Kansas City-based indie-pop act Electric Needle Room is mostly the work of one man: middle school teacher Matt Beat. If you've ever tried to hold the attention of a 12-year-old for longer than 30 seconds, you know that it requires something far more entertaining than whatever electronic device they currently have jacked into their face. So it stands to reason that Beat might have a need to make learning entertaining, which is what he's done with ENR's newest album, The Presidents of the United States of America (Volume 2). It's Presidents 15 through 31, in chronological order. It's as if They Might Be Giants took "James K. Polk" and ran with that concept for an entire album. The "official" release date is Presidents' Day (February 20), but you can download it now as a pay-what-you-like from Bandcamp(or stream it below). The release party is Friday, March 2, at Amore Coffee House, in Leawood.
Electric Needle Room — a former Omaha-based indie pop duo now residing in the KC area — wish the world a very happy Presidents Day with the the official release of their new album, The Presidents of the United States of America, Volume 2. Yes, ENR’s Matt Beat is in the midst of writing a auditory history lesson on each and every president, and this latest release is a follow up to Volume 1, which covered the first 15 presidents (Washington through Buchanan). Volume 2 tackles 15 more — starting things off with Abraham Lincoln and finishing up with Herbert Hoover.
Chances are, you're not quite who you set out to be when you were in high school. Making it as a professional athlete takes more dedication and genetic predisposition than most people have, and those dreams of touring the country with your band are long gone.
But this is America: land of the free, home of the brave. A place where anyone can grow up to be president. Right?
The fact is, the U.S. presidency is one of the most elite and elusive clubs out there, with a total membership of exactly 43 in nearly 222 years. So, with his prospects for becoming the leader of the free world getting dimmer and dimmer by the day, Overland Park musician and part-time history teacher Matt Beat is doing the next best thing: He's writing a song about each president.
The Kansas native's band, Electric Needle Room, has been making quirky indie pop under one name or another since the mid-'90s. Their latest effort, The Presidents of the United States of America, Volume 1, is a lo-fi chronicling of the careers of the first 15 presidents. (Expect the second volume next year.)
"I've always been fascinated with presidents for some reason," Beat admitted recently during a phone interview. "I memorized the presidents in order when I was, like, 10," he said. "It was extremely dorky."
The same can be said of the new album, officially released on Presidents Day, Feb. 21 (go figure). It's filled with delightful melodies and easy-to-remember hooks that split the difference between Ween and the theme song to Home Movies with some synthesizer thrown in for good measure.
"The songs are really about the legacy of each president," Beat said, "the good things and the bad things." He means that literally. Can't seem to remember who the last Whig president was, or which was the first to be born an American citizen? Look no further than "Millard Fillmore," a bouncy summer jam, and the delicate "Martin Van Buren," respectively. The album might be the perfect companion to your next game of Trivial Pursuit.
Despite the esoteric subject matter and the obviously low recording budget, if not taken too seriously,The Presidents of the United States of America is intensely accessible. The album runs the gamut, from the straight-up indie-pop opener "George Washington" to the synth-heavy "Thomas Jefferson."
Ultimately, the album is a labor of love. "It's something I've always wanted to do, I just now got around to doing it," Beat said. As for his own presidential aspirations, Beat seems to have put them on hold. For now, he'll stick to what he does best: making smart, slightly off-center pop music.
By now, we all know that Omaha is no musical epicenter, not a Portland, an Austin, a Nashville. The number of sunken-eyed, starving musicians that relocate to Nebraska is easily cancelled out by the number of musicians that move away. There might be a thriving little musical community that steadily produces the occasional world-renown act worth noting in here somewhere, but Omaha is still flyover country for the majority of the music industry.
Even so, things are brighter here than other towns in the region. Take Wichita, Kan., for example. It’s a city much like Omaha: a conservative, mid-sized Midwestern city. For a musician, however, it is not the kind of place one can thrive in. There’s nothing comparable to Saddle Creek Records or One Percent Productions or the Benson music district. Sure, there’s a gentrifying downtown and a couple decent music clubs, but that’s it. But in contrast, Omaha does appear like Seattle of the early-‘90s.
Three of the four members of Electric Needle Room hail from Wichita: brothers Matt and Steven Beat and Daniel Lewis Diedrich. Both Matt (piano, vocals, multiple instruments) and Daniel (guitar) moved to Omaha in recent years for greener musical pastures. In fact, the closeness of Omaha’s scene introduced them to one another, as they’d never even met in their hometown. Steven (drums) migrated to Kansas City, where he still lives and works. The fourth member, bassist Bryan Poole, is originally from Louisiana.
