Ten Questions with Maha Music Festival Bands

The annual one-day festival at Aksarben Village takes place August 19.


This year’s Maha Music Festival, to be held Aug. 19 once again at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village, has arguably the best line-up in the festival’s 9-year history.

That’s high praise considering past Maha Festivals have included stellar acts such as Death Cab for Cutie, Garbage, Guided by Voices, Spoon, Dum-Dum Girls, Desaparecidos, Car Seat Headrest, Bob Mould and Superchunk, among others.

After last year’s strong, dance-driven line-up, Maha refocused on upcoming and semi-classic indie rock acts, striking a balance between veterans, up-and-comers and some of Omaha’s hottest bands.

Below is a preview of the 10 bands performing at this year’s Maha. Each band was sent our Ten Questions survey, an email questionnaire based on the Pivot Questionnaire made popular in this country by the TV show Inside the Actors Studio (but originally created by French talk show host Bernard Pivot). Our version of the questionnaire adds a unique musical slant.

The New Pornographers

They’ve been called an indie rock supergroup thanks to the richness of talent. The band’s 7-member roster includes three lead vocalists: Dan Bejar of Destroyer, Neko Case, whose solo career stands on its own, and the band’s founder, Carl (A.C.) Newman.

Since their debut in 1997 in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, the band has released seven studio albums starting with 2000’s Mass Romantic (Mint Records) before moving to indie powerhouse Matador Records for some of the most iconic releases of the 2000s, including 2003’s Electric Version and ’05’s Twin Cinema.

Their latest, Whiteout Conditions, released this past April by Concord Music Group, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Alternative Album charts.

1. What is your favorite album?

Carl Newman: Love, Forever Changes  

2. What is your least favorite song?

I think it is still out there. I haven’t heard it yet. If I have to answer, probably something that is #1 at country radio right now.

3. What do you enjoy most about being in a band?

I like all the people I have met. It is a good foot in the door for meeting people you admire. A great community.

4. What do you hate about being in a band?

Being away from my family. Feeling like you need to please people, like your best isn’t good enough. That sort of thing.

5. What is your favorite substance (legal or illegal)?

I like red wine. I often champion it.

6. In what city or town do you love to perform?

D.C. has always been an amazing place for us. A lot of love for all of our projects.

7. What city or town did you have your worst gig (and why)?

I remember playing in a cafe in Chapel Hill in the ’90s. No one there, they were stacking the chairs on the tables as we played. I recall thinking, “Am I paying my dues right now?”

8. Are you able to support yourself through your music? If so, how long did it take to get there; if not, how do you pay your bills?

Yes, so far so good. I played in bands for about 10 years before that happened. Not a tough, hard-working 10 years but still… 10 years. In this era when no one buys music, that might change soon.

9. What one profession other than music would you like to attempt; what one profession would you absolutely hate to do?

I would love to be a writer of some kind. Comedy, TV, film, novelist. Always had a lot of respect for the profession. I know, I am sort of a writer, in my way. So many things I would hate to be, it’s hard to choose.

10. What are the stories you’ve heard about Omaha, Nebraska?

Best place on earth. It rules, other places drool. Things like that.

Torres

Torres is the creative alter-ego of Brooklyn’s Mackenzie Scott, who has been playing a unique brand of gritty, guitar-fueled indie rock since releasing her self-titled self-released debut in 2013. In its 8.1-rated review, Pitchfork compared her to Cat Power and Songs:Ohia. She followed with 2015’s critically acclaimed Sprinter (Partisan Records).

Leaked tracks from her upcoming 4AD release, Three Futures, due out Sept. 29, hint at a more electronic-driven approach, with blaring synths, crisp drop beats and glowing guitars, reminiscent of St. Vincent, but with lyrics that embrace ecstasy, desire and indulgence rather than self-denial.

1. What is your favorite album?

Torres a.k.a. Mackenzie Scott: Kate Bush, Hounds of Love

2. What is your least favorite song?

Napoleon XlV, “They’re Coming to Take Me Away”

3. What do you enjoy most about being in a band?

Traveling and experiencing the world

4. What do you hate about being in a band?

Sitting all day, every day, when touring

5. What is your favorite substance (legal or illegal)?

Lord’s lettuce. I strongly prefer Sativa-dominant hybrids.

