 Who: Names Without Numbers
 Where: Maloney’s, Council Bluffs
 When: 8 p.m. Friday, June 23
 Tickets: $10 advance, $12 at the door

By MarQ Manner

Names Without Numbers are doing music their way after 20 years
together. The Omaha rock band has been releasing singles when the
inspiration sets in and the need to collaborate comes around. They are
set to release the new single “Winter Wars” on May 19 on streaming
services. This follows the release of the single “Florida” in January.
Names Without Numbers will perform on June 23 at Maloney’s in
Council Bluffs.

When starting as a young band, the dream is making it big, sharing the
stage with your influences, and having labels, publicists and booking
agents do all the boring stuff. Later in life, the dream for many
musicians is balancing their craft with families and jobs. Many bands
call it quits long before attempting that balancing act, but Names
Without Numbers have persisted.

In a phone conversation, vocalists and guitarists Dave Owens and Ryan
Cruickshank were asked if releasing singles at their own pace instead of
full albums was satisfying. “It seems like everything that we do is a slow
process,” Owens said, “but I guess that is what happens when you get
older and have kids and families. One of our goals this year is to
continually release new music. This single is out in May, then another
single after that, and then personally I would like to have an EP out.”
Cruickshank joined in. “I think back in the day we were trying to make it
or get a record deal,” he said. “There is not much of the caring of what
people think like we used to. Now, it is more ‘let’s write songs that we
like,’ and if people like them, great. I just think that now I am in a
healthier place creatively because I am doing what I like.”

After winning Outstanding Rock Band at the Omaha Entertainment and
Arts Awards
in 2020 and 2022, the band might be getting more attention
than earlier in its career. “It’s very humbling that even now, 20 years
later, we may be getting recognized even more than in our heyday of
the early 2000s,” Owens said. “Even back then, we had a bigger fan
base outside of Omaha, and we were always playing shows. We were
playing over 100 shows a year at one point.”

The song “Florida” was released in January. “It’s about kind of ignoring
the craziness of the world,” Cruickshank said. “There are so many
things that you see on Facebook that are happening, and it is really
hard not to be worked up by them. It’s a song about letting go, and
being OK with things as they are, because there is only so much you
can control. The main thing we can control is our reaction to things, so it
is a song about letting your reaction be OK with everything around you,
because you can’t stop it.”

The new single is called “Winter Wars.” “It is a little political,”
Cruickshank said. “It is about the 1% out there who are getting richer by
the year, by the day, and ignoring people that are living in poverty and
kind of the injustice of that. Billionaires are out there hoarding this
wealth and having yachts and mansions all over the country when there
are a bunch of people that live under the poverty line and how that
could be spread out a little bit.”

When asked about the songwriting process, Cruickhsank said, “So it is
like a collaboration of Dave bringing the cake and me bringing the frosting. He has a better grasp of chord structure and theory and what works in a song. After all of that, it is a canvas for me to paint on, where I put melodies, lead guitar parts and jangly guitar parts, and lyrics over that.” “Our drummer, Jay (Blayney), I am a drummer as well, he gets mad at me a lot because I tell him how to play and what to play,” Owens said. “It actually turns out really good, because he is a way better drummer than I am, and he will take a simple idea that I have and make it better.” On bass player Joel Schlegelmilch, Owens said, “He is sneaky good. He is solid and will come up with these bass riffs out of nowhere that are super tasty and fit the song very well.”

Names Without Numbers have evolved musically from starting in more of a pop-punk vein and then emo before maturing musically to more of a power-pop sound. “We started out in sort of the punk kind of thing, the pop punk like Blink- 182 or MxPx and that style,” Cruickshank said. “Now, over the years, we’ve had to replace members who left and kind of upgraded ourselves along the way. We are much better musicians now, so we can do a lot more of what we wanted to do back then. We went through an emo
period, and I still think we have a little bit of that flavor, which a lot of bands — I don’t know if they still hate that term — but they did back then. It was faux pas to call yourself emo or other people to call you emo, but whatever you want to label us, that is fine. We still have a flavor of that, but I think we have evolved to more power pop. We have come back from punk pop to more power pop with some rock sensibilities in there.”

With emo music going through a revival the past few years and even being the focus of a “CBS Mornings” segment on the day of this interview, Owens was asked for his thoughts on the emo revival. “It shows that good songwriting is good songwriting,” he said. “It also shows that it is still relevant. People of all ages still like Jimmy Eat World, and they are one of my favorite bands and one of my biggest influences. It is nice to see that bands like that still put songs on the radio, still tour and still have people of all ages come out and make it relevant.”

It also doesn’t get much more popular than Taylor Swift at the moment. The band recently released a rocked-up cover of Swift’s song “Style,” complete with a video that found the group and the Easter Bunny hanging out at Beercade in Benson. “I am a big Taylor Swift fan,” Cruickshank said. “She is a hell of an artist and songwriter, which I think she does a lot of, and her marketing and how she presents herself and is in control of her persona and music. We were like, ‘This could be a rock song.’ It is pop
the way that she does it, but I hear guitars in there that are crunchy. It was just fun. Our producer was trying to talk me out of doing the whole gender thing — there are a lot of gender references — and I was like, ‘I don’t know,’ gender is fluid anymore to me, so it was kind of fun to do that.”

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