Aesthetically, there’s a consistent oddness to Electric Needle Room, stemming from the bright and bouncy songs about un-profound everyday happenings written by Matt Beat. Paired with brother Steven, who samples audio from movies and places them over original music for his own project Beats the Movies, and Daniel, who also has a lot on his plate with his solo lo-fi projects DL Diedrich, Spiders For Love and Hello Ferocious Records, you have one of the best bands in Omaha that no one’s heard.
How long have you been playing? What have you released so far?
Matt: Well, me and Steven have been playing since middle school. And we played in other bands together. But the Electric Needle Room project, which was my solo stuff, I had an album that came out called “My Socks Never Match” (2005), and it’s very lo-fi. I recorded it in my bedroom. Basically, he (Steven) only added drums to four of the songs on that one. At that time, we never really played shows and once we started playing shows, since then, we’ve had two albums and one EP released.
Didn’t you play a Battle of the Bands at Club Roxbury?
Matt: We needed practice. The winner would open for 40 Ounces to Freedom. I guess they’re pretty big.
You mean the Sublime tribute band?
Matt: Are they? OK, I thought they sounded like Sublime. I guess they’re pretty big.
That’s a terrible prize!
Matt: (Laughs.) Well, I hope we don’t win.
(Note: they didn’t.)
I think “40 oz.” was a great album, but Sublime is…
Matt: They’re completely overrated.
What do you do with MavRadio at UNO?
Matt: I make sure we play nothing but Electric Needle Room, first and foremost. No, I’m kidding. It’s very small. I used to work in college radio in Kansas at KJHK and I loved. Then I worked in commercial radio for a little while – hated it. That’s why I’m not in radio today. I guess I was too idealistic. College radio is where you actually give music that won’t be heard other places a chance.
(At MavRadio) I just of walked in and (the station manager) was just trying to rebuild the station and I said, “Yeah, I have experience.” He said, “OK, great. You’re music director.” We have a staff of about 10 people. We all work for free. We don’t have time to do it, but I have some big news about the station, actually I can’t tell you now, but I’ll let you know when we can tell you.
I’ve recently discovered the label that’s supporting your latest release – Series II records. Can you tell me about more about this?
Matt: It’s a very small CD-R label based in Columbus, (Neb.). He likes indie pop, so that’s pretty much the only type of (music he puts out).
Steven: He asked me about shoegaze.
Matt: Yeah, shoegaze. We’re more power pop than anything else, but, anyway. So I’m surprised (Series II) didn’t work more with local artists, but it seems like most of the indie pop bands that were already around in Omaha had other outlets already. With the Internet, he contacts these great bands like from Germany and Sweden, and they don’t have hardly any fans; no one knows about them. I mean some of these bands are just incredible. I found a lot great music that I never would have heard about.
What’s this “Nebraska Pop Festival” I’ve heard about scheduled at the Waiting Room this August?
Matt: That’s Chris (from Series II), also. It’s going to be a benefit for MavRadio. He’s already got bands from all over the world who said they’re interested in coming to Omaha, Nebraska to play this thing.
There’s a lot of really cool indie pop festivals that take play all over America. And Europe, too.
Matt: Indie pop is a lot bigger in Europe. Around here it’s more roots-y stuff, Americana.
Matt: I don’t think people realize how big the metal scene is here.
DL: A lot of it’s coming from Lincoln, Grand Island, Columbus. Everyone seems to be in nothing but metal bands.
How’d you end up joining ENR, Daniel?
DL: I just kind of slipped in. My first solo show here was at Saddle Creek Bar with these guys. It was when I’d just moved here. And at the time it was just these two (Matt and Steven). Last May, I saw you guys at Pizza Shoppe, and actually they weren’t really all tuned up. Bryan (Poole, bass player) comes up to me and he’s like, “Matt needs to tune his guitar better next time.” And I was like, “I can play guitar.”
Steven: Well, his guitar is never in tune. It comes out of tune after every song.
Matt: Piano is more my instrument. Plus when Daniel plays guitar for us, I have the opportunity to break out the trumpet, which is something I always want to do, but if you’ve every tried to play trumpet, piano and guitar at the same time, it doesn’t work. It’s frustrating because on the recordings, I’ll play 10 different instruments.
Steven: That we can’t play live.
Matt: I should probably try to get more people to join the band. But that takes time.
Are you involved with any other projects?
DL: Actually these two are working with me on a 7-inch vinyl EP. It’s kind of switching roles.
What name will you put that out under?
DL: I was thinking DL Diedrich and Matt and Steven Beat.
Matt: What ever happened to “DL Diedrich and the Devils”?
DL: It was this idea that we could get this big powerhouse band.