6. In what city or town do you love to perform?

All of them. I always feel good when we play in Scottsdale, AZ, strangely. 

7. What city or town did you have your worst gig (and why)?

I’ve had a lot of terrible performances. One that I remember as being especially humiliating was in December 2015 opening for Sleater-Kinney in Brooklyn. I broke a string before my penultimate song and didn’t have a backup guitar. I walked off the stage in the middle of the set and frantically ran around looking for a spare guitar, but there were none available. I walked back onstage empty-handed and sang “Honey” sans guitar, then skipped the last song of the set. The crowd was gracious and I know it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, but I still agonize over it.

9. What one profession other than music would you like to attempt; what one profession would you absolutely hate to do?

I’d love to act in any capacity, whether it be film, TV or theatre. I would hate to have any job where I have to answer to somebody else. I always knew I wanted to be my own boss.  

10. What are the stories you’ve heard about Omaha, Nebraska?

Zilch! I’m looking forward to arriving with no preconceived ideas about Omaha.

Run the Jewels

This year’s headliner, Run the Jewels exploded onto the global hip-hop scene with their 2013 self-titled debut on Fool’s Gold Records. The project consists of rapper/producer El-P and rapper Killer Mike, who came together after each released successful solo albums the year prior.

While their debut was a critical smash, the following-up, 2014’s Run the Jewels 2, made it to No. 6 on the Billboard Rap charts and No. 50 on the pop charts, fueled by appearances at Coachella, Bonnaroo Pitchfork and Austin City Limits festivals. When Run the Jewels 3 was released in December 2016, it topped the U.S. R&B/Hip-Hop and Rap charts.

On the road since June 16 (and recently appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live), the Maha date lands in middle of RTJ’s Run the World Tour, which heads to Europe through November.

Priests

The post-punk band (proudly from DC) has been ripping out their socio-poli-fueled anthems since 2012 but caught fire this year with their angst-driven full-length debut, Nothing Feels Natural (2017, Sister Polygon). The album captures a dark, stark world of haunted capitalism, anxiety and glum modernism bouncing along to a surf-rock beat. Vocalist Katie Alice Greer sings, howls and spits out lyrics atop the quick-pulse rhythms and jittery bass-driven arrangements that sound like ’80s post-punk Debora Iyall/Romeo Void territory, upbeat and often angry. This is the nervous sound of tomorrow.

What is your favorite album?

Drummer Daniele Daniele: it changes all the time, but Lanquidity by Sun Ra is an album I come back to over and over again.

2. What is your least favorite song?

Guitarist G.L. Jaguar: Journey, “Don’t Stop Believing.” Fuck that song.

3. What do you enjoy most about being in a band?

Bassist Taylor Mulitz: Answering interview questions 😉

4. What do you hate about being in a band?

Vocalist Katie Alice Greer: Anything directly in opposition to making music, there’s a lot of distracting BS you gotta wade through sometimes

5. What is your favorite substance (legal or illegal)?

Daniele: Sunshine

6. In what city or town do you love to perform?

Jaguar: DC ’cause of the home turf advantage.

7. What city or town did you have your worst gig (and why)?

Greer: New York City. We’ve played there a lot, had some of our best gigs there, too. But one time I was taunting the audience, expecting that we’d put on a really fire gig and blow them away. Instead it was a set rife with technical difficulty, I was totally embarrassed!

8. Are you able to support yourself through your music? If so, how long did it take to get there; if not, how do you pay your bills?

Greer: I do some other odd jobs, but I’m getting there. It’s taken five years at least.

9. What one profession other than music would you like to attempt; what one profession would you absolutely hate to do?

Daniele: I would love to be a weaver! Or textile designer. I’d hate to have a job where I had to carry a gun.

10. What are the stories you’ve heard about Omaha, Nebraska?

Greer: Haha. In the movie The Wizard Of Oz, at the end the wizard is in a hot air balloon headed for the Omaha State Fair…. that, and the steaks. But I’m vegan, so Omaha’s a bit of a mystery to me. Looking forward to exploring.

