[Part 1 of 2] Jake Bellows’s voice could make Suge Knight weep like a newborn puppy. As Neva Dinova’s frontman, Bellows has got him a set of vocal chords like nothing you’ve ever heard. His band makes music that doesn’t just tug on your heart strings -- it pulls and twists and turns them until sadness and joy become one mindfuck of an emotion and suddenly you’re grateful for taking so much acid in college.
With the success of Omaha’s Bright Eyes, Azure Ray, the Faint, and Cursive, you’d think Nebraska’s in-state talent would have been exhausted. But you’d be crazy. Neva Dinova -- comprised of, with Bellows on guitar and vocals, Heath Koontz on bass, Roger Lewis on drums, and Tim Haes and Mike Kratkey on guitars -- formed in 1993 but has only recently been getting much-deserved recognition, thanks in part to One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels, a split-EP with friend and fan Conor Oberst released on Crank in 2004. Neva Dinova’s second full-length, The Hate Yourself Change, released on Sidecho in February, melds the band’s classic sound with a wider range of diversity. Bellows talked with us in the fall about his grandmother, Omaha, the band’s initial struggles, and tuna sandwiches.
Prefix Magazine:What’s been going on, Jake?Neva Dinova: We played golf two days ago. It was hotter than hell outside. I must have had six glasses of water. It’s not normally my style. It was pretty fun. PM:Do you play golf a lot?Neva Dinova: Not really. I like to play. I’m terrible at it. We’re at a fancy golf course because Tim (Haes, guitarist) works at one occasionally. I threw my golf club real far, and they hate that, I guess, even if you’re just kiddin’ around. They just don’t think it’s funny. PM:I’m just going to shoot some questions.Neva Dinova: That’s fine. Bear with me if I’m a little slow. My brain hasn’t started working yet. PM:What does Neva Dinova mean?Neva Dinova: That was my grandma’s name, first and last name. We lost her about ten years ago or something, and we named the band after her. PM:Where you close to your grandma?Neva Dinova: Yeah. Well, you know, we loved her. PM:How did Neva Dinova start out?Neva Dinova: Me and Heath (Koontz, bassist) decided we were going to play music. It was right after high school, and I guess we were going to college. I wasn’t particularly taken with college. I wasn’t very good at it and didn’t like it very much. They had a cafeteria with the best tuna salad sandwiches. I’d wake up early. I’d have classes at like 8 a.m. I’d go down there and just fall asleep in the car with the heater on because it would be freezing cold in the winter. And then I’d wake up and be like, “You know what sounds good is a tuna salad sandwich.” So I’d go in there and eat one of those. If I was still hungry, and I usually was, and I had another $2.75, I’d have another one.
Anyway, we kind of decided that we wanted to play some music. Somebody gave me a banjo one time, but I ended up having to play the guitar because I’m not that good at the banjo. Also, the banjo gives off a real specific vibe. I like the way some people play it, but not the way I play it. So I got a guitar and we started a band. When we decided to form a band, we all learned how to play.
We had a drummer, and we just picked up different people who were interested. But for the longest time it was hard to get people interested -- they thought the music sucked ass. But we had to deal with that. That was difficult. PM:Has your sound always been the same?Neva Dinova: I like to think we’ve gotten better. But the songs were always written around our weaknesses, and our weaknesses are our inability to play instruments very well or sing that great. We just do the best we can. The songs have gotten a little more difficult over the years, but not much. They’re all still pretty much easy to play. All you need is a guitar and some fingers. Actually, one kid we used to play with -- he’s opened for us before -- he didn’t have any fingers. He didn’t even have a goddamned elbow. He just had a little piece of arm coming out his shoulder, and he had an attachment he put on there. And he could strum the guitar. He played the guitar better than I did.
That was his strumming arm though. The other hand was his fretting arm naturally. It’d be hard to fret with a claw or a hook. But this thing was a little grabber you know, and he’d grab a little pick with it.
To Tim Haes: Later, Tim. What did you say? Oh fuck, man. I left the window down in the Datsun all night and it’s been raining. That’s going to piss me off in a little bit when I sit in that motherfuck. I’m going to have to wear my Chia pants.
To me: They’re cool looking. You’re going to love ’em. You have to mow them twice a week. PM:You’re from Omaha?Neva Dinova: I’m from Council Bluffs, across the river in Iowa. But I moved here in the sixth grade. PM:How did you meet Conor Oberst and Tim Kasher (The Good Life, Cursive)?Neva Dinova: For the longest time, we all played music here in the same town and we didn’t know each other. We kind of came from different parts of the musical universe around here. I think it was actually Conor and Todd Baechle (The Faint) who picked up our CD or a tape that we made and asked us to come down and play a show with them. That was pretty much when we met.
That was around the time our drummer had quit. I had this brilliant fucking idea to keep time with the feedback of an amplifier. I thought I’d set the amplifier at different speeds and borrow a chord on there. It was a pretty stupid idea. I forgot some of the words to our song that night. When I forgot the lyrics to one song, Conor -- I didn’t know who he was. He was a youngster man. He was probably 15 years old. Anyway, Conor hollered out the lyrics. He knew ’em all. I couldn’t fucking believe it.
Nobody in town had our music or liked our band. I was like, “Does anybody play the fucking drums?” And like 11 people raised their hands. I’m like, “Are you serious.” I just had them form a line on the side of the stage and we switched drummers for every song that night. And Conor played and Clark (Baechle, the Faint) played. We normally played with metal bands. Shit, we’d play with anybody who would play with us.