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NE Vs. NC CD art

Contemplating a Civil War:

The story behind the compilation CD that pits the best indie bands from two recognized music Meccas head-to-head in brutal, no-holds-barred combat.

story by tim mcmahan




Lazy-i: Sept. 12, 2002

It all started with a wild idea by Ryan Kuper, the Council Bluffs native turned Californian, owner/operator of indie rock label Redemption Records and behind-the-scenes guy for comedian Andy Dick's music career.

The idea: The Omaha scene is exploding with talent, some of it garnering national attention. Why not make a compilation CD comprised of the best the scene has to offer? He kicked the idea around a table of friends at a Dundee bar last year and got mixed reactions, including from one of the scene's biggest scenesters.

"Todd Baechle of The Faint wasn't sure it would sell outside of Omaha," said Kuper from his cell phone while driving to his office on one of Los Angeles' many overcrowded freeways. "That's when the 'Versus' idea came up. Why not do a compilation of Omaha bands combined with bands from another city?"

Like maybe Athens, Ga., or Seattle? Or how about Raleigh Durham, North Carolina? Zac Lorenzen, guitarist for Omaha band Race for Titles, also was at the table that night and thought the concept was too limiting. Why not include the entire state of Nebraska? Why exclude Lincoln and talent outside of Omaha? Somehow, the table reached a consensus and the war was declared: Nebraska vs. North Carolina. One could only hope the weapons of choice would not be basketballs.

For Kuper, whose 12-year-old record label has released everything from hardcore acts to pop bands, the "Versus Series" would be the bedrock in reestablishing Redemption's direction. "I wanted to make Redemption a solid indie label," he said. "You look at labels like Saddle Creek, Barsuk and Mammoth -- those are the guys who are doing it right, and that's where I want to point Redemption."




The Versus Series was just another ambitious idea from the Lewis Central graduate whose record industry career began by releasing an EP by Austin hardcore act Intent. Over a decade, Redemption would go on to release music by hardcore bands like 4 Walls Falling, Encounter and Resurrection, before releasing CDs by Omaha gutter-groove punkers Ritual Device and pop-rockers Grasshopper Takeover, among others.

Through the years, Kuper has moved back and forth between the Midwest to Los Angeles. On his last move to the West Coast 18 months ago, he started a management company called Boundless Entertainment with former Omahan John Biondolillo, a.k.a. John Stewart, known for his work at Omaha's KDGE-FM The Edge as well for managing local rock band Blue Moon Ghetto -- a local favorite (now disbanded) in the Creed/Hootie and the Blowfish vein. Boundless counts among their clients Victory Records' artist The Reunion Show, hip-hop act Trew Dat, Chicago alt rockers Zen Darlings, SubPop and Milan recording artist Gardener, and last but not least, Andy Dick and the Bitches of the Century.

Dick, famous for his work on TV shows News Radio and MTV's The Andy Dick Show (not to mention his various drug-related exploits) is a long-time associate and one-time roommate of Kuper's. Managing Dick's music affairs involves everything from brokering his record deal with Milan Records to locking down a producer for his CD to handling band bookings and press. The day of this interview, Dick's band performed on the Craig Kilborne show. "Part of my job is to make sure he gets to the studio on time," Kuper said.

It's Boundless and Kuper's work with Dick that's helping keep Redemption afloat and is making the Versus Series a reality. The first battle in the self-proclaimed musical civil war is the NE Vs. NC double-disc set, which boasts 34 artists -- 17 from each state -- covering a range of music from indie to pop rock.

The Nebraska disc includes songs by popular Saddle Creek artists Desaparecidos, The Good Life and Cursive. All three contributed tracks that have previously appeared on Saddle Creek releases, and give the comp indisputable indie cred. The Faint, originally slated to provide a remix of an older song, never got around to getting the track to Kuper due to their road work with No Doubt. "That would have really helped move units," Kuper said.



"You look at labels like Saddle Creek, Barsuk and Mammoth -- those are the guys who are doing it right, and that's where I want to point Redemption."



"I wanted to document a part of what's going on and I wanted it to be distinctively indie sounding. Some bands who could have been included just didn't fit into the mix."


But it's the non-Saddle Creek acts that give the comp its down-home flavor. The CD opens with an angular scorcher by Lincoln's Her Flyaway Manner, who records on Caulfield Records. "I wanted to start off with an indie sound that was listenable," Kuper said, adding that a member of the band is "an old hardcore kid and friend of mine."

Next up is Race for Titles, a band formed in the Saddle Creek mold that's releasing its debut full-length on Redemption next month, and currently has a split-7-inch with Neva Dinova on Redemption. Neva Dinova, who has opened a number of Saddle Creek shows, also contributed to the Versus CD and recently signed with Crank! Records, who is rereleasing their self-titled debut.

