A Selection from “The Power Station Interviews” | Q&A

photo of Icky Blossoms by Wyn Wiley

[Editor's note: Nicholas Westra plays keyboard, guitar and sings for The Renfields, whose next album focuses on the Power Station. What follows is a work of fiction drawing on the album's songs. See The Renfields live this Friday at The Zoo Bar with LIFE is COOL and La Guerre. RSVP here.]

by Nicholas Westra

In the fall of 2013, some young entrepreneurs opened a small concert venue in downtown Lincoln, Neb., that has since acquired a somewhat legendary status among the local artistry.

The Power Station, as it was dubbed, has become a hub of countercultural growth — an outpost of creative energy. I’ve made a home of the Power Station, spending many of my evenings there drinking, writing and listening to rock ‘n’ roll bands.

Last spring, I set out upon a writing project to capture the essence of the one-thousand square-foot cultural petri dish that is the Power Station. The project has taken the form of a concept album — not quite a rock opera, but more than a mere collection of songs — that portrays a loose cast of characters in their drug-hazed, boozy Power Station exploits.

To gain insight, I interviewed several of the regulars, inquiring into their general lifestyles, sexual practices, drug habits and taste in music. The conversations invariably gravitated toward music: that abstract bonding agent which coalesces the jagged-edged lives of this maniacal, hedonistic cult of the Power Station.

What follows is a selection from one of the interviews.

The subject’s name is Katie. She is 23 years old, brunette, nearly 6-foot-3, with a prominent jawbone and shoulders. I’m not entirely convinced she is entirely female, which is what drew me to her in the first place. I see her at the Power Station at least once or twice a week. She almost always comes alone, and is usually among the last to leave at the end of the night. I’ve never seen her without a rocks-glass of whiskey in her hand.

The interview was conducted afterhours at the Power Station upon permission of the club owners, Irvin and Irving. They were kind enough to supply us with a bottle of Irish whiskey.

Nick: When did you start coming to the Power Station?

Katie: September of 2013. I remember because I’m a follower of Universe Contest and they played a show here on the eve of my 23rd birthday, and that was the first time I ever came here. I’m a Virgo, by the way.

N: And you come here all the time now?

K: A lot of the time, yeah.

N: And why do you come?

K: I love hearing bands play live. It’s kind of what I was brought up on. When I was a kid, my brother had a band and they were always practicing in the basement, and I just kind of started hanging out with them and going to house shows and stuff. So then in high school, I just kind of tagged along with all those dudes, and it pretty much turned into my social outlet.

photo of Universe Contest by Michael Thurber

N: So you come for the society?

K: Kind of. I mean, that’s definitely what got me into the music scene. But since then it’s been more for the music itself. I’m kind of a social retard, so I don’t have a lot of close friends. So I find myself getting sucked deeper and deeper into the music side of it. I used to go to shows to hang out with friends, and the music was an added bonus.

Now, it’s the other way around. I come to hear live music, and the camaraderie is kind of like a perk. I pretty much just hang out with whoever happens to be at the show.

N: What’s your most memorable show here?

K: Icky Blossoms, April of 2014. It’s funny because I wasn’t much a fan of theirs before that show, but I had been listening to a lot of ABBA and Blondie at the time and I decided to check out Icky Blossoms — give ‘em a second chance. Well, a friend of mine was there, one of those candy raver kids, and he offered me a hit of MDMA. So I said, “What the hell,” and I had such a marvelous time, what with all the flashing lights and the sheer volume of the music, and I talked to (Icky Blossoms') Nik (Fackler on guitar) and Sarah (Bohling on keyboards, vocals) after the show and told them how much I loved them, and I bought a record and went home and listened to it over and over again all night until the sun came up.

N: Do you do a lot of drugs?

K: Oh no no no no no. In fact, that was my first time on MDMA, and I’ve only done it a couple of times since.

N: And you say you’ve been listening to ABBA and Blondie? Do you feel that the MDMA lends itself to that kind of music? And Icky Blossoms for that matter?

K: I think MDMA fits whatever kind of music you want it to fit. I know ecstasy is kind of stereotypically linked to ravers and electronic music, but I think that’s more of an historical coincidence than an actual correlation between the music and the effects of the drug. I think MDMA was bound to catch on in pop culture just as much as electronic music was bound to catch on. That they happened to coincide is just amusing happenstance.

N: So the drugs don’t affect your taste in music?

K: Not really, no. I’ve listened to Peter Tosh and Pink Floyd on ecstasy. And I’ve listened to that guy with the mouse ears on pot and it all sounded good. I think if anything the drugs follow the music. Like Bob Marley totally caught on in the ‘60s, and part of Rastafarian culture involves marijuana and so white American kids took interest and started smoking weed and listening to reggae.

