lazyhome         reviews         hype         webboard                interviews

Neva Dinova

Neva Dinova:
Come Hootch or High Water

Surviving booze, near break-ups and biblical floods, Neva Dinova is back with its best record ever.
story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: April 16, 2008

Neva Dinova
w/Ladyhawk, No Blood Orphan

Thursday, April 24
9 p.m.
The Waiting Room
6212 Maple St.

Neva Dinova drummer Roger Lewis assumed that the series of delays and disasters that marred the completion of the band's just-released album, You May Already Be Dreaming, was an act of God.

"I began thinking this record should not be made," he said from the darkened confines of The Underwood Bar, surrounded by his band mates and a table filled with ashtrays and quart-sized bottles of Miller Lite. "There had to be a reason this was happening. But somehow we fought through it. It got to a point where we believed in what we were doing and nothing was going to stop us."

Lewis and bandmates, frontman/guitarist Jake Bellows, bassist Heath Koontz, and guitarists Tim Haes and Mike Kratky, have seen Neva Dinova rise, than almost drown in an ocean of booze and flood waters, only to somehow break to the surface and make it to shore.

Their story began 15 years ago when Koontz and Bellows formed Neva Dinova as a basement project launched at a self-described "disastrous gig" at Grandmother's restaurant on 84th and L. More disastrous gigs followed, along with even more inspired performances, culminating in an album's worth of songs that would become Neva Dinova's self-released debut in 2001.

The album caught the attention of Jeff Matlow at Crank! Records, a then-respectable indie label whose stable included Mineral, The Gloria Record, Sunday's Best, even a pre-Saddle Creek release by Cursive. Neva would sign a two-record deal with Crank! that they would live to regret.

"At the time, those guys went to bat for us when no one else would touch us, and they lost money on us," Bellows said. "They were struggling, but they went out on a limb for us anyway."



Crank! re-released Neva Dinova's self-titled debut in 2002 with little fanfare and fewer sales, even though the band had landed an impressive opening slot with Cursive in January 2003. "At the time, we had developed a reputation for being the heaviest drinking band around, which is nothing to strive for, nothing to be proud of," Koontz said.

"Our biggest challenge was finishing a bottle of Jim Beam on stage," Lewis added.

But for Bellows and the rest of the band, touring always had been a goal. "We were traveling from town to town playing music. It could have been worse," Bellows said. "Our only job was to drive, set up, drink beer and play music. No one knew who we were anyway. It was an underdog mentality. Having us on the same bill as Cursive wasn't exactly a popular decision with the booking agent. It didn't help that bill at all."

But that would change with their next record -- a split EP with Bright Eyes called One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels. Recorded in a basement studio, the 6-song EP featured three Neva songs and three songs by Conor Oberst backed by Neva. Saddle Creek had wanted to release the EP, but Bellows insisted on Crank!

"Saddle Creek would have done a better job for us for sure," Bellows said. "But we owed Crank! a solid."

"They were using our relationship with Conor to put out that split and make money," Lewis said. "They wanted to get out of debt using Bright Eyes."

Bellows said the EP increased Neva Dinova's visibility tenfold. "It was the biggest bone we were ever thrown," he said. "That Bright Eyes split exposed us to thousands of people who never heard of us. Our first record sold 1,300 copies. The split sold 35,000. I figured at some point the listeners would get tired of skipping over our tracks and have to listen to us."

Among those listeners was singer-songwriter Johnathan Rice, who covered "Poison" from the EP while on tour with Jenny Lewis in March 2006. Introducing the song, Rice called Bellows one of his favorite song writers.

The split EP provided momentum for The Hate Yourself Change, the full-length follow-up to their debut. Recorded by A.J. Mogis over four weeks at Presto! Studios, the record took Bellows' dreamy lullabies and added muscle along with plenty of room for the three guitarists to stretch.

Crank! insisted on mastering the recording themselves, sending the tapes to a hand-picked recording engineer at Capitol Records who returned an unusable product. "All of the tracks were out of phase," Bellows said. "One of the tracks was cut off halfway through. I said, 'Do you mind if we put out the whole song?' They hadn't even listened to it. We thought they cared, but we were mistaken."

"They had no intention of putting out that second album as far I'm concerned," Lewis said. "They had no vision of our band."





neva album cover

"At the time, we had developed a reputation for being the heaviest drinking band around, which is nothing to strive for, nothing to be proud of."









neva group shot


"We were like a contemporary version of The Replacements. We had some quality music, but it was constantly overshadowed by our attitude."

Local sound engineer Doug Van Sloun remastered the album, and Crank! eventually sold the record's publishing rights to Sidecho Records, who released it in 2005. Neva spent months on the road that year supporting the album in what the band refers to as "the shit tour."

