In the Doghouse with Neva
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: Dec. 12, 2001
The Good Life, Race for Titles, The Movies;
The Music Box,
7777 Cass St.,
So who's the dog? The band
refused to be photographed the day of the interview. "This new
thing we're doing without pictures separates the art from the
artist," Bellows said. Fact is the band said they couldn't
imagine sitting for a photographer. The only one who would stand still
is Bellows' dog, Purty, a Dalmatian that darted around the basement
practice space during the interview.
||Though they've been around since '93, the
guys in Neva Dinova can pin-point the origins of their current line-up to
one disastrous gig at Grandmother's restaurant on 84th and L St.
It was a little more than two years ago, and the band was in its normal
state of flux regarding personnel. In fact, the first time I ever saw the
band was years earlier, when they opened for Commander Venus and Norman
Bailer at the now-gone Capital Bar and Grill. "That was the night of
the 'rotating drummers,'" said guitarist, lead vocalist and primary
songwriter Jake Bellows from the band's practice space in the basement of
his modest South Omaha home.
"Conor Oberst, Todd and Clark Baechle each took a turn behind the
drums during our set," he said. "It was the first time we met
Todd." Months later, the Baechle brother's band, Norman Bailer,
turned into The Faint. Shortly afterward, Commander Venus disbanded and Oberst
began performing as Bright Eyes, and the rest is history.
But back to that ill-fated night at Grandmother's, one of Omaha's
less-auspicious night spots more famous for its onion rings than
its role as a music venue. Bellows and Neva's other original member,
bassist/vocalist Heath Koontz, along with recently added guitarist
Tim Haes and another soon-to-be-replaced drummer played a set so
horrible that Bellows said afterward the band put down their instruments
for a few months. "Do you really have to mention the Grandmother's
gig in the article?" Bellows asked.
Unfortunately it's unavoidable since it
was an historic night for the band. In addition to being the first gig for
guitarist Mike Kratkey ("I only played on three songs so you can't
blame me"), tending bar was future drummer Bo Anderson.
"I hadn't touched a drumstick since high school," Anderson said.
"I saw that show and said, 'How hard can it be?'"
Two years have since passed and these days there's something of a buzz around Neva
Dinova, thanks to their solid new full-length that seems to have caught
the eye of every local indie-rock label, but that ultimately landed on the record store shelves without a catalog number.
Recorded by the Mogis brothers last July at Lincoln's Presto studios --
where most of the Saddle Creek posse also records -- the self-titled CD is
a grab-bag of alt-rock musical styles that shift from track to track, sewn
together by Bellows' whimsy Thom Yorke-esque vocals and the music's
overall slouched-shouldered feel. The sound ranges from dreamy, echoey
guitar-driven head trips to "Sea of Love"-style ballads to
full-out anthemic rockers. Through it all, Neva Dinova provides a dense,
almost fuzzy-headed atmosphere that's a cross between early Radiohead and
the latter-day slacker-rock stylings of Pavement.
Bellows is unapologetic about the band's influences. "We jump
at the chance to talk about the bands we love," he said, leaning
over a large blue can of tobacco while rolling his own cigarettes,
a Velvet Underground and Nico poster on the wall over his right
shoulder. If there's a theme to the band's lifestyle, it's beer
and cigarettes, as a table nestled among the second-hand furniture
quickly filled with spent PBR cans and ashtrays brimmed with cig
butts. "The CD has a lot of variety on it. You go from a song
that features a saw and upright bass to a track with three distorted
guitars and lots of rock and roll drumming. I like the fact that
we don't have a style to stick to and that people can't peg our
sound. It's all based on the songs."
"The biggest thing that drew me in as a fan was how the band is
song-oriented rather than sound-oriented," Anderson added. "The
second time I saw them play, for example, they opened with a Leonard Cohen
"You go from a song that
features a saw and upright bass to a track with three distorted
guitars and lots of rock and roll drumming."
"We're getting all the
advantages of being on Saddle Creek without actually being on Saddle
Their eclectic song-based recipe immediately
caught the ear of Omaha's more discernible indie music fans, and
the buzz soon followed. Among their biggest supporters were members
of Saddle Creek Records bands The Faint, The Good Life and Cursive.
Would Saddle Creek consider releasing the LP? Bellows said though
there was some talk, no one from the label made an offer.
"We haven't had any specific offers from anyone, at least not from
Saddle Creek," Bellows said. "We talked about it and are of the
same mind, but we would just as soon invest our own money in putting it
out right now. I know those guys are super supportive and have gotten us
some great shows, but at the same time, we don't fit real neatly on their
That hasn't stopped Neva Dinova from taking advantage of their Saddle
Creek connections, however. "We're talking about going out for a
couple weeks with The Good Life," Bellows said. "We've been
introduced to a lot of good people in the business. We're getting all the
advantages of being on Saddle Creek without actually being on Saddle
In fact, the Dec. 21 Music Box show that puts Neva Dinova on the same
bill as The Good Life, as well as The Movies and Race for Titles, was the
brainchild of Good Life drummer Roger Lewis.
"Not getting signed doesn't phase us because we've invested too
much in this band already," Bellows said. "I'm talking about
sacrificing a lot of opportunities -- a good job, going to school or
having a family. Giving up is not an option."
With CD in hand, the band plans to get out of town on a tour, if they
can ever actually figure out where they want to go. "We're gonna
write down a list of towns where we want to play," Bellows said.
"We're looking at six or seven states, including a swing through
Cincinnati, Lawrence, Kan., Minneapolis and Chicago."
"We want to go wherever people want to hear us," Anderson
said. "There are two people who bought three of our records in the
state of California. If they're down with helping us put on a show, we're
"Our biggest problem is that we're very process- rather than
goal-oriented," said Anderson, who now has a day-job practicing
law. "I don't think we see beyond the 'Oh gosh, it would be
great to tour or get a record deal.' All that stuff would be fantastic
but it's out of our hands. Perhaps it's misguided, but we concentrate
on making good songs, and with a little help and a little luck,
the rest will take care of itself. Or else we'll be the best band
that no one's ever heard of."
Published in The Omaha Weekly Dec. 12, 2001. Copyright 2001 Tim
McMahan. All rights reserved.