Red Cities Release “Build It Up, Tear It Down” | Feature Story

photo by Bridget McQuillan

[Editor's note: This story previews Red Cities' seven-inch release concert, tonight at Knickerbockers with Dirty Talker and Angel and the Devils. The show starts at 9 p.m.]

by Michael Todd

Let the angst die young.

Because no one pays attention to you unless you make them. Gone are the lyrics that need to mean something, lyrics that need to be backed by experience.

This is Byron Anway’s hindsight. As vocalist and guitarist, Anway represents one-fourth of Red Cities, the one-fourth, he says, whose only job is to be charismatic. Free from the anxiety of past bands, this is the one he says has been the most fun, and the rest of the band echoes his sentiment.

When I arrive at Anway’s home in Lincoln’s Everett neighborhood, he’s printing off setlists for last Tuesday night’s concert at The Bourbon. He says after their seven-inch release show for Build It Up, Tear It Down, which takes place tonight at Knickerbockers, the band will add four new songs to the set. But for now, they stick with the tried-and-true asskickers, the loud, straightforward and — again, for emphasis — loud songs that harken back to 30- to 40-year-old punk, psychedelic and garage rock.

No, Red Cities do not mess around. It takes them less than 10 minutes to set up, 35 minutes to play, and they tear down within 10. And despite their diligence, drummer Josh Leeker says the band remains unrefined, which is exactly how it should be.

“I think we’re far from perfect, and that’s why I like it,” Leeker says. “It might be a little rough around the edges, but we trot on.”

Truth be told, they’ve all tried alternatives. The band’s musical resume comprises an ‘80s rock cover band, a couple Christian outfits, one that wrote bluegrass songs about getting naked and a string of a bit more noisy, experimental and artsy efforts.

Bassist Eric Aspengren says, “This is the first time I’ve played in a straight-up rock band, which is kind of what I should have been doing the whole time.” He laughs, as if to qualify his nearly 25-year history in the Lincoln music scene. 

He remembers watching a PA catch fire while playing with Middle Monkey, his first band, which started in the late ‘80s. He remembers Think as the longest-running group, a “noise/funk/jazz/rock thing.” He’s done shoegaze with Trendies and Post Trendies, and he’s revived a bit of Middle Monkey, joining that band’s lead singer in Quilt.

And if that run-through doesn’t define the word “seasoned,” consider guitarist Matt Bokovoy’s experience stretching back to 1980. The former college professor has played in myriad bands across the country as he moved from San Diego to Philadelphia to Oklahoma.

photo by Kat Buchanan

With so many different kinds of branches on their musical family tree, Red Cities is now rooted. It wasn't the philosophy of genre that founded the band, but rather the waveforms.

"This band was not put together through ideals. It was put together through the sound. It’s the feel of the songs,” Anway says. “Matt writes really good songs. We wouldn’t do it if the songs weren’t good. Matt and I would have just played guitar. We wouldn’t have worried about finding a bass player and drummer.”

Let it be known: Bokovoy's cat and dog are the reason why the two started playing guitar together. Anway and his girlfriend would watch the pets while Bokovoy was on vacation, and it was "all the amazing amplifiers in (Bokovoy's) basement" that drew Anway back to music after some time away from the craft.

After Bokovoy tried for awhile to stay with his previous Oklahoma-based band, Zombie vs. Shark, driving back to Norman every so often, they eventually called it quits, leaving Bokovoy with about an album's worth of material. Later, Anway brought in a friend who played drums, Leeker, and the band found Aspengren through a post on Star City Scene.

photo by Bridget McQuillan

Now as Red Cities releases their first four songs' worth of a seven-inch tonight at Knickerbockers, they look back fondly on what has, again, been the most fun band they've known, despite their collective decades of playing. They credit Fuse Recording's Charlie Johnson — who helped record and engineer Build It Up, Tear It Down — with encouraging an enjoyable environment in which to make the EP.

And in Lincoln, with its professional facilities and a reasonable amount of studio time, and the band could all chip in and make a record they can be proud of, without the frills and the anxiety that comes with being polished.

All in all, Red Cities isn't perfect. But Red Cities do rock.

Michael Todd is Hear Nebraska's managing editor. Thanks to the band for being considerate of his hearing. Reach Michael at