Interview: Icky Blossoms, Omaha Dance-Punks Who Want Your Body to Move

Icky Blossoms

Omaha trio Icky Blossoms are a band with a commanding sense of what they hope to achieve: to get bodies to move and to keep you interested in the songs on repeated plays. To say they are restless group wouldn’t give Derek Presnall, Sarah Bohling, and Nik Fackler enough credit.  Filmmaking and visual arts are huge pieces of their individual backgrounds, and it’s clear the visual and the audio and inseparable when it comes to Icky Blossoms.

The band came together in 2011, were signed by the beloved Omaha label Saddle Creek (Cursive, Bright Eyes, The Faint, Azure Ray, The Mynabirds), and released their infectious, darkly sexy self-titled debut in July with Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Santigold, Liars, Foals) producing. Icky Blossoms are gearing up for a major tour in support of labelmate heroes The Faint, who will play their masterful album Danse Macabre at every stop.

I must note that I deeply enjoyed my opportunity to speak with all three friendly and gracious members of Icky Blossoms. They were an absolute treat, but the conversation had its share of roadblocks. Some interviews come off without a hitch, but this was not one of those interviews.

The gods of mobile communication had a field day with our attempt to have a cross-country conversation (Icky Blossoms on the road in the hills of northern CA, me on my iPhone in a tiny, private conference call room in the Carmel, IN office of my day job). We endured dropped calls, awful reception, inability to hear the other party, and minutes-long battles with static, but Nik, Derek, and Sarah were upbeat, congenial troopers the whole time. I very well could have cut out all of the communication woes we endured through the interview and merely summed it up with this short aside. However, I felt trimming it wouldn’t do the humor or the band justice, and it wouldn’t make the interview that much shorter anyways.

Icky Blossoms’ Icky Blossoms is out now on Saddle Creek Records.

Icky Blossoms 2

Nik Fackler, Sarah Bohling, Derek Presnall of Icky Blossoms

TST: It’s a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for taking a few minutes to talk to me.

Nik Fackler: No problem. Thank you for posting about us and getting the word out about our band.

TST: I’m still pretty new to you guys. I just picked up the album last Friday or so. I haven’t taken it out yet, and I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I love it.

NF: Ah, welcome. Welcome to the world!

TST: I’m truly digging it. I live in Indianapolis, but I’m going to trek down to Nashville in a couple of weeks to catch the show. With everything I’ve read about your guys’ live show, I’m definitely psyched to check it out.

NF: We’re really excited. We’re working a tour and looking to amp the live show up as well. It should be pretty exciting.

TST: You guys played a show in Portland last night, correct?

NF: Yeah, we were in Portland last night.

TST: How was that show with everything going on last night (election night)?

NF: It was a lot more normal than I thought it would be with all of the election stuff. We were wondering what it was going to be like. We were wondering if it was going to be more of a sad atmosphere, or if it was going to be really joyous. To me, it didn’t seem like it had that much effect. For us, the bands were watching it all backstage, but I don’t think it really had too much of an effect on the show. Everybody seemed to have a really good time – just dancing for Obama.

Icky Blossoms – “Babes”

*Directed by Icky Blossoms

TST: One thing that I’ve found to be prominent in a bunch of the reviews of the album right off the bat, Pitchfork is a prime example, is Icky Blossoms is Derek of Tilly and the Wall’s side project. Do you feel it’s fair to classify the band as a side project? I don’t really get that sense when I listen to the album.

NF: I’ll answer this question, and then I’ll hand it to Derek. He’d be a good person to answer it. There are a lot of people in the town we come from, Omaha, who have lots of different bands. Derek’s in four bands. I’m in two bands, but I’m playing bass with Tilly, so three. It’s hard when publications writing about our band call it a side project, because everyone we know has a bunch of different bands. It’s not fair to call one a band and the other a side project, because one will have just as many fans with just as much energy as the other one. That’s a really good question for Derek to answer though, so I’m going to pass the phone to Derek.

Derek Presnall: Hello?

TST: Hey, Derek. How’s it going?

DP: Hey, Justin. Doing good. We’re just rollin’ down the highway.

TST: Where are you guys heading to?

DP: We’re heading down to San Francisco from Portland. Just driving down the West Coast.

