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Desaparecidos Update:
Dining at Denny's

story by tim mcmahan




Lazy-i: August 6, 2002

Want more? Check out Lazy-i's April 2001 Desa interview and the January 2002 interview.  

Critical acclaim for a new CD, opening for Jimmy Eat World's national tour and appearing on MTV -- you could say it's been a busy year for Desaparecidos, the Saddle Creek Records band fronted by Bright Eyes' mastermind Conor Oberst.

The year started quick out of the gate with the release of the band's debut full-length, Read Music/Speak Spanish, in January. The pseudo concept album caught the attention of the national indie-rock community with its lyrical reflections on modern-day consumerism, urban sprawl and the frantic pace of America's never-ending hunger for more, more, more.

The band set out headlining a club tour before the CD caught the ear of alt rockers Jimmy Eat World, a band that throttled back its edgy punk sound on their last album, Bleed American, and as a result garnered both radio airplay and a new, sizable national audience. J.E.W. reached out and asked Desaparecidos to open for them on their summer tour. The band quickly saw their live audience grow from 300 to 500 a night to 3,000 to 5,000 a night.

Then in July a camera crew from MTV flew to Omaha and interviewed the band for a news segment called "You Hear It First," that features emerging bands on the brink of stardom. Viewers watched as the five piece, that includes Oberst (vocals, guitar), Denver Dalley (guitar), Casey Scott (bass), Ian McElroy (keyboards), and Matt Baum (drums) goofed off in front of an abandoned Omaha Kmart store.

We caught up with Denver Dalley via cell phone after the guitarist finished slamming down a stack of pancakes at a Denny's about 50 miles outside of Chicago Aug. 3. The band was slated to play at Chicago's Fireside Theater that same evening as it winds down a tour that ends with a show at Sokol Auditorium Aug. 9 with Neva Dinova, This Just In, and tour mates Rilo Kiley, the most recent band to join the Saddle Creek Records roster.




Who decides where you're gonna eat when you're on tour?

Dalley: Denny's was the consensus. We also eat at Taco Bell a lot because their bean burritos are vegetarian. Denny's has a better variety. Conor is the only vegan among us. The Rilo Kiley guys are vegetarian, too. I'm whatever.

You should have ordered a Denver Omelet.

Yeah, that would have been perfect, but I was in the mood for pancakes.

How was the show last night in Grand Rapids?

It was all right. It was an early show. There was a metal show after us and that was kind of weird. There was a good amount of kids out and I thought we sounded really good. The night before in Detroit sounded horrible. The guy running the monitors didn't know what he was doing. It was our fault, too, since we got cocky and didn't do a sound check. I guess it sounded good in the house. The Rilo Kiley guys said it sounded great.

What happened in Philadelphia? I understand they canceled your show because the venue got closed down.

The venue was kind of like The Cog Factory and a larger booker wanted to shut it down because it took away from his business. The newspaper in Philadelphia did a big story on it. The city said the neighbors were complaining about the show, but the paper interviewed them and they said they didn't even know shows were going on. It's a case where bigger corporations are going after the little independents. Hopefully we can make up the Philly show.

How did the MTV thing come about?

Our mutual friend, Gideon Yago, one of the anchor men there, really liked our album, and said he wanted to do a 'You Hear It First' spot. I knew Robb (Nansel, operator of Saddle Creek Records) would be manic about it. We had them e-mail our press agent, Girlie Action. They came to Omaha and filmed us practicing in Conor's basement and in the parking lot at the closed Kmart at 120th and Center, which seemed a little more interesting than sitting in front of a curtain.

The interview was pretty standard issue. They encouraged us to goof around and didn't want all these serious answers, and then asked us all these serious questions. It makes us the first Saddle Creek band on MTV other than The Faint being mentioned on news spots and the No Doubt concert schedule.


Denver Dalley

"Your CD is going to be on the shelves of the Best Buys even if you're on an independent label. You're dependent on the corporate world whether you like it or not."



"The music industry is so shaky. This could be the start of something or we could be at the high point."


With your record's anti-corporate stance, what do you tell people who say appearing on MTV is like selling out?

This band is different because Bright Eyes limits how much time we have together to tour and work on music. I don't really feel bad about using whatever media is out there. We'll always be an on-the-brink thing, and we're gonna ride that line of whether or not we sold out.

You have to admit there's a certain irony appearing on MTV.

Yeah it's ironic, we realize what's going on. But your CD is going to be on the shelves of the Best Buys even if you're on an independent label. You're dependent on the corporate world whether you like it or not. We have a lot of people to satisfy. We want to see label do well because Robb, Jason (Kulbel) and Matt (Maginn) are putting their efforts into it, even more so than the bands. You also want to do your fans right. As long as we're having fun and having a good time I have no complaints.

What kind of impact has the MTV appearance had?

We've got a lot of e-mail and there has been a ton of kids at shows who saw it. We haven't even seen it yet. We've got a copy of it on video but haven't had a chance to watch it.

So have you talked about making a video?

We've joked about it. If we did, it would be extremely tongue-in-cheek, very homemade. It hasn't gone past the joking stage.

How did you guys land the opening slot for Jimmy Eat World?

They heard our album and contacted our booker, Ground Control. They're fans of ours and we're fans of theirs. They're the nicest guys in the world.

Opening their shows is a whole different scene than our club shows. At our more traditional shows like at Sokol, everyone's really critiquing the performance, which is good. But at Jimmy shows, the crowd just wants to rock. It's a very different scene, but both are fun.

The average draw at a club show is 500 or so. Our first show with Jimmy Eat World drew 3,800. That first night when we went on stage was like 'Whoa.' We weren't nervous, we were just taking it in. It was all right the second night. It was kind of crazy how quickly I adjusted to it. It's changed my perspective. When we played with Cursive at The Middle East in Boston in October I thought that was huge venue. Now after Jimmy Eat World it doesn't seem so huge.

Do you hang out with Jimmy Eat World before the show?

We definitely hang out with them in the Green Room, but we don't go on their bus. We were welcome to, but when you're on tour for a year, that's your home. Green rooms are really cool. It was really the first "rock star" sort of thing we experienced, with the catering and backstage tags. We've never experienced anything like it, so it's kind of entertaining.

Do you think you can sell out the 1,400 capacity Sokol Auditorium Friday?

I don't care if we fill it. We decided to play upstairs because we didn't want kids getting turned away at the door or having to wait outside.

So what's next for you and the band?

Conor will now go out with Bright Eyes. We've been working on some new songs and will probably start a new album late next year. I've been talking about starting a band with Matt and Ian, and I'm defiantly gonna keep working on my solo stuff. And there's a small chance that I might move to New York right after this tour is done.

Tell me about your new bass player.

His name is Casey Scott. He's from Athens. He first made a connection back in the Commander Venus days. He played in Drip with Andy LeMaster (of Now It's Overhead). He's a longtime friend and had just moved to Omaha before this tour started.

What do you think of Saddle Creek's recent notoriety in the music world?

I think it's great. Robb, Jason, and Matt really pour their hearts into it. It's good to see their hard work pay off. I think it's great, but it's one of those things. The music industry is so shaky. This could be the start of something or we could be at the high point.

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Originally published in The Omaha Weekly Aug. 7, 2002. Copyright 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Top photograph copyright 2002 by Bill Sitzmann, used by permission.