My So-Called Band
Breaking up is hard to do. Especially if you're a senior at Edina High School and your ex is going to a place with ivy on the walls and hanging out with guys who "really listen." And especially if you're trying to express your adolescent blues through a dance-music record like Tiki Obmar's High School Confidential.
"The reason the record is sad is because [we were] breaking up with our girlfriends," explains Tiki Obmar's drummer, Brett Bullion, over hot chocolate at Pandora's Cup coffeehouse in Uptown. The sad songs on the band's self-released debut don't have any words, but they still say so much--even if they're communicating through what sounds like somebody rummaging through a silverware drawer on one track, while featuring the band's Edina High classmate speaking Chinese backward on the next. Remember when you used to be able to lick your wounds to REO Speedwagon's "Time for Me to Fly" or even Dave Mason's "We Just Disagree"? Well, it's a whole lot tougher to jerk out those tears over a silverware-drawer soundtrack, but Tiki Obmar still manage to set the right mood for it. After all, they're 18-year-old kids--wouldn't lyrics just fuck it up anyway?
Tiki Obmar are a trio from Edina High's class of 2003: Bullion on drums, Chris Smalley on guitar, and Graham Chapman on bass. After being discovered by Radio K's teenager-hosted morning show, The Breakfast Club, and becoming a mainstay at the Dinkytowner's weekly Crossfaded nights, the band members recently decided to invest their lunch money in the recording of High School Confidential. But Bullion admits that their talents remain formative: "We're still taking lessons," he explains.
Apparently, their instructors--drummers Steve Kimbo (Minnesota Orchestra) and JT Bates (Grid, Ourmine), and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker (Fog, the Melismatics, Redstart)--have taught them well. High School Confidential deftly filters strange little electronic samples and loops through steady jazz grooves guided by Bullion's sinewy percussion. The album was recorded in Bullion's parents' basement, and many of its songs were inspired by those little moments only people Avril Lavigne's age seem to have. Take "A Bench per Couple," which features a romantic piano loop that could be found on a David Gray record: "The title comes from an episode at Centennial Lakes Park where there were all these benches. I noticed on every bench there was a couple," Bullion wistfully remembers. "And I was like the only person there without a girl."
An equally emo moment inspired "Ankeny, Iowa," a lonely, sparsely instrumented track in the style of Aphex Twin. The song was written during a high school marching-band trip. "I made [the basic track] in the back of a bus in Ankeny during an [affects whiny falsetto] I'm in high school and my girlfriend won't talk to me phase," Bullion recalls. "We were in the middle of nowhere. She was in the band, too, and I was forced to be there. Fortunately, I had this little drum machine with me." Sounds complicated.
But the band is used to dealing with complex problems--like balancing record production with Shakespeare homework for Ms. Cussler's AP English class. "We've been able to experience some very different sides of life at a very early age," Bullion explains. "We get to hang out with underground jazz musicians, but we're also in the middle of suburbia having all these girls around that are going to Harvard next year. It totally messes your brain up."
Nevertheless, like most seniors, they're thinking about the year after graduation. "Me and Smalley were just talking in the last couple of days," Bullion worries. "We don't know what we're going to be doing next year--whether we're going to be together or not. It just crushes your head." But he does have hope about the future. "The ideal thing," he points out, "would be if WARP Records would listen to [the album] and be like, 'You guys are okay--why don't you open up for Boards of Canada?'"
Despite all the angst and heartbreak, is there anything better than being in your first band in high school? It's like setting the musical score for your teenage life. "Remember that Donnie Darko scene where Donnie is walking through the hallway to Tears for Fears' 'Everybody Wants to Rule the World'?" Smalley asks. Dude, I'm not 30. Of course I've seen Darko. But what's more, I think we all remember what it's like to imagine having your own personal soundtrack for periods one through eight. I for one, remember walking to study hall and always thinking of "In the Air Tonight"--a song that strangely resembles Tiki Obmar's moody pop dirge "Adolescent Blues."
Now that they're escaping the teenage wasteland, there must be plenty of rebound romance for a gigging band. Like college girls. "We played a packed gig at the Fine Line because there was a group of girls without any clothes on that played after us," Bullion says. " I think they went to the U."
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