[Editor's note: This interview previews Dsoedean's performance, opening for Millions of Boys at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 25, at O’Leaver's. Kite Pilot also performs. $5 at the door / 21+. Find more info here.]
by Layne Gabriel
Just two hours south of Omaha, St. Joseph, Mo., seems trapped in time. Known mostly for Jesse James’ death site and as a starting point of the Pony Express, storefronts on parts of Frederick St. look like they haven’t changed since the Wild West days.
The buildings downtown carry the similar grandiosity of Omaha’s Central High, Durham Museum or Rose Theater, just in a more modest scale. For most Omahans, St. Joe is just a little town you cruise by on I-29 on the way to Kansas City, or for football fans, where the Chiefs train. Lurking among that small-town feel lives a quirky, incredibly supportive music scene.
I stumbled upon what was going on in St. Joe in a very backward way that almost needs a flow chart to explain. I went to see a friend from college in a then-Portland band called Soft Tags play a show in Lincoln just over two years ago. The Prids (from Portland, via Lincoln, via St. Joe) were also playing.
I fell in love with The Prids after about three songs and later awkwardly befriended front woman Mistina LaFave. After another Lincoln show, she gave me a heads up on a show down in her hometown, and I figured why not make the drive? So I did, twice since then, and that’s how I met Dsoedean.
A little Modest Mouse-y, a little “whoa, this is something completely different,” Dsoedean (pronounced dee-so-dean) caught my attention when they opened for The Prids at the Rendezvous almost exactly a year ago. Their rich instrumentals combined with singer Zale Bledsoe’s heartfelt belting of lyrics and stomping of feet gave me one of my favorite feelings — that sweet satisfaction of finding an awesome opening band.
I hung around after the show and followed The Prids back to Dsoedean drummer Bobby Floyd’s house. At the time, he shared it bassist and Omaha native Marcus Words and MiniKorg player/guitarist Colby Walter. We stayed up all night chatting, and I’ve since returned to see them perform three more times and offered up my couches when they opened for Millions of Boys at Barley Street in November 2011.
Bledsoe performing at Barley St. in 2011. Photo by Layne Gabriel.
Little did I know, I’d been a fan for a good portion of the band’s career. Bledsoe began playing guitar seven years ago after moving back to St. Joseph following a stint as a sponsored skateboarder in Kansas City. He started off writing songs on his own and performing at Café Acoustic, a smoky, very Barley Street-esque bar that, despite the name, lets bands plug in now.
After being asked to play at the Rendezvous in the fall of 2010, Bledsoe recruited Floyd to back him up. He later pulled in Walter, who played bass at the time and played a show as For the Sound, a band name that Bledsoe originally performed under solo. As the group began to solidify, they changed their name and played their first show in February 2011.
Walter and Words had attended high school with Bledsoe, and they would later be some of the first people he reconnected with after his return to St. Joseph.
Bledsoe skateboarding to Dsoedean's song "Like the Ghost." Video filmed by Wyatt Pankaw, edited by Bledsoe.
During high school, Bledsoe was more focused on skating while Words was mastering a slew of instruments not limited to trombone, clarinet and vibraphone. Walter and Words first played together in high school jazz band and later in Sergeant Soul and the Hollow Box Band.
“We've been close friends, roommates on five different occasions, and neighbors as well. He's played with me as a duo and with other projects as well. It's almost like a musical marriage,” Words said. “‘Sweet’ Bobby Dean Floyd was also a very good friend of mine before Dsoedean — we both played in a Christian rock band called Roister Harbinger back in the early 2000's. Not only were we great friends, and still are, we also are former roommates as well.”
Meanwhile, Floyd had been performing in original bands since 1998, with two of the most noteworthy being Alice and holymotherexhaust. I unknowingly saw holymotherexhaust open for the Prids the first time I went to St. Joe (thank you $9 all you can drink), but was fortunate enough to catch a reunion at Bledsoe’s 30th birthday party a few weeks ago.
“I just kept playing in bands, and bands usually come and go. I eventually just wound up meeting some great musicians and luckily enough, I was able to meet up with Marcus and Zale and we formed Dsoedean,” Floyd said. “In the St. Joseph music scene, musicians that keep playing are going to find each other. They’re going to cross paths or you’re going to read about them or see them on tuningfork [a St. Joseph online magazine dedicated to music and arts] or something like that. You’re going to want to go see them, so everybody kind of gets together and eventually a lot of people know each other.”
Since their start in 2011, Dsoedean played numerous shows a month in St. Joe before dialing back to keep some of the mystery and excitement alive, Bledsoe said. They also branched out, performing regionally in Kansas City — where they first met Millions of Boys — as well as in Wichita, Joplin and Omaha.
Mini-tours have also taken them to Austin, Akron and Hudson, Ohio and New Paltz, N.Y. However, St. Joseph’s music scene has always been home, and the band speaks highly of it compared to other cities they have experienced.
“There has always been a music scene here, and St. Joseph had a rich history of great musicians being around,” Words said. “I think the problem has always been consolidating all of the genres and venues and concert-goers to one solid entity. Colby and I have opened places up to live music and hosted countless open mics across the city over many years. I believe that's where it starts – we've had people come to our open mics and after a while either open up their own in another part of town, which is a good thing, or find their own musicians and start playing out – also a good thing.
