Saturday, April 9, 2011

Songwriters: Omaha

How long have you guys been playing music?

Jon Mauerhan: Since I was 12, so 23 years, with little breaks in between.

Brandon Seger: I’ve played since I was 15. Started on bass, and in my first band played bass. Played keyboards and guitar in other bands.

Ben Brown: I’ve been playing maybe 14 or 15 years.

And you guys played in other bands before I take it?

Brown: We all played in bands together at some point or another.

Maybe not all three together, but…

Mauerhan: Yeah, in different reincarnations.

So why is three the magic number for you guys when it comes to band members?

Mauerhan: I don’t think there’s any reason for it, we just knew it. We didn’t really explore adding a fourth member. I think the fact is that we’re tight-knit friends and have been for so long.

Seger: It’s easier, there’s less people.

Brown: It’s either option one, two, or three.

Seger: And there’s good two-on-ones, when you hit a stopping point. With a four-piece, you can get a two-on-two situation going, which could put a stalemate on the process. But with a three-piece, you have that dynamic of two people outweighing the one, so decisions get made quicker which is good. And then the communication of our group is pretty high.

When I watch you guys, there is a definite beat going, but you each seem to be in your own world, within that beat. Is that what you’re focusing on when you’re writing? And what instrument is starting the writing process most of the time?

Mauerhan: Yeah, and I think if you add a fourth layer, you might lose an element of that.

Seger: A lot of times, Ben comes in with a riff. We develop it and shape it as far as how long sections go. With a three piece dynamic, you have interesting options, where, if one member drops out, that just leaves two people playing, and it’s fun to mix that up a little bit. That’s another way how the trio actually does creates these options that bigger bands don’t have as much.

Brown: Yeah, and we’re kind of forced to push the limits in terms of dynamics because we only have three instruments to work with. Some bands with two guitarists, they can really develop that dynamic between the two, and add the layering.

And you are playing both. It’s nice that Brandon keeps that bassline, and lets you venture out into both realms.

Seger: Yeah, he gets to play rhythm and solo. You see a lot of taking turns in bands, but with ours, it’s always been his turn as guitarist (laughs).

When you’re putting a song together, you have these epic, intricate songs that you’re playing. You go into writing them with a certain riff usually and build off of that? Do you have an idea of what the structure is going to look like as a whole?

Mauerhan: I think it would be various levels of that. There’s times where we would come in with something, and Ben’s come in with a lot of ideas, verses, choruses, and other things. Other times, just a simple riff will blossom into something that we never expected. Songs always end up taking on a life of their own, off to places you never planned.

What do you think determines that? Vocals come later for you guys, right? So do you have a certain image or feeling you’re attempting to provoke?

Brown: We’re always considering where vocals are going to fit in to these pieces throughout the whole process. And then it’s just a matter of fine-tuning and layering the vocals in there, and then adjusting accordingly.

Mauerhan: I’d say there are almost always changes once the vocals come into play. The minute Brandon sinks his teeth into it, a lot of times he’ll come back and say, ‘I’ve got a great idea, but we’ve gotta change this to make it work.’

Seger: We learned a lot about that in the recording process. About how we create songs, how we work with the lyrics, and just being able to hear it, without playing it, over and over for that many times. It’s been very helpful for me.

With your playing bass and singing the melody, are you doing two different things rhythmically, or do you write with intention of synching it up to the bass?

Seger: It goes back and forth, but most of the time, the vocals don’t have a lot to do with the basslines, per se, but then there are other times when they do lock in together. That goes both ways. It’s always tricky to synch them up, but once you got it, you got it. So I enjoy that aspect of the band, and the fact that it’s constantly challenging me. I’ve improved a lot since starting to play with these guys again. Really kind of exciting process, and nerve-racking.

Seeing how far you can push it?

Seger: Yeah. I suppose seeing how far you can push it.

Do you guys all read music?

All three: No, not really.

So you just “hear it” when you’re writing and playing? Do you rely on mathematics at all when you write?

Mauerhan: Sometimes there will be mathematical concepts in there. If Ben is playing in 3/4, and I might have some rhythm that might have like a 5/4 feel, it’s fun to kind of switch it up and things like that.

Seger: We work in those off-beats quite a bit. It’s usually a little off-balance and precarious. I always feel like you’re almost on the edge, you’ve got that weird feeling like you wanna lean over it. A lot of the riffs and rhythms that we end up doing give me that sensation, like we’re just a little off-balance. You’ll see people kind of going with it in the crowd, they kind of lose it for a second, then they come back to it. That’s how I am when I first hear the riff.

Mauerhan: It’s kind of a struggle to make something that off-time, but still feel like you’re flowing in something continuous.

Let’s look into band philosophy, like what you stand for, and what you’re trying to express through your music. How does being on the edge depict what Omaha represents as an idea?

Seger: We set out to write dark, heavy music, and there’s any angry edge to it. I think the reason we gravitated towards it, partially, is that we’ve all listened to that type of music and gone to those types of shows together for a long time. But we’ve never done a band like this together. So when we were getting together, if we had a philosophy about the feel of the band, it was dark, angry, aggressive, and as heavy as we can make it. Then lyrically, it just channeled right into the way the lyrics come out, where they are often describing frustrating situations from a certain point of view; either the person who is creating the frustrating situation, or whether it’s from the point of view of the person who is being oppressed.

Mauerhan: Playing angry music is a good outlet. It limits how much you have to experience those emotions in normal life. Sometimes I’ll come here from work, feeling all tense, and afterwards, I can feel the blood flowing through and I’m relaxed.

So do you think that is something people need to tap into on a regular basis? They need a way to get that emotion out?

Mauerhan: It doesn’t necessarily have to be music.

Seger: A healthy way to vent is definitely a good thing.

Mauerhan: I listen to heavy music less and less as the years go by, but as a drummer, it’s really the only music I want to play.

Well it’s always more fun when you’re having a good time and it’s a shared experience. It’s hard when band’s put specific restraints and expectations on themselves.

Seger: I’ve been in bands that felt like work for me over the years. This is just fun. Practice is fun. Recording is fun. Playing live is great.

Mauerhan: You asked about the point of Omaha, I think that’s a big one. The biggest reason we first started is because it’s fun to do this and have the camaraderie.


  1. fuck yeah,,,,, rad interview dudes!!!

    Kevin L