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Oil: The Consequences of Rock
Almost a year after releasing one of the best albums of 2000, Oil looks at what went right, what went wrong and what comes next.

by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: June 13, 2001












It seems everyone who heard Dreaming with a Deadline, Oil's debut full-length CD self-released last August, just knew it was going to take the alt-rock band to places beyond Omaha. Maybe a lucrative record deal? Maybe a successful national tour? Maybe the loving gaze of the fickle national press? Who knew?

But almost a year after the release, Oil is still playing the same three or four stages around town and dreaming of an escape plan, while the afterglow of interest from the CD release fades like a worn pair of jeans. Why didn't the CD "break big" beyond the metro?

The band is wondering the very same thing. Born from the wreckage of mid-'90s post-grunge outfit No Left Stone, Oil consists of singer/guitarist Craig Korth, drummer Mike Daeges and bassist/singer Chris Sommerich. Guitarist/singer J Hanson, formerly of Gauge and Hopeless Romeos, rounds out the combo.

After recording a solid 4-song demo in November '98, the band entered Warehouse studios in September '99 to lay down the tracks that make up their debut full-length. With its attention to melody and harmony, Dreaming with a Deadline was a departure of sorts from the high-energy noisescapes that were the mode o' day for other Omaha bands.

Certainly it was the most realized CD of 2000 -- commercially accessible while maintaining its own unique sound -- with influences that ranged from For Squirrels to R.E.M. to Smithereens to Neil Young. The CD had a laid-back, rustic rock sound augmented by mid-song melody and tempo shifts. The basic recipe was backbeat drums, fuzzy but restrained wah-wah guitars and comfortable-as-a-worn-saddle vocals sporting lush harmonies. Oil's music coaxed you with a peaceful, easy feeling while slipping in the occasional sinister undertone.

The amber-colored "Cake Doesn’t Have Emotions" is The Eagles meets '70s AOR giants America, with its lament, "I know people care about me / But they just don't seem to understand / I've spent my whole life trying to be a better man." Lyrically, Oil is the desperate everyman -- the guys at the club, leaning against the back wall, sipping Bud Lites, watching the action alone while writing forlorn love songs in their heads.

When they're slower and sadder, there's echoes of Lou Barlow or Bread. Think of them as a more relaxed Sebadoh without the dissonant rockers, or a more commercially viable Folk Implosion with a swirl of Smithereens mixed in. They could easily fall into a twangy Jayhawks vibe or dance in the jam band circuit (They could turn songs like "Consequences of Love" and "Furniture" into 20-minute stoner jams, but instead choose to be more concise and are better for it). 




Dreaming… had all the makings of another local smash on the level of Blue Moon Ghetto's "Shine All the Time," with the added depth of being wholly original bordering on classic indie rock. In an era of weak goon-rap acts and boy groups, it seemed like a slam-dunk for national acceptance. But while everyone held high hopes for the band, nothing ever seemed to move forward.

"As much as it may appear that there was never a plan, there really was," Daeges explained from a booth at The Dundee Dell last week with Korth and Hanson. "We wanted to push the album and make as big a splash as possible in Omaha, then follow it up by playing good shows and have a marketing campaign for the release firing on all cylinders."

In fact, their CD release party at the Music Box last August was an unqualified success -- a sell-out with as many as 600 attending, Daeges said.

"The next focus was to get radio airplay for one of the singles," he said. "We figured that would help sales, recognition and open the door for regional shows. We were trying to create a success story on a small scale to demonstrate to the people who would take us to the next level -- regional club owners, record execs, whoever."

At the end of the day, Dreaming… became the fourth-best-selling release by a Nebraska band in 2000, an especially impressive feat considering it was only released in September. To date, the band has sold 1,000 copies.

But despite sales, Oil couldn't break any songs from the CD into the rotation on local radio, something that frustrates a band that acknowledges that radio did all it could for them.

"Several people at the stations were and continue to be very supportive and helpful, including at 106.9 The City, 89.7 The River and Sweet 98," Daeges said. "But whether it was due to the stations' extremely tight play lists or format issues or the perception that the CD was just not radio material, the airplay never happened."

