Music » Music Stories & Interviews

Desaparecidos reunite to give The Man the finger and the people some hope



If something's important enough, you make the time. That's how it was with Omaha political rockers Desaparecidos. The band is led by Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and Denver Dalley (Statistics), who like most of the other members took time off their main projects to spread the group's message again a decade later.

"We got together for this conference on equality that Conor kind of spearheaded, and he's like, 'This is kind of the perfect thing for the band because of the messages in the band,'" explains keyboardist Ian McElroy, who is also Oberst's first cousin.

After reuniting in Omaha for 2010's Concert for Equality, the spirit of the project bubbled back to the surface two years later with a full-fledged tour.

"We all have our own projects and different things, but these are messages that we feel need to get out," McElroy says. "It's above the whole five egos or five different people."

In 2013 they released two new singles and then announced early this year that they'd signed to Epitaph Records for their second album, Payola.

"We write very fast as a band, so it doesn't take long," McElroy says. "We've pretty much all known each other for 20 years. The communication has always been there because we're like brothers."

Payola's a 14-track love letter to an idealized America. It ranges from smart, hard-charging anthems like "Radicalized," "The Left Is Right," "Slacktivist" and "Anonymous" to biting takes on America's corporate/political moral decay like "MariKKKopa," "Golden Parachutes" and "Backsell," which laments the mass commodification of culture.

However, their most harrowing track is the keyboard-driven "Von Maur Massacre." It's based on the 2007 mass shooting by a 19-year-old who took his stepfather's semi-automatic rifle to Omaha's Westroads Mall and killed eight. It paints the picture of a malcontent who's angry at the world and locked up in his room, savoring a blazing end: "Even dead and gone I'll live forever/They will know my name."

"That one particularly was emotional for a few of us. The guitar tech's brother got shot [but survived]," McElroy says. "These people kill all these people, it's so sad. And it's almost like they become the hero because it's all name recognition and 'Google this.' It's just so backwards.

"That one had the longest discussion about the lyrics," he says. "Because of that idea that there are so many video games and that's kind of how kids see the world, through screens more than actually living."

It's more than a dozen years since Desaparecidos' 2002 debut, Read Music/Speak Spanish, and McElroy considers himself fortunate to be out with his brothers again. He's relishing it because he has no idea if or when they'll record or even tour together again, if ever.

"We keep it like that because other people have things going on and I think it's better for us to keep it fresh and about what we are doing right now," he says. "OK, boom: We're going on stage or we have two weeks off – whatever it is, you own it, and keep that at the forefront instead of building out a year."

He knows he's lucky to have music-loving friends like these, but that's just how it is in Omaha.

"Music is such an all-encompassing thing, and by its nature, it kind of breeds community," McElroy says. "It wasn't really about genre. It was just, these are the people doing the stuff we're interested in. Growing up here, everyone knows everyone. So your brother is into hardcore and maybe you're not, but there's not a lot of stuff to do."

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