Belle and Sebastian

Scottish act Belle and Sebastian’s indie pop is a reinvention of European baroque folk, in its early days powered by muted, almost twee acoustic ballads that captured intimate details of life and love and growing up. The massive ensemble was started in1996 by Stuart Murdoch and Stuart David, and has seen the release of almost all of its 11 full-lengths on Matador Records.

Career highlights include 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister and ’98’s The Boy with the Arab Strap, which galvanized their reputation for whimsical pop songs with ornate arrangements that recalled ’60s acts like Donovan, Burt Bacharach, Left Banke and The Association. The band’s most recent release, 2015’s Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (Matador) flirted with synths and dance beats without losing any of its delicate charm.

The Hottman Sisters

The Hottman Sisters are Jessica and Heather Hottman (plus Ed Getzlaff on drums). They’ve been gigging in the Omaha area for at least a couple years, playing a style of twangy indie-pop rife with harmonies that recall acts like Decemberists, Neko Case and First Aid Kit. The band self-released its debut album, This Two, in 2016, before heading out of town on tour.

What is your favorite album?

Jessica Hottman: Anything by Bing Crosby. My grandpa, who was a performing musician and who passed away before I was born, I am told had a voice like Bing. I like to imagine it’s my grandpa singing those songs. I am also a super nostalgic person, and he sings beautifully composed music that brings out “all the feels,” as they say. Also, anything by Elvis Presley.

2. What is your least favorite song?

I will call them “endless songs.” For example, the song that goes ‘99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer, take one down, pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall. Pause. 98 bottles of beer on the wall, 98 bottles of beer…‘ you get the picture.

3. What do you enjoy most about being in a band?

That moment while performing, when my sister and I look at each other and want to smile and cry all at once because we love what we do.

4. What do you hate about being in a band?

I hate how fast things go sometimes. Like when I look forward to a show and then, BOOM, it’s over and done. It’s fleeting like anything else, so I try to stop and enjoy the little steps along the way.

5. What is your favorite substance (legal or illegal)?

Ice cream. Definitely ice cream.

6. In what city or town do you love to perform?

Baton Rouge, LA, has been one of our favorite places so far. NYC is amazing as well.

7. What city or town did you have your worst gig (and why)?

We had a show that got rained out in Austin, TX.

8. Are you able to support yourself through your music? If so, how long did it take to get there; if not, how do you pay your bills?

We are able to support ourselves. It has taken us about three years to get here. All of us do work gigs when we are back though, to boost our income. I have my teaching degree, so I sub elementary school (K-6) in the Westside District. I also do some local modeling. My sister, Heather, works to sort and digitize records at a medical office, and our drummer Ed, teaches private drum lessons through a nonprofit. He also plays jazz gigs when he is back and occasionally drives for Lyft.

9. What one profession other than music would you like to attempt; what one profession would you absolutely hate to do?

I would love to be an actress. I definitely would not want to be a surgeon. Lots of blood = passing out = not helping the patient = not good.

10. What are the stories you’ve heard about Omaha, Nebraska?

I live here so I hear stories everyday! When I am out of Omaha, many people have no idea where Omaha or even Nebraska is at. If they do, they usually talk about the corn, flat land, CWS, or that one time they drove through Omaha.

Sleigh Bells

Grinding and frenetic, New York’s Sleigh Bells creates loud, raucous, crunchy sugar pop  that sounds like a pep rally held in a secret underground Manhattan meth lab. Consisting of songwriter/producer Derek Miller and vocalist Alexis Krauss, they crashed the indie music scene in with their 2010 full-length debut, Treats, released on M.I.A.’s N.E.E.T. Recordings (along with Mom + Pop). Pitchfork blessed it with its coveted “Best New Music” moniker and suddenly Sleigh Bells was everywhere. Festivals and an appearance on Saturday Night Live soon followed. The band has released three more full lengths, including most recently 2016’s Jessica Rabbit (Torn Clean Records).

The Faint

This isn’t the first time The Faint has graced the Maha Music Festival stage. The band was one of the headliners along with Spoon and Superchunk at the 2010 festival, held at Lewis & Clark Landing. Their top-bill status — then and now — is well deserved.

