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Something More Universal
C. Ray Harvey, Omaha, Alaska, and Getting Back to American Rock and Roll
By EA Poorman
Fort Wayne Reader
It wasn't even a year ago that I sat down and talked to C. Ray Harvey about his new band Omaha, Alaska. It was a mere 10 months ago that C. Ray and his musical compatriots released the debut Omaha, Alaska record via River Water Native and started hashing the tunes out live. Despite that short time span, this past July the band released their follow-up to that debut called Visitor Center & Gift Shop. It's a bit of a shift from the personal, woodshedding of that first album and it takes a more jangly, 70s American rock and roll band approach. With the addition of guitarist Mitch Frazier, the band have taken on a more rollicking, unraveling rock and roll aesthetic that fits the songs perfectly.
I caught up with C. Ray and we talked about the new record and new approach that he's taking to that thing we call rock and roll.
EA Poorman: It hasn't even been a year since the first Omaha, Alaska record was released and you've already put out a follow-up album called Visitor Center & Gift Shop'. Are these all new songs, or were they recorded during the original recording sessions?
C. Ray: All new songs. When I started the band in 2015, I wanted to write music in a more classic American rock and roll tradition, but I was working with a lot of previously written material that ended up being that first album, and that stuff was difficult to get into that mode.
EA Poorman: This record feels a little looser. There's more of a roots-y twang to the songs. Did you have an epiphany about the direction you wanted to take the band in, sound-wise?
C. Ray: After that first album, I decided to get back to the original vision and write songs that fit that vision. It's still a work in progress, but I think it's getting closer and closer. The live show has definitely gotten closer. It's a kind of grungy, garage rock take on early 70's rock and roll. At least in my head.
EA Poorman: Writing wise, the tracks feel like they're coming from a storyteller's point of view, as opposed to looking inward and writing from a more personal place. Is that a fair assessment?
C. Ray: Very fair. I really feel like the first record was just getting out the leftovers from previous writing efforts and this new record is actually the firm-footed first step toward fulfilling a promise I made in Summer 2015. It's a cliche of sorts, but I was standing on a dune in Michigan at sunrise after having tried LSD for the first time and I was looking out of this wide mix of landscapes, from lake channel to beach sand to camp woods, talking a mile a minute about how the attachment of labels that comprises the taxonomy of things around us is pure happenstance, and I just realized I didn't want to write inward anymore. I wanted to make something more universal, something that realizes the hope that pushes humans through the endless frustration and exhaustion of their lives. I feel like the first record really failed to complete that mission, but I'm getting closer with practice, and the newest songs we're writing are definitely outside of me. Like, I'm still writing using experiences I've had or watched others go through and applying some narrative to that, but the moments are smaller and the message and is more universal.
EA Poorman: How did Mitch Frazier get involved with Omaha, Alaska? Was he part of the recording process with the new record?
C. Ray: Yeah, so after the first record, when I realized I had totally reverted to this kind of sappy, emo songwriter thing, I decided to be more intentional about capturing that vision. I went back to listening to tons of Neil Young, Jackson Browne, the Eagles, The Band, Petty, stuff like that. I don't think I succeeded in writing anything like that, but I feel like my ingrained 90's indie rock influences might have started to bend and incorporate a more traditional American rock sound with more straightforward and universal appeal. I knew I needed a different guitar player to help me do that, and Mitch is/was in town at the time, so I messaged him on facebook and said "Do you want to play in an American rock and roll band?" and he responded affirmatively in ALL CAPS with lots of gifs. Everyone, Mitch, Nate, Ben, we all tracked the record together at Tempel Recording with Tom Tempel, and then took the tracks back to my garage to add layers and mix.
EA Poorman: You guys had an album release show with Void Reunion back in July at the Brass Rail. How did the show go? And how did the Neil Young "Helpless" cover come about with the Void Bois?
C. Ray: I mixed and mastered that Void Reunion EP, so it was cool to play a show where I mixed and mastered both of the albums. It was a full house, which is not a wild feat at The Brass Rail, but it feels good to play to a full crowd. We haven't ever had merch to sell before making cassettes for this album. Thanks to Adam Meyer at River Water Native for pushing us to make something physical to sell. The cover was just a promo idea, something to do to publicize the show. A song simple enough that we could all just jump in and make it happen on a day off. Adam actually helped capture the video, and I just edited it together afterwards.
EA Poorman: Are there any upcoming shows this fall lined up?
C. Ray: We are playing September 1 at The Brass Rail with a fantastic group called Craig Brown Band. We are also playing at the West Central Block party the next weekend on September 9.
EA Poorman: Is there more Omaha, Alaska music already in the works? You seem like a guy that is in constant creative motion. Are there other projects you are working on?
C. Ray: Yeah, I've got an even more intense passion growing for mainstream 70's rock music and an EP of music that will be called Omaha, Alaska Presents: Safety Village before the end of the year.
Check out Omaha, Alaska at the Brass Rail with Craig Brown Band. It'll be a great show. And be on the look out for Omaha, Alaska Presents: Safety Village. Head over
Riverwaternative.bandcamp.com/album/visitor-center-goft-shop And snag a copy of Visitor Center & Gift Shop. It's a hell of a great album.