Those living outside of Omaha, Nebraska might quickly associate its music scene with Midwestern emo. Think Bright Eyes, the Faint, and Cursive. While it’s certainly the home to Conor Oberst and his label, Saddle Creek Records, the surrounding music community offers so much more diversity.
Take JAGAJA, an upcoming indie pop act of two twin brothers: Gabriel (bass) and Graham Burkum (guitar). Their self-titled debut, which features both brothers’s vocals, will be released this weekend. The band will perform (for the first time ever) a release show tomorrow night at the Waiting Room, located in the town’s Benson neighborhood. The album will be for sale on CD and vinyl starting at midnight.
JAGAJA is all about symmetry. While the identical twins have spent their entire lives together, they couldn’t be more different at the moment. One is raising a family while the other lives in a single, independent household. Melodically, the record equally divides the twin’s distinct sounds, with half songs written by Gabe and the other six by Graham. Check out their new music video for their single, “Hypno Girl.”
Although they plan to perform locally, they have high aspirations to tour internationally. I recently sat down with Gabe and Graham at Krug Park, a bar across the street from the Waiting Room. They discussed JAGAJA’s beginning, the local music scene, and of course, the much anticipated release.
How did the band come about?
Graham: It’s a new incarnation of our older band. Gabe and I were in a band called Skypiper for about nine years. The style changed a lot. [Skypiper] started off bluegrass and folk, no drums. As we recorded our record, it became more of a rock band, progressed into more pop, and then moved towards more heavier themes. After the first record, we didn’t think the name fit anymore and it kept getting hard with five band members.
Gabe: It’s not only inconvenient to work with five guys’ schedules, but with Skypiper, you had five different people with equal input in the music. [With JAGAJA,] Graham and I are the band. We made the record we wanted to make.
Tell me about the upcoming release.
Graham: We recorded outside of Minneapolis at Summer-Winter Studio with our friend and engineer, Levi Stugelmeyer, for about a week. Guys from Skypiper helped play some instruments on it. We wrote and produced the entire album. We also came back and tracked some vocals in Omaha at StudioB. Then, Gabe drove down to Nashville and mixed it over a week with Eddie Spear. We then called Chris Athens in Austin, Texas to master it.
Gabe: Graham and I don’t really talk about this, but it’s important to get out of your city whenever you make an album, so there aren’t any distractions. If we travel to record or mix, none of us can run an errand for his wife or babysit or something. You’re stuck there. That’s not just for us, but for everyone helping make the record. You’re forced to focus.
What themes are embedded into your songs?
Gabe: What’s cool about JAGAJA is that Graham and I are split on the record. He wrote six songs. I wrote the other six. We’re identical twins and we grew up together, but right now, our lives could not be more different. On the album, there’s a lot about Graham’s first-born son, his wife, and his struggles. Also, there’s a polar opposite from essentially his physical clone, which is recently divorced with no children that’s angry, sad, and lonely.
How do you describe the local music scene?
Graham: It’s familial and intimate. Omaha isn’t big.
Gabe: We think Omaha is a small city with a big town mentality. The music scene is tightly knit and everyone knows and plays with everybody. I personally think there’s not enough musicians in Omaha. I feel like the musician scene could be bigger. Also, there’s a lot of different sects within the scene. Sometimes, each little bit keeps to themselves. At our release show, the two bands opening for us are from different smaller music scenes [within Omaha]. We want to start bringing these bands together because there are so many cool people and sounds here. It could be a better scene for everybody.