Bands Split Second, Bright Calm Blue and Tie These Hands all were suggested by Lorenzen, who was one of Kuper's primary sounding boards throughout the selection process. Some of the other bands included on the comp include:

-- Horror-billy rockers The Carsinogents: "I had heard about them and Zac liked them. They were on the original list," Kuper said.

-- Math-meets-hardcore punkers Putrescine: "Interestingly, a sister band of Sound of Rails (also included on the comp), who sound nothing like them. I needed a band with their abrasive sound."

-- The Eye: "I had a relationship with someone from the band and really liked their song -- it's poppy and indie-rock sounding."

Rounding out the comp is Fizzle Like a Flood, the indie-pop brainchild of Doug Kabourek; the rootsy ensemble Shelterbelt, and Rocket FM, an oddball inclusion from a band no longer performing.

Finally, there's Musico, a decisively non-indie-sounding pop band with definite Urge Overkill-meets-Sweet leanings. The trio recently cut a deal with Redemption to help distribute their last full-length, Nippon.

"Musico is into everything," Kuper said. "They could fit into a pop or rock compilation. They have such a dry sense of humor, people can't understand what they do -- it's so punk rock." Kuper was so taken by Musico that the band flew out to Los Angeles to open for Andy Dick at his CD release party.

Maybe more noticeable than who's on the CD are the dozens of bands that aren't, bands that any Omaha musicgoer could argue are critical to the current scene. Kuper says he knows there will be those who question his selection process. "It was tough to say that one band would be on the comp while another wouldn't," he said. "I didn't want to offend anyone with this disc. I wanted to document a part of what's going on and I wanted it to be distinctively indie sounding. Some bands who could have been included just didn't fit into the mix."

Kuper said he listened to more than 20 hours of music from over 140 bands to select the tracks used for the North Carolina disc.

The Scaries, who kick off the N.C. disc, and Sorry About Dresden, both have Omaha ties (Dresden is yet another band that records on Saddle Creek Records). "People in those bands knew a lot of other bands in the North Carolina scene," Kuper said. "It can get rather incestuous." Sounding boards for the NC selection process included Stephen Pedersen, formerly of The White Octave, who now lives in Omaha, and former Omahan Matt Tomich, who's in both Dresden and The Scaries.

"The North Carolina selections had a lot more to do with my tastes then what was suggested by other people," Kuper said. "I like how both discs came out. The Balance Affect and The Sames are the Musicos of North Carolina. I already knew The Ladderbacks. One Amazin' Kid came from an mp3 search, as did Fin Fang Foom."

Other NC bands on the comp are Erie Choir, Alli with an I, Beloved, One Six Conspiracy, Kid Icarus, Disband, Kudzu Wish, Brazillia, Cold Sides and V. Sirin. "There were only a few bands on the Nebraska side I didn't know about," Kuper said. "Most of the North Carolina bands were new to me, and it was a joy finding them."

So who won the war? The Nebraska disc seems to have more variety compared to the North Carolina disc's consistency. While a majority of songs and bands on the Nebraska disc will be recognizable by any jaded Cornhusker, the NC disc has a funny way of growing on you over time just like the kudzu that covers that fine state. The only clear winner is the indie-rock listening public, who will be hard-pressed to not find at least a handful of keepers among the set.

Kuper pressed 3,000 copies of the CD that will be distributed through Lumberjack. "The distributor thinks the CD will have a bump in sales, and then will pick up as the series continues."

Next up: Washington Vs. Illinois. Kuper said the Washington disc could include tracks from Vendetta Red, Deathcab for Cutie, Juno, Pedro the Lion, Damian Jurado, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Intima, Yeek Yak Air Force and Automaton, while the Illinois disc could include The Detachment Kit, Architecture, Mt. St. Helens, Volta Do Mar, Tekluvi, Red Hot Valentines, l'spaerow, North by Northwest, Rectangle, Absinthe Blind, Guns of Navarone, and Life At Sea.

And after that? Kuper's considering wars between New York, New Jersey, California and Georgia, even whole countries such as Sweden.

"I'm flattered by the interest level in the comp series," he said. "An RCA executive told me it was an A&R guy's wet dream."

But the fact is, the comps are time-consuming and Kuper is funding the project with his own money, with Redemption's future hanging in the balance. "I hope it, along with the other new Redemption CDs, does well, because if it doesn't work out, it'll be the kiss of death."

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Originally published in The Omaha Weekly Sept. 12, 2002. Copyright 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.