In many ways, Pedersen has been working
toward a music career substantially longer than his soon-to-be aborted
law career. He says being on the label has been in the back of his
mind years before Saddle Creek Records became a powerhouse indie-rock
label. All the way back to his Creighton Prep days as a member of
a little cover band called The March Hares with high school buddies
Tim Kasher and Matt Maginn. The band would evolve into Slowdown
Virginia, which would become Cursive, which would be his step-off
band before Pedersen headed to Duke in 1998.
Even while studying at Chapel Hill, Pedersen couldn't get the rock
out of his blood, forming The White Octave (Ironically, former White
Octave members Finn Cohen and Robert Biggers are members of The
Nein, the band opening for Criteria Saturday night). Friends and
Kutak Rock called him back to Omaha in November 2001, where Pedersen
landed a job as a commercial litigator.
Criteria came next. Pedersen recorded the band's first album before
it was even a band, playing almost all the instruments on the soaring
2003 debut, En Garde, released on tiny Initial Records. Soon
after, drummer Mike Sweeney (Bright Eyes, Beep, Beep), bassist A.J.
Mogis (We'd Rather Be Flying, Lullaby for the Working Class), and
guitarist Aaron Druery (Lincoln's Ghost Runners) joined Pedersen,
and the band quickly made a name for itself playing small tours
when Pedersen could get away from the office using his vacation
days. Despite very little touring, En Garde moved 5,000 copies
for Initial. Their biggest seller, it wasn't nearly enough to keep
the label afloat and they closed their doors in the fall of 2004.
To absolve debt with Pedersen, Initial gave back the rights to En
Garde as well as The White Octave's last record, Menergy.
That left Criteria without a label, but by then a number of major
labels had turned an eye to the band. Among them, RCA, who had flown
Critera to New York for an audition-style gig. Pedersen's terms,
however, were daunting -- the label would have to pay off his Duke
law school debt. "RCA said 'no way,'" Pedersen said. "If
I were RCA, I would have said no way, too. There were three majors
interested in us, and I talked to two of them pretty extensively.
At the end of the day, it wasn't worth it. I was happy with my lawyer/rocker
By December 2004, Criteria had finished the follow-up to En
Garde, recording most of the tracks in Pedersen's home-basement
studio. Called When We Break, the 11-song LP is more tuneful,
more confident that the debut, featuring the same raw, floating,
angular, waltzy energy that Criteria has become known for.
"I gave Saddle Creek a copy before anyone else," Pedersen
said. "(Label employee) Matt Maginn was my champion. He got
the music to everyone and explained the situation with Initial and
what the band was willing to do to get signed. I said if Saddle
Creek puts it out, I'll support it." That meant extensive touring,
and, of course, leaving Kutak Rock and a burgeoning law career.
The label took a sneaky approach to breaking the good news. Maginn
told Pedersen he had set up a meeting to discuss how to present
the deal to label managers Robb Nansel and Jason Kulbel. "We
headed down to Mr. Toads, and were met by all these other Creek
employees. They said they loved the record and wanted to put it
out. I asked if it was some kind of sick joke."
"The decision to leave Kutak Rock
for Saddle Creek had already been made in my mind."