in 2002 out of the ashes of bands Real Time Optimists and Bleeders
for Treats, The Stay Awake stayed in the basement for a year before
their inauspicious debut at Ted & Wally's in 2003. Since then,
they've generated a small but loyal following thanks to a series
of blistering shows at clubs around town.
If forced, you
could classify their sound as "post-hardcore"
They're often placed side-by-side with Unwound -- even the band
says it's a common comparison. Too bad they don't sound anything
like the Olympia-based band, whose style -- while arch and jagged
-- is slower, almost plodding, and downright gentle compared to
The Stay Awake's abrasive cacophony. Uptempo Big Black might be
a better comparison, but even that's a stretch.
In fact, The
Stay Awake don't really sound like any other band. Their music is
jittery, intricate syncopated almost-stuttering movements done in
odd meters braced around a foundation of hard-angled chords and
spare (if nonexistent) melodies. It sounds like brash, free-form
avant jazz with a distinct element of improvisation (by all three)
within the songs' rigid structures. On stage, Micek's vocals are
mostly incoherent barks used more for rhythm than anything. That's
not the case on the band's new CD, the 8-song self-released debut,
Fiat Lux in Tenibris -- a phrase, Little said, pieced from
bits of Latin that means "In light there is darkness."
The phrase was stolen from a movie, just like the band's name which
is a reference to the 1987 teen slasher film The Stay Awake.
While it took
only four days to record the CD, it took a year and a half for Micek
to mix it. "It only took that long because they wouldn't let
me record it again," Micek said. "I've recorded stuff
before that and since, and it all sounds better than this."
Maybe so, but
it's still one of the best local recordings you'll find. Clean and
precise, each instrument and sassy vocal is perfectly separated
and balanced, but combine for a brutal sonic punch to the groin.
The best way
to find it is at Saturday's CD release show or in local record stores.
The band said it's not eager to shop the disc to labels. "If
someone wants to put it out, fine," Micek said. "We don't
expect too much out of it."
There also are
no plans to tour, though they probably could. Little works at Homer's
and Ted & Wally's; Alderfer builds guitar pedals while Micek
has a more formal day job installing heating and cooling.
tour as well," Micek said. "I haven't seen a need to do
it. It's kind of stupid to go on tour if you don't have something
to leave behind."
Until six months
ago, they didn't even have T-shirts. Now they do, complete with
an illustration that, again, is tied to a movie theme -- the Johnny
Depp vehicle The Ninth Gate. "The (T-shirt's) image
looks like a die cut engraving. It's one of a series of nine,"
Little said "The plan was to make a T shirt for each one."
if all nine Stay Awake fans are in one room, the gates of hell would
open," Micek remarked snarkily.
for our band is that we think of ourselves as DIY," Little
said. "We're not interested in being part of the industry.
We make music to make music."
we're a band's band," Alderfer said. "People in other
bands approach us after shows. What we do appeals to musicians more
who play music obviously pay attention to how it's made," Micek
said. "Most people don't spend time forming opinions. They
like what they like.
If they listened to what we're saying, they'd probably be alienated
anyway. We don't care what anyone thinks of us."
I like it when someone approaches me after a show," Alderfer
it, but that's not what were in it for," Micek replied.
And so the arguing
continued, back and forth, beer after beer. "The main reason
we work so well together is because we're so adversarial,"
Micek said. "We don't agree with each other about anything.
We're pushing squares into round holes."
Published in The Omaha Reader Jan. 24, 2008.
Copyright © 2008 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
Photo by Sean Welch. Used by permission.