"It was a learning process for all of us," Korth said. "It really opened our eyes to the pinhole you have to shoot the softball through to get regular airplay. They might put you on a fringe program at two in the morning, but to get regular airplay, you have to meet specific rules."

"Our goal was to make a big enough splash with factual successes that it wouldn't seem dangerous for these stations to incorporate what we do into their mainstream formats," Daeges said. "To that degree, we failed."


"As much as it may appear that there was never a plan, there really was."



"We kept trying to focus on the radio thing here and time went by and we never felt that we were on plan to take it to the next level to justify traveling and the expenses that come with touring."



He said the inability to get Dreaming… onto radio ultimately impacted the rest of Oil's plans for world domination. "Had we had a single with good airplay, we would have used that to establish ourselves in a parallel market and try to repeat it," Daeges said.

Both Universal Music Group and Atlantic Records contacted Oil after noticing the CD's impressive sales on SoundScan reports. "The message was the same from both labels," Korth said. "'We really like your album. We think it has a lot of potential. Call us if you're able to repeat the success you've achieved in your home market in another market.' It was extremely positive."

But Daeges said instead of focusing on Des Moines, Ames or Iowa City, the band became obsessed with attaining local airplay. "We kept trying to focus on the radio thing here and time went by and we never felt that we were on plan to take it to the next level to justify traveling and the expenses that come with touring," he said.

"It's not just the costs," he added. "If your tour isn't part of an integrated plan, you are almost literally spinning your wheels. You've got to have everything lined up -- the press, albums in stores, contacts at the radio stations. We were a little too cautious about going on the road without a master plan assembled. That was probably a shortcoming in terms of promoting the CD."

It's a shortcoming they intend to correct. "We've agreed that we will do a tour around the end of summer," Daeges said. "But it's become evident from this experience that we need help. We need to outsource."

"We know we can do Omaha," Hanson said. "We need help outside of town. We're passively looking for someone to help us set up our tour."

"We're looking for a rabid pitbull with media savvy," Korth said eloquently.

The candidate must be able to book their tour, figure out travel patterns, arrange lodging, coordinate press and radio, help set up instore appearances and make sure there's plenty of product in the bins. "We're definitely looking for a multi-tasker," Daeges said. "We think we have a good plan, but we need an extra pair of hands."


With the hired help, Daeges said the band would be willing to give up their day jobs. Korth is a counselor in a psychiatric ward, Daeges works for a health care marketing company, Hanson has a tech job while Sommerich is a fund-raiser for the Audubon Society as well as a proud new father.

"We would prefer to make a living making music, we just haven't found a way to do it," Daeges said. "We're switching gears between work and music all the time, but we're not complaining. Though it may appear to be a sideline approach, it's really full-throttle."

These days, Oil has switched its focus to more creative endeavors -- writing new music and documenting it for their next sojourn into the studio. They're also trying to find a way to spice up their stage show -- something they freely admit is their weakest link.

"It's a problem, but we're a little bit reluctant to do something just for the sake of doing something," Daeges said. "We're not trying to put lipstick on a pitbull."

"I'm open for suggestions," Korth said. "I feel like I get good eye contact with the crowd and I'm feeling it when I'm playing, but something isn't getting translated."

"We're trying to deliver our music the best way we can," Daeges said. "We're not sitting at home trying to decide what jokes we're gonna tell between songs. Our stage show will work itself out once we get on the road."

All agree that touring is the essential next step. "In retrospect since the CD was released, we hurt ourselves by waiting to line up the next move," Daeges said. "We need to be a bull in a China shop, be less conservative and play more rock shows."

"I'm proud of the CD," Hanson said. "I’m happy with the recording and the songs. Our big thing now is to understand what it's going to take to get it out of Omaha."

"We're not afraid of failure," Korth said, "but getting everything in place to get us out of town is very, very difficult. That's the thing we all need to work from, around and through. I would like nothing more than to hang up my mailing address and just go and stay gone."

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Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.



"We need to be a bull in a China shop, be less conservative and play more rock shows."