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The Stay Awake: Exposed

story by tim mcmahan
photo by sean welch



Lazy-i: Jan. 23, 2008

The Stay Awake
w/ Bombardment Society, Dance Me Pregnant
Saturday, Jan. 26, 9 p.m.
The Waiting Room
6212 Maple St.

Omaha punk trio The Stay Awake has been around for five years. So why is this the first time you've read about them?

Probably because the band has never done an interview before, nor has it ever really wanted to.

"We never did much to promote ourselves," said bassist Robert Little over beers at O'Leaver's last Tuesday night. "It's just how it is."

"It's all a fucking game," said frontman/guitarist/cynic Steve Micek. "I can't do shameless self-promotion."

"For me, our music is a take-it-or-leave-it thing," added drummer Mario Alderfer.

On the surface, they sound like they don't care -- about the band, you, or if people listen to their music. But that's not entirely true. "I could say that people liking our music isn't a motivation," Alderfer added, "but I like it when they do."




Formed in 2002 out of the ashes of bands Real Time Optimists and Bleeders for Treats, The Stay Awake stayed in the basement for a year before their inauspicious debut at Ted & Wally's in 2003. Since then, they've generated a small but loyal following thanks to a series of blistering shows at clubs around town.

If forced, you could classify their sound as "post-hardcore"… maybe. They're often placed side-by-side with Unwound -- even the band says it's a common comparison. Too bad they don't sound anything like the Olympia-based band, whose style -- while arch and jagged -- is slower, almost plodding, and downright gentle compared to The Stay Awake's abrasive cacophony. Uptempo Big Black might be a better comparison, but even that's a stretch.

In fact, The Stay Awake don't really sound like any other band. Their music is jittery, intricate syncopated almost-stuttering movements done in odd meters braced around a foundation of hard-angled chords and spare (if nonexistent) melodies. It sounds like brash, free-form avant jazz with a distinct element of improvisation (by all three) within the songs' rigid structures. On stage, Micek's vocals are mostly incoherent barks used more for rhythm than anything. That's not the case on the band's new CD, the 8-song self-released debut, Fiat Lux in Tenibris -- a phrase, Little said, pieced from bits of Latin that means "In light there is darkness." The phrase was stolen from a movie, just like the band's name which is a reference to the 1987 teen slasher film The Stay Awake.

While it took only four days to record the CD, it took a year and a half for Micek to mix it. "It only took that long because they wouldn't let me record it again," Micek said. "I've recorded stuff before that and since, and it all sounds better than this."

Maybe so, but it's still one of the best local recordings you'll find. Clean and precise, each instrument and sassy vocal is perfectly separated and balanced, but combine for a brutal sonic punch to the groin.

The best way to find it is at Saturday's CD release show or in local record stores. The band said it's not eager to shop the disc to labels. "If someone wants to put it out, fine," Micek said. "We don't expect too much out of it."

There also are no plans to tour, though they probably could. Little works at Homer's and Ted & Wally's; Alderfer builds guitar pedals while Micek has a more formal day job installing heating and cooling.

"I could tour as well," Micek said. "I haven't seen a need to do it. It's kind of stupid to go on tour if you don't have something to leave behind."

Until six months ago, they didn't even have T-shirts. Now they do, complete with an illustration that, again, is tied to a movie theme -- the Johnny Depp vehicle The Ninth Gate. "The (T-shirt's) image looks like a die cut engraving. It's one of a series of nine," Little said "The plan was to make a T shirt for each one."

"That way if all nine Stay Awake fans are in one room, the gates of hell would open," Micek remarked snarkily.

"The hook for our band is that we think of ourselves as DIY," Little said. "We're not interested in being part of the industry. We make music to make music."

"I think we're a band's band," Alderfer said. "People in other bands approach us after shows. What we do appeals to musicians more than others."

"People who play music obviously pay attention to how it's made," Micek said. "Most people don't spend time forming opinions. They like what they like.
If they listened to what we're saying, they'd probably be alienated anyway. We don't care what anyone thinks of us."

"Well, I like it when someone approaches me after a show," Alderfer countered.

"We appreciate it, but that's not what were in it for," Micek replied.

And so the arguing continued, back and forth, beer after beer. "The main reason we work so well together is because we're so adversarial," Micek said. "We don't agree with each other about anything. We're pushing squares into round holes."

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Published in The Omaha Reader Jan. 24, 2008. Copyright 2008 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Photo by Sean Welch. Used by permission.













"We're not interested in being part of the industry. We make music to make music"