Q&A: Columbus, Ohio, band didi comes to Reverb Lounge
Meg Zakany is a visual kind of songwriter. The didi vocalist/guitarist is drawn to any lyrical stimuli that projects images in her brain, like a synaptic film.
“Just yesterday (bassist) Leslie (Shimizu) said to me, ‘Remember when I showed you that gross, giant slug, and you said ‘Aww, that makes me nostalgic.’’ So yeah, that. I’m a ridiculously nostalgic person, and can’t help writing that way.”
Didi is a four-piece rock band from a highly-active Columbus, Ohio, music scene. It’s players — Shimizu, Zakany, guitarist Kevin Bilapka-Arbelaez and drummer Shenna McGrath — come from various musical backgrounds within the scene, forming a blend of punk, garage, pop and math rock.
Those influences appear all across the band’s self-titled album, which it released May 2015. “Styrofoam,” specifically, seems to share musical DNA with Speedy Ortiz (fitting, as the two just recently shared the stage).
To preview the band’s Monday, July 18 appearance at Reverb Lounge, See Through Dresses’s Sara Bertuldo caught up with them recently on Shimizu’s Omaha experience, the band’s involvement in Grrrls Rock Columbus and the latest augmented reality craze.
Sara Bertuldo: What got you interested in music? What are you influences? Who plays with you in your band? Where did you meet?
Kevin: We are Meg, Sheena, Leslie and Kevin. I think we all have different musical histories, in different genres and tastes. Roots in punk, math rock, hardcore and folkier sounds. We played in bands in and around Columbus and were fans of one another. The opportunity arose to play together and it clicked pretty quickly. Meg brought us all together thinking we’d be a good fit, and she was right.
SB: Tell me about your first album! What’s next after your self-titled?
Meg: Our first album, I feel like we’re wild and explorative as far as music goes. Learning and merging the styles of three very different songwriters! Lyrically I’m drawn to visuals, mostly personal, where I can replay my experiences in my head. Just yesterday Leslie said to me, “remember when I showed you that gross, giant slug, and you said ‘aww, that makes me nostalgic.'” So yeah, that. I’m a ridiculously nostalgic person, and can’t help writing that way.
In the fall, we’re recording full length. Can’t wait! This album feels like a homecoming of sound. Fresh and energized. Sometimes sad, mostly upbeat. It’s a culmination of our challenges with changes, and the ways you grow.
SB: Have you ever been to Omaha, Nebraska? Do you have any sort of impressions/associations with Omaha?
Leslie: As a band, no. But, oddly enough, I’ve (Leslie) spent the past two summers in Omaha getting my Montessori teacher certification for ages 6-12. I discovered the West Wing and a few other DIY spaces while there and have some pretty wild memories of Omaha shows, one of which included a band that always burned a lock of hair during their set. Ah, the smell of hair on fire.
SB: We’re very excited to have a lunchtime performance from you at Omaha Girls Rock! What’s your involvement with Girls Rock in Columbus?
Leslie: We’re excited to play! Camps like this are so important. In Ohio, we’re all involved in Grrrls Rock Columbus. Meg helps organize, Leslie was a head counselor this year, Sheena volunteered, and Kevin joined us for a lunch concert.
SB: What’s the music scene in Columbus like?
Meg: Alive and thriving. There can seriously be a handful of shows happening at the same time that aren’t even competing. What I like most are affirming events that pop up and surprise you. Like a band who started at Grrrls Rock playing a show, or OUR SCENE, a DIY music community tool to unite and promote the art of radical folx who have been pushed down by systemic oppression.
SB: Did you download Pokemon Go?
Leslie: Oh yes. Nerd alert! Humans’ first attempt at a mass virtual reality game? It’s go time! Kevin and I are avid Pokemon catchers. My catcher is named RoyalBlizzard. This tour is going to really be mystical as far as catching Pokemon goes. I would say the ones I’m hunting the most right now are Vulpix and Evee. I also vow to not play Pokemon go while driving the van on tour. I already know that doesn’t end well for us or the lil’ Pokemon. Great question. 🙂
Didi plays Reverb Lounge Monday, July 18th with The Morbs and The Way Out. All ages show, 8pm doors, 9pm show $7.
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Psych-folk band Woods to play Slowdown
Woods has been making solid, dependable folk-rock music for years, cutting nine albums since forming in 2005. It’s most recent effort, City Sun Eater in the River of Light, alters the receipt, mixing in elements of reggae and African jazz to its psych-folk batter.
The Brooklyn-based band plays the Slowdown front room Monday, July 18 with Simon Joyner & the Ghosts. Tickets are $13 in advance, $15 day-of. RSVP here.
