An Interview with Telepathy Problems’ Ryan McKeever

Seeds: Let’s start with you. Are you originally from Omaha?

Ryan: I was born in Lincoln, but I moved to Omaha when I was five. I consider it my home much more than Lincoln.

Seeds: And you’ve been a part of the Omaha music scene for how many years now?

Ryan: I’ve been performing in Omaha since I was 15, so I suppose seven years now. But I would make the argument that I’ve been really active for less time than that. I’m not sure it all counts.

Seeds: What other bands have you been involved in?

Ryan: I drummed in a pop-rock band called In Love, and I had a number of solo recordings I released under the name New Ocean.

Seeds: Are any of those bands like Telepathy Problems?

Ryan: No, not really.

Seeds: Let’s move on to your work with Telepathy Problems. You’ve been on the bill for some pretty big up-and-coming artists. Do you have a favorite show you’ve opened for?

Ryan: Probably the most fun was either the Naomi Punk show back in September or the time we opened for Fat White Family.

Seeds: Can you tell us a little about how Telepathy Problems came to be?

Ryan: I was introduced to our drummer, Gavin, in early 2013. After that we talked for a while about getting something started. We started looking for other members together and ended up getting Blue and Ameen to fill out the rest of the band. We talked about what kind of music we’d be playing in this project, and all got together and recorded some demos in Gavin’s living room prior to our first show.

Seeds: Do you have any plans to make more recordings in the near future?

Ryan: Yeah, I think so. We are hoping to either do a tape or a 7-inch that would hopefully come out sometime spring or summer of next year. Right now we have some live recordings that we did in July or June, but they’re not the best quality so we’re just hoping to do more. We’re working on writing new material at the moment that hopefully we’ll be able to get recorded in the near future.

Seeds: Your band’s sound, to me, seems like it adopts a sort of post-punk aggression, tempered by pop sensibilities. How would you describe your sound, exactly?

Ryan: I would describe it as a more pop-centric interpretation of some of the post-punk stuff that was coming out in the 80s and 90s. I think I’m supposed to answer “rock n’ roll on crutches”, though.

Seeds: Who do you cite as your conscious influences as far as those bands go, then? Are there any in particular?

Ryan: I would say that we have a lot of influence from British post-punk in particular, those that came out of London in the 80s and 90s. We really like The Fall, we really like Country Teasers. But I think we are also just as influenced by what’s going on now in terms of music that’s coming out of New York or the Pacific Northwest or even the Midwest. Those bands with the sort of jangly guitars, like Protomartyr, Spraypaint, or even Parquet Courts a little bit.

Seeds: Do you feel like Omaha’s underground scene is moving in more of a post-punk direction in general?

Ryan: I feel like the aggression of post-punk is there, but it doesn’t always manifest itself in that way. You have outsider, DIY folk musicians that are capturing that aggression but reinterpreting it in a more Midwestern country template.

Seeds: Do you feel like that’s a reaction against Omaha’s traditional reputation of having more folk leanings, like Saddle Creek Records’ music and stuff?

Ryan: Not necessarily. Honestly, I don’t feel like Saddle Creek is being really a source of influence too much at all. If anything, there’s just a lot of people who are on this sort of Simon Joyner bandwagon that’s very DIY but playing more traditional folk or country music, although he does do more avant-garde stuff too. I’d say everyone is conscious of bands like Bright Eyes and stuff but I don’t know how much weight they really hold for these musicians.

Seeds: You’re a graphic designer. Do you do all the art for Telepathy Problems yourself?

Ryan: Yeah, all the art thus far I’ve been responsible for. That may not necessarily be true in the future, but everything that’s been done so far as far the aesthetics go has been me.

Seeds: Do you see that as an integral part of the band? Is the visual aspect important to you?

Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. The visuals may be dependent on the music, but the music isn’t necessarily dependent on the visuals. They’re definitely intertwined, though. The important part of the visual aspect is maintaining the overall mood of the music.

Seeds: Are there any specific artists you feel the visual side of the project is primarily indebted to?

Ryan: Yeah, definitely. I’m interested in a lot of art that is mostly ink and brush and marker writing. I take a lot of inspiration from DIY tape and record labels. I’m also very interested in iconography and popular images within American society. Another influence would be classic photo collage artists and stuff that were emerging out of the Cubist movement in the 1920s and 60s.

Seeds: Moving on to the lyrical side of things, your songs have a lot of off-color, some might say provocative lyrics. Is there a main message behind these lyrics? Is it just you guys fucking around and trying to piss people off?

Ryan: The songs aren’t dependent on each other, and I wouldn’t say they all share a common theme or anything like that, except for the mood which I would say could be perceived as sort of snarky or sarcastic. There are a lot of satirical elements to the music that are commentating on various social aspects in society, like sexuality or gender issues. Specifically, I think there’s a lot of that, as well as commentary on capitalism and religion and things of that nature.

Seeds: So it’s employing sarcasm and irony to more satirical ends?

Ryan:  Yeah.

Seeds: Do you write the music first and then the lyrics after that? Which comes first?

Ryan:  It just depends. There were a couple songs where the lyrics were the first things to emerge, but they always come very close with the music. Lately it’s been the music being written first and then the lyrics being crafted around that.

Seeds: Do you prefer playing house shows or underground venues compared to venues like, say, The Slowdown?

Ryan:  I think that we definitely see ourselves as a band that wants to do a lot of shows in gallery spaces and houses, and different DIY spaces as opposed to larger venues. And I think part of that is that we don’t feel we necessarily have enough of a following to warrant those kinds of larger shows. A smaller space also allows more interaction. It’s a little more intimate when you’re on the ground with everyone and not up on a stage.

Seeds: What have you been listening to recently?

Ryan: Lately I’ve been listening to this guy named Marc Riley. He was originally in The Fall but he got kicked out because the singer thought he was taking up too much space, and he wanted to be the only one writing songs. So he got kicked out, and he went on to make records under the name Marc Riley and the Creepers from 1984 to 1987 or so. I’ve been listening to a lot of that, as well as Razors which is this other Omaha band. They just put out this new tape, it’s super good. Listening to a lot of this band Spraypaint out of Austin. I saw them play in Kansas City with The Rebel. They were really nice.