NPR Tiny Desk
Since 2008, NPR has hosted an eclectic range of artists in its Tiny Desk concert series—from superstars like Adele and Lizzo to Broadway casts and international bands. NPR launched the Tiny Desk Contest in 2015 to offer a chance for undiscovered artists to showcase their work at the eponymous desk. Several artists have emerged as contest winners to build impressive careers, such as Gaelynn Lea and Tank And The Bangas. Over time, NPR has worked to build the contest community by featuring entries on their website, social media, and newsletters. In 2020, NPR started the Top Shelf podcast with a rotating roster of contest judges selecting and discussing their favorite entries, sometimes bringing in the artists. Over the years, several Nebraska artists have entered the contest. This miniseries covers a few of those artists.
Bach Mai (2020)
Bach Mai is an indie musician based in Omaha. “The nice thing about indie music, especially from a musician’s perspective, is that all of it is within some realm of possibility. In my head, I understand the structure, I understand where the emotion is coming from. It makes me feel like it’s something I can do.”
Self-described as indie pop punk, Mai draws on influence from a wide range of artists: My Chemical Romance, Blink-182, Bon Iver, Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus.
Mai graduated with his degree in music entrepreneurship from UNO in 2017. His capstone project was the Conspire music festival, bringing together musicians who had never collaborated for an immersive week-long experience, at the original location of OutrSpaces.
His band, also known as Bach Mai, includes Mai on guitar and vocals, as well as Molly Gaughan on guitar, Joshua Von Kampen on drums, Logan Myers on bass, and Tyler Roberts on violin.
Bach Mai submitted their entry to the inaugural Tiny Desk Contest on its very first night. They were featured in the first email update.
Of Bach Mai’s second entry, Bob Boilen, creator and host of NPR’s All Songs Considered, said in his email newsletter that “Bach Mai is back from Omaha, Neb., with his song ‘Simple,’ an excellent follow-up to last year’s ‘Flirtation Fleeting.’”
In 2019, Bach Mai was invited to perform at Maha Festival—the year that Lizzo headlined, along with performances from Jenny Lewis and Courtney Barnett. Their set was at The Waiting Room for the Maha “Middle Show.”
At the beginning of 2020, when the annual Tiny Desk Contest opened for submissions, Mai felt promise, hope, and excitement. He had planned to release a new album that summer and tour on it. The pandemic had other plans.
“December,” the song featured in Bach Mai’s 2020 entry, paints an atmosphere rather than a story. Mai views the lyrics as a way of acknowledging “pieces that don’t fit… some level of brokenness that exists within my mental frame.” He also sings about a chance to mend those broken parts.
Bach Mai released their second album, “What You’ve Given,” on January 29, 2021. This summer, the band is hoping to record an EP at a new studio in a farm outside of Nashville.
You can find Bach Mai at Reverb Lounge on May 14th, opening for Chicago-based indie rock band CHNNLL and Bad Self Portraits.