Neva Dinova have been around since 1993 but first began to garner serious attention this last autumn, with Crank!’s re-release of their self-titled 2001 album. The Omaha five-piece have several other recordings under their collective belt, but their latest effort is their first on a proper label and it marks the official beginning to a story that holds great promises.
Neva Dinova’s self-titled ‘debut’ is an intriguing and invigorating album that grabbed me by the first listen. It has become one of those rare and unexpected surprises that just keep on growing on me, and one of the few albums I constantly revisit — it’s one of the discs I’ve been listening to the most for the last couple of months. Nice to see that the Los Angeles Times agrees — Neva Dinova just made their Top 10 of 2002 album list. The album is a stunning affair that slowly and carefully creeps up on the listener and grabs him or her. Neva Dinova like their crafted shoegazer indie pop with a loose and lush folk air, almost belying the eerie and tense tales the songs set out to tell.
Neva Dinova is one of the top names to watch for 2003, and Ink 19 gets the band’s take on music, hype and the importance of sticking it out in the search for your own voice.
In my review of your album I lazily categorized you as “a folksy, Omaha-bred Radiohead with Bono on vocals.” Do you still want to talk to me?
We think Radiohead is a great band. We don’t feel offended when people compare us with them.
It seems as if the original Neva Dinova functioned as more of a loose coalition of friends, rather than as a band per se. Was there originally no stability or regular ‘group’ activity involved?
We have always been a band with regular members. But we’ve never been averse to having guest musicians, especially if some of our regular members are missing.
You fell apart a few years ago, after a rumored disastrous local gig, only to regroup again shortly after. What was all that about?
We didn’t fall apart, we had an epiphany. The resolution was that we no longer cared about getting shows or playing for people. We concentrated solely on the songs, realizing that people may not want to listen to our music, but it was still important for us to make it.
For the album deal, what made you go with Crank! rather than [Omaha indie folk label] Saddle Creek, which I’m sure you must have considered?
We talked with the boys from Saddle Creek and we both decided we were probably on the brink of super-stardom. We didn’t believe at the time that they had the ability to make the financial commitment that we all knew would be necessary for the all out media blitz that was inevitable form the moment we picked up our instruments. We’ve been drafting copies of our Grammy acceptance speech and Saddle Creek really deserves this award more than any of us. This one’s for you guys.
It’s probably the question we get asked the most, primarily because the Saddle Creek guys are doing so well for themselves these days. There’s really not that much to explain. The idea was to try and spread the focus in the area. Not every good band in Omaha needs to be on Saddle Creek.
Does it feel a bit weird promoting those old songs all over again? And how are people taking to the album?
The songs are maybe a little old to us, but we’re getting the opportunity to play them for new people, which sort of breathes new life into them. I still think, old or new, they’re good songs and they’re fun to play live, so I can’t see us getting tired of them.
On the whole, the response has been pretty positive, which has been very nice and unexpected. I think we all like the songs, we’re just surprised sometimes when other people take to them like we have.
I guess we should talk a bit about the Omaha scene, with all those bands suddenly getting such tremendous national and international attention. Do you feel like a part of this thing at all, or is such a ‘scene’ merely another artificial media construction?
Well, the ‘scene,’ at least how it’s perceived by people nationally, is primarily thought of as the Saddle Creek guys, and rightfully so. But there are a lot of other great bands that aren’t on Saddle Creek — Race for Titles, The Carsinogents, Fizzle Like A Flood. These are all bands that aren’t known nationally but are definitely part of the ‘scene,’ if that’s what you want to call it. Are we lumped into that group? Who knows. Are we friends with those guys and want to see everyone, including the Saddle Creek guys, keep doing well and making good music? Sure, who doesn’t?
Omnipresent Omaha producer A.J. Mogis helps out, you have an upcoming tour with Saddle Creek emo flagship Cursive, and Saddle Creek helps with distribution of your album– are everyone in Omaha friends? Whatever happened to rivalry and blood fights?
A.J. Mogis engineered the CD because he and his brother Mike have the best studio around. When you say that, it seems as if the thing we’re banking on is our association with Saddle Creek and not the music. It would be naive, I guess, for us to think that people aren’t going to ask about what our association is with those guys, and we’re not going to shy away from it. They’re friends of ours.
Most of your fellow Omaha bands, and most US folk/rock bands, seem more clustered and claustrophobic, while you have what I guess is a contemporary take on traditionalist country and classic pop writing that seem to have more in common with some British and Canadian bands.
I like the idea that our songs sound different. I’m not sure how intentional it is and where the influence really comes from, but I like the fact that our songs differ, sometimes quite a bit, from each other. And I would like to one day be thought of as a band who can play any ‘style’ of song, and have it just be thought of as a Neva Dinova song. When you hear “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville,” you don’t think R.E.M.’s trying to do a country song, you just think it’s a great R.E.M. song. I’d like to be thought of as a band that can do that. Whatever we play, hopefully it’ll sound like us.
How do you work as a band these days? Are you democratic about writing and decision-making, or are some more ‘involved’ than others?
Jake [Bellows, vocals, guitars] spends the lion’s share of his day with a guitar, so he brings songs to the rest of us. Sometimes they’re fully formed, others are rougher ideas. The parts are fleshed out in practice and the songs are noodled with until they sound right.
Do you share musical influences? Who do you listen to?
We all have pretty varied tastes in music, except maybe for Jake, who really doesn’t listen to music that often. But beyond that, I think there are a lot of band that we all collectively admire. The Flaming Lips, Pavement, Pixies, The Velvet Underground — your standards, you know. They’re all bands I think that, as a group, we would agree are amazing.
Lyrically, you’re pretty depressing, aren’t you? In some ways, it seems as if your songs tell different versions of the same tale, although I’m not too sure what that tale is about. Pretty obsessive love stories, I guess. Do you write from a personal viewpoint, or are you more into ‘pure’ narratives?
I’m a believer in taking what you want from a song. The lyrics were printed in the booklet of the CD, because lyrics, I think, are one of the things that make the difference between a good song and a great song. If people think the songs are depressing, then that’s cool. Who are we to say that you’re feelings about the music are wrong?
I think that it’s obvious that all of these are more in the vein of pure narrative. Jake didn’t stalk a woman all the way to Brooklyn that we know of. And I don’t think Jake’s the devil, so that leaves “Lucifer’s Lament” out, too. I think the writer’s always going to bleed some perspective into the songs, though. How much, I suppose, is up to the author.
What are you plans for near future — tours, recordings…?
Well, as you mentioned, we’ve got a tour of the East Coast coming up with Cursive that we’re really looking forward to. After that, we’re putting together some shows on the West Coast, hopefully, and then hoping some time in the middle of the year to get back in the studio. There are a bunch of new songs coming together right now that we’re all pretty excited about, and some old songs might resurface as well. Beyond that, we’ll just have to see.