(Editor's Note: This Q&A previews a HN benefit concert Friday, June 3 thrown by Heather Sticka. The show starts at 9 p.m., features a silent art auction, and plays host to The Machete Archive, Tsumi, AcouSticka, Scattered Trees and Arirang.)
by Michael Todd
A few days before Hear Nebraska was born, its father, Andrew Norman, took the stage at the Bourbon Theatre and gave the crowd at Ignite Lincoln 2 an ultrasound. He showed slides of Nebraska’s music as seen by those outside its borders: Cursive, Bright Eyes and 311. He spoke of the secrets rarely revealed to the rest of the country: the Ideal Cleaners, Mercy Rule and The Machete Archive. He said the conception of this site was to bridge the gap and uncover Nebraska’s buried treasures.
But while the music cities of Lincoln and Omaha were being founded, Norman said, far too many fat cats were spending far too much time with their couch and not enough with their friends at shows. The key to success for Hear Nebraska was getting everyone out, and musicians like Heather Sticka of the bands Tsumi and AcouSticka would benefit in turn.
Talking with Sticka, sundrunk after a walk with her dog, it seems the message has spread: “Everybody needs to go outside,” she says. “All of Lincoln needs to get out.” What better way, she suggests, than to celebrate her birthday this Friday at a benefit concert for Hear Nebraska featuring a silent auction of art and photos as well as performances from the bands Scattered Trees, Arirang, The Machete Archive and her own Tsumi.
As I ventured back to the capital city from a well-spent Memorial Day weekend in the panhandle, the ribbons of Nebraska highway began to form a nice bow, joined together by music over the phone. As Sticka talked of mashed potatoes and Smashing Pumpkins, I also started wishing Lincoln and its fine dining establishments were closer.
Hear Nebraska: How did this show get started?
Heather Sticka: I guess where it started was with the first song I fell in love with, the song “Thirty-Three” by the Smashing Pumpkins, so I thought I’d have an awesome birthday at 33. And I was learning how to play guitar when I was listening to the Smashing Pumpkins at 15 or 16.
So my birthday started getting close, and this all wasn’t a secret among my friends, so a little while ago, they started looking around for something to get me, and asking us what I’d like. We’re giving away stuff all the time, though, furniture and knickknacks and everything, so I decided that if they wanted to give me something I care about, I’d like to put on a benefit show.
So I started asking around, and Hear Nebraska was the first to respond. That worked out great because I was volunteering for them at the time, and the Normans, who run the site, are the most fabulous people to work for. Then I started getting a hold of bands and those who don’t play very often, but also Machete Archive. I adore them, and I’ve known Ian Francis for a long time, so it’s really great to have them.
HN: OK, and seeing as this is a birthday party, what has been your best birthday party so far, and do you seen this blowing that one out of the water?
HS: Basically, I’ve had a lot of really good birthdays. The first CD Luke and I released was on my birthday at the Zoo Bar in 2004, so that birthday was really awesome. That was the first time I’d released a CD, so it was pretty great. But this Friday looks to be it might be the favorite.
And I think I’ll just let the cat out of the bag because I’ve been hinting at it loudly, and people really should have picked up on it by now. Tsumi just got done recording our second release, a six-song EP. There’s also AcouSticka, and we did a six-song EP for that as well. So everyone that comes to the show will get a web address to get the albums for free for a week. After that, they will go on sale.
So the show is also going to be where I can give all my friends a birthday present from me. I’m a painter, I’m a musician, I cook food, and so this is perfect for me. This is my way of saying thank you for coming and paying attention to the things I do that make me happy.
HN: Do you know yet which artists you’re featuring in the silent auction?
HS: No, I know there are a few photographers, and I’ll have something, too. I don’t know, though. There’s been a bunch of people who’ve contacted me, and I’ll round up everything [Wednesday].
I didn’t want to do it too far in advance. Too much notice, too many calls and emails, and you just get ignored. So I wanted to wait until I could say, “Hey, I’m out driving around, can I pick something up from you?” I know there are a lot of musicians who are also painters and some photographers whose specialty is shooting musicians, so it will come together.
HN: You said you booked the shows yourself, with a focus on those musicians who don’t get out to play as much. Why did you choose them?
HS: The guy who I asked, Ian Aeillo, he used to play bass for The Golden Age, and through certain circumstances, he and I have gotten to be friends. I wanted to make sure I could see him play more than once this year. So I have no idea in what capacity he’s playing Friday. He did send me a YouTube video of a large amount of children doing this dance thing, which was ridiculous, but so is Ian.
He went from playing with Flight School which is really fun, experimental, but some of the band’s going to be out of town, so he said he would do this solo, and that worked with me. Then after awhile, he just told me, “Oh, by the way, I’m bringing a band, and they’re called Arirang.” So I don’t know what it is, but they’re professional, and I trust Ian.
HN: OK, it’s been awhile since I’ve talked to you about your own musical endeavors, having missed you on “Lost and Found,” so just in general, what has excited you most about your work with Tsumi?
HS: I will say that on the Tsumi album, it has five songs we’ve been playing at shows, one we’ve been playing sporadically over the last seven years, and then one of them I’ve been working on since last August. It just got finished about a month ago, and it was one where the entire band helped with.
That’s just the way I want it. I bring something to the table and like to see where it goes with everyone’s input. No one eats plain mashed potatoes; everyone puts butter or salt on it, and I like seeing how it turns out. I was so excited when I heard it, too.
It was perfect from what I had in my head to what came to my ears. It rarely happens like that. You know, it’s like listening to a recording of your voice: You don’t think it sounds right. But this, this was exactly as I heard it in my head.
HN: OK, and transitioning to Hear Nebraska then, how do you use the site to promote your music and shows like this?
HS: I’ve been in Nebraska my whole life, and I’ve been a musician for 15 years. The 10th of June will be the exact anniversary of playing 15 years of music on stage, so that’s half my life. And I haven’t left Nebraska, which on the one hand is kind of sad, but on the other hand, it’s nice here.
The state has so many people who believe in the music scene as much as I have over the years. So if Hear Nebraska is willing to put their time, effort, money and ideas into one site, then I think we should support it. Just because we don’t have an ocean doesn’t mean we don’t have voices.
Michael Todd is a summer intern for Hear Nebraska. He had a lovely time spending this weekend at Lake Minotaur (Minatare) fighting the mythical creatures on its nonexistent beaches. Contact him at email@example.com.