(NE): The Made Men
story by tim
Lazy-i: Sept. 20, 2006
w/ Criteria, Now Archimedes!
Friday, Sept. 22, 9p.m.
13th & Martha
deal with Saddle Creek Records," says Ladyfinger (NE) drummer
Pat Oakes, "is that someone has to solicit for you to get
like becoming a made man," adds frontman Chris Machmuller
before going into a spot-on impersonation of Marlon Brando as
The Godfather. Leaning back in a rickety chair in the screened-in
porch of bassist Ethan Jones' midtown house on the wrong side
of Saddle Creek Rd., Machmuller doesn't look much like Brando,
not with his curly hair and Midwestern fashion sense. But his
gestures, his build, his posture, all are a perfect match. You
could easily envision him on stage yelling "Stella!"
at the top of his lungs with hands clinched into fists.
will be doing a differing sort of yelling in the near future --
not lines but lyrics to his band's forthcoming full-length, Heavy
Hands. And he'll be doing it as a proud member of a Nebraska
music scene La Cosa Nostra that includes such hitmen as Conor
Oberst, Tim Kasher and the infamous Baechle brothers.
of how Ladyfinger (NE) (henceforth referred to without the distasteful
state abbreviation) received an offer that it couldn't refuse
begins five years ago, and involves two of the scene's more vicious
acts. Jones and Oakes were members of brutal metal-noise band
Putrescine, while Machmuller was in the equally chaotic Bleeders
for Treats, which he described as being "a little more schizo
than Putrescine, more disjointed but not as angry."
each other from getting drunk and listening to music together,"
Jones said. "We wanted to do something just as heavy and
loud as those bands, but more melodic. Ladyfinger was going to
be a side project."
it ended up being the centerpiece when a few months after Ladyfinger
formed as a trio, Putrescine and Bleeders both unceremoniously broke
up. Jamie Massey, a member of the band Race for Titles, would enter
the picture in December 2004 when Machmuller was looking for someone
with Protools to help record vocals. A month later, after Machmuller
complained that he wished that they had a second guitarist to allow
him to focus more on vocals, Massey's name came up. He played his
first show as a member of Ladyfinger in November 2004.
By then, the
band already had earned a reputation as one of the hottest acts
in the Omaha scene, earning an opening slot for Cursive at Sokol
Auditorium while playing occasional weekend gigs at O'Leaver's where
Machmuller tends bar.
was as shrill and aggressive as anything they had done with their
previous bands, but with a new style that incorporated anxiety-driven
riffs, huge breaks and nerve-wracking rhythms coaxed around a distinctive
groove that recalled old-school Omaha punk bands like Mousetrap
and, more pointedly, Ritual Device. Ladyfinger music was like the
soundtrack to an underground action flick -- a montage of chase
scenes, knife-cuts, building-jumps, fist-to-cuffs and ticking timebombs
ready to explode, all shot at night. Machmuller's and Massey's guitars
were groaning electric buzzsaws, Jones' metronome bass provided
the band's constant searing tension, while Oakes' clench-fisted
drumming felt like a knee in your back.
setting itself up as the tough-guy enforcers in a scene filled with
pretty boys too well-heeled to get their hands dirty. In the middle
of it all were Machmuller's vocals. At once smooth and controlled
-- like a negotiator talking a jumper off a ledge -- moments later,
throttled up harsh and piercing, providing a necessary push over
Within a year,
the band had begun to outgrow small stages like O'Leaver's. Pushing
the band forward was a 4-song demo EP released in early 2005 that
had taken them eight months to record and mix. "So many people
had their hands in that demo, it was a clusterfuck," Oakes
It wasn't long
afterward 'til Saddle Creek Records came into the picture. Then-label
executive Chris Harding had offered to help the band shop the demo
to different labels. "We knew if we sent the CD out, that labels
wouldn't listen to it, but if it came from someone at Saddle Creek,
they might at least give it a spin," Oakes said. "We also
hoped someone at Creek would listen to it as well. I honestly didn't
think they'd do anything but help us get it to other labels."
sent a few copies to labels themselves. The predictable outcome:
"No one gave a shit," Oakes said. "We did a lot of
Even the folks
at Saddle Creek kept them hanging. Then in September 2005, Ladyfinger
went out on Cursive's "secret band" tour -- a series of
dates in which Cursive played under assumed names like Flippy and
Hambone, T Lite & the Heavies and Jazz Hessian on their way
to a gig at the College Music Journal (CMJ) festival in New York
the tour, Saddle Creek made their first advances toward Ladyfinger,
offering to pay to rerecord the demo along with enough new songs
to fill out an LP. The label would listen to the final product and
either put it out or help the band find a label to do it instead.
Oakes said the loudest voice rooting for Ladyfinger from within
the Creek family was Cursive's Matt Maginn. "He really pushed
for us to go on that tour with them, and he was behind the whole
recording idea," he said.
knew if we sent the CD out, that labels wouldn't listen to
it, but if it came from someone at Saddle Creek, they might
at least give it a spin."
were originally supposed to go to Presto! and have A.J. do
it. Then Saddle Creek told us to come up with a dream list
of producers and engineers."
everything else that's involved Ladyfinger and Creek, the album's
production took a unique turn. Historically, most Saddle Creek albums
are produced by the dynamic duo of Mike and A.J. Mogis at Presto!
