In Bloom

Icky Blossoms to celebrates Saddle Creek debut July 3 at The Waiting Room.

The germination of Omaha indie dance-rock band Icky Blossoms dates back to a different sort of flower created by the band's mastermind, Derek Pressnall.

Started in 2007 as a side project to Pressnall's main band, Tilly and the Wall, Flowers Forever was a multi-layered, psych-rock head trip, but by 2010 the band's sound began to change. The band's final evolution came at a frenzied performance at Slowdown Jr. in October 2010. With only about 50 people left in the club, Flowers Forever closed the evening with an unexpected number called “Babes” that transformed the room into a throbbing dance club. The crowd, who only moments earlier had been struck motionless by the thick, buzz-saw shoegaze sound of Montreal band No Joy, at once lost all inhibitions and simply let go, liberated by the song's irresistible bass line and disco thump-thump-thump.

Bodies moved. Hands rose. Sweat glistened. And just like that, Icky Blossoms was born. At its core were Pressnall channeling John Lydon and Fred Schneider, dreamy blond vocalist Sarah Bohling sounding like a modern-day Nico, and crazy-haired guitarist/dynamo Nik Fackler, on his knees coaxing shrill noises from his axe, lost in the moment.

When “Babes” ground to a halt the crowd cried out to hear it again. Never ones to disappoint, Pressnall and Co. took it from the top, and the party continued. And then things got weird(er) when someone (maybe Capgun Coup’s Sam Martin) broke open an enormous bag of popcorn and began throwing it like like buttered confetti. It was strange, surreal, fun, and became a sort of blueprint for future performances.

“Every performance should evoke emotion, danger, excitement,” Pressnall said, surrounded by his bandmates last week at the Old Dundee Bar & Grill. “What’s the worst thing that could happen? We’re a rock ’n’ roll band. We want the show to be exciting and a little uncomfortable in the best sense of the word. We’re trying to push ourselves on stage, and there’s a bit of magic involved."

The band tried to recreate that magic when recording its debut earlier this year with TV on the Radio’s David Sitek in his Los Angeles studio. “We were looking for instantaneous grooves,” Pressnall said. “That was the first thing we talked about for every song -- the groove has to be there as soon as the music starts.”

“We constantly asked ourselves if a song would translate to a huge club or a massive festival," Bohling said. "Would the groove get everyone's attention?”

No doubt the grooves on the new album are impossible to ignore. Clocking in at around 42 minutes of sonic debauchery, Icky Blossoms' debut, slated for release by Saddle Creek Records July 17, re-imagines the band's dense, high-energy live sound. At the core are the songs -- modern dance numbers that combine house beats and sonic stylings influenced by bands like Jesus and Mary Chain, The Happy Mondays, Depeche Mode, The B-52s, The Cure, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Public Image Limited and hometown heroes The Faint. Pressnall, Bohling and Fackler know what buttons to push, and gleefully jam them down as hard as possible on every track.

Album highlights include howling opening number “Heat Lightning,” orgiastic dance mantra “Sex to the Devil,” hypnotic album closer (and early single) “Perfect Vision,” and, of course, the track that’s bound to light up every runway at Fashion Week this fall, “Babes.” Taken individually, each track has its own sonic vibe; but as a whole, the album can be overwhelming, if not exhausting.

While Pressnall, Bohling and Fackler are the core members, the band's stage lineup is a revolving cast. The current configuration includes the powerhouse rhythm section of drummer Clark Baechle of The Faint and high-kicking bassist Saber Blazek of Lincoln band The Machete Archive.

"It's safe to say Clark has come up with some things that have impacted the band," Pressnall said, though he added that they could lose their star drummer now that The Faint intends to regroup later this year. "Both Clark and Saber will work with us for the next six months," he added. "Who knows where we'll go from there."

But that's not the biggest question hanging over Icky Blossoms' future. Beyond the fact that Tilly and the Wall has recorded a new album set for release later this year by Team Love Records, Pressnall and wife Jamie (also a member of Tilly) have a couple young children to raise. How can he do that and tour?

"Being away from my children is incredibly hard, much harder than I thought it would be," Pressnall said. "It's hard to describe. The separation really started to affect me after a couple weeks in LA. When touring, I would like to see my kids at least every two weeks, but if I had to I could go out for four weeks at a time. We'll figure it out."

Then there's Fackler, who is more well-known outside of Omaha as a successful filmmaker. His 2008 feature film debut, Lovely, Still, which starred Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn, landed him a nomination for an Independent Spirit Award.

