The bright lights flicked on and the crowd cheered. Four musicians adjusted their eyes to see the people who gathered in the Waiting Room. Bad Self Portraits, a local indie rock band that chronicles the growing pains of getting older, were getting the chance to perform their original music for the first time in front of a live audience.
That dream started in the halls of Omaha Central High School where Ingrid Howell (vocals/bass), Jesse White (drums/vocals) and Connor Paintin (guitar) met as students. Now the early 20-somethings, along with newest member Cole Kempcke (guitar), are building a name for themselves in the Omaha scene, including getting an “Omaha Artist Spotlight” on Maha’s Instagram in April 2020.
Bad Self Portraits performs at Maha on July 29 at 6:15 p.m. on Tito’s stage. The Reader sat down with the band to talk about new music, their favorite Omaha spots to perform and how they came up with the name for their band.
The Reader: So when and how did you guys get this band together?
Howell: It was five years ago. It started with just the three of us, (Paintin, White and Howell) and then Cole (Kempcke) came in last year. The three of us met at Central High School and we just started doing music there.
White: We didn’t really know what the group was going to be when we started but we knew we were just playing to have fun. We ended up having similar writing styles and things just worked out, and once we added Cole (Kempcke) the writing just got even better.
TR: So Bad Self Portraits is a bit of an odd name, how did you come up with that idea for a band name?
H: I love this band called Lake Street Dive and they have an album called “Bad Self Portraits.” The first time I heard any of their songs it was “You Go Down Smooth” off that album and it was like hearing what my voice sounds like in a professional setting which was so cool. I hadn’t had anything like that to copy before. When building your voice, you end up copying a lot of different artists as closely as possible to find your own groove. [Lake Street Drive singer] Rachael Price was by far the most helpful in that sense for me. I ended up going to some of her workshops, and there was one in Massachusetts where I let her know that we were called Bad Self Portraits after them, and she loved it. Then when she came into town to play a show, I ended up messaging her and letting her know we had some merch available if she wanted to come pick it up and she did so we got her approval which was really cool.
Paintin: So, we’re not going to get sued which is the important part. We got the stamp of approval from Rachel Price. I don’t know, that was just the name we landed on, and we all really liked it. There were a couple other ideas, and you know you come up with some really bad ideas before you find out for sure.
Q: How often do you find time to perform together?
Paintin: This year, it has probably been every weekend or every other weekend. We are actually celebrating next weekend because it is the first weekend we’ve had off in a while. When we started with just the three of us, we were playing mostly private events and a little open mic or two, so we played once every few months. Kind of like a bi-monthly type of thing. Now, we’ve been so busy writing and just trying to get our name out there a bit more. So, we’re typically at any given venue around Omaha every weekend which is the best. The Omaha community for music is just so fun to perform with.
White: We’ve been able to make a lot of good connections both in the city and outside of the city. Lately we’ve even been venturing down to Lincoln every once in a while.
Q: What has been your favorite venue you’ve played at in Omaha?
Paintin: The Waiting Room was a big one because we played there after the main first wave of COVID and shows were just starting to come back. We got invited to play a big show at The Waiting Room and we had been waiting to play there forever.
Howell: It was the first show we had done coming out of COVID.
Paintin: So, it was a year and a half since we had had a show together. But we play at Reverb Lounge all the time. I would have to say that Reverb Lounge has our hearts. They let us play there when it was just the three of us and we hardly had a full album of music.
Howell: We even did our album release there which was really fun.
Q: Is music something you do full time, or do you have other jobs on the side?
White: Oh God, I wish. No, no music doesn’t make that much money. We’ve all got a job or two that we do on the side.
Howell: I just left my full-time job, but I’ll be going back part time working from home in a few weeks or so. I do part-time interior design and woodworking, stuff like that.
White: I do a lot of computer stuff around Omaha and then I do voice lessons too which is really fun.
Paintin: I also work in music at Deets and then help out at the food pantry.
Kempcke: I work at Trader Joe’s and play in a few other groups.
Q: How did you get involved in Maha?
Paintin: Right when COVID started and we were in quarantine, Maha did a little series on Instagram called artist spotlights, and we got featured in one of those which was really cool. We had also applied that year before COVID. On their website they have an Artist Roster thing where you can submit your name to be included in this mega list of bands that they look at and choose from when they are picking lineups. We had submitted our name that year, but then we all ended up at home sitting around not playing music. (Topamax) Then this year I submitted something to the Artist Roster again and at some point, in February or March woke up to an email. They were basically like, “Hey, we want you to play at Maha festival.” I thought we were getting scammed. But now here we are.
Q: What are you most excited about regarding playing at Maha?
Paintin: I think just meeting all the other people. We are playing with some of our favorite bands, like Indigo de Souza. I want to be best friends with Indigo de Souza.
Q: What kind of preparation are you doing in order to get yourselves ready to play at Maha?
White: We’ve been doing all of these gigs around Omaha at different venues and honestly, as much as those are shows, I feel like they are also rehearsals for Maha. We’re always refining what our set will be every time we play a new show and testing the waters to see which songs work where in a set, and then we do rehearse all the time. We’re also going to have to figure out some marketing and merch things coming up soon.
Howell: There’s a lot coming up right now. We’ve got to get merch for Maha for sure and we are also working on another project for new stuff that we’ve written and recorded. That should hopefully be out right before Maha. So right now, it’s a lot of business and a lot of rehearsal.
Q: What are your upcoming goals for yourselves as both a band and personally as artists?
Paintin: My goal for us is to hopefully play somewhere outside of Nebraska soon. It’d be cool to see some growth and make some connections outside of Nebraksa.
Howell: I think one of our goals is to tour and make music more full time.
Kempcke: In more of a personal sense, when I am writing new things, finding ways to keep it interesting and just continuing to grow not only as musicians but as songwriters. I think this second wave of music that we’re gonna put out is some of our best work, and we’ve been sitting on some of this since 2020.
White: I think the biggest thing is how as a band we are proud because we are really good at making moments in shows, and I think as we write more, we continue to make these different moments and experiences during shows. I think my goal is just continuing to create a dynamic show for people.
Q: You guys started out at Central High School, and now you’re here playing at Maha. What do you think has been the pivotal moment in your time as a band that has gotten you here?
White: I feel like it was that Waiting Room show that we played. I think that really got us stoked to be back playing music after so long and it just gave us that push and drive to get things picked back up again.
Paintin: Not to inflate anybody’s head but adding Cole (Kempcke) to the band has definitely taken us in a whole new direction. When it used to be just the three of us, you’d have rhythm guitar, bass, drums and our vocals, but now that we have Cole, we can add lead lines on top and add new textures. We’ve gone from one sound to now this huge full sound which is much more three-dimensional.
White: During the pandemic, even though we weren’t doing a lot of things, we were doing a whole lot of writing. I always consider it like a weird blessing in disguise because we got the time to sit down and just be by ourselves. I know Ingrid (Howell) wrote a bunch of bangers during that time and we all just grew as artists. Besides the Waiting Room show, I don’t know if there’s ever been one pivotal moment because in the music industry as a whole you don’t just have one shining moment, there’s constant growth. So, the fact that we just keep evolving and flowing with each other is what makes us so special.
Q: Is there anything you want to tell concert goers about what to expect from Bad Self Portraits?
Howell: After you watch us you end up leaving still thinking about it. It’s not just over. What we say in the show and the moments that we make will stick with you. You’ll be thinking about the lyrics or the insane guitar skills that we have.
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