division, which is sad because I don’t 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."

"I’ve quit bands because of it," McMann chimes in. "Bands that wouldn’t play a bar because another band played there. It’s 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 don’t 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, ‘We’re 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. Who’s to judge? It’s unfortunate, but in this city, it’s easier for factions to grow between the punk scene and the indie scene and the people-who-want-to-get-signed scene."

"It’s almost like a cop-out if you're talking about it," McMann says. "You’re hiding something. You know in your heart that your music isn’t gonna hit the modern radio waves and get you signed. Or you’re afraid to try because someone might think it’s ‘pussy.’"

Which again brings us back to why the band is headed to Los Angeles. "Some people think we’re going out there for ‘the big deal,’" Grubb says. "That’s part of it. We just feel we’re ready. We’re 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. "We’ve done it all," Grubb says. "If we were to stay here for another three months, it would be like starting over, because we’d be so out of material, out of a vibe to play, and we’d simply not give a fuck. We’d break up like every other band."

Repetition, it seems, breeds inertia.

"It’s 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. We’re so excited to play our first show in LA, even if there’s only fucking two people there, because it will be a new scene."

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 doesn’t mean a hill of guitar picks if you don’t have the right connections.

Boyce says failure simply isn’t in the band’s vocabulary. "There’s a certain amount of giving up that none of us will do. We’ll never get to a point musically or personally where we're gonna say, ‘Hey, it’s just not gonna happen.’ We’ll be fighting to the day we die."

"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 we’re 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. We’ve done it before, we know we need to get out. The whole music scene is coming to an end of a cycle. We don’t 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 band’s "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: "I’d say, ‘Goodbye to Omaha, good friends and good times. And many positive things to them and us and me personally. And rock on."

McMann: "I’d say good luck to everybody, and all that."

"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 can’t 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 I’ve 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 isn’t an end, it’s a beginning."

(return to lazyeye band profiles)

Originallly Printed in The Reader July 9, 1998.

Copyright 1998 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.