Let me start by telling you who Denver Dalley is. Because some of you (OK, most of you) don’t remember or weren’t around when Omaha was at the center of the indie music world, circa 2001-2005.
Dalley was (and is) a stellar guitarist and songwriter who played in seminal Omaha indie punk band Desaparecidos with Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes fame) alongside a handful of talented young bucks. They released an album around 2002 on local label Saddle Creek Records called Read Music/Speak Spanish and briefly toured the country with the likes of Jimmy Eat World and Rilo Kiley, to name a few.
As quickly as they came, they disappeared (just like their name), only to return for the Concert for Equality in Benson in 2010. That was followed by another brief tour. Five years later, they released Payola on Epitaph Records and toured yet again. And then, like before, the band went away.
In the meantime, Dalley toured for a few years as guitarist for singer/songwriter Sean Tillmann, who performed under the pseudo identity Har Mar Superstar. Dalley also nurtured his own solo project called Statistics (Jade Tree Records), was a tour manager and became known by some for his hi-jinx as a world traveler. We all vicariously lived through Dalley, Omaha’s blond-headed version of Keanu Reeves.
It had been years since I heard from Dalley, and then, flipping through the socials after July 4, there was a photo of Dalley dressed head-to-toe in a firefighter’s outfit, complete with shiny black helmet, walking down the street in a parade looking like Captain America.
I had to find out what was up. It turned out that, yes, indeed, Dalley was a firefighter … or will be.
“I’m a volunteer at my local fire station,” Dalley said. “I’ve taken my Fire 1 and Fire 2 classes and have been certified in both, but I still need to be certified as an EMT, which will happen in the fall.”
Until then, he’s driving the station’s ambulance, which he says, “Is still fun and hands on. It’s not a career at this point, but it’s headed that way.”
Life indeed has slowed for the musician, who just turned 40 in May. After years on the road, he says he got tired of it and dropped out three years ago. He moved to a small town just outside of Milwaukee, bought a house, and then two years ago got hitched. As he’d done when he lived in Omaha, Dalley makes ends meet by painting houses.
“It’s not uncommon for me to paint from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. then go on call with the fire station from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m.,” he said. The actual fire calls are few and far between. Most calls are PNBs — Pulse Not Breathing — and “a lot of car fires and car accidents,” he said. “I’ll be putting out a car fire one day and putting down oil-dry the next.”
And while he’s quite content with his new life as a fire-fighting homebody, Dalley is still very much involved in music with multiple pots a-boil on the stove. Among them is a project with The Faint’s Clark Baechle, who recorded tracks at Dalley’s home studio during a visit. Going by the name The Weaknights, the tracks have been sent to a number of vocalists for contributions, including Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus and Jimmy Eat World’s Jim Adkins. More to come.
Then there’s PRESSERS, a project that took shape a few years ago in Los Angeles with Jonah Ray and Blood Brothers’ Cody Votolato. “We recorded an album and have been trying to find a home for it, and just found a label,” Dalley said.
PRESSERS could be the project that gets him on the road again. “The timing would have to work out,” he said. “I don’t know if I could go back on tour and lose my ass. When I first started touring, gas wasn’t nearly as expensive and you could crash on people’s floors. As I get older, I don’t know if I want to do that anymore.”
Still, his favorite memories are of that first Desaparecidos tour in the early 2000s, when the band would all pile into one room at a Hotel 6. “You’d wake up in the morning surrounded by your friends.”
And we likely haven’t heard the last of Desa. Dalley said look for a new vinyl release of the band’s 2015 performance at Brooklyn DIY space Shea Stadium. “It’s been remastered and will be out on limited vinyl by Freeman Street Records,” Dalley said. “It just went out to the plant.”
If Conor comes a-calling, Dalley said he’ll hit the road again, but for right now, he’s “stoked to be in one place for a while. I’m ready for the next chapter.”
Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at email@example.com.