Matt: Like everyone else is doing: It’s True, Midwest Dilemma, Brad Hoshaw – recruit 10 people.
Over the last several months, your music is really starting to grow on me the more I listen to it. It’s got a certain charm to it, as a lot of your songs are catchy and kind of silly. What do you write about?
Matt: I get really sick of songs about love and death, morality, whatever. I mean, let’s face it, most people have their little things in their daily lives that there’s plenty of opportunities to write things about. I’ve never really been big on lyrics anyway. Some of my favorite songs, I don’t remember the lyrics for. I think I was trying to prove a point, especially with the tomato song (“I Don’t Like Tomatoes”). It was just a good little tune. You could add any lyrics to it and make it good.
What do you do outside of music?
DL: I work consignment at Homer’s. Local bands need a way to get their CDs in stores. I’ve been trying to get the word out a bit more.
Steven: I work in Kansas City. I work in this DVD, CD, VHS duplication place. We mostly make blank videotapes for casinos and stuff like that.
Matt: MavRadio! I go to school fulltime where I study education. I work fulltime at Lakeside Hospital and I park cars for a living. I wrote a song about it, the hospital valet song.
Did O’Leaver’s Pub really ban you guys for wearing wigs during a show?
Matt: Whoever does the O’Leaver’s posting on S.L.A.M. Omaha said because we wore wigs, we can’t be taken seriously. I was thinking about Talking Mountain and all these other bands that dress up, and what’s the difference? A lot of it’s political, I hate to say it. I guess I didn’t really care, but at the same time I thought I should write a song about it. I hope I didn’t offend them.
Reviews of "Safe, Effective, and Fun"
With the release of their 4th studio album, Electric Needle Room (brothers, Matt and Steven Beat) seem to be at the top of their game. Safe, Effective and Fun has a more evolved and focused sound than heard on previous records, adding more kooky keyboard and synth noise with "techy" electro drum beats, somewhat recalling the midi-gamer aspect of The Faint and Crystal Castles (One Good Friend, Here's What I Have To Say About Tomatoes), combined with catchy, off-tuned guitar riffs and almost Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies (Oleaver's Pub Won't Let Us Play There Anymore, We might As Well Live A Little Bit Before We Die). There is also a new-found, slightly more aggressive and sped-up delivery to the songs than in the past, which is much more reminiscent of their actual live presence. The songs were all recorded over the course of a year or more, between the brothers' homes in Nebraska and Kansas, and carefully picked to bring the listener into a whole new realm of sociopolitical-pop perfection.
-Daniel Lewis Diedrich, Homer's Music
On the beginning song; I was unsure of whether or not Electric Needle Room had made a good choice with the sit-com-esque piano. Persistent keys continually took turns at perforating my mental (non-adjective) block. The band is comprised of two brothers, making you envious that your brother is not an indie-pop alchemist.Vocalist Matt Beat’s voice is similar to Ben Folds’, except without the boring pseudo-emo element that makes you not like Ben Folds. Which really adds to, if not, makes for some very interesting tracks on this album, especially the love songs; that can easily slip under the radar.
Electric Needle Room appear to take on different faces throughout, ranging from all steps of the proverbial indie-pop ladder. Their flirting with the synth side of pop, is more of an experiment as opposed to album filler.
-Joseph Tuesday, Even in the Future Nothing Works
Omaha's Electric Needle Room has been compared to the legendary They Might Be Giants, and with good reason. Drawing influence from Sufjan Stevens, they just release and album filled with upbeat folk tunes called Safe, Effective and Fun. Released on Series Two Records in an edition of 300 copies, this album is a study in pop through the eyes of Matt Beat, Steven Beat, Bryan Poole, and Daniel Lewis Diedrich. It's a light romp that just might make you smile.
-Jason, The Music Minute
Ahh, what a fortuitous choice it was. At the time I wasn't really sure what to expect. I'm not sure when it happened. It was cold, possibly October or November 2008. I went to the Pizza Shoppe in Benson mostly to see one of my favorite bands The Black Squirrels, always a good time. They were opening for the Electric Needle Room's "Safe, Effective, and Fun" CD release party. I paid a small cover charge and received a free CD (from a guy I think is in the band)! I have to admit that I have a mixed feeling about free CDs. If it's really worth listening too, shouldn't you have to pay something for it? On the other hand, it's free! Score!
I ordered a pizza and a beer, enjoyed Spiders of Love and Black Squirrels. By the time ENR took the stage, I was feeling a little sleepy, and they started off with a song that seemed like it was about politics, so I bailed. (Oh, how I regret my hastiness now!)
