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Speed! Nebraska: 10 Years at Full Throttle

story by tim mcmahan
photos by bill sitzmann



Lazy-i: June 28, 2006

Speed! Nebraska Records Showcase
w/ The Monroes, Ideal Cleaners and The Diplomats of Solid Sound
Friday, June 30, 9 p.m.
Sokol Underground
13th & Martha

"We're a 45 record label. That's the main thing we do," says Speed! Nebraska label chief Gary Dean Davis from his midtown home while his sons, Henry and Dean, intensely battle with plastic lightsabers around the kitchen table.

To anyone who has followed the Omaha music scene since its golden age in the early '90s, Davis is the hulking, seed-cap wearing guy with the Buddy Holly glasses and porkchop sideburns whose auctioneer bark was the centerpiece of such bands as Pioneer Disaster, Frontier Trust, D Is for Dragster and his current band, The Monroes. Unless you've seen Davis bouncing like a human jumping bean, grasping a microphone with both hands as he tries to destroy the stage with his worn work boots, you've never experienced genuine Nebraska punk.

But this afternoon, Davis is content just figuring out how to operate his Mr. Coffee while the wife, Christine, is at work with daughter, Faye, down at the family meat shop, Frank Stoysich Meats.

The pint-sized lightsaber battle takes a turn for the worst when Henry begins to get fussy. Davis takes on the role of a suburban Obi Wan. "Dean, please don't slice your brother," he says. Dean stops, momentarily, and then runs to find his Darth Vader mask.

Meanwhile, the remaining Speed! Nebraska executive team looks on, bemused: Lincoln Dickison, the label's webmaster and online marketing specialist, and Jesse Render, special projects coordinator. The label's A&R guy, Mike Tulis, calls in every so often to tell Davis that he's on his way.

It just so happens that all four also are members of The Monroes: Dickison on guitar, Render on drums, and Tulis on bass. Frontman Davis, founder of Speed! Nebraska, holds the label's titles "Head Mechanic," "El Presidente" and "Wagonmaster."

"We're like a family," Render said. "You do whatever job needs to be done. This is kind of the Golden Age of Speed! Nebraska. There was a period when we were the only active band on the roster."

These days, that roster boasts five active bands. Three of them -- The Monroes, Ideal Cleaners and The Diplomats of Solid Sound -- will take the Sokol Underground stage Friday night to celebrate the simultaneous release of three -- yes three! -- 45 rpm singles by the label.

"When we started 10 years ago, I didn't expect it to last more than a couple years," Davis said. "I guess we're a real label now."




Named after Frontier Trust's 1995 full-length, Speed! Nebraska Records was born out of Davis' attempt to stay involved in music after his band broke up. "At the time, I figured I would never be in another band," he said, "but I still wanted to do something with music. I knew that (the band) Solid Jackson had made a recording of their song 'Fell,' and that they weren't going to put it out. They didn't have money and had moved onto other things. I said, 'If I start my own label, can I put it out?'"

Solid Jackson's "Fell" has the honor of being the label's first release, with a catalog number of Speed! 100 -- rather than Speed! 1 or 01 -- "because it looked really cool, and going 100 is really a lot of fun," Davis said.

It wasn't long, however, before Davis, and Frontier Trust drummer Joe Kobjerowski, formed another tractor-punk inspired band with Steve Denekas (bass) and Jeremiah McIntyre (guitar), called D Is for Dragster. The band's 45 "Chrysler Solid State" was Speed! 200 -- the label's second release. "At first, we never had more than one active band on the label at a time," Davis said. "When D is for Dragster stopped, Fullblown was getting started. It was like a hand-off in a relay."

But by the turn of the century, the roster included Davis' latest tractor-punk incarnation, The Monroes, along with the Fugazi-inspired Bombardment Society and Lincoln power-punk band Ideal Cleaners. Speed! Nebraska was on a roll. Davis and his cohorts became known as "those guys who put out the vinyl records" -- a music format that most thought was either dying or long dead.

Meanwhile, you couldn't go to a punk show without seeing someone in the crowd sporting a Speed! Nebraska seed cap, T-shirt, stocking cap or windbreaker. The label and its logo meant that the wearer supported rock and roll made in Nebraska, with no additives or fillers.

So how did they get where they are today? The label's business plan couldn't be more straightforward.

"Speed! Nebraska doesn't have any money," Davis said. "Everything gets thrown back into the label."