"It seemed like we were professional traveling drunk assholes," Bellows said of the endless string of booze-soaked shows. "It isn't fun when you make a mockery of what you do. I thought it was disrespectful to the tunes and the band. "

But maybe the shit tour had been inevitable. "We just loved to have fun making music and drinking beer," he said of the band's early days. "We were like a contemporary version of The Replacements. We had some quality music, but it was constantly overshadowed by our attitude."

Neva had become known as an unpredictable party band. "People were going to shows and buying us drinks and requesting that I tell stories," said Bellows, whose on-stage of-the-cuff riffs are legendary. "We became a novelty. People came to see what crazy thing we might say or do. That shit turns into a bummer and makes me not want to talk on stage at all anymore. It started feeling like a sideshow."

"We weren't progressing. We were going backwards," Lewis said. "I felt that there was a passion missing."

By their last show in Denver, everyone in the band had had enough. Bellows already had begun another project with Todd Fink of The Faint called Cocoon, and was ready to forget Neva altogether.

Instead, Neva Dinova entered a cocoon of its own, going dormant for eight months until they were asked to open a Bright Eyes concert in Memorial Park in the summer of 2006. "That helped save the band," Lewis said. "We started working on new songs, and realized we were actually pretty good."

"It was like a midlife crisis," Bellows said. "We asked ourselves why we were doing what we were doing, and what we wanted to do. The answer was to go out and play music for people and make it sound good."

With the Crank! deal over, Saddle Creek finally became Neva Dinova's label, but making a new record wasn't going to be easy.

The band's first sessions, at Bass Line Studios with veteran engineer Tim Cich, were eventually discarded. "It wasn't Cich's fault," Bellows said. "We liked working with him, but we were rushing everything. I went back and rerecorded the guitars and vocals and said, 'Wow, this sucks. We need to do something different.'"

So instead of entering another studio, Neva took their recording budget and built one of their own, purchasing an 8-track tape machine, a Pro Tools set up, quality amps, microphones and other equipment. And instead of finding another basement, the band moved their equipment to an empty room in The Goofy Foot Lodge -- the same room where Simon Joyner had recorded his last album.

Everything was in place for sessions to begin in May, and then disaster struck. A freak spring storm dumped eight inches of rain in a few hours, overtaxing the Goofy Foot's roof and flooding the band's ad hoc studio. Neva's new equipment was soaked in four inches of standing water.

"I went into that room and turned into a cartoon," Bellows said. "I said 'Oh what the fuck are we gonna do?'"

"My drums were literally floating in water," Lewis added. "I tripped."

The equipment was quickly hustled to high ground where it was allowed to dry for three weeks. "The place just wouldn't dry out," Bellows said. "We had pedals sitting in front of fans. Finally, we turned everything on, and one after another, it all worked. It was a miracle."



For the sessions, Koontz said the band took a more organic approach to recording. "We recorded the songs as we learned them," he said. "We were trying to capture the moment when the songs felt fresh, spending only two or three days per song."

"It was weird to me," said Lewis, who prefers spending a lot of time practicing and playing live before recording. "I didn't want it to sound like a glorified demo, but it ended up being fucking awesome. My only complaint was that it was 120 degrees in there during the sessions, and I had a heatstroke moment. It was hot."

"Dude, I was sleeping down there," Bellows replied. "I would swim to the bathroom in my own juices. I remember it being 115 degrees on stage and slicing my hands open on the guitar strings because they were like sponges."

The band spent its leftover recording budget on mixing and mastering. Ian Aeillo mixed the tracks with Bellows and Koontz at ARC studios. "We finished in August," Lewis said. "It was the happiest day of my life."

The final product combines Neva Dinova's shimmering, country-fied backbeat melodies with an electric rumble that underlies Bellows' often dark, often desperate lyrics of love, loss and death. After hearing lines like, "It's so hard to love your body from the ground." ("Love from Below"), "Stay awake, I hear the reaper's hand drag across my bed in the silence." ("Trytophan") and "Will the ladies send you flowers when you die?" listeners might picture Bellows as a morose, dark, almost gothic character. In fact, he's become the designated class clown of the Omaha music scene, a genius that's neither troubled nor trouble, at least not any more.

After 15 years of highs and lows, Neva Dinova is once again being whispered as being Omaha's "next big thing." Whether it happens or not, Bellows said the band will always try to keep it together.

"We've kept it together this long because we all have the same idea of what friendship is," he said. "We insist on being friends."

Back to  huge.gif (2200 bytes)

Published in The Omaha Reader April 16, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







"I would swim to the bathroom in my own juices."