When the invitation went out via Facebook for this Friday night’s Speed! Nebraska 15th Anniversary rock show at The Brother’s Lounge, the first thing that went through my mind was: Has it really been five years since we did that Speed! Nebraska 10-year anniversary cover story in The Reader?
That story, published June 28, 2006, recapped the history of the vinyl-loving record label that’s home to a handful of the area’s best local bands, including Ideal Cleaners, The Filter Kings, Domestica, The Third Men, Students of Crime and label chief Gary Dean Davis’ band, The Wagon Blasters.
In that article, Wagon Blasters drummer (then Monroes drummer) Jesse Render declared that it was The Golden Age of Speed! Nebraska Records. Five years later and Davis says that Golden Age continues.
“Not much has changed,” Davis said over the phone, while one of his three precocious children made noise in the background. “At that time I was feeling good about the fact that there were a lot of bands on the label. The amazing thing is that in five years, that’s continued.”
In many ways Davis and his label cohorts have always been ahead of their time. Since its first release — a 7-inch by long-defunct band Solid Jackson called “Fell” b/w “In a Car” — the label has focused on releasing vinyl. Except for punk fans and audiophiles, vinyl was viewed as a novelty and a waste of money… back then. Today, almost every mid-major indie band — along with a number of major-label superstars — releases music on vinyl as CD sales continue to decline.
“Vinyl may be back, but it never left for us,” Davis said.
Regardless, he added that the so-called “vinyl renaissance” hasn’t had much of an impact on Speed! Nebraska’s sales. “If you can get a turntable into someone’s home, that’s in our best interest,” he said, “but I don’t know if it’s filtered down to what we do.”
But it’s never been about sales. Having music released on vinyl is “the musicians’ dream,” Davis said. “Talking to the guys in our bands and others who have not had vinyl releases, it’s the ultimate. Elvis put out records. Johnny Cash put out records. In a sense having a record puts you on the same level as those guys. The reason you got involved with music was from listening to records.”
He pointed out that today, fewer people are even releasing CDs thanks to the impact of digital downloading. “If you’re going to do a release and make it download-only, you could put out a new record every day, right?” Davis said. “It’s a watering down of what it means to be a musician. The time involved with putting out a record — recording and mixing and mastering and sending it to the plant and waiting for them to come back and then doing the cover — there’s a lot of stages to that finished project vs. the general immediacy of the times we live in.”
Davis equated it to the difference between getting a letter in the mail and receiving an e-mail — or between receiving a birthday greeting on your Facebook wall and getting hand made birthday cards from his students at St. Stanislaus, where he’s the principal. “A Facebook happy birthday is nice, but a handmade card — I mean, I keep those,” he said. “Someone spent time and thought enough to do it. There’s something more special about that.”
So don’t even bother asking Davis about Spotify. He doesn’t know what it is and doesn’t care enough to find out. It isn’t because he’s some sort of neo-luddite anti-technology snob; he just thinks making vinyl records is, as Wilford Brimley used to say, “The right thing to do.”
And keep doing it he shall. This past year, Speed! Nebraska released a new CD by Ideal Cleaners, Far As You Know, and the tasty 10-inch vinyl compilation Speed! Soapbox Riot 300, which included a song by every band currently on the label’s roster. Davis said future plans include a possible 7-inch by The Filter Kings, more by Ideal Cleaners, and a full-length by Domestica, while Davis’ own band, The Wagon Blasters, is currently writing songs, though they’re in no hurry to put something out.
“Playing in a band is still fun and a nice thing to do, but if I have to do something with the kids…” Davis said. “All the guys in the band understand. We do this because it’s fun. There’s never any tension about it. Once we have enough songs, we’ll go into the studio.”
I ended that 2006 cover story by asking Davis where Speed! Nebraska will be in 2016. So it just made sense to ask him again if he thought the label would be around in five years.
“Oh yeah, definitely, whether I’m playing in a band or not,” he said. “I want to keep doing the label in some capacity, whatever it looks like. As long as we continue to have something to say in our records and music and the aesthetic and presentation, we’ll continue to do it.”
The Speed! 15th Anniversary Celebration is Friday, Nov. 11, at The Brothers Lounge, 38th & Farnam St., featuring performances by Ideal Cleaners, The Wagon Blasters, Domestica, Techlepathy and The Filter Kings. Show starts at 9 p.m., cover is $5. If you go, consider bringing Davis an anniversary card, preferably one that’s hand made.
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.