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Friday, November 20, 2009


Nebraska group sticks to rock with new album

By L. KENT WOLGAMOTT / Lincoln Journal Star | Posted: Thursday, November 19, 2009 11:30 pm

Don't tell Brimstone Howl's John Ziegler that rock 'n' roll is dead, retro or needs to be replaced.

"I don't like it when people say, ‘It's rock 'n' roll, it's been done before. You should try to make a new type of music,'" Ziegler said. "I had an epiphany the other day. Rock 'n' roll is like snowflakes. You'll never get the same song twice. The possibilities are endless, and it should be perennial, like snow."

That's like the rock 'n' roll this band plays, which can be traced from Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones, Velvet Underground, The Ramones and The Strokes.

The Nebraska band, which has been around in various incarnations since singer/guitarist Ziegler and drummer Calvin Retzlaff met in 1997, will celebrate the release of the vinyl version of "Big Deal. What's He Done Lately," its fourth album in as many years, tonight at O'Leaver's Pub in Omaha.

That disc moves a bit away from the driving, high-octane blues-based sound that has been Brimstone Howl's trademark since its 2005 debut, "Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!"

The loud, fuzzy, buzzing guitars of Ziegler and Nick Waggoner still drive the irresistibly propulsive music. But there are hooks galore across "Big Deal," and a handful of songs could easily be classified as power pop.

"The poppier element of rock 'n' roll comes out in the record - The Flamin' Groovies, stuff like that," Ziegler said. "I've always liked poppy music and so has Nicky. We're getting older. Maybe we're not afraid of not being tough rock 'n' roll dudes now."

Recorded to tape with no digital equipment used anywhere in the process by Costa Mesa, Calif., producer Mike McHugh, who's worked with the Black Lips and Jon Spencer, "Big Deal" is Brimstone Howl's third album for Alive! Records.

Even though it doesn't play the folky, indie rock most associated with the state, Brimstone Howl is a true Nebraska band. Ziegler lives in Omaha, Waggoner and bassist Scott Cline are in Grand Island, and Retzlaff lives in Lincoln.

"That makes it a long drive for someone for practice," Ziegler said. "We practice enough to make records and play shows. Maybe it's good we're far apart and practice infrequently. It keeps it lively and fresh."

As their decade-plus persistence has demonstrated, Ziegler, Waggoner and Retzlaff are in rock 'n' roll for the long haul.

"The thought of being in a band for six months or a year is a depressing prospect for me," Ziegler said. "I don't want to be in a hobby band. Some people may say this is a hobby band because we don't tour very much. But we're still together, still going."

Brimstone Howl rocks on even though the core trio haven't made much money playing in the band, have seen a number of bass players come and go and endured the disappointment of having 2007's "Guts of Steel," their most promising and promoted album, fail to generate national buzz.

"I'm a pretty stubborn, determined person; Nicky and Calvin must be, too," Ziegler said. "The original excitement and glamour of being just out of high school and starting a band has worn off. It's gotten more realistic. Now we're at a point in time where it's just about the music. I used to be jealous of bands like the Black Lips and Jay Reatard. I wanted to be on the road a lot. Now I'm happy to make the albums I do. I feel pretty privileged."

Rest assured, Brimstone Howl will keep making records, and those albums will be all killer, no filler rock 'n' roll.

"Like (legendary rock critic) Lester Bangs said, ‘Rock 'n' roll is a hamburger,'" Ziegler said. "It's for consumption. It should be fun, and it should be done."

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