Studios. Saddle Creek wanted to try something different for this
originally supposed to go to Presto! and have A.J. do it,"
Oakes said. "Then Saddle Creek told us to come up with a dream
list of producers and engineers."
Creek executive) Robb Nansel asked if we ever thought of Steve Albini,"
we decided on Matt Bayles," Oakes said. "Maginn knew him
from touring with Minus the Bear, and we knew his work."
to once being a member of Minus the Bear, Bayles had recorded heavy-metal
monsters Mastodon, Matador Records' Pretty Girls Make Graves, so-called
sludge-metal act Isis, hardcore-metal band These Arms Are Snakes
and had even engineered a couple albums for Pearl Jam.
did the negotiations, and Ladyfinger never even spoke to Bayles
or knew what he looked like until they picked him up at the airport.
They took him to a show at O'Leaver's Jan. 2 to check out their
live sound, and "Things just kind of clicked," Oakes said.
the first nights he was in town we took him out drinking,"
Machmuller said. "He told us, 'Okay, guys, this is lot of fun,
but I'm not going to be drinking (while in town recording). We have
a lot of work to do.'" That, of course, went out the window
over the following two weeks that Ladyfinger and Bayles holed up
in Bassline Studios.
at 10:30 in the morning and ran until midnight. Bayles rotated the
players in the studio throughout the day -- tracking drums in the
morning then working in some guitar and bass later in the day, leaving
room in the late afternoon for Machmuller's vocals. The band said
for the most part, reports of Bayles' extreme intensity were highly
exaggerated. "Sure, he would pull his hair and say 'Do it again,'"
want any interruptions," Massey said. "At one point, we
had problems tuning the guitars -- the intonation was off. It stressed
didn't like us hanging out in the control room," Oakes said.
"He'd say 'Go get a beer at Casio's or something while I'm
tracking Chris.' He's a perfectionist. You have to respect his space."
of going for studio magic, he goes for performance," Massey
good coach like that," Oakes added. "When it's just you
and him in the studio, he coaches you through a part and pulls it
After the Bassline
sessions, Bayles spent a couple days in Lincoln at Presto! doing
the final mixes. Though all four songs on the EP were rerecorded,
only stage favorites "Too Cool for School," "Diet
Smoke" and the renamed "One Thousand Tongues" (released
as One Thousand Tounges" on the EP) were included in the final
version of Heavy Hands.
comparison of the two recordings of "Diet Smoke" reveals
Bayles' love for precision. Gone is the ephemeral buzzing and the
flat, two dimensional, tinny sound of the EP replaced with a tight,
three-dimensional capture of the band's throaty growl. The new songs
continued in the same direction as the EP. Opening track "Smuggler"
is what Nine Inch Nails would sound like if Trent Rezner were 10
years younger and not so self-loathing; the throbbing "Who
Believes Enough?" is a countdown to the end of the world; while
" comes off like the perfect waltz
for an underworld slaughterhouse, climaxing with a back-beat riff
stolen from AC/DC.
isn't the kind of album that you can play on your computer or set
as background music while doing laundry. As cliché as it
sounds, playing it at 10 rewards you with a whole different experience.
"Bayles wanted it so it wasn't compressed like a lot of stuff
being released today," Oakes said. "And as a result, it
sounds good loud."
mastering by Doug Van Sloun, the recording was handed over to Saddle
Creek in January. The band was kept on pins and needles for two
months. "It got to that point again where we just wanted to
know what they thought," Oakes said. "This time we were
excited to know either way. We had sufficiently prepared for the
answer being 'no.'"
classic mafia style, Maginn gave the band hints as to what Creek
was thinking. "All he said was something along the lines of,
'We have news. We've made a decision." It was very cryptic,"
By April, the
band was brought in for a meeting and told that the release date
would be Sept. 26, on Saddle Creek. Ladyfinger would join a roster
of bands that over the past few years has garnered a reputation
for being singer-songwriters, not rockers.
normal fans might hate it," Jones said of Heavy Hands.
years, Saddle Creek didn't seem like they were interested in rock
bands," Oakes said. "Cursive was the label's rock band.
With Beep Beep, Criteria and now us, the electric guitars have become
if it fits the label," Machmuller said. "We're going to
Europe in a month."
And so they
are, but first Ladyfinger is slated to open nine dates with Cursive,
starting this Saturday at First Avenue in Minneapolis and closing
with a gig at Webster Hall in New York City Oct. 1.
great opportunity for us," Oakes said. "They're friends
of ours, and they're fun to hang out with." And, he added sarcastically,
apparently the kids like Cursive. "Their fans were receptive
to us when we did some dates with them a year ago. It's like 'If
you're friends of Cursive, your friends of ours.'"
Ladyfinger will spend three weeks in Europe opening for Los Angeles-based
alt-metal band The Bronx and London-based garage-punk band Winnebago
Deal -- a tour that was also set up through Saddle Creek (though
the band has hired its own booking agent for subsequent tours).
become Saddle Creek's next big band? These wise guys ain't saying.
"Our goal is to have some good experiences and get on tours
with bigger bands," Jones said.
want to see some places we haven't seen before and record another
album," Oakes said. "We're not asking for much."
Published in The Omaha Reader Sept. 20, 2006.
Copyright © 2006 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Top
photo, Copyright © 2006 Bill
was the label's rock band. With Beep Beep, Criteria and now
us, the electric guitars have become more bountiful."