Nebraska: 10 Years at Full Throttle
story by tim
photos by bill sitzmann
Lazy-i: June 28, 2006
Speed! Nebraska Records Showcase
w/ The Monroes, Ideal Cleaners and The Diplomats of Solid
Friday, June 30, 9 p.m.
13th & Martha
a 45 record label. That's the main thing we do," says Speed!
Nebraska label chief Gary Dean Davis from his midtown home while
his sons, Henry and Dean, intensely battle with plastic lightsabers
around the kitchen table.
who has followed the Omaha music scene since its golden age in
the early '90s, Davis is the hulking, seed-cap wearing guy with
the Buddy Holly glasses and porkchop sideburns whose auctioneer
bark was the centerpiece of such bands as Pioneer Disaster, Frontier
Trust, D Is for Dragster and his current band, The Monroes. Unless
you've seen Davis bouncing like a human jumping bean, grasping
a microphone with both hands as he tries to destroy the stage
with his worn work boots, you've never experienced genuine Nebraska
But this afternoon,
Davis is content just figuring out how to operate his Mr. Coffee
while the wife, Christine, is at work with daughter, Faye, down
at the family meat shop, Frank Stoysich Meats.
lightsaber battle takes a turn for the worst when Henry begins
to get fussy. Davis takes on the role of a suburban Obi Wan. "Dean,
please don't slice your brother," he says. Dean stops, momentarily,
and then runs to find his Darth Vader mask.
the remaining Speed! Nebraska executive team looks on, bemused:
Lincoln Dickison, the label's webmaster and online marketing specialist,
and Jesse Render, special projects coordinator. The label's A&R
guy, Mike Tulis, calls in every so often to tell Davis that he's
on his way.
It just so
happens that all four also are members of The Monroes: Dickison
on guitar, Render on drums, and Tulis on bass. Frontman Davis,
founder of Speed! Nebraska, holds the label's titles "Head
Mechanic," "El Presidente" and "Wagonmaster."
like a family," Render said. "You do whatever job needs
to be done. This is kind of the Golden Age of Speed! Nebraska.
There was a period when we were the only active band on the roster."
that roster boasts five active bands. Three of them -- The Monroes,
Ideal Cleaners and The Diplomats of Solid Sound -- will take the
Sokol Underground stage Friday night to celebrate the simultaneous
release of three -- yes three! -- 45 rpm singles by the label.
we started 10 years ago, I didn't expect it to last more than
a couple years," Davis said. "I guess we're a real label
after Frontier Trust's 1995 full-length, Speed! Nebraska Records was
born out of Davis' attempt to stay involved in music after his band
broke up. "At the time, I figured I would never be in another
band," he said, "but I still wanted to do something with
music. I knew that (the band) Solid Jackson had made a recording of
their song 'Fell,' and that they weren't going to put it out. They
didn't have money and had moved onto other things. I said, 'If I start
my own label, can I put it out?'"
"Fell" has the honor of being the label's first release,
with a catalog number of Speed! 100 -- rather than Speed! 1 or 01
-- "because it looked really cool, and going 100 is really
a lot of fun," Davis said.
It wasn't long,
however, before Davis, and Frontier Trust drummer Joe Kobjerowski,
formed another tractor-punk inspired band with Steve Denekas (bass)
and Jeremiah McIntyre (guitar), called D Is for Dragster. The band's
45 "Chrysler Solid State" was Speed! 200 -- the label's
second release. "At first, we never had more than one active
band on the label at a time," Davis said. "When D is for
Dragster stopped, Fullblown was getting started. It was like a hand-off
in a relay."
But by the turn
of the century, the roster included Davis' latest tractor-punk incarnation,
The Monroes, along with the Fugazi-inspired Bombardment Society
and Lincoln power-punk band Ideal Cleaners. Speed! Nebraska was
on a roll. Davis and his cohorts became known as "those guys
who put out the vinyl records" -- a music format that most
thought was either dying or long dead.
couldn't go to a punk show without seeing someone in the crowd sporting
a Speed! Nebraska seed cap, T-shirt, stocking cap or windbreaker.
The label and its logo meant that the wearer supported rock and
roll made in Nebraska, with no additives or fillers.
So how did they
get where they are today? The label's business plan couldn't be
Nebraska doesn't have any money," Davis said. "Everything
gets thrown back into the label."
The rules of
the road are simple and have been the same since day one, Davis
explains. Bands pay for their recordings, the label pays for the
records and gives the bands 50 copies to sell. If the bands want
more, they can buy more at cost.
