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The Lepers: Dynamic Duo

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: January 22, 2003

The Lepers
w/ Fromanhole, The Quiet Type, Her Flyaway Manner
Friday, Jan. 24
9 p.m., $5
Sokol Auditorium

13th and Martha

Listening to Lincoln experimental rock duo The Lepers is no easy task. It takes a certain amount of investment by an open-minded listener.

"You have to be bent toward our kind of music," says The Lepers' guitarist/vocalist Owen Cleasby, who shares the band with drummer Ken Brock. "If you don't have the patience to sit down and listen to the songs and how they develop, you won't appreciate them. It's not for people who are into power pop or three-minute songs."

The pay-off for perseverance, however, can be quite rewarding. On The Love from Above, The Lepers' just released full-length on Caulfield Records, the duo creates an orgy of dark brooding that borders on dread and despair. This is the music that should be playing in the background as Col. Kurtz is massacred by Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now.



Cleasby weaves echoing, textured guitars and lost-soul vocals over Brock's intricate, mathematically precise drumming. It all sounds like dark-oil-black-leather-midnight-death. And when Brock goes totally tribal and Cleasby loses it, like on the volcanic "Beating the Bushes," it borders on fear.

Not a pop album, The Love from Above, is more of an experiment in ambiance and texture that compares vaguely to some of Perry Farrell's more heady, drug-induced forays. In fact, with its array of headphone dynamics and earthy, echoing sounds, the CD more resembles a motion picture soundtrack than a rock record.

"I don't think we're happy with a song unless it has that otherworldly quality to it," Cleasby said. "If we don't feel that we've been taken some place while a song is unfolding, than it's just dead material."

It all sounds great, unless you're the guy who has to book the band in your club. With the first two tracks of Love... spanning over 16 minutes, chances are pretty good that most club owners aren't going to take the time to figure out what Cleasby and Brock are going for. And if they don't have the patience, what makes them think an audience will?

"It puts us in a tough spot," Cleasby said. "A lot of times, bookers feel like they're taking a chance with our band. And in a lot of respects, they are."

It's hard to know what to expect when Cleasby takes a seat on stage in front of Brock's drum kit. At the recent Jesus Christ Superstar benefit show, where Omaha and Lincoln bands played their unique takes on songs from the famous musical, The Lepers stole the show in front of a crowd made of people who, for the most part, had never heard of them. Their rendition of "The Temple" went from quiet, humble and mesmerizing to a wall of highly orchestrated, textured feedback driven forward by Brock's throbbing, tribal drums.

"If we don't feel that we've been taken some place while a song is unfolding, than it's just dead material."



"I'm knocked out whenever someone buys a record from us or comes up after a show to tell us they had a good time."


Getting people to listen has been a challenge from the band's very start. Cleasby and Brock first played together as part of the Lincoln trio Gregory with bassist Mark Wolberg. The band kicked around the Lincoln scene from '93 through '97, releasing a full-length CD but only doing minimal touring. After Wolberg left the band, Cleasby and Brock couldn't find a replacement that shared their musical vision.

"We tried a couple guys, but in the end we were happier just playing as a duo," Cleasby said. "It was too difficult to get a new guy acclimated to what we were trying to do. The ethereal quality and minimalist aspects of our music come from just having a guitar and drums. Whenever we've added musicians, it just distracted from things."

While the first Lepers CD was recorded with Wolberg, Cleasby and Brock went it alone for The Love from Above, recorded last spring at Lincoln's Presto! Studios by A.J. Mogis. Though released just a few months ago, Cleasby said he and Brock have already recorded their next CD, which is waiting to be mastered.

"We knocked it out in four days at Presto!," Cleasby said. "It's more of a rock album, with shorter, more straight-forward songs that are immediately gratifying and more uplifting. It's quite a contrast from our last record."

He said they hope to have the CD out later this year. For now, they're focused on touring throughout the Midwest and growing a following, if necessary, one fan at a time.

"We don't take audience appreciation for granted," Cleasby said. "I'm knocked out whenever someone buys a record from us or comes up after a show to tell us they had a good time. We want to keep building on that as we do more and more touring."

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Published in The Omaha Weekly-Reader Jan. 22, 2003. Copyright 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.