|They’ve got the quirky stage presence. They’ve got the spunky collection of tracks off of a fun debut album. And they’ve got the opening spot on a much anticipated tour. What more does Omaha’s Beep Beep need? As singer/guitarist Chris Hughes said via telephone midway through the tour, not much.
“The tour’s been wonderful,” he said. “We’re a pretty new band still and our record just dropped in August. I would say the majority of the people have never heard our music before but, I think it’s leaving a satisfactory impression on them because they’re responding between songs and stuff. It’s been better than what I expected.”
Don’t be fooled, Hughes and company want the attention of their audiences. And, perhaps, they are able to get it by their seemingly skillful stage personae. Hughes is intense; he grits his teeth and stares. Singer/guitarist Eric Bemberger swings his guitar around wildly, smiles in a wide but hardly joyful way, and laughs as creepily as is captured on a few of the album’s tracks. Bassist Joel Petersen and drummer Mike Sweeney are somber but energetic performers. And, appearance-wise, all of the members could easily be just another guy standing next to you in the crowd, just another face walking down the street.
“I don’t know,” Hughes said of that appearance, “I just wear normal people clothes. I don’t buy into the rock ‘n’ roll chic bullshit. I like to dress comfortably and just let my music speak for itself.”
And that’s just it, Beep Beep’s stage presence and appearance is teamed with strong and forceful music deemed by Bemberger as in the genre of “retardo” and by Hughes as “attack jazz.” The performance is high energy and the music more than matches it. It’s of a different breed than many of its peers, and that’s just how the band likes it.
“Eric and I kind of got tired of conventional song structure and what is expected from music and the mellifluous ploys people use to get a response. We just started making music that was more spontaneous, less thought out, and more instinctive to what we care for. We started making music for ourselves and that’s when the style of music changed considerably.”
Hughes and Bemberger team to create music reflective of their walk of life and experiences within it. Their style is interesting and fun. What they create is inspired by a wide variety of influences from all difference genres, giving it different sounds, different aims and different ideals.
“Eric and I both have extensive record collections. Our influences could come anywhere from Allison Krauss to Keith Urban to Slayer to REM,” Hughes said.
It took Beep Beep nearly three years to get their debut album Business Casual out to the masses. They formed in July 2001 when Bemberger and Hughes came together to begin writing. They acquired Sweeney after looking within their native Omaha’s music community and teamed with Katie Muth early on, though she eventually left to attend school in fall 2003. Joel Petersen of The Faint was soon on board after her departure as bass player, and the band began to create songs that they were interested in putting out.
“We didn’t have a label,” Hughes said of their delay in releasing an album, “and we didn’t have money to record and we didn’t have songs that we wanted to record until the batch we have for the record. It’s just kind of a breaking in period, just the typical bumps you have when you’re playing music.”
Now that the album is out, the criticism comes. And Business Casual has its fair amount of supporters and opponents. Hughes takes it in stride.
“We knew when we recorded the record that it wasn’t going to be something that everyone was going to be into and I feel the reviews reflect that. There’s people that are into the music, there’s people that aren’t into the music and that’s how the reviews have been sitting. I think we’ve completely accomplished our goals in the sense of we didn’t want to make a cornflake album of ‘here it is, there it went.’”
“The whole thing about it is, it’s just one person, so I don’t really hold a lot of stock in them,” Hughes said of the reviews. “I think they tickle us for the most part.”
Coming from Omaha, Beep Beep find themselves in good musical company. Signed to Saddle Creek they are amongst, arguably, some of the best musicians to come out of the independent genre in recent years.
“Stylistically the genres are all across the board and I’m impressed with my peers,” Hughes said, “The fact that they’re able to come from a community that just has absolutely no culture and then create music that’s credible in an international context and then be able to tour and have a fan base, I think that’s a definite achievement for Omaha.”
And why Omaha, Nebraska of all places? Hughes has an answer for that too.
“Everyone has their own personal theories,” he said, “A lot of it has to do with the climate. There’s months out of the year that we’re not really able to do anything other than stay indoors. You know, people play music indoors, that’s one thing that people do. The other thing is, a lot of people don’t move. Everyone leaves for a brief time but they always relocate to Omaha. So, we’re always able to help each other and to bounce ideas off each other.”
As much as Beep Beep has enjoyed getting their songs out to music fans, they are more eager still to start their own headlining tour, which will begin in February of 2005. While The Faint gives them visibility, Hughes claims the “mall crowd” can get discouraging.
“The Faint are on a level, for an independent band, where they’re attracting people that aren’t really maybe even music enthusiasts, they’re just people that are out to have a good time. And that’s great and all, but ideally we’d like to target people who respond to our music and appreciate the genre, not people that are frightened by it.”
Beep Beep is currently supporting The Faint on their European tour. Their debut album Business Casual is out now on Saddle Creek Records. For more information head to www.saddle-creek.com or www.ilovebeepbeep.com.
|Sounding the Alarm|
|by Ashley Graham|