the release of their debut CD, Race for Titles goes to work carving
a niche in the overcrowded Omaha music scene and beyond.
for Titles: Crossing the Finish Line
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: October 22, 2002
w/ The Red + The Black, Sound of Rails, 1989 Chicago Cubs
Saturday, Oct. 26
13th & Martha
Omaha rock band Race for Titles is like talking to four brothers
eager to finish the others' sentences -- never quite agreeing but
ultimately seeing eye-to-eye on everything after the conversation
has bounced from one to another like a game of hot potato.
scene is the offices of Media Services where a couple Racers work
day jobs for the company that makes, among other things, CDs. The
band has set up a space in one of the warehouse-like back rooms
and chills before practice while drummer Matt Bowen eagerly devours
a plate of hong shu chicken.
Though they're celebrating
the release of their debut CD Oct. 26 at Sokol Underground, Race
for Titles has been around for more than a year. Bassist Ryan McLaughlin
and singer/guitarist Jamie Massey formed the band with guitarist
Zac Lorenzen (ex-Come On, Jack) a few months before their former
band, Red Menace, broke up in June 2000. The original line-up included
Eric Ebers (Five Story Fall, ex-Ritual Device) on drums, who was
replaced briefly by Roger Lewis (The Good Life) and then by a drum
machine named Ernie.
Ironically, Race for
Titles' June 2, 2001, stage debut at Sokol, backed by the ghostly
Ernie, was an opening slot for another band making its debut, Magic
Kiss, which featured guitarist Matt Bowen, a veteran of a handful
of Saddle Creek Records-related bands including Norman Bailer, The
Faint, Commander Venus and Lullaby for the Working Class.
While Ernie always kept
a steady beat, he lacked something -- a human pulse. "The problem
with using a drum machine is that there is no sense of dynamics,"
Plus, there's always
room for malfunction. During one gig in Lincoln, the stage was so
dark that Lorenzen accidentally stepped on the wrong control pedal.
"We'd be playing a slow part of a song and then step on the
thing and it would just take off -- dinga-dong dinga-dong dinga-dong."
"We fired our drummer
after that and sold him on Ebay," Massey said.
"Ernie was a special
man," McLaughlin added, "but he just couldn't hang with
luck would have it, the magic in Magic Kiss wore off quickly and
the band broke up after playing one gig. Having just purchased a
new drum set with birthday money, Bowen was looking for job. By
late August 2001, Race for Title's current lineup was in place and
playing its first gig at The Howard Street.
Bowen, who looks like
a cross between a younger, thinner Frank Black and a non-goth Billy
Corgan (right down to Corgan's Uncle Fester haircut), said the band
had only written six songs by the time he joined, all of which ended
up getting a complete facelift. "They definitely became louder
after I got ahold of them," he said.
With limited funds, the
band entered Lincoln's Presto! Studios last summer with 11 songs.
All made it onto the completed CD. "That was the game plan
entering the studio," McLaughlin said. "We spent a month
going over those songs before we started recording."
The band laid down tracks
for seven days, followed by a rough mix, which they took home to
mull over individually. When they got back together, they approached
the project "with fresh ears," Massey said. Producer AJ
Mogis had developed a few ideas to help fill out the sound with
additional instruments. "AJ has a natural approach," Bowen
said. "He knows how to get what he hears on tape. I don't know
what the word 'overproduced' means. If you have to lay down 12 guitar
tracks, that's what you do."
The finished product
is a dark, glowing emotional thrill ride. When The Cure is mentioned
in passing, one band member considers the comparison a huge complement,
while the other would just assume that The Cure never be mentioned.
The resemblance, however, is undeniable. The self-titled debut has
that same haunted feeling that can be found on The Cure's moody
classic, Disintegration, thanks to echoing, chiming guitar
lines (the CD's most distinctive characteristic) and Massey's fallen-down-a-well
Lines also can be drawn
to pals Cursive (and Tim Kasher's spin-off ensemble, The Good Life),
whose influence can be heard in the complex rhythms, angular guitars
and bone-breaking drumming on such epic tracks as "We Can Start
Here," "The Distance Session" and "6B."
But beyond the influences,
Race for Titles has created an atmospheric, almost ambient punk
rock CD whose dark, gothic overtones cover everything in a blanket
of foreboding and ennui. Despite the crunch, the CD is best played
on overcast days toward the end of autumn, when you know the darkness
of winter if just around the corner.
don't know what the word 'overproduced' means. If you have
to lay down 12 guitar tracks, that's what you do."
business is a bunch of handshakes and who-you-knows."
lyrics, printed beneath the clear CD holder in the jewel case, are
hard to read and that was probably intentional as Massey uses his
voice more as an additional instrument than a tool to convey his
thoughts. If you read closely, you'll find stories of alienation
and longing in lines like "I can hardly stand / The sight
of myself / What am I doing to myself" (On
Air); or "Don't bother saying goodbye / Just leave the
note on the table" (Static Online). Sad, sad tales, though
lyricist Massey is hardly a sad-sack. "I never sit down and
actually write lyrics," he said. "They're usually the
first things to come out of my mouth when I'm trying to find the
melodies; they reflect the feelings that I get from what we're playing."
"We would sound
pretty silly if we were singing New Found Glory lyrics," Bowen
The band has found itself
in a niche in the Omaha music scene that includes such bands as
Neva Dinova, The Monroes, The Carsinogents, Fizzle Like a Flood
and Musico -- quality, original indie-rock acts that just happen
to not be on the Saddle Creek Records label, though their music
is no less unique or worthy of national attention. Fact is, this
special niche is always overlooked when national magazines roll
into town to write feature stories extolling Omaha as "the
new Seattle," focusing entirely on the Saddle Creek club.
Bowen says his band is
comfortable where it's at. "Saddle Creek bands don't have a
magic wand," he said. "They tour nonstop. If other Omaha
bands got out and toured, they would have the same high profile."
That said, Race for Titles'
first national tour will be supporting Cursive in January, which
Bowen calls "a good kick-start to get people out to see us."
"This business is
a bunch of handshakes and who-you-knows," he said. "If
you want to get in with labels and booking agents, you need to drop
a couple names. The guys in Cursive are good friends of ours, and
that relationship helps a lot."
It was Lorenzen's friendship
with Redemption Records' owner Ryan Kuper that helped the band land
a record contract. With a finished CD in hand in June, the band
had sent the recording to a number of labels knowing that Kuper
wanted to release it. "His offer was always out there,"
Lorenzen said. "It's huge to have someone really into your
record who has a good idea how to market it."
The promotion plan includes
extensive radio and press, along with advertising provided by Kuper
and the label's national distributor, Lumberjack.
The next step, Bowen
said, is lining up a booking agent and then finding time to hit
the road. He discards the idea of generating a strong "Omaha
following" through constant local gigging.
"There's no reason
to play more than once a month in town," he said. "When
you over-saturate yourself, it's not an event anymore."
"We want to be recognized
on a national level," Lorenzen said.
Bowen. "We want to be successful everywhere."
Published in The Omaha Weekly Oct. 23, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim
McMahan. All rights reserved.