Former members of Park Ave.
and The Faint band together for the sake of pop.
by tim mcmahan
Race for Titles
The White Octave
13th and Martha
Lazy-i: May 30, 2001
Guitarist/vocalist Matt Bowen and the
other members of Magic Kiss are comfortable about the band's ever-rolling
They have yet to play a single note in public, and already a buzz is
building. Part of the reason is that Magic Kiss, with its rich Saddle
Creek Records lineage, could be the next big band to come out of that
indie-rock incubator. But more likely, the buzz is the result of the
band's unstoppable promotional efforts.
"We've done everything we can to hype our first show," says a
smiling Bowen, who looks like a cross between a younger, thinner Frank
Black and Billy Corgan with hair. The band has taken every chance it could
-- either in person or on the web -- to tell anyone who will listen about
their June 2 debut at The Sokol Underground. They're not the only
newcomers on the ticket that night. The show also will feature the debut
of Race for Titles (ex-members of Red Menace and Roger Lewis from The Good
Life), Desaparecidos (the first club
appearance by a band that features members of Bright
Eyes and The Good Life) and North Carolina's The White Octave (ex-Cursive
guitarist Stephen Pedersen).
Magic Kiss fits right in with the night's covey of Saddle
Creek-flavored bands. Bowen has played guitar with The
Faint (and its predecessor, Norman Bailer), Commander Venus and
Lullaby for the Working Class. Guitarist/vocalist/tap dancer Jamie
Williams and keyboardist Jenn Bernard were both in Park
Ave., a short-lived though fun-loving project with Bright Eyes'
mastermind Conor Oberst and The Faint's Clarke Baechle. The band is
rounded out by bassist/vocalist Kianna Alarid, formerly of hardcore band
Project 346, and drummer Jeremy Stanosheck, formerly of The Newlyweds and
The Babysitters Club.
The band recruited me to be part of their
hype machine when Bowen cleared it so I could listen in at one of their
Sunday afternoon practices a couple weeks prior to their debut gig. Their
practice space is located in the basement of Bowen's suburban, west Omaha
home. It's a carpeted storage/rec room, decorated like a college kid's
first apartment. Stuff leans against more stuff. A HealthRider sleeps next
to an Ampeg amp, pieces of drum equipment are piled on a green velveteen
couch, a ping-pong table leans folded-up against the wall, a full-standing
Capcon StreetFighter Alpha video game sits unplugged in a corner. Clutter
While the band busied setting up, Bowen searched among the rubble for a
piece of his electric guitar that apparently fell off, making it
unplayable, while Williams goofed around for 10 minutes trying to figure
out how to use a fancy new electronic guitar tuner.
In addition to the tuner, Bowen had recently acquired a brand-new Korg
digital keyboard. Everyone was amazed at the myriad of science-fiction
sounds it could generate. Bernard punched a button then hit the keys and
out chirped a bird or bleeped a trumpet or twanged a guitar, albeit a
digital replica of one. In a corner, Stanosheck practiced assorted drum
fills surrounded by a wall of Z-Brick and a Slammin' Sammy Sosa poster.
The rest of the band formed a circle and searched for a place to stand in
the middle of the room among the stack of stereo equipment, a fireplace
littered with CDs and an '80s-style blue velvet pit-sectional couch.
As the set began, Williams walked over to the linoleum-covered landing
at the bottom of the stairs and shuffled her feet, then began to tap-dance
and rattle a pair of maracas as the band fired up their opening number.
The tap-shoe rhythm was amazingly effective and strangely audible over the
blare of guitars, probably because I was sitting on the stairs next to
her. How was this gonna work from the particleboard Sokol Underground
"I'll be dancing on a metal sign with a microphone next to
it," Williams said.
The tap-shoe rhythm was
amazingly effective and strangely audible over the blare of guitars,
probably because I was sitting on the stairs next to her.
Okay, it was rough around
the edges, but with two weeks to refine their sound, Magic Kiss
showed the potential of being a forerunner among Omaha's crowded
cadre of promising pop bands.
