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Beep Beep – From Mannequins, to Man Boobs, to Midwestern Love

After one listen to Beep Beep’s debut, Business Casual, there is no doubt that this band is of the eccentric variety. Omaha, Nebraska has bred some pretty fascinating acts lately, and this is one of Saddle Creek Records’s latest gems. caught up with the Beep Beep’s lead singer, Chris Hughes, via phone from somewhere in Texas. Be sure to catch Beep Beep this Friday, February 18th at the Larimer Lounge for their all ages show with Denver acts Bright Channel and The Hot House.

Kaffeine Buzz: Where did the name Beep Beep come from?

Chris Hughes: Well, let me think. I’m trying to explain it succinctly here. Eric (Bemberger, guitar) and I have these little pet games that we have with each other, something when we say when we’re like wrestling and stuff…like “Beep Beep,” kind of inviting (each other.) We just kept it. It kind of reflected the spirit of our relationship.

KB: How did you come up with the concept of the cover art for Business Casual?

CH: The cover was done by a San Francisco artist named John Bankston. Eric had discovered John, after seeing a piece on display at a MOMA exhibit. Eric got back from his travels and he showed me this artist and we looked at some of his works and became in love with John. We just took a shot in the dark and asked him if he would be interested in commissioning a work for our record. He was familiar with the label and he agreed.

John works in several mediums, and he has many scenes, and one we were particularly interested in, one with a transvestite scene. It was kind of an “island of the he-shes” (scene) where they capture a man and take him to an island to look for treasure, which is frilly clothing. He has western scenes too which are often depicting cowboys in certain situations, cowboy intimacy, something that is not often expressed in classical cowboy art. We were really excited by what he was doing, and that’s how we created that. What was really special about that work was that he listened to our record and based it (the cover art) off of his interpretations of some of the track. It was nice because it was such a personal experience.

KB: Do you have a relationship to Saddle Creek, personally, other than them just being your label?

CH: Well, yeah. They’ve been my friends for as long as the label has been around. I grew up with most of the people on the label, and the bands, in fact. I do what I can to help out…with the Bright Eyes record booming and before we left for tour I was helping them stuff orders. Eric and Joel (Peterson, Beep Beep, The Faint) and I have been in another band on Saddle Creek called Gabardine, and, you know a lot of us have played with other bands on the label right now too. There’s kind of a rotating pool of musicians in Omaha. We’ve know each other for eons.

KB: Your website mentions you retiring your “lipid suit” after several years. Can you explain what that means?

CH: A lipid suit is a fat suit. Eric wrote that about me. I had a period where I had, I guess, a bout of depression, where I kind of holed myself up in this shitty West Omaha apartment and tried to eat myself to death. I got up to 236 pounds, and then I just decided I was a rotund fat body and that I either needed to lose the weight or jump off a balcony. I opted to lose the weight and am now down to the svelte figure I am now. I wasn’t always a fat person, I just let it go for a while, and when the fog of depression cleared, I was able to have this vision of what I needed to do, and having man boobs wasn’t part of that vision.

KB: What’s up with the naked men in the cage on your website (a promo photograph of the band), and why isn’t it also in the album?

CH: That’s a storyline, a little spoof. We kind of wanted to show people “Midwest” was like, by wearing traditional western regalia. In that photo, I’ve made a pair of batwing chaps that have baby boots affixed to them. Mike (Sweeney) our drummer, is sitting there, and he has a matching vest that has pacifiers affixed to it with baby spoon fringe on the back. What you see in the background is what they call a “corn crib” where they keep the corn to feed cattle and hogs, and we have male mannequins detained in there. I guess it was a fantasy piece, and I wanted to imply that that’s what we were wrangling. We were ranch hands, but we didn’t manage sheep or cattle, we were wrangling mannequins.

There’s a photo-line, where in a lot of photos, I’m embracing Mike, but sternly because he has to let them escape. I want to let him know, that I’m the boss, but let him know that’s its okay. The mannequins also fill out the photo compositionally, filling out the rule of thirds. Those mannequins are from my mannequin collection.

KB: We’ve noticed that the whole Omaha scene tends to be really sexually-charged and sexually liberated, and this is interesting because that is not how Midwest society is traditionally viewed. What do you think spawned that and how do you interpret that?

CH: I have to guess that you are referring to some of The Faint’s lyrics and Beep Beep lyrics, and, well, I guess Conor (Oberst, Bright Eyes) sings about that stuff too. “He always needs a lover he doesn’t have to love,” (Bright Eyes lyric) you know, we’re men, and we have hormones. What else are we going to write about?

All the great bands that come through (Omaha)? There aren’t any. All the cool museums? There aren’t any. We write about what’s tangible and what’s in front of us, and a lot of that is just our libidos. There was a lot of that on our record and I don’t know if that’s going to be the case on the next one. It’s really just about whatever tickles our fancy. There were a few moments where Eric and I exhibited lude conduct lyrically, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to tap in on every song.

KB: What do you have in mind for the next record?

CH: Ideally, I want it to be better than this one, that’s what any artist wants. They want to be able to propel their vision forward and refine ideas that have already existed and explore new ones. At the same time, I want it to be a cornucopia of terror, I want people to be startled and used and concerned on every track, but I want it to encompass other genres as well.

KB: What or who do you recognize as stylistic peers to Beep Beep?

CH: I don’t compare myself to anyone really, because we are spazzy and aggressive, but we don’t have that hair-chest-man-beating thing going on. We’re not gruff or like macho man like a lot of hardcore bands. At the same time, I don’t know of another band that does that, and lyrically, there’s not a lot of bands that are doing what we’re doing and talking about what we talk about. We created a record that was what we wanted to listen to.

KB: When do you expect to be coming out with another album?

CH: We are on a six week tour right now, and when we come back, Joel is going to go off on a huge world tour with The Faint and Bright Eyes. While Joel’s gone, Eric and I are going to formalize some ideas, and tentatively go into the studio in mid-August. It takes a little to put things together, so I would say a tentative release date would be February 2006, followed by a world tour including South America and Africa.

KB: What other kinds of things do you collect?

CH: Oh, Jesus. I like vintage clothing, I like records. I like just what ever tickles my fancy. If I have the money and I like it, I typically buy it. I’m not one of those minimalists that, you know, you walk into their house and there’s a chair and a drinking glass. I collect antiques, arts and crafts furniture, pottery, metalwork, turn-of-the-century stuff. We like toys.


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