From the band’s bio, written by Sam Hockley-Smith:
Woods have always been experts at distilling life epiphanies into compact chunks of psychedelic folk that exists just outside of any sort of tangible time or place. Maybe those epiphanies were buried under cassette manipulation or drum-and-drone freakouts, or maybe they were cloaked in Jeremy Earl’s lilting falsetto, but over the course of an impressive eight albums, Woods refined and drilled down their sound into City Sun Eater in the River of Light, their ninth LP and second recorded in a proper studio. It’s a dense record of rippling guitar, lush horns, and seductive, bustling anxiety about the state of the world. It’s still the Woods you recognize, only now they’re dabbling in zonked out Ethiopian jazz, pulling influence from the low key simmer of Brown Rice, and tapping into the weird dichotomy of making a home in a claustrophobic city that feels full of possibility even as it closes in on you. City Sun Eater in the River of Light is concise, powerful, anxious—barreling headlong into an uncertain, constantly shifting new world.
Woods founder/songwriter Jermey Earl also runs budding Brooklyn label Woodsist, which released Simon Joyner’s latest Grass, Branch and Bone. The label has also released music from Kurt Vile, Real Estate and former Woods member Kevin Morby.
Hear the album’s lead track “Sun City Creeps” below:
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Neva Dinova drops off Lincoln Calling
Unfortunately, Neva Dinova is no longer available to play Lincoln Calling. Frontman Jake Bellows says the band hopes to reschedule soon. The indie rock band was set to reunite for this year’s downtown Lincoln festival, which happens Oct. 6-8.
The good news is there remain at least 50 more acts to be announced. In a big reveal Wednesday — including headliners Charles Bradley, Real Estate, Kali Uchis and Cloud Nothings — Lincoln Calling added more than 30 acts to the list. Between comedy and live music, more than 100 acts will perform at this year’s festival.
Find the lineup so far and purchase tickets at Lincoln Calling’s website here.
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The Claudettes: High-energy, blues fusion
By Mark Hayden
[Editor’s note: this Q&A previews the Claudettes’ show Sunday, July 17 at Duffy’s Tavern in Lincoln with Emily Bass & The Near Miracle and Jazzocracy. Entry is $5. Show starts at 9 p.m.]
Don’t call them a blue-rock band. In fact, maybe don’t classify the Claudettes at all.
Johnny Iguana has heard several labels for his band, like “ragtime White Stripes.” The Claudette’s pianist says he even used to call it cosmic cartoon music.
But label or not, it’s an exciting time for the Claudettes. The band, which formed in 2011, has two albums out and will start recording their third in Georgia this September. Mark Neill, who produced The Black Keys’ Brothers, will join them in studio. He heard about the Claudettes through big-time producer Dave Cobb, who has worked with Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell.
The Chicago-based Claudettes’ summer tour is acting as a practice run for their new songs that they’ll be recording with Neil. The show Sunday in Lincoln will be a mixture of both new and old, and definitely a high-energy show that includes elements of jazz, rock, blues, punk, rockabilly and vaudeville, all centered around Iguana’s piano work.
The Claudettes caught the attention of the Greg Kot at the Chicago Tribune. He wrote this: “A revelatory blend of jazz and blues, stirred with punk brio. There are also dashes of classical and world music, and enough stops, starts and hairpin turns to suggest the giddiness of Raymond Scott’s cartoon music…How do they do it?”
The band, led by Iguana, and also includes bassist Zach Verdoorn, drummer Matt Torre and singer Berit Ulseth. Iguana, 44, is no stranger to Nebraska. In an interview with Hear Nebraska, Iguana looked back fondly on playing multiple shows at Duffy’s throughout the many years of his touring, especially when he played in the rock band Oh My God.
Iguana also looks back on taking piano lessons with his mother when he was teenager, turning down a gig at his favorite festival to keep playing with the Claudettes and the effort it takes to be original in the music industry.
Hear Nebraska: So you guys got your start at a club called Claudettes Bar in Oglesby, Illinois, right?
Johnny Iguana: When you’re a musician, you have to connect the dots, and when I played in Chicago and St. Louis, that was on the way. And they paid us OK. This nutty woman kind of became almost a band manager. It became a bit of a nightmare and it’s a thing of the past now, but we still honor it with our stage setup. And of course, it’s the name of the band. A reminder of our humble of roots.
HN: I listened to your two albums, No Hotel and Infernal Piano Pilot Plot…Hatched, and your piano skills definitely stand out. You definitely shred. How long have you been playing the piano?
JI: Well, I’ve been playing piano since I was eight really consistently. I’ve had very little time off from it. My mother and I started taking lessons with the same teacher. She was in her early 30s at the time. And she kinda took off, and I was kind of plateaued and then all of sudden, I took off, and then she plateaued and got frustrated and quit. I never had to be told to practice. I gave up playing outside on Saturdays and was just hitting rewind, rewind, rewind on cassettes all day trying to figure out how to copy certain things I was hearing. I think the piano is great because there is such a landscape to it. Unlike a guitar or other instruments, you just see the black keys and white keys, and there’s almost like a geography to it. And then I got into synthesizers and the keyboard instruments, but then I sort of just wanted to get back to pure music and not focus so much on really cool sounds. I wanted to see what I could create with just the piano.