Fackler just completed his second feature film, a documentary titled Sick Birds Die Easy shot in the jungles of Africa. "It's an exploration of western culture and ancient culture, drug addiction, spirituality and the destiny of mankind," Fackler said. Now that the first cut is in the can, he's in the process of submitting the film to festivals, which he says will tie him up most of July.

But with all that going on, the band still plans to tour this fall and winter. They've already signed with national booker The Windish Agency (M83, Ra Ra Riot, Dirty Projectors) and have their hearts set on a landing an opening slot with a more established band.

But no matter who it is, Fackler said the goal will still be to create an environment from the stage where people can let loose and dance.  “If you’re making music, that’s the best compliment."

Icky Blossoms will celebrate the release of its debut album with UUVVWWZ and Depressed Buttons Tuesday, July 3 at The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St. Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $7. For more information, call 402.884.5353 or visit onepercentproductions.com.

posted at 03:21 pm
on Monday, June 25th, 2012

In Bloom

Inner-city team plants healthier neighborhoods “Oh no, Jumoke! Not the azuki!” It was early in the growing season and Jeannie Dickes’ reaction to her City Sprouts co-director Jumoke Omojola came after discovering that the beans were accidentally pulled from a plot by a fresh crop of would-be gardeners. “I have to learn to let it go,” Dickes said with a laugh. The budding gardeners more than made up for the accidental uproots. Organized as the Grown in North Omaha project, seven more gardens were added in the North Omaha community this year alone. “People need to go back to the land,” Dickes says. She describes herself as “rooted in” the neighborhood, as one of five generations of family that’s called the area home. “Everybody is different. Everybody has a gift,” she says. “It takes a village.” This “village” is concentrated in North Omaha and includes cooperation from area organizations such as Orchard Hill Neighborhood Association, Grown in North Omaha and The Big Garden. Funded primarily through grants and donations, City Sprouts also garners income from the Florence farmer’s market, an annual plant sale and gala fundraiser events. In 2005, a large house neighboring the half-acre City Sprouts community plot at 40th and Franklin teetered on the brink of occupation by a slumlord, when a generous donor gifted the two-story home to the organization. It’s now host to educational classes on topics such as nutrition, cooking, home crafts and healthy living. Though the organization is gaining strength, challenges still arise. Stolen produce, lack of financial support and low volunteer interest attack the gardening community like weeds. “The way traditional agriculture was 100 years ago, people had to work together, they had a vested interest,” says Edgar Hicks, agribusiness regional representative of the national Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) organization. Funded by the USDA, the SARE program promotes sustainable farming and ranching, offering competitive grants and educational opportunities for those interested in exploring sustainable agriculture. SARE held its first listening sessions at Metropolitan Community College’s Culinary Institute, Sept. 23-24, followed by a local harvest dinner, prepared by MCC entirely from locally grown products. “We all eat,” Hicks says. “And since you eat, you are involved in agriculture. I hope to see more families and communities sharing food and breaking bread.” “I’d like to see people grow while growing food,” says Leo Louis, project coordinator for Grown in North Omaha. He got involved in City Sprouts in 2007, after a small support group he volunteered for expanded into gang intervention and outreach. “My interest is in people. What we are here to do is to help educate,” Louis says. “One volunteer was fresh off the streets. He’d gone straight from gangs to gardening.” Even with ongoing support and education, the garden still endures the occasional casualty. “Last year it was the mustard greens,” head gardener Sheryl Fratt says. A volunteer since the garden’s inauguration in 1995, Fratt’s freckles evidence her years of dedication to this form of urban revitalization. This season, Louis instructed a new volunteer to eliminate the weeds in an area plot. “He grabbed a rake and was doing a great job,” Lewis says. But afterwards they discovered he had plowed up the rhubarb plants. “The garden is very forgiving,” says Omojola. “It’s only a plant, another one will grow.” Though each person has a different role in building successful sustainable urban agriculture in the area, they can all agree that volunteer involvement is key. “I would like to see more participation, especially from people in the Orchard Hill neighborhood,” Omojola says. During growing season the public is invited to weekly “work parties,” Wednesday nights from 5 p.m. to dusk and Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon. Organizers also encourage children to become involved in after-school programs. “We are sowing a seed and it is growing,” Omojola says. “Slowly, but surely.” And perhaps the best, most nourishing harvest is the continuation of generous giving and sharing of all involved. Hicks encourages people to apply for grants at sare.org. Visit citysprouts.org for more information on the organization. Full Disclosure: Publisher/Editor John Heaston has been involved with the Grown in North Omaha program through CitySprouts, even though he doesn’t always eat his vegetables.

posted at 01:04 pm
on Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

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