In the on-again off-again world of indie rock band Desaparecidos, when Conor Oberst calls you drop what you’re doing and run to his side, right?
Not at all says Desaparecidos guitarist Denver Dalley. “Well, maybe to some extent, but it’s not like anyone abandoned any commitments.”
Over the phone last week, Dalley quickly ran down what the rest of the band’s been up to. Guitarist/vocalist Landon Hedges is busy with his band, indie powerhouse Little Brazil. Keyboard player Ian McElroy has been in New York working on hip-hop project Rig 1 “but I don’t know how close he is to releasing new material,” he said.
Drummer Matt Baum has been vacant from the drum kit. “Before we started back up again he said he had an itch to make music,” Dalley said. “He’s done a lot of podcasts for his comic book world (called The Two-Headed Nerd).”
As for Dalley, he’s been bouncing between homes in Omaha, Nashville and Los Angeles. When not touring as part of dance-rock project Har Mar Superstar, he’s been finishing recording his own project, Statistics, as well as a score for a feature film about the Joplin, Missouri, tornado. “I also went to massage therapy school last year,” he says, though he doesn’t know if he’ll ever actually apply those new skills.
And then there’s Conor Oberst. But we all know what the Bright Eyes frontman has been up to.
Just two years after the last time Desaparecidos got together for the Concert for Equality concert, all their schedules have aligned and the boys are back in town. And judging from their new single, “Marikkkopa” b/w “Backsell,” they’re better than ever.
The single’s A side continues the band’s attacks on anti-immigration xenophobes by taking on Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, the king of racial profiling who has earned the title “America’s Worst Sheriff” by the New York Times. If you’re wondering what Arpaio is all about, just listen to the song’s lyrics, which paint the portrait of a racist rounding up illegal immigrants in a style that recalls the worst of Nazi Germany or The Klan.
Oberst has never been one to pull punches when it comes to his politics, so it’s a good thing the rest of the band shares his beliefs. “Fortunately, we all agree on these things,” Dalley said, “but we do discuss them ahead of time.”
For example, Dalley said there was some back-and-forth over the use of the word “spic” in “Marikkkopa,” in the line “These spics are brave and getting braver.”
“The whole song is written from the perspective of this person who is really anti immigration,” Dalley explained, “but we didn’t want it to come across in the wrong way. We thought about it and decided there is a time and a place and a context where (that language) is appropriate. This song is supposed to be controversial and make people think. Not to compare ourselves to them, but songs like Lennon’s ‘Woman is the Nigger of the World,’ and Dylan’s ‘Hurricane’ prove that there’s a point in using that kind of language.”
Considering that most of Desaparecidos’ fans already share their politics, isn’t the band merely preaching to the choir? Dalley said songs like “Marikkkopa” stoke the flames when the fire dies down after the headlines are forgotten. “It gets the conversation going again,” he said. “After we started streaming the songs yesterday (Aug. 2), we watched the Twitter feed and some people thought it was dead on while some said we’re lumping too many things together.”
Then there’s that sizable portion of the audience who doesn’t care about the lyrics, the ones who just want to rock out. “I’m guilty of that myself at times,” Dalley said, adding that he loves it when the crowd gets revved up over the message “but there’s a line you don’t want to cross. There’s a way to bring (issues) up, and a point when someone gets carried away.”
So when Oberst spends too much time on his soapbox, whose job is it to tell him to shut up and play? Dalley laughed. “Knock on wood we haven’t had to deal with that,” he said. “Maybe one night he’ll get on a tear and we’ll have to play him off, like on The Oscars.”
Good luck with that one.
Despite the politics behind the band’s message, Dalley said Desaparecidos (for him at least) is more about having fun, just like it was when the band first started in the early part of the last decade. Though 10 years have passed since the band’s only album, Read Music/Speak Spanish, was released, little has changed.
“It’s shockingly the same in the best possible way,” he said. “I was excited about the idea of practicing and the hi-jinx and laughing with the guys, and it really has been like that.”
There is a nostalgic way in how Dalley describes not only the band’s reunion, but the entire Omaha music scene. He compares the heyday of Saddle Creek Records circa 2001 like being in high school.
“There was a point afterward where everyone went off to college and got married or whatever,” he said. “Now it’s like people are returning from college and going back to their old stomping grounds, where they find a new, younger generation. I could go to a Cursive show back in 2000 and name everyone in the crowd. Now I only know a handful, and that’s great. I still feel like part of something. It’s different, but it’s the same.”
Desaparecidos is slated to play only a half-dozen shows after this Saturday’s Maha Music Festival. Dalley is unsure what will happen after that.
“There’s no plan as of now,” he said. “I think Conor has a handful of solo dates this winter, so as of now there’s nothing scheduled, but we’re all kind of open to whatever and hoping something happens.”
But only “as long as it’s still fun,” he added. “One of the reasons we went on hiatus was because there was starting to be expectations and it was getting stressful. It got away from being dudes having fun playing the music that we love. We’re all focused on that now.”