Wednesday nights in Benson can be pretty quiet. Nineties hip-hop songs might drift from the patio behind St. Andrews Pub. Parking is easy enough if you’re coming from the right direction, so as to avoid road construction. Roaches scuttle across the sidewalk mostly undisturbed.
The summer stillness makes it that much more noticeable when The Sydney has a weeknight show. The doors aren’t even cracked, but bass and cymbals fill the air at least a couple blocks down Maple. The band on this Wednesday night is NOWHERE, an Omaha post-hardcore trio closing out a bill that also included grindcore and alt-metal.
NOWHERE is relatively new, having emerged in the pre-post-COVID summer of ’21. But its members are veterans of the Omaha punk scene — bassist Cam Stout is also in No Thanks and fronted the punk band Crease; drummer Gabe Bierman played in garage punk duo The Natural States and is behind the electronic project GA83; and vocalist/guitarist Thor Dickey was a road warrior in several bands with clout in the national hardcore scene before he slowed down a few years ago to focus on his new role as a dad.
But Dickey couldn’t stay away forever. As soon as the pieces of NOWHERE were assembled, the band announced its arrival with a ferocious cohesion that’s rare to find fresh out of the embryonic stage. NOWHERE’s live performances and its early releases — an EP and a pair of singles — are pummelingly loud and noisy as fuck, but it’s pretty clear that there’s a method to the madness.
The Reader talked to Dickey, Stout and Bierman on The Sydney’s back patio before that Wednesday night show to talk about their origins in the basement of the shuttered Brothers Lounge, the state of the Omaha DIY scene and how a new band gets noticed in an era of TikTok industry plants.
How did the band start?
Thor Dickey: I was kind of shut in. I had two kids back to back. I just kind of had some downtime in the basement every once in a while, and I started writing some songs. Before the pandemic, I had a different kind of lineup put together, a little bit different vibe. But then when the pandemic hit, that obviously stopped. A little while after — I was bartending at Brothers at the time — and Gabe needed a new project, too. And then I started writing some stuff and kind of continued what I had already been writing, so that gave a little new angle to it.
Because Gabe came into the fold?
TD: Part of it. It had kind of the right vibe. All three of us are all kind of on the same wavelength. It came together the right way when we got Cam down there eventually.
Cam Stout: I begged to go down there. They were practicing in the basement of Brothers! On Tuesday nights, I would hear them through the floorboards, and I harassed them for a little while. I finally got my foot in the door.
Gabe Bierman: It was really just a natural fit.
CS: I really just wanted to see the Brothers basement.
GB: Cam just slotted right in. I remember the first time the three of us played together. We played, like, one song, and we were like “Oh yeah, okay, so that’s just it.” And then Lallaya (Lalley, former Brothers owner) came down and went “Wait a minute, this is the first time the three of you have all played together?” It had been like 20 minutes, and Lallaya saying that it sounded like we had been doing it forever was a huge compliment. I think all of the pieces just somehow lined up really well.
It really seems like you know what you’re trying to do with this band right out of the gate.
TD: It’s like a weird sixth sense sometimes when you play with people … it sounds cheesy, but I don’t know how else to describe it. I don’t have to look at them, we don’t have to talk. It’s just social cues. It feels like you don’t have to talk and can rely on this telepathic thing.
You’ve been out on the road a little so far — did you feel that telepathy right away? Or did you have to work to get to that point?
TD: Yeah, I think so. It’s kind of therapeutic for me. I don’t drink or do drugs, so it’s kind of my release and high at the same time. It’s always been very cathartic for me to play, especially live. Even if there’s two people in the room, there’s no time to be in the doldrums about it. You just have to play it.
How did you get that release after you had your kids and during the pandemic?
TD: Having a family is a whole different monster … I don’t know if ‘monster’ is the right word. But you kind of see different sides of yourself. Before children, obviously, you’re selfish and don’t really think about what your impact is on everybody else as much. Like, when they’re asleep, sometimes I kind of feel guilty that I’d be in the basement writing music. But it’s just one of those things that I have to do.
