[Editor's note: This story previews Son, Ambulance's concert at The Waiting Room on Thursday with Routine Escorts and InDreama. The show starts at 9 p.m., and cover is $5. RSVP here.]
For Joseph Knapp, a successful creative endeavor requires full attention.
“I’ve recognized this pattern in myself that I’m kind of all or nothing,” says Knapp, lead singer and principal songwriter for Omaha band Son, Ambulance. “I really focus on one thing.”
Maybe that’s why it’s been more than four years since Son, Ambulance last appeared on stage. Perhaps it’s an explanation for the three or more years that transpired between each Son, Ambulance album since 2001’s Euphemystic.
Knapp, though, doesn’t seem to see himself so much as a career musician. There’s no constant obligation to make music.
“There’s sort of been a pattern to take breaks between albums, though this has kind of been longer than usual. I like things to happen organically, not try to force things.”
It was an organic set of circumstances, after all, that led to the reformation of Son, Ambulance. The band was asked by friend and former manager Rob Bass to play his birthday party at The Waiting Room in Omaha this Thursday, Jan. 16 with Routine Escorts and InDreama.
“He asked us a year in advance,” Knapp says. “I had a year to brainstorm what sound I wanted to go for, what songs to do. It has been a lot of fun, a lot less pressure.”
Force is a poor method for driving hyper-focused creativity, but that’s not to say he’s been dormant since Son Ambulance’s last show in 2009.
In 2012, he won Nebraska’s state chess championship. He says he’s working on his master title. Around 2013, Knapp became interested in filmmaking. He screened his first short film, Femme ed Uomo, at a local filmmaker’s showcase at Omaha’s Film Streams that year. The film’s centerpiece is a chess game.
“[Chess and music] take your full focus and energy, all your reserves of nervous energy and creativity,” Knapp says.
He composed Femme ed Uomo’s score, which, in its 7 1/2 minutes, features appearances by Dave Ozinga and Jim Schroeder of UUVVWWZ, Megan Siebe of Anniversaire, Gregory Elsasser of Capgun Coup, Luke Polipnick and several other Nebraska musicians, whom he’s met over more than a decade in the Nebraska music scene.
In 2001, Son, Ambulance released Oh Holy Fools, a split with Bright Eyes, followed by their debut album later that year. The debut, Euphymistic, finds Knapp’s voice traveling among complex rhythms and swift tempo changes coated with piano rock. The arrangements on Euphymistic are sparse considering 2004’s Key, a more dramatic effort by the group that relies less heavily on piano-vocal approach.
After a European tour for Key, Son, Ambulance went more than three years without a release until Someone Else’s Deja Vu in 2008, the band’s most recent release, a lush album with energetic, yet haunting vocals that further exemplifies Knapp’s gift for arrangement. Moreover, the album’s instrumentation is the band’s most experimental.
More than 20 friends are credited with having lent a hand to the record. On Thursday night at the Waiting Room, some of those friends will appear on stage with him again.
Knapp’s brother Daniel will play keys. Dylan Strimple, who appears on Key, will join on guitar, Zach La Grou on bass and Ozinga on drums.
Knapp says at least one new track will make an appearance, as well as a host of familiar Son, Ambulance songs redressed. Think ‘80s dance and country versions of standbys from the group’s 12-year-old back catalogue.
“It would be too unpleasant to play [those songs] over and over again,” he says. “I have to breathe some new life into them.”
As for the future of Son, Ambulance, it’s nebulous. Knapp mentions a seven-inch and a European tour. But he’s sure to include that, for now, it’s all just talk, no plans have been made certain.
Despite the tentative nature of Son, Ambulance’s future, Knapp seems optimistic that he wants to move the band forward.
“Hopefully, I won’t have to take any long breaks again,” he adds.
Jacob Zlomke is a Hear Nebraska contributor. Make sure to get to The Waiting Room early enough to see the openers. Reach him at email@example.com.