[Editor's note: This Q&A previews Universe Contest's free showcase with The Renfields and The Lepers tonight at 9 p.m. at The Bourbon. RSVP here.]
by Michael Todd
Here's hoping guitarist and vocalist Tim Carr found some clothes. He and the rest of Universe Contest wore cutoff jeans — and little else — to their concert outside Wells Fargo in downtown Lincoln at noon. Some pockets were deeper than inseams as the band played through their set to fans and curious passersby. Afterward, word is Carr went to a job interview.
Tonight, the band travels just a couple blocks down O Street to The Bourbon for their free Maha/HN showcase with The Renfields and The Lepers. To preview the concert, I asked a handful of questions about one UC song, "Snake Stand." Listen closely to that second verse, and give us your best guess for what the lyrics are.
All of Universe Contest's music is available for free on their Bandcamp page. The band is among other locals and national touring acts including Desaparecidos, Garbage, Delta Spirit and Conduits picked to play the Maha Music Festival, which takes place Aug. 11 at Stinson Park in Omaha.
Hear Nebraska: I hear you guys have a new practice space. What's that like?
Tim Carr: We just had our first practice there. It’s an old school in an unnamed location. We don’t want bad guys to find out where it is. But we’ve got two rooms out of four in the school, and they’re ours.
HN: What does “Snake Stand” mean to you?
TC: Good question. I don’t know. I never listen to it, I just play it. I think what it means is overcoming disappointment. Who knows?
HN: Do you play the song slower live?
TC: It depends. My delay pedal is based on how fast I tap it. Usually, I’m pretty exhausted by the time we play it, so that could be why it’s slower.
HN: Was the delay effect always part of the main guitar?
TC: I had that chord progression when I played with this band in high school. The band was terrible, so I saved it for later. We recorded it for this EP and had the reverb and delay that goes from left to right. We don’t have the amplification to do it that way live. I could play it live without the delay, but it just sounds better that way.
HN: For much of the song, a guitar part matches the vocal melody note for note. Why is that?
TC: For the chorus, I did that on purpose because I’d never done it before. I can’t sing very well. I’ve never tried to sing along. We should have someone duet with us. It was a cool harmony with the words. So it’s me, Heather and the guitar having this threesome. The last two times we played in Omaha, she was with us. She's so great.
HN: What exactly are you saying during the second verse?
TC: Think of “Humpty Dumpty” as if you didn’t know the actual rhyme. That’s exactly what I say. I don’t know, that song’s such a contradiction in itself. It’s constantly complaining about things that don’t matter. It’s like, why would you even think about that, why would you write it down.
HN: And did (drummer) Brenton Neville record this?
TC: Yeah, Chris Johnson did the first batch of songs. We pretty much did that second EP by ourselves. Brenton mixed some of the tracks. Then Matt Hovanec took the songs and made us sound better. I think it’s just having the studio space, Pro Tools and an outsider’s ear, that’s what made it better. We were stuck recording the songs getting the guitar tones right, so it was important to have that outsider’s ear. It’s a matter of tweaking it in just the right way, and he knew how.
HN: When (bassist) Jon (Dell) took over on bass, did he learn the songs as they were before, or did he add something new?
TC: I think on a few songs it does. Everything he does is great, though. We were sorry to see our former bassist go, but we couldn’t have replaced him with a better dude.
HN: Did you see the Maha tattoo offer where they'll give you free tickets if you get a tattoo of their bird logo? What do you think about that?
TC: No, I didn’t (laughs). That’s crazy. I might do it even though I already have tickets.
HN: Is there another concert or festival you would get a tattoo for if it meant free tickets?
TC: To be honest, probably not. Maybe if I had a festival in my backyard at home, then I’d get tattoos of my parents. Usually, I don’t like festivals, though. I popped in to Maha a couple years ago, and it was fun just ’cause I knew a lot of people, it wasn’t super packed, and people weren’t strung out for four days. I wasn’t stuck there like I was at some festivals, so it was fun.
HN: All right, that’s it for questions. Anything else to add?
TC: It’s a weird song, take it or leave it.
Michael Todd is Hear Nebraska's managing editor. He has at least one instrument within a couple steps in his apartment, including a keyboard stand, if you ever try to make a move on him. Just kidding. Reach him at email@example.com.