One of a trio of acts that put Saddle Creek Records (and Omaha) on the indie music map in the late ’90s and throughout the 2000s, The Faint exploded onto the national scene with 1999’s Blank-Wave Arcade, an album that defined their post-punk, electronic-fueled dance-rock style. Non-stop touring and a reputation for putting on electrifying, sweat-soaked live shows quickly made them concert favorites throughout the country.

Fronted by Todd Fink with guitarist Dapose, drummer Clark Baeckle and newest member, keyboardist Graham Ulicny, The Faint continues to put out new music including three new songs on 2016 “greatest hits” compilation CAPSULE:1999-2016 (Saddle Creek).

What is your favorite album?

Todd Fink: I would never do that to  myself.

2. What is your least favorite song?

Bare Naked Ladies, “Cherry Cola”

3. What do you enjoy most about being in a band?

Free Cabernet

4. What do you hate about being in a band?

The music

5. What is your favorite substance (legal or illegal)?

Egg nog

6. In what city or town do you love to perform?

Tokyo or Berlin

7. What city or town did you have your worst gig (and why)?

A festival in Switzerland(?) I had a complete Billy Joel/Casey Kasem meltdown on stage.  i used to really hate it when the vocoder wasn’t hooked up right.

8. Are you able to support yourself through your music? If so, how long did it take to get there; if not, how do you pay your bills?

We live in a castle for free.

8.5 What do you eat then?

Carrots.  With bunnies

9. What one profession other than music would you like to attempt; what one profession would you absolutely hate to do?

I’ll be a milliner soon

10. What are the stories you’ve heard about Omaha, Nebraska?

That Omaha made the reuben.

Built to Spill

Along with Death Cab for Cutie and Modest Mouse, Built to Spill defined the Pacific Northwest indie rock sound of the late ’90s. The band is the product of singer/songwriter/guitarist Doug Martsch, who formed Built to Spill in Boise, Idaho in 1993. While 1997’s Perfect from Now On is considered the breakthrough, my favorite is the follow-up, 1999’s Keep It Like a Secret, which included seminal songs “The Plan,” “Time Trap and “You Were Right,” a trio of hits that weren’t hits fueled by soaring melodies and blazing guitars.

Built to Spill has since released five more full-lengths, all on Warner Bros, including their latest, 2015’s Untethered Moon. Martsch is no stranger to Omaha, having played here a number of times dating back to one very memorable, smokey show at good ol’ Sokol Underground.

What is your favorite album?

Doug Martsch: Welcome to Miami by Slam Dunk

2. What is your least favorite song?

The whole album is good.

3. What do you enjoy most about being in a band?

Fucking around.

4. What do you hate about being in a band?

People throwing things at me.

5. What is your favorite substance (legal or illegal)?

Legal

6. In what city or town do you love to perform?

All of them.

7. What city or town did you have your worst gig (and why)?

Aspen, Colorado, because rich people suck.

8. Are you able to support yourself through your music? If so, how long did it take to get there; if not, how do you pay your bills?

I think it took me 26 years.

9. What one profession other than music would you like to attempt; what one profession would you absolutely hate to do?

Scientist; contortionist

10. What are the stories you’ve heard about Omaha, Nebraska?

 Too many to account.

High Up

High Up is the most talked about indie act to come out of the Omaha music scene since the band debuted sometime around 2015. Driving all the talk is frontwoman Christine Fink, sister of Azure Ray’s Orenda Fink (who also is in the band). With a voice reminiscent of Janis Joplin, Christine belts out High Up’s unique flavor of golden blues in a way the late Joe Cocker would admire — all jerky moves and pained expressions with a little James Brown shake thrown in to make it ultra-groovy.

After a string of local live gigs, the band hit the studio and recorded a a self-titled EP, released this past January by Team Love Records. The highlight, a smoking single called “Two Weeks,” is guaranteed to turn the Maha crowd into lifelong fans.

1. What is your favorite album?

Christine Fink: Grand Prix – Teenage Fanclub

2. What is your least favorite song?

“Centerfold” – J. Geils Band

3. What do you enjoy most about being in a band?

Being able to connect with people on a real, emotional level, without having to maintain any kind of friendship afterward.

4. What do you hate about being in a band?

Being broke and juggling schedules.

5. What is your favorite substance (legal or illegal)?

Xanax

6. In what city or town do you love to perform?

Minneapolis so far, but I have a lot more touring to do!