The tap dancing, unfortunately, was only
for the opener, as Williams grappled with an electric guitar for the rest
of the set. Those expecting the rebirth of Park Ave.'s sweet-sounding
popcraft will be pleasantly surprised by Magic Kiss. The band is harder,
faster and more developed, sporting a punk-pop sound, big guitars and
simple keyboards that generally either follow the melody or create a
counter-melody like something out of Big '80s post-New Wave.
Bowen handled the lead on Song 2 with intentionally mumbled vocals.
"The song's not finished yet," he said afterward. "There's
no words. I was singing gibberish and assorted rock and roll words about
girls and stuff."
Song 3, with Williams on vocals, was the only one that had Park Ave.'s
classic, Brill Building '60s sound to it. Toward the song's end, everyone
dropped their instruments and sang the chorus over hand claps before
returning to the main song and Williams belting out the line "I
want to stay in bed all day."
For the remainder, Song 4 featured a shuffle guitar line like something
by The Sundays with Williams and Alarid singing the chorus together. With
its weird guitar part and sloppy breaks, this one needed the most work.
Song 5 opened with feedback before crunching into a Weezer-like melody.
Williams practiced her pretty vocal part before the band rifled into Song
6 -- her sweet voice ultimately lost amid the cacophony of the mix when
the band joined in. Song 7, the big closer, was the most realized of the
bunch. Bowen did a stand-up job on vocals on a song that prominently
features indie powerchords, Pixie-like big breaks, bass-only drops, a
semi-solo vocal line and a crashing Who-styled ending.
Okay, it was rough around the edges, but with two weeks to refine their
sound, Magic Kiss showed the potential of being a forerunner among Omaha's
crowded cadre of promising pop bands.
"That's it. That's the set," Bowen said, unslinging his
guitar. "We're gonna start over now and run through it again and
Before they did, the band set their instruments down and everyone but
Stanosheck lit up cigarettes and crashed on the blue sectional to tell
"We were at karaoke one night, and I
decided I needed to be in another band," said blond-headed Bernard.
"We talked about it for months and kept saying we were gonna get
together, and finally did in November. Our first practice as a band was
Dec. 18, 2000."
Seeing them interact is like watching a pilot for a new hour-long,
coming-of-age drama on The WB or Fox -- sort of like Felicity with
instruments. The cute way they laugh together and finish each other's
sentences, it's obvious that they're long-time friends who would be
together even if they weren't in a band. In fact, they met hanging out in
college, in other bands, or at karaoke nights (Alarid is the band's
self-styled "queen of karaoke"). "We all get along real
well and enjoy practicing," Bernard said. "We'd like to tour,
but we'll play anywhere that's fun."
In fact, the band already has had one public gig -- they played for
Williams' kindergarten class. "We wrote a song about the ABC's and
the kids ended up talking about how neat my guitar looked," Williams
said, holding the blue glitter-body ax. "They could have cared less
about the music, they were hypnotized by the glitter."
Williams isn't the only bandmember with a regular day job. Bernard
teaches at North High School, Bowen is a computer programmer, Stanosheck
studies English and communication at UNO, and Alarid works at The Village
Toymaker. With those kinds of commitments, can the band realistically be
anything more than a hobby?
Yes, Bowen said. "We already have someone who wants to record us.
And we're talking to someone about putting one of our songs on a local
In fact, a tour is a distinct possibility if everyone's schedule would
become aligned. But for now, Magic Kiss just wants to get past its June 2
unveiling. And that means getting as many people to the Sokol Underground
as possible. "It's gonna be a biggest show of the year," Bowen
says, smiling. "Or at least the most hyped show of the year."
Published in The Omaha Weekly May 30, 2001. Copyright ©
McMahan. All rights reserved.
"We wrote a song about
the ABC's and the kids ended up talking about how neat my guitar
looked. They could have cared less about the music, they were
hypnotized by the glitter."