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The Sound of Beep Beep

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: July 24, 2003

Beep Beep
w/ Criteria, My Name is Rar-Rar
July 30
Duffy's Tavern
1412 O St. Lincoln

Generally, you don't start articles with the story behind a band's name. But in this instance, it seems fitting.

"Whenever I went to use a drinking station at work, I would say 'Beep beep' to get through a crowd because I didn't want to touch anyone," says singer/guitarist Chris Hughes. Hughes is intense. He is animated. He stares you directly in the eyes and does not blink. "'Beep beep' meant get out of the way, I want to make a fax. I never talked to my co-workers, I just said 'Beep beep.' It's also a reaction to the overt repression in the office environment. I don't want to exude any sexuality at work."

The story is kind of like the band's sound. It's weird. It's awkwardly sexual while being strangely detached. It comes straight from the heart, which means it's honest, maybe too honest.

At first blush, Beep Beep's sound begs comparisons to art rock arbiters of the late '70s and '80s, like tense, anxious, early Talking Heads or sneering, confrontational Public Image Ltd.

But scholars of the '90s Omaha punk scene could just as easily find Beep Beep's influences in the quirky style of punkers Mousetrap -- a band that Hughes and his partner in crime, guitarist/vocalist Eric Bemberger, both admired.



Or you could go back to their roots as players in a number of seminal Omaha bands. The two first met in 1995 when Bemberger was playing a show with Blandine Cosima, a band that also included Aaron Druery (Criteria) and Beep Beep drummer Mike Sweeney. "Eric had just finished his set and I thought 'Oh my God.' I approached him and said, 'I want to be your friend as soon as possible.' It was almost like a crush."

It was a meaningful compliment coming from Hughes, a veteran of The Magnetas, a band that included Todd Baechle (The Faint), Ben Armstrong (Head of Femur) and Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes); as well as an early version of Norman Bailer with Baechle.

The two would first join forces in 1996 with the band Gabardine that included Hughes' roommates Joel Petersen (The Faint) and Armstrong. Gabardine recorded a 6-song EP and two tracks for a Saddle Creek sampler before breaking up in the summer of 1998.

Afterward, Hughes and Bemberger both considered dropping out of music altogether. Bemberger had simply lost faith in his own abilities. "I had played a little with Bright Eyes and tried out with Cursive, Son, Ambulance and The Faint. I kind of write guitar parts that double as melody, but I'm not a lead guitar player at all and that's all they wanted. I fell into this pit of self doubt because I didn't want to play that role."

Meanwhile, Hughes was battling his own personal demons in the form of a bi-polar disorder that had forced him to "spend some time in the booby hatch and work shit out." When he emerged from his fog in September of 2000, he again struck up his relationship with Bemberger.

"Musically, we hadn't communicated with each other," Hughes said. "I had been in a black hole and hadn't been introduced to anything new. Eric brought me up to date and I said, 'Let's see what we can do from here.'"

They spent almost a year working on songs with a drum machine and a four-track, formulating ideas to explore once they could get a rhythm section together. Katie Muth (Real Time Optimists) joined on bass. Finding a drummer, however, proved a bigger challenge. The duo won't say how many drummers they went through before rediscovering Mike Sweeney. "We wanted someone like Spoon's drummer (Jim Eno) or Charlie Watts," Bemberger said. "Someone with amazing tone who knew when not to play. We found Sweeney."

"He is Charlie Watts," Hughes said.

Though their first live show was in January 2001, Hughes and Bemberger said they only recently found their voice as a band, captured on an unavailable 6-song demo.

"Up until these songs, we played music from the perspective of what we thought a serious band should be doing," Bemberger said. "For whatever reason, we said, 'Fuck it. Let's just freak out and enjoy what we're doing and stop being uptight.'"

"For whatever reason, we said, 'Fuck it. Let's just freak out and enjoy what we're doing and stop being uptight.'"




"You unhinge your skull and show them your brain in a stream of consciousness mode."



Hughes said the new approach was liberating. "You unhinge your skull and show them your brain in a stream of consciousness mode," he said. "When Eric writes a guitar part that is particularly slinky, I'm translating it lyrically."

The result can be both groovy and unsettling. If you think The Faint's lyrics are strangely sexual, Beep Beep's will seem downright pornographic. Songs like the seamy "Electronic Wolves," which gives an insider's view of the Internet porn industry, and "Oh, No!" that talks about making "your lap a snack and your skin my religion," have the same literary texture as a Bret Easton Ellis novel (You know which one I'm talking about).

"It's me celebrating my sexuality," Hughes said. "When we recorded 'Giggle Giggle' with A.J. Mogis, he thought it was pedophilic. In fact, it's about my fiancée, who I first had a crush on 13 years ago when she was a cheerleader."

Among the lyrics: "I get to see you in your school clothes / I'm going to bounce you up and down on my knee / We're gonna giggle until our giggles become tickles / Until my work pants are soiled."

Hughes spits the lyrics inside the edges of a guitar riff that is as arch and angular as it is pure funk. The basic recipe for most Beep Beep songs is Hughes or Bemberger tumbling their vocals over a jagged, bouncy riff, minimal and harsh, and oh so deceptively simple.

"We tried to take these very abrasive, powerful, destructive noises and cram them into a somewhat pop structure that we like to think is extremely concise," Bemberger said.

The rest of the world will get a chance to hear those noises either live at Duffy's July 30 or in a future CD, as the demos are being rerecorded. The band spent five days in June at Presto! Studios in Lincoln working with A.J. Mogis and plan to finish the recording sometime in August, with a finished product in hand hopefully by October. The goal is to entice a label to put out the CD and to back it up with a tour.

Bemberger is calculated about his future. A chemistry major at UNO, he already has his pre-pharmacy requirements completed. But school can wait. "We're just after a shot at this point in our lives," he said. "I have three years to do nothing but music. I have never toured in my life, and it's something I've always wanted to do."

Hughes agreed. "We do want label support, but I just want to see other cities. I've never been to New York or California. That's what it's all about."

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Published in The Omaha Weekly-Reader July 23, 2003. Copyright 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Illustration by Chris Hughes. Used by permission.