7. What city or town did you have your worst gig (and why)?

We played a show in Oklahoma City on the way to SXSW. The room was long and narrow, with a mirror on the other end. There was literally no one there, so I had to watch myself perform to no one in that giant mirror across the room. Toward the end of our set a member from another band heckled me and then jumped our bass player, who inadvertently sent the guy crashing into the monitors, and then my pocket-sized sister had to get in between him and the rest of the band. All of this WHILE we were playing. Oklahoma City and the club were cool though!

8. Are you able to support yourself through your music? If so, how long did it take to get there; if not, how do you pay your bills?

No. I work full time and sulk a lot when we’re not on the road.

9. What one profession other than music would you like to attempt; what one profession would you absolutely hate to do?

I’d love to be an archaeologist or historian. I’d hate to be a doctor. Too much responsibility.

10. What are the stories you’ve heard about Omaha, Nebraska?

I heard a staircase at Hummel Park counts differently going up and down, which I couldn’t verify because I can only count up to how many fingers and toes I have, and there’s way more than nine steps.

Downtown Boys

It’s hard to top the description published on Downtown Boys’ Spotify page, which calls them “a six-piece multiracial, gender-integrated, bilingual rock band from Providence, Rhode Island, that plays fierce but joyous punk rock with blazing energy, howling saxophones and breakneck rhythms guaranteed to start a pogo frenzy on the dance floor.”

After releasing their full-length debut, Full Communism on Don Giovanni Records in 2015, the band is hopping over to Sub Pop for Cost of Living, due out August 11.

What is your favorite album?

Joey La Neve DeFrancesco: That’s hard and changes regularly. Right now I really love the new record by Algiers, The Underside of Power.

2. What is your least favorite song?

If I could never hear “Closer” by The Chainsmokers + Halsey again I’d be pretty pumped.

3. What do you enjoy most about being in a band?

Performing live is the best part. Getting the immediate satisfaction of reaching people with something, sending a message, being a part of that community in the moment.

4. What do you hate about being in a band?

That musicians and cultural workers of all stripes are hugely undervalued, under-respected, and underpaid

5. What is your favorite substance (legal or illegal)?

Pass

6. In what city or town do you love to perform?

We like playing all over the place! Our favorite city is probably McAllen, TX, a city at the very bottom of the state right by the border. There is a really inspiring community there working in both culture and activism. It’s one of those places where after we play we’re like, “OK yeah this is why we do this.”

7. What city or town did you have your worst gig (and why)?

Hmm I’m not sure! And if the gig was bad I’m sure it’s more the circumstance and arranging of the show and not the city’s fault, so I don’t want to throw any particular municipality under the bus. Victoria and I have another band called Malportado Kids and once we played at Skidmore College and a drunk bro was being super violent in the crowd and we got in an argument that ended with him choking me against a wall, so that was probably the worst for me personally.

8. Are you able to support yourself through your music? If so, how long did it take to get there; if not, how do you pay your bills?

After doing this for years and years, we are only now at the point where we can even look at this as something that’s somewhat sustainable. We all still have other jobs to supplement what we make with music. There are five of us and we split everything evenly, so it’s pretty hard to make a real income on what we do just with the band. We continue pushing to make this something that we can do more and more full time, but the cultural economy treats workers like trash.

9. What one profession other than music would you like to attempt; what one profession would you absolutely hate to do?

Everyone in the band would have a different answer to this. I worked at a history museum for a while and I like that sort of public education work. As for what I would hate to do, I’m not sure – I’ve had so many awful minimum wage jobs over the years and I’m glad I’m not doing one right now, but I think all of those jobs could be sustainable and dignified and meaningful if we organized our economy better.

10. What are the stories you’ve heard about Omaha, Nebraska?

This is the first time we’ve played Omaha or anywhere in Nebraska so we’re very excited! I was really into the Saddle Creek bands like Desaparecidos and The Faint in high school, so that’s most of what I know of the city, and I’m thrilled to be playing with The Faint at the festival.

The Maha Music Festival is Aug. 19 at Aksarben Village. The day-long concert runs from noon to midnight. Tickets are $55. For set times and more information, go to mahamusicfestival.com


Category: Music

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