The only thing I really add now is a little slapback, a little short echo and some reverb. Now that we’ve added a bass player though he’s been playing a bass six. It’s a hybrid of the bass and the guitar. So he’s doing some stuff in the high range and the low range. He’s getting some distorted tones and some different effects. [The Claudettes’ music] is powered by pure piano. The way we’re playing right now, the piano is so busy and so chaotic and nutty, so I’m asking the drummer to play simply, relatively simply because it’s a little bit much when everyone is going bananas at the same time. I sort of want to lead the way going bananas. Everyone else just needs to hold down the fort.
If I found myself at a jazz club or a lounge and there’s a piano there, we can make music right there. It’s good not to have to depend on a very custom, distinctive instrument. People should know we play in some top jazz and blues clubs and hold our own there. I have a lot of experience playing music around the world. I’ve met a lot of great people here in Chicago, a lot of legendary figures I’ve been lucky enough to play with at a very young age. But we hold our own really well, too, on a punk bill. I grew up listening to punk bands and the music and show has the energy of that. In a 60-minute show, we play like 21 songs. We play 2-to-3 minute songs. The songs are just kinda hit-and-quit-it. I used to call it “cosmic cartoon music.” I thought if there’s going to be a new “Looney Tunes” or “Ren and Stimpy,” we would do the music for it.
Sometimes, people go, “it’s a blues piano act.” God forbid somebody writes that it’s a blues-rock band because it combines blues and rock. Blues rock means one thing to me, like Foghat. But that’s not what we really are. We’re not like Led Zepplin or Cream. People like roots music like blues, folk, bluegrass and jazz. But they also like wild, punky music, because it has that spirit and energy to it. I don’t feel like we’re going to get outgunned by any guitar band.
HN: Well, it’s a good thing if you can’t put a name to the genre.
JI: Yeah, I mean, if everybody that was in the arts or performance really tried to channel who they are and do what pleases them and say what they wanna say, as a comedian, or whoever you are, it’s going to be pretty weird. I played with this guy, Junior Wells. Everybody is different than everyone else, but Junior Wells is more different. I feel like everybody is like that. I feel like everybody is more different. If you want to not be afraid of what people think or not fit into to a certain thing and try to express yourself. A lot of creations we love come from the wonderful idiosyncrasies of those particular humans.
HN: So you’ve been playing piano since you were eight, may I ask how old you are now?
JI: I’m 44 years old now. My bandmates are in their 20s and 30s, so I’m definitely the grandfather of the band. I’ve been playing music at clubs since I had my fake ID at age 15. And I’ve been a touring musician since I was 22. And I’ve been doing my own bands in my own van, my way since 2000 or so. This band has been getting pretty heavy into it. I’m really lucky that I’ve got people with me who are really into the songs. And they’re spending a lot of time in practice working on their tones and their parts and recording it and listening to it. The band and our friends and families that come have a wide age range from mid-20s to quite a bit older.
HN: You’ve played with some pretty well-known musicians like Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Van Morrison…
JI: Well, that’s the lucky part of being pretty good at piano … and being in a city like Chicago. There’s a lot more piano and bass and drum players here than there are fully qualified piano players. There’s only a few. Some of them are getting up there in age, and I’m one of the whippersnappers. As a piano player here, I get some really exciting calls once in awhile to do a session or do an album or do a tour. Unfortunately, I can’t do all of them. Because whatever is my baby at the time will take priority.
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Tonight, Benson First Friday Femme Fest is throwing a fundraiser concert at O’Leaver’s, with the late-hour addition of The Mynabirds’ Laura Burhenn, who is in town helping with Omaha Girls Rock. she joins Mesonjixx, Anna McClellan and Badland Girls. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. RSVP here.
If you missed Frontier Ruckus’s most recent trip to Omaha, when it played The Waiting Room with Blitzen Trapper, you’re in luck. The Detroit band plays an intimate house show in Omaha’s Blackstone District tonight at 8 p.m. The location of this event is semi-secret, revealed upon purchase of a $10 ticket (which can be done here).
Also tonight, Overturn holds a benefit event at The Common LNK, 1239 S 14th St. Overturn is a nonprofit anti-rape and abuse charity based out of Lincoln, NE working to overturn society’s passive and harmful views on rape and rape culture. HN contributor Kelly Langin spoke with founder Jacob Darling last Spring about the organization’s origins and efforts to expose and destroy rape culture. Read it here. Nate Skinner and Kaylee Schmutte will play acoustic jams, Alice Galloway will perform stand-up and Ben Wenzl will recite poetry. There will also be a bake sale. The event suggests a donation of $5, with all proceeds going to Overturn and Voices of Hope. The event starts at 7 p.m. Find more information and RSVP here.
Find a fuller listing of shows at our statewide calendar here. If you do not see your show or one you plan to attend, leave it in the comments or add it yourself via our “contribute” feature here. Let us know where you’re going! Hit us up via Twitter and Instagram @hearnebraska.