A few days later I put the CD in my stereo, and felt as if I'd received a much-needed, refreshing musical beverage from a cute girl. My first reaction was, "Wow, these guys are different and fun." No false advertising on this CD title. These guys pump out some smart, thought-provoking, insightful, catchy music!
ENR has put together a well-crafted CD with consistently good lyrics, interesting instrumental sounds and fun melodies.
Later I became their friends on MySpace. (Yeah, we're pretty tight) I read a review of the CD, and felt that it did not really delve deeply enough into the intriguing psyche of this bright, brave band of brothers and others. So, a week or so ago I decided I'd write my own review!
The disc begins with "Farther," an enjoyable narrative about conflict and taunting. The energetic beat and skipping lyrics are engaging. The story of the many encounters with a nemesis offers something we can all relate to. It also reminds me of silly, junior high and high school-aged encounters with other people of that age and mentality (which I still, according to my wife Tree, retain).
Next is the beautifully moving, surrealistic ballad/rock anthem "Love is Not About Teeth." A driving bass line and reverb-erating guitar solo add to this dream-inspired song of discovery.
Track 3 is "If it Makes You Feel Happy." The catchy, staccato piano chords and bicycle-horn-like synthesizer sounds are standouts on this track. Tree said it reminds her of "Kabluey"- a movie featuring a man dressed up as a large-headed, eye and earless blue biped.
"Midwestern City" is probably my favorite song on this CD. A true anthem for living in a midwestern city is something the rock/pop world has been without for far too long! Of course there are songs like Kiss's "Detroit Rock City" and Counting Crows' "Omaha." But these songs don't seem to capture the true nature of midwest living as well as "Midwestern City." Plus the unforgettable chorus includes a list of seven midwestern cities, so it's alot more inclusive than the previously mentioned songs. The catchy chorus and unabashedly mid-range, persistent trumpet add to the reality-based lyrics of this geographically diverse anthem.
"Let's Make Fun of Everybody" invokes memories of people getting made fun of in junior high and high school. I don't think anyone ever made fun of me, or else I have blocked out most of these memories.
"O'Leaver's Pub Won't Let us Play There Anymore" is another standout on this CD. You will have added appreciation for this song if you have been to shows at this oh-so-hip venue. The low key smack talk and conversational pace of the song add to its appeal. Tree said it reminds her of They Might be Giants- it even has a circus music-like vibe. The triumphantly philosophical, rationalizing tone of the melody and trumpet solo will stay with you for as long as you let them.
The second half of the recording, in my opinion, is not quite as strong as the first half. Standouts include the obnoxiously catchy "You Should Floss!" and the deliberately nutritionally unconcerned "Here's What I Have to Say About Tomatoes." "We Might as Well Live a Little Bit Before we Die" is a dynamic, driving anthem/ballad that is plain-spoken, hopeful with lyrics worthy of some contemplation.
Each song has it's own individual dynamics and unique sounds. I think I like these guys so much because they are much different from many of the other indie style bands I've seen lately. Their creative, often infused with tongue-in-cheek humor, lyrics and outward looking, wide-ranging, spirited compositions form a much-needed island in a sea of soul-searching, personal songs that seem to be so common in today's music world. So I highly recommend you by this CD, if you don't already have it. As for me, I still haven't seen them live, but I hope to make it out to see them at one of their upcoming shows.
-Easy Steev, Myspace
Electric Needle Room are brothers Matt and Steven Beat from Nebraska and this is their fourth studio album. Autobiographical details now over (there isn't much more to tell anyway), let's take a listen to "Safe, Effective and Fun".
So they don't have the budget of Phil Spector, but they throw enough curve balls to convince the listener that this album is more than just twee pop. The direct nature of the lyrics do indeed mirror the trivialities of the life that they comment upon and this is no better illustrated than in "Love Is Not About Teeth". The aforementioned commentary on life's trivialities - such as dental hygiene - is, of course, endemic to twee pop but here you get a directness that seems at odds with a truly artistic endeavour. I don't really know why I thought of The Beach Boys but they did do more than their fair share of name checking cities and Electric Needle Room follow their lead in "Midwestern City" (only without the sand of course). The lot of the musician at the bottom of the food chain even gets addressed in "Oleaver's Pub Won't Let Us Play There Anymore". Without even the vaguest attempt at poetry, either. It's like a blog set to music .In fact, now that I've listened to the entire album, that's the overall feeling. Observation set to music without even the slightest attempt at decoration. You can't actually argue with that approach even if you might want to.
I bet that if these two brothers drank ten pints of Guinness (between them) they'd turn into a rock band. Perhaps that is what they really want to be? Happiness is a blonde rock chick (who really "gets" your music…). I know you didn't ask but I thought I'd tell you anyway.
-Bluesbunny Independent Music Reviews