Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rock Candy Mailbag: Answering your questions

Occasionally, readers call or e-mail to ask me a question. Often, it's to tell me what they think of a review (or my knowledge of music) - good or bad - or tell me about a band or whatever.

But I get a lot of questions, everything from "when are tickets on sale?" to "what do you think of (insert band name here)?"

Here are some of the questions that I've been asked, be it through phone, e-mail or Twitter. I'd like to do future versions of the mailbag, so send your questions to, send them via Twitter or give me a call (402-444-1557).

Here goes nothing... 

Who was the best artist/band to interview? (From CapslockBenny)
Good interviews are when someone is engaging and answers your questions well. Hopefully they don't give you canned crap that they say to everyone or their publicist taught them to say. Bonus points if they're funny, quirky, have good stories or things like that.

There are a ton of great interviews, but these have been some of my favorite people for various reasons (I intentionally left out local people... those are usually the best interviews anyway):
• Nicko McBrain, drummer of Iron Maiden (Gracious, engaged and very, very funny)
• Chris Crisci of Appleseed Cast and Old Canes (Has a good take on life and music)
• Robert Trujillo of Metallica (Great talk about what it's like to go from being practically nobody to being in one of the biggest bands in the world. Also, he's one of the nicest guys I've ever talked to.)
• Anthony Daniels (He's C-3PO. 'Nuff said.)
• Brian Aubert of Silversun Pickups (Very talented and answered all of my questions very well.)
• Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue (Delivered one of the funniest quotes that I've ever gotten.)
• Matt Nathanson (For a guy that sings that poppy "Come On Get Higher" song, he sure curses a lot. I thought it was funny.)
• Dane Cook (He wasn't in funny guy mode, but he was incredibly interesting to talk to, even if you don't like his comedy.)
• Greg Gillis of Girl Talk (Guy knows his music and it had some great stories.)
• Ben Kweller (Loves Omaha. Loves it. And he dropped some great stuff about his music and MTV.)
• Richard Lloyd of Television (Great guitarist who gave insight into his craft. I was sad I couldn't fit the whole interview into the paper.)

Do you think Omaha really has a great Music scene or do you think people confuse the Saddle Creek bands for the Omaha music scene? (From CapslockBenny)
I think both things are happening at the same time. On one hand, we have a large group of quality bands from multiple genres along with many venues (including a few very good ones) where they can perform. Go to other cities of similar size and you'll find a few bands of  wide-ranging quality who play in a couple of bars with crappy stages and PAs (i.e. places not designed to have music). So yes, we do have a good music scene. On any night of the week (weekends especially), you have your pick of locals shows to go check out, and all the touring bands/artists that you can stomach. It's good stuff.

On the other hand, I think a lot of people confuse the presence of Saddle Creek Records with having a good music scene. It was birthed from that scene and certainly plays a part in it (a. It's stellar venue, Slowdown. b. It's bands, several of who still have a presence here. c. It's mere presence is good for our scene.). But it's not all there is.

Think, though, what it's like to explain to your mom why the Omaha music scene is great. This isn't a dig at your mom or anyone else's, but people our parents' age don't always have a grasp on it (my mom doesn't). It's hard to explain our music scene without mentioning SC. Your mom may not really understand how it works or why it's great, but when you say, "Well, we have this kinda famous indie label," they kind of get it. Unfortunately, some of those same people then mistake SC as the one big thing we have going for us, which isn't really the case.

I've been listening online to The Current from Minn Public Radio. Why doesn't Omaha have a good radio station like this? (From OmahaNE)
For those of you that don't know, The Current is a radio station in Minnesota that plays a variety of music. Most people would dub it indie, but it really does play a variety, which it's website suggests: "The Current brings listeners the best authentic new music alongside the music that inspired it, from local to legendary, indie to influential, new to nostalgic."

You can stream the station, which I highly suggest, from

Listening to it Wednesday afternoon, I heard The Beatles, She & Him, Junior Senior, Billy Bragg, Kings of Leon, Mumford and Songs and a whole bunch of other stuff. On their website, they had features on Laura Veirs and Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (two folks that, oddly enough, performed in Omaha over the last week or so). It's very good stuff and it's the kind of radio station I like: they play good music whether it's new, old, obscure or superbly popular.

The problem is that I'm not sure that a radio station of this kind is really viable in a commercial sense. You don't see a commercial radio station picking up this kind of format like public radio stations do, which are usually funded by the government and "listeners like you."

Minnesota Public Radio, where The Current is from, is a huge organization with 38 radio stations and its listenership (is that a word?) is the highest of its kind in the country. By contrast, NET in Nebraska has nine transmitters for programming that is based in Lincoln. Sadly, the broadcast radius of none of them even reach Omaha (according to NET's site). Not to mention, a pop music-focused station isn't really what they're after. "We are committed to bringing you the best in public radio and work around the clock to broadcast news and classical music that will educate, challenge and inspire," their site reads.

The River is the closest to The Current you're going to get in town because it is an independent college station funded mostly by donations. But they're not much like The Current for two main reasons. One, they appeal to many of us who don't often listen to commercial radio and, among this group, our tastes vary wildly, so you're going to hear everything from Phoenix to Three Days Grace on The River. Two, they're a college station whose job (partly) is to educate people, so they have a lot of programming that is created or hosted by students, from their late-night techno show to the local music show to their sports broadcasts.

Your other option is community-focused radio stations that are run by a dedicated person or persons and usually have a tiny transmitter and therefore a small broadcast radio. In theory, these can be cool, but it takes a lot to run a radio station. (Try coming up with 24 hours of music and other programming and deal with licensing and trying to keep the whole operation afloat financially. It's a ton of work.) These kinds of efforts that I've heard of have failed to get off the ground around here (at least, I haven't heard much from them).

In order to get something similar to The Current, you'd have to get a dedicate base of people that would 1) Create, program and work damn hard for the station AND 2) Fund it through advertising and donations. Until then, hit up The River, stream The Current online or check out NPR's All Songs Considered.

How do you find an address to mail a fan letter? (From Amy Sliefert)
Your best bet is to scour their websites and try to contact them through some listed form. Some bands have contact info listed on their websites or MySpace pages, be it an e-mail or physical address. Fan clubs are also good sources for the same information.

If you can't find something on their site, it's probably best to mail something to their record label. You can usually find that on their site, MySpace, Wikipedia or by looking up one of their albums on

A few other tips... The smaller the artist, the more likely they are to respond to your letter/e-mail message. Many indie bands book their own shows, do their own publicity and definitely check their own e-mail addresses. If you're sending something and want a response (or something signed or whatever), remember to include a self addressed stamped envelope with enough postage and your full address on it. Also, some folks don't even respond to fan mail, so it's possible that you won't get your package back.

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