The rules of the road are simple and have been the same since day one, Davis explains. Bands pay for their recordings, the label pays for the records and gives the bands 50 copies to sell. If the bands want more, they can buy more at cost.

For the release of Speed! 100, the label pressed 500 copies at a cost of $500, paid for from Davis' bank account. "The Solid Jackson single is our all-time best seller," Davis said, adding that it's helped that Bright Eyes wrote a song about the band called "Solid Jackson." Every time Conor Oberst and company plays it, Speed! Nebraska sells a few more copies.

"We still have a few copies left," Davis said. "Same for the D Is for Dragster single. We pressed 500 and they're almost gone."

So is the first Monroes' single, the infectious sing-a-long "Kiss Your Elbow Goodbye" that started the tradition of pressing only 300 copies, as is the one and only single by the band Entertainment, "Shake."

"We would repress if we wanted to. We own the masters," Davis said. "Keeping things in print is a good idea, but we also have to put out new records."

Those looking for a formula for the label's sound will be hard-pressed to find one. The now defunct Fullblown sounded like a greasy biker's carnival ride, Entertainment took its lead from bands like Gang of Four and Gun Club, while Brimstone Howl, the label's most recent addition, is pure '60s garage punk with an extra helping of swagger.

"I guess if there's a unified sound to the label, it just happens to be stuff I like," Davis said. "I've had people suggest that I put out other bands, but I have this label to put out music by my friends and help people that I know. To me, if we put out records by just anybody, we would be like all the other labels out there. That's fine, but my label is more a reflection of who I am."

















"To me, if we put out records by just anybody, we would be like all the other labels out there. That's fine, but my label is more a reflection of who I am."
























"People who know Speed! Nebraska Records know they're going to get quality whether they know the band or not."


Another Speed! Nebraska distinction -- their policy of releasing 45 rpm vinyl singles. Sure, the label has released a handful of CDs, but it's the 45s that are their mainstay. There's no point trying to explain the vinyl phenomenon to those who view it as merely a novelty or curiosity. Vinyl aficionados boast the medium's warmer, purer tone vs. the cold realities of compact disc. The bottom line: You either own a record player or you don't.

Finally, there is the design of Speed! Nebraska releases. Each single includes a hand-screened cover featuring that distinctive Speed! Nebraska logo -- a silhouette of the state emblazoned with the word SPEED! in all capitals.

Davis says that the unique packaging plays an important role in selling records, along with the website ( and the bands out on the road (The label has no formal distributor).

"It's no different than Chess, Blue Note or Stax or Sun," Davis said. "Sure, people liked the groups that were on those labels, but the labels' reputation is what sold their records. People who know Speed! Nebraska Records know they're going to get quality whether they know the band or not."

While the term "branding" might make you wince, it's part of the label's reality. "I think we're so obscure that a lot of people will buy a ball cap just because they like the logo," Render said. "More power to them, I guess. If Speed! Nebraska has turned into a brand, I guess that's okay."

"People that run businesses should be trying to make money," Dickison added. "This is a hobby."

Render agreed. "If we did this for a living, it wouldn't be fun."

For Davis, who is never at a loss for talking about The Huskers during Monroes' gigs, the label also is a chance to instill pride in the state where he was born and bred. "It's a celebration of Nebraska," he said. "I try to point out examples of civic pride. Bands in this area are as good as bands from any other area in the country."

So is the label a real business? Davis doesn't think so. "(U.S. Rep.) Tom Delay's office called me and wanted to give me a small business award," Davis said, laughing "I thought it was funny because I don't know if Speed! Nebraska qualifies as a business. It is a hobby."

Rather than make it a job, Davis prefers his other career as principal at St. Stanislaus School, where he can high-five his students as they leave for the day.

"Do I want the label to be my job? I don't know about that," Davis said. "I'm happy with the way it is now. I'm glad people like the bands and go see them play. The goal is to put out records by my friends, 45s that are esthetically pleasing. The 45 is a great communication device. Everyone has one inside of them."

So where will Speed! Nebraska be in 2016?

"It depend on if we can still get records pressed," Dickison said.

"If we can't get records made, Speed! Nebraska will not exist," Davis said. "It's all about the 45."

Holding Dean in his arms, Davis adds that he'd love it if Dean, Henry and Faye carried on the tradition. "My hope is for the kids to take over the label," he said. "They might not want anything to do with it, but if they want to take it over, that would be cool."

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Published in The Omaha Reader June 28, 2006. Copyright © 2006 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Photos Copyright © 2006 Bill Sitzmann.