Photo by Layne Gabriel: Floyd and Bledsoe at Café Acoustic, St. Joseph, Mo., April 2012.
"The biggest difference is that we all embrace one another's work and support one another. There's no ‘beef’ between bands or venues, we all believe in what we're doing and know that we are finally of age to do something about it. That's not to say that we don't have a clique of some type by some definition, but moreover it's a very large clique filled with people who show love and support to one another.”
The clique is vast enough that Floyd contrasts it with some of the music he’s heard come out of cities like Portland and New York. He’s quick to note, “I’m not saying they’re all the same, but they do resemble each other a bit. But in St. Joseph, you’ll have everything from rockabilly to bluegrass to country to heavy metal to alternative to math rock.”
“I know that the last year since Dsoe’s been out, we’ve been trying to help promote live music in general in St. Joe and just have people go to whatever bar to see whoever play,” Bledsoe said. “To me, music is not a competition and as long as you’re playing music that you love and you care about, then I think you should have support for that. We try to mix it.
"To me, if you book a show where every band sounds the same, you’re going to have the same crowd come out but if you have different genres of bands and different crowds can mix, you may find new fans. Even if there’s 15 people there and 10 of them don’t know you or have never seen you, you may come away with a fan or two or meet somebody new.”
Among Dsoedean’s members, styles and preferences spread the gamut of genres in St. Joseph, which keeps them from getting stuck in a rut, Floyd said. It also helps inspire their side projects.
Words plays in other St. Joe bands all over the map. His personal project, The Leading Average, teams his singing, guitar and songwriting up again with Walter and Floyd. He also plays with metal band Resurrection Complex, plays backup for Aaron Blummer and Casey Bret and performs with The Burnstyles and old-school funk band The Crew. At his home, Words records weekly cover videos he posts on YouTube, and he is working on an album of solo material.
Floyd has also performed with the Burnstyles and occasionally backs up locals Wade Williamson and Andy Grooms. His other huge pending project is non-music related — Floyd is also expecting his first child this fall with girlfriend, Haley. Walter’s other major project is the Motors, which Bledsoe describes as “countryish blues rock,” and he also performs solo and hosts open mics around town with Words.
Bledsoe parlays his love of folk music and bands out of Omaha (he came up to Maha to see Desaparecidos for the first time) beyond Dsoedean in his solo work and on showcase nights where he has invited friends from Kansas City and Lincoln to perform.
Compared to the other members’ experiences, Bledsoe’s relative late-blooming as a musician seems like a stark contrast, but his passion and dedication are an asset to the band. Floyd notes that it’s been markedly easier writing songs with Dsoedean and they bring away something new and good from nearly every practice.
“I think that Zale is still rough around the edges, but I think that adds to a lot,” Floyd said. “It adds to a fresh start of a beginning of a song. It’s not quite standard writing skills or standard playing, it’s whatever feels right. It feels like more of an art if Zale’s starting off with something because sometimes he doesn’t know what he’s playing, but it sounds great and he’ll remember it.”
Perhaps because of that, Bledsoe also channels his energy into cranking out all of the band’s merch by hand. “He’s very constructive,” Floyd said. After working in a packaging department, Bledsoe learned how to fold displays. He used those talents to start packaging CDs and put his screen printing hobby to work.
Bledsoe's screen printing work. Photo courtesy of Dsoedean.
“Being in the band is time-consuming, but it also leaves you with a lot of time, and I have idle hands if I don’t do anything,” he said. “I need something to do in between practices and in between shows, something to keep me moving… Screen printing is fucking fun as hell for me, I love it. It’s challenging, and I like that, too. I’m a pretty here-and-now person. The record, and even the band, has taught me patience and planning. But if I want to make a T-shirt, I know what I need to go get and I can go home and make them in like a night.”
Despite all the shows to play, shows to go to, personal projects, jobs and family, the band has managed to make time to be hard at work on their first full-length album, Continue to Move, which has proven to be quite a contrast from recording their previous EPs.
“We’re not as far as I want to be. I’m really impatient, I think, when it comes to recording,” Bledsoe said. “The first two EPs we did in like two or three days. The very first one we did in one day and I was pretty happy. We had a friend of mine come up from Tulsa and just recorded six songs and he took them back and it was done in like two weeks. But the new one, I would say we’re 40 percent done. ... We’re shooting for December — it might even be like a New Year’s Eve party-type deal.”
Naturally, I’ll be packing up the Nissan and braving the cold for those charming streets with vintage names, familiar, welcoming faces dragging on cigarettes in a bar that I would totally hang out at if I lived there, some handmade merch and an incredibly memorable time.
Layne Gabriel is Hear Nebraska contributor who hasn’t seen Colby Walter play a Dsoedean show since the last time they were in Omaha, but he will be playing this weekend. She also highly recommends checking out the Glore Psychiatric Museum when visiting St. Joe. Seriously, that place is creepy. Reach her at email@example.com.