Omaha power-pop punk band Millions of Boys’ new 10-inch record, Competing for Your Love, is a 180-gram slab of vinyl complete with digital download key, and even comes with a photo of Omaha booze palace O’Leaver’s on the cover. What more could you ask for? Well, there’s also the record’s 10 sticky-sweet rock songs that capture all the fun and pain of middle school crushes.
Released by Kansas City’s Golden Sound Records, the mini album is being celebrated with a rock prom at Slowdown Jr. Saturday night.
While the trio has a distinctive sound of its own, there’s no denying its influences – real or imagined. During our brief coffee talk at Blue Line in Dundee Sunday, I went on and on about how the band reminded me of That Dog (actual spelled “that dog.”), a mid-‘90s LA power pop act whose members would go on to write songs for the new Josie and the Pussycats and become members of The Rentals and Decemberists. I loved That Dog’s cool, ironic take on cloying high school love and heartbreak on albums like ‘95’s Totally Crushed Out! and follow-up Retreat from the Sun.
Of course Millions of Boys had never heard That Dog's music before. Nor (probably) have they heard Tsunami or Blake Babies or the other ‘90s bands that plowed this same fertile fun-pop ground a decade (or two) before them, though…
“We all just grew up loving light-hearted pop punk,” said drummer/vocalist Ryan Haas.
“There’s this connotation that pop punk has, but…” said guitarist/vocalist Sara Bertuldo before Haas quickly added “It’s like a guilty pleasure, but it’s not.”
Bassist/guitarist/vocalist Alex van Beaumont merely nodded, as if having heard it all before.
The three started playing together in 2010. Bertuldo and Haas had been in a very short-lived band with Snake Islands’ Allan Schleich called Leaving Vaudeville that played all of one show before disbanding. Bertuldo, already a member of Honey & Darling, wanted to continue working with Haas, who said at the time he’d recently “fallen in love with Weezer again” and wanted to be in a two-piece project. Unfortunately, when it came time to do solos, Bertuldo couldn’t handle it. “I’m not very good at looping," she said.
Enter van Beaumont, a friend of Haas’ sister who Bertuldo had met before. “We tried it and it worked,” Haas said. “These are not super complicated songs. They’re straight-forward. He just gets it and nothing has to be explained.” Van Beaumont merely nodded again.
All three members share vocals and switch instruments, but it's hard not to look at Bertuldo as the band's front woman, despite her diminutive stature. I first met her in 2005 when she was working as an intern for One Percent Productions, taking money at Sokol Underground shows. Standing at around five foot nothing, she’s so tiny you just want to put her in your pocket and take her home with you. She's like the daughter that none of us will ever be lucky enough to have -- cute, unassuming and quiet.
In fact, maybe too quiet. One of the challenges of being so tiny is also being heard above the rest of this rather rowdy band, something she’s struggled with at clubs with less-than-optimum (i.e. shitty) PA’s, like O’Leaver’s, where Bertuldo has had no choice but to ratchet up her sweet, innocent mew.
“It’s why I’m starting to like screaming,” she said. “It’s really hard, especially if you have a sound guy who’s not paying attention. I can’t wait until we have our own sound person.”
Ah, but first things first. The band would like nothing more than to tour full time, which, of course, would take a booking agent, which they don’t have yet. But at least they have a label, which is helping them with distribution and the digital side of things.
Clocking in at a just over 23 minutes, Competing for Your Love is a chock full of tasty little morsels like “Dudcats,” (with the inspirational chorus “That girl is the bomb / That girl is the bomb / But that bomb is a dud,”), the roaring zombie epic “Dead Girls,” the too-cute-for-its-own-good “Sparky + Mittens” ("I’ll give that cat a home in a hot dog bun"), and the mythic story of local super hero “Doug Flynn,” one of our scene’s unforgettable legends.
“Doug Flynn is the big guy that used to work the door at The Waiting Room,” Bertuldo said. “One time I blacked out there during a Times New Viking show and he picked me up and carried me to the back room.”
Haas remembers watching what he called “The Maple Street Riot" from his apartment that overlooked the melee. “There were about 100 people in the street, and in the middle of it was Doug Flynn,” presumably keeping the peace like an indie Buford Pusser.
“He’s the big brother of The Waiting Room,” Bertuldo said.
Anyway. The album is pretty fantastic. It was recorded by Bertuldo’s boyfriend (and member of Honey & Darling) Matt Carroll at Little Machine, the couple’s basement studio (where New Lungs currently is recording its debut).
Opening Saturday night's release show is label mates Empty Spaces, as well as local low-fi punkers The Dads and new band Power Slop, which Haas described as "a loud, fast band that includes members of Hercules." That's a lot of rock for $5. Go to theslowdown.com for more info.
Lazy-i is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on the Omaha music scene. Check out Tim's daily music news updates at his website, lazy-i.com, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.