is one aspect of your music that's particularly distinctive it's your use of percussion
in your songs.
I'm obsessive about the beats. It's a backbone and one
of the things I figure out first. It also helps me decide if I like a song or
not. Clay and I work hand-in-hand, and depending on the songs, I spend hours just
trying different things editing-wise with computer stuff. There is a specific
idea of what I want and expect from a beat, and I guess that's why each one has
a personality. I'm not likely to go with any regular beat. I specifically try
to use cymbals as infrequently as possible, and that makes for the ominous, mysterious,
maybe dramatic aspect of the music.
Is it hard to tear yourself away
from your studio to go on the road, or is it something you crave?
do crave it. It's a great contrast to the studio, which is total solitary confinement.
You get on the road and it's people all the time every day, constant movement
and doing things on the fly. It reasserts the core of what music is all about,
and is the most direct way to experience it.
Touring with Bright Eyes is
totally different, but I like doing both a lot. Anytime you play someone else's
songs it's a challenge, and it makes you a better musician. You take a different
approach and it expands your personality, really, because sometimes you have to
reach far to make sure you're connecting with the songs.
Who's with you
on this tour?
There are four of us this time. Clay Leverett on drums
and two guys from the Athens band Maserati, Steve Scarbourough on bass and Coley
Dennis on keyboards and guitar. Orenda and Maria are still involved with Now It's
Overhead, but they're on an Azure Ray tour right now. It works good to have a
slightly revolving lineup. There are songs that we can play with these guys that
we wouldn't play with them, and vice versa.
I have to ask about Michael
Stipe. Is his participation on your album a result of being a fellow musician
We've become friends over the years. He's a really great
guy. I worked on some REM stuff in the studio, so I didn't feel absurd asking
him to do it, and it worked out great. It was a thrill, but any sort of initial
freak-out factor had already been dealt with since I've known him for several
years. It felt really good and natural, but at the same time I had to check myself.
been around Omaha over the years. How would you compare it with Athens?
are similarities. Athens' music scene was started a long time ago in the late
'70s and early '80s, and had such a big blowup that it formed a permanent music
community. Athens can support a lot of musicians and artists because the costs
are low and it's very liberal. Everyone knows each other and you don't have to
work all the time to survive.
There are more bands in Athens than Omaha,
but it's not as focused a music scene as there is with Saddle Creek. The core
people in both cities are very similar in what they like to do and their attitudes
toward music and art and everything.
The Creek scene has grown more out
of an attempt to create something out of nothing, or something more than what
was there. Saddle Creek has an advantage in that they had to fight and work so
hard to get what they have. That's really a pretty good work ethic.
in The Omaha Reader March 31, 2004. Copyright © 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.