For the release
of Speed! 100, the label pressed 500 copies at a cost of $500, paid
for from Davis' bank account. "The Solid Jackson single is
our all-time best seller," Davis said, adding that it's helped
that Bright Eyes wrote a song about the band called "Solid
Jackson." Every time Conor Oberst and company plays it, Speed!
Nebraska sells a few more copies.
have a few copies left," Davis said. "Same for the D Is
for Dragster single. We pressed 500 and they're almost gone."
So is the first
Monroes' single, the infectious sing-a-long "Kiss Your Elbow
Goodbye" that started the tradition of pressing only 300 copies,
as is the one and only single by the band Entertainment, "Shake."
repress if we wanted to. We own the masters," Davis said. "Keeping
things in print is a good idea, but we also have to put out new
for a formula for the label's sound will be hard-pressed to find
one. The now defunct Fullblown sounded like a greasy biker's carnival
ride, Entertainment took its lead from bands like Gang of Four and
Gun Club, while Brimstone Howl, the label's most recent addition,
is pure '60s garage punk with an extra helping of swagger.
if there's a unified sound to the label, it just happens to be stuff
I like," Davis said. "I've had people suggest that I put
out other bands, but I have this label to put out music by my friends
and help people that I know. To me, if we put out records by just
anybody, we would be like all the other labels out there. That's
fine, but my label is more a reflection of who I am."
me, if we put out records by just anybody, we would be like
all the other labels out there. That's fine, but my label
is more a reflection of who I am."
who know Speed! Nebraska Records know they're going to get
quality whether they know the band or not."
Speed! Nebraska distinction -- their policy of releasing 45 rpm
vinyl singles. Sure, the label has released a handful of CDs, but
it's the 45s that are their mainstay. There's no point trying to
explain the vinyl phenomenon to those who view it as merely a novelty
or curiosity. Vinyl aficionados boast the medium's warmer, purer
tone vs. the cold realities of compact disc. The bottom line: You
either own a record player or you don't.
is the design of Speed! Nebraska releases. Each single includes
a hand-screened cover featuring that distinctive Speed! Nebraska
logo -- a silhouette of the state emblazoned with the word SPEED!
in all capitals.
Davis says that
the unique packaging plays an important role in selling records,
along with the website (speednebraska.com)
and the bands out on the road (The label has no formal distributor).
different than Chess, Blue Note or Stax or Sun," Davis said.
"Sure, people liked the groups that were on those labels, but
the labels' reputation is what sold their records. People who know
Speed! Nebraska Records know they're going to get quality whether
they know the band or not."
While the term
"branding" might make you wince, it's part of the label's
reality. "I think we're so obscure that a lot of people will
buy a ball cap just because they like the logo," Render said.
"More power to them, I guess. If Speed! Nebraska has turned
into a brand, I guess that's okay."
that run businesses should be trying to make money," Dickison
added. "This is a hobby."
"If we did this for a living, it wouldn't be fun."
For Davis, who
is never at a loss for talking about The Huskers during Monroes'
gigs, the label also is a chance to instill pride in the state where
he was born and bred. "It's a celebration of Nebraska,"
he said. "I try to point out examples of civic pride. Bands
in this area are as good as bands from any other area in the country."
So is the label
a real business? Davis doesn't think so. "(U.S. Rep.) Tom Delay's
office called me and wanted to give me a small business award,"
Davis said, laughing "I thought it was funny because I don't
know if Speed! Nebraska qualifies as a business. It is a hobby."
make it a job, Davis prefers his other career as principal at St.
Stanislaus School, where he can high-five his students as they leave
for the day.
"Do I want
the label to be my job? I don't know about that," Davis said.
"I'm happy with the way it is now. I'm glad people like the
bands and go see them play. The goal is to put out records by my
friends, 45s that are esthetically pleasing. The 45 is a great communication
device. Everyone has one inside of them."
So where will
Speed! Nebraska be in 2016?
on if we can still get records pressed," Dickison said.
can't get records made, Speed! Nebraska will not exist," Davis
said. "It's all about the 45."
in his arms, Davis adds that he'd love it if Dean, Henry and Faye
carried on the tradition. "My hope is for the kids to take
over the label," he said. "They might not want anything
to do with it, but if they want to take it over, that would be cool."
Published in The Omaha Reader June 28, 2006.
Copyright © 2006 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
Photos Copyright © 2006 Bill