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Rainer Maria : Get On the Bus

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: February 12, 2003

Rainer Maria
w/ Mates of State, Tilly and the Wall
Friday, Feb. 14
9 p.m., $8
Sokol Underground

13th and Martha

"This is the first time this has happened to me: For two hours today, I thought I was in a different state," said a confused Kyle Fischer, guitarist/backing vocalist for New York-by-way-of Madison, Wisconsin, indie rock trio Rainer Maria.

His confusion results from a weird time/space delirium caused by the band's first use of a real rock-and-roll-style tour bus, just like the ones the big stars use. "You get confused when you're on the road to begin with. Every day is like Saturday because you're always playing a show that night," he said. "But traveling on a tour bus is almost like teleportation. We fall asleep, the driver drives, and we wake up in another city."

So for two hour hours, Fischer thought he was in Grinnell, Iowa, when in fact, he was in Galesburg, Ill., home of Knox College, where the band was slated to play that night. The 12-bunk bus is shared with tour mates, Mates of State. For a veteran band like Rainer Maria, the extra expense -- about $50 a day -- is a no-brainer.

"This is also the first time we've had a sound tech traveling with us," Fischer said. "With great sound and plenty of sleep, I feel like we can perform at 110 percent. It's possible for us to play music like we're supposed to without the usual distractions."



The only drawback is having to explain why they're not traveling in the usual beat-up Econoline. "People are like 'Whoa! What's going on here?'" Fischer said. "Moving up to a tour bus is like stepping up from sleeping on people's floors to getting a hotel room. It sounds extravagant, but it's not. I'm still looking in my wallet to see if I have enough money to do my laundry."

The bus is a well-deserved luxury for a band that has climbed to the upper reaches of the indie music world on the strength of their unique brand of personal, poetic rock. Their last full-length, A Better Version of Me, found its way on a number of indie music critics' "best of 2000" lists and made it to the top of the College Music Journal charts. Their newest LP, Long Knives Drawn (Polyvinyl), carries on the tradition with more firepower and panache.

Recorded last fall at Smart Studios in Madison with veteran producer Mark Haines, Long Knives Drawn is punchier, poppier and downright brasher than anything the trio has ever tried. The CD busts open with the glittery anthem "Mystery and Memory" blustering forward on William Kuehn's throbbing, almost tribal drums, Fischer's chiming guitars and Caithlin De Marrais' trumpeting vocals, heralding as if atop a mountain "I can read your eyes / So say that I'm the one you like." Half the songs are over-the-top rockers, like the pulse-quickening single "Ears Ring;" the other half is laid-back, melodic pop -- think Rilo Kiley or The Delgados.

On previous releases, such as 1999's critically acclaimed Look Now Look Again, De Marrias and Fischer shared vocals, dueling back and forth from melody to melody. This time it's all De Marrias, and Fischer wouldn't have it any other way. "We already made Look Now Look Again," he said. "We're not into making the same record over and over. Moreover, the new CD marks a shift from 'us" songs to 'me' songs with a single narrator. It's a lot less work for me. I enjoy being able to concentrate on making the guitar speak, so to speak."

"I enjoy being able to concentrate on making the guitar speak, so to speak."



"We never said, 'Hey, let's try to make great songs and make a living at this.'"


Fischer said work began on Long Knives… right after he returned from a 6-week tour supporting his solo acoustic release, Open Ground (which brought him to Omaha's Junction last February). "I was really hungry to play my electric guitar again," he said. "There was a real effort to have the guitar carry this CD. Caitlin has a way of hijacking songs with her bass."

The 45-date tour that brings Rainer Maria to Sokol Underground Feb. 14 is the longest since the band first began touring in '95 (another good reason to have a tour bus). As soon as it's over, Fischer said he'll be headed back to the studio with Mark Haines to record the follow-up to the quiet, somber Open Ground. "This one will be a lot more upbeat," he said of his solo project. "It's going to be an Astral Weeks-style recording session with a lot of good friends contributing."

He said Rainer Maria's success has grown beyond any of the members' expectations. "We never said, 'Hey, let's try to make great songs and make a living at this.' The shows have just gotten bigger and bigger, and it continues to be fun in a different way then when we began. I know that it will stop some day, probably unexpectedly so. Until then, I want to see how long we can make it go."

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Portions published in The Omaha Weekly-Reader Feb. 12, 2003. Copyright 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.