Same with European rave culture. A bunch of kids on the East Coast started staying up all night listening to Underworld and Paul Oakenshield or whatever the fuck his name was. And then they read their Spin magazine and said, “Wait a minute. The Europeans have drugs for this shit.” And so, pretty soon ecstasy caught on here in the States.

N: And what about your culture? The, uh, Midwest basement culture?

K: As far as drugs?

N: And music, yes.

K: Well, the music was always punk rock, and by punk I don’t mean Sex Pistols and Green Day. I’m talkin’ raw, pulsing, DIY rock and roll. Bands like Sideshow and Mercy Rule. Opium Taylor and Mousetrap. I think they were calling it “Dinge” back then — the Midwest vein of grunge. We were listening to bands like the Melvins and the Jesus Lizard.

And the drug was pretty much beer. One of my brother’s friends had an older cousin who would always bring a shit-ton of beer to practice so I was drinking pretty regularly by age 16. It wasn’t until late in high school that I caught on to pot with some friends of mine, and that didn’t even have much to do with music — in fact, most of the potheads in my class were jocks, and we caught on to pot through friends of friends. Loose associations. Same with acid. We caught onto that through a friend of a friend. Nothing to do with music. But once we got it that’s all we did was listen to Beatles records and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.


"Consume" by Sideshow | Echoes

"Tell Tomorrow" by Mercy Rule | Echoes

"Boy-White City" by Opium Taylor | The Band Broke Up

N: And the ecstasy came later?

K: Years later. As an afterthought. Never thought I’d be caught dead on ecstasy. Used to make fun of the candy ravers all the time.

N: But you’ve been listening to more dance music lately? ABBA and Blondie? What else have you been listening to? What’s on your current playlist?

K: Playlist?

N: Yeah, like on your iPod?

K: Oh, I don’t have an iPod. Everything I listen to is either on vinyl or cassette. But here, hold on a sec . . .

(At this point in the interview, Katie removes from her purse an ancient, beat-up Sony Walkman — a true relic from 1983 — and ejects from it a mixtape she says she made last weekend. We ask Irvin and Irving if they’ll play it on the stereo and they inform us that they do not have a cassette player. Katie resolves the issue by cramming one of the earbuds in her ear and offering me the other. We thus conduct the rest of the interview to the sounds of DEVO, the Pretenders, the Vibrators, Nick Lowe, Brian Eno and a bunch of stuff I admit I’ve never paid much attention to — Ian Dury and the Blockheads?)


K: I’ve been getting more into new wave because it’s like a perfect combination of punk, pop and even a little disco. I like the quirkiness of new wave. I had always been vaguely aware that there existed a band called DEVO, but it wasn’t until quite recently, the last year or two, I suppose, that I really started digging into DEVO records. And DEVO is just super weird, but it’s got this energy about it I totally love. It makes me wish I had been a teenager in 1980 because I don’t see that kind of energy these days. However, I have been seeing more of it lately, and that’s why I like Universe Contest so much because their energy is through the roof.

N: Is Universe Contest a dance band?

K: Fuckin’ eh, they are!

N: I think of them as a rock band.

K: Yeah, but have you ever been to a Universe Contest show and not danced? It’s like the same thing with DEVO and Blondie too for that matter. They were punk bands first and foremost, but it wasn’t any huge secret that punk kids love to dance. So for me as a twenty-first century punk kid who loves to dance, I’m always looking for that perfect blend of dance and rock ‘n’ roll. Universe Contest has it. Icky Blossoms has it. Life is Cool has it.

photo of LIFE is COOL by Kat Buchanan

Just like Blondie and the Go Go’s. And Berlin — they’re hot. Talking Heads. Eno. ABBA’s got it even though they kind of fell into the disco scene. But shit! Even the Bee Gees were a kickass rock band. Just listen to “Nights on Broadway.” I guess what I’m trying to say is that I like the spirit of disco, but disco needs a kickass rock band to pull it off. And I definitely don’t get that feeling, you know. I don’t sense the spirit of disco in most electronic music these days.

I mean, yeah, the lights are mesmerizing and the beat is consistent — well, constant, really — but I don’t feel any magic. There’s no magic in a computer computing music. I’d rather hear super weird humans playing music live.

N: Like Universe Contest.

K: Like Universe Contest.

Nicholas Westra is a local musician, songwriter, and sound engineer. His current project is The Renfields. Reach him at nicholasgwestra@gmail.com.