You’ve put out an EP and a couple singles. What are your plans going forward?
TD: We’re writing a full-length. We released a couple singles on Bandcamp to kind of get it out and also feel it out at the same time, since we’re not heavily touring. I always feel like you kind of need to hash out songs before we actually record them. We recorded mostly at (Max Trax Records). I’d say we’re halfway done. We’re trying to get it written and recorded by the end of the summer, and we’ll see what we do after that.
CS: We’re pumping ‘em out.
Do you work that fast? That you could get an album written and recorded by the end of the summer?
TD: Yeah. Gabe and I are sound engineers, so I overthink stuff a little bit sometimes. Maybe we’ll let somebody else hit record so we can just do it.
Is that how you recorded the EP?
TD: We recorded the EP in the Brothers basement. When we heard that they were going to be done, I wanted to record there and kind of have a piece of something from there.
CS: Where it all began.
Did you get any souvenirs from Brothers when it closed?
GB: I got the “Sorry, we’re open” sign. I got the trash can from the men’s bathroom, and then Lallaya pawned off all of the shitty liquor on me that she didn’t want. Things like Goldschläger and Hot 100, which is like Fireball but 100 proof. And a box full of books and matches.
CS: Yeah, I got a box full of matches, too.
Thor, how does being a dad influence the music you make, and why does it come out the way it does?
TD: I’m already pretty sensitive to, you know, where our country’s at and social issues. But I think having your own children that you need to look out for, it makes me a little bit more angry about it. Not that I need to get on a soapbox, but lyrically, I’m probably a little harsher than I would have been six years ago.
CS: The first time I tracked bass at Thor’s house in the basement, his kids were so excited. They were just thrilled about it. And they would come downstairs with, like, little kids’ instruments, and they’d say “We have a song for you,” very seriously. And then they’d go back upstairs and grab different instruments and say, “Okay, we have a different song for you.”
GB: I was helping (Thor’s) daughter learn how to write letters while we were at Max Trax. I’d hit record, and Thor would start playing, and I’d be like “Okay, this is how you write a ‘C.’”
TD: I grew up in a very musical household, so I don’t want to force them into it. They can do whatever they want, but they’ll at least have the memory of being around it at an early age. They’ll probably hate what I do later, but it’s fine.
GB: Yeah! You used to use real instruments? Lame!
Well, with so many bands’ presences being online and on TikTok these days, what’s your approach to starting a new punk band amid all that clutter?
TD: I think it’s how it’s always been. Just kind of cultivating your own scene and making sure you’re within it. It’s hard because I have children and have to work a bunch, so it’s hard to get out to shows as much as I would like to. I at least try to, if I can, work a show or support a band by promoting their shows and stuff. Just building each other up.
It seems like the scene has really built itself back up since COVID.
TD: Yes, I think people realized what they were missing out on.
GB: DIY in Omaha is bigger now than it was before the pandemic. I think things were fading and we were clinging to a lot of stuff in 2019 and early 2020. Not to disparage anybody, but it’s hard work to maintain a thriving DIY scene in a city where you have a lot of people who leave in their mid 20s. I think the fact that now you play a show and people are standing outside, craning their necks to try and get a peek at the bands that are playing … It’s really, really cool to see that again. As for TikTok, all of the bands that are famous on there are industry plants.
CS: Word-of-mouth has always been essential for bands promoting themselves, especially on a DIY level. I think there are some bands that aren’t plants on TikTok, and they’re just trying to do the word-of-mouth thing but on a larger level. I imagine it could be a useful tour tactic, but if the artists are just like content creators … that’s not the content we’re creating.
NOWHERE plays Petfest on Saturday at 4:05 p.m. on the blue stage. See the whole Petfest lineup here.