TST: (Repeats previous question about side project)

DP: It’s a legitimate band. I don’t know what the definition of side project is, really. It’s another project, but it’s a completely separate band. We’re going to continue this band, and I push this band just as hard as I push any other project. It’s not, like, this is just the side dish to the main course.

*[It’s at this point that the call drops during my next question. Several minutes of Hello? and static ensues, before the band’s publicist intervenes on the conference line to inform me he’s going to try Nik’s phone again.]

NF: I’m really sorry. We’re driving through the hills right now, so it’s off and on.

TST: Don’t even worry about it. I understand.

NF: Cool. I’m going to pass the phone to Sarah now, so Sarah can get in on this.

TST: Awesome.

Sarah Bohling: Hi, Justin.

TST: Hi, Sarah. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

SB: Yeah, you too!…I’m sorry. I can’t really hear you that well.

TST: Oh, I’m sorry. [Move the phone from speaker to handset.] Is that better?

SB: Huh?

TST: Is that better?

SB: Yeah, that’s a lot better.

TST: I was talking about a lot of reviews of the album – which tend to be very positive – tend to also seem to have a bit of problem with how versatile the album is. It seems some people get a bit frustrated at times that you guys are reluctant to settle on one particular genre. Personally, I absolutely love that about the album. Does that frustrate you that some people seem to want Icky Blossoms to have a singular sound or settle for one genre?

SB: (laughing) I’m sorry. We’re going to try and get some headphones, because it’s just not coming through really loud. I’m sorry. Hold on a second.

TST: Oh, okay.

SB: Sorry.

TST: Oh, you’re fine don’t even worry about it.

SB: Okay. Can you hear me?

TST: Yeah. I can hear you really well. Can you hear me?

[Muffled talking]

TST: Can you hear me now?

SB: Yeah. I can hear you.

TST: (Repeat question about genre blending of the album)

*[ At this point, I hear what sounds like a series of duck call when I finish asking the question. Then, I can faintly hear a guy’s voice, but I can’t make out whose it is. Nik’s? Derek’s?]

TST: Hello?

SB: There we go! I think we’ve got reception now. All I heard when you were talking was, like (Sarah makes a noise that strikes me to be how I would imagine a duck mating with a pterodactyl would sound.)

TST: (Laughs) That’s actually how I sound all of the time, so I apologize for that.

SB: We have. Full. Bar. Status.

TST: Excellent. Alright.

SB: I’m sorry!

TST: I was talking to Derek about some people referring to the band as a side project, and I followed up by talking to him about the wide-ranging mix–

SB: Sorry, I’m having a hard time hearing you.

TST: You’re fine. (Repeats question about versatility of the album yet again.) Does it frustrate you that people are out there that want you to settle on one sound? Do you embrace the idea that everybody is going to take something different away from your music when they hear it?

SB: It’s a little frustrating. You’d like for people to listen to your music and enjoy it for what it is, not want it to be something that it’s not. But, I really think the sound will grow into itself over time. This was a really experimental process. We were just getting used to making beats and then fleshing them out with other things. We didn’t want to just be electronic, because that’s not what really inspires us. We wanted to flesh it out with other genres, and I think we’re getting to that in a better way more and more.

[More static ensues with the reception and cutting in and out.]

TST: Sarah, can you hear me?


Nik Fackler: Justin, I’m sorry about this. We’re going through the hills, and it’s hard to get reception.

SB: Hello?

TST: Yeah, I’m here. Sorry. I can hear every couple words, but it’s crackling in and out. Are you there?

SB: Yeah!

Icky Blossoms – “Cycle” (NSFW)

*Directed by David Dean Burkhart
TST: You’ve got a tour with The Faint coming up. That has to be a pretty cool prospect. What excites you most about that?

SB: Uhhh, well A) The Faint rules. Their shows are the loudest, sweatiest, transcendental experiences. You’re pretty much, like, out of your body. It moves you. You get enveloped in giant sound waves. B) They’re really cool guys, and they’re super-funny. They like to pull pranks, so I’m excited about getting in a prank war. And, we’re also excited to play the East Coast. We haven’t done that yet. We’re excited to get out music out there, meet some cool people, spread our stuff around.

TST: I’ve seen them once. I want to say it was in 2004 or so in Chicago, and I thought they were incredible. I can’t wait to see the pairing of you guys together.

SB: Yeah, it should be pretty great. We played a few shows with them, and the crowd seemed to like it pretty well. So, it should be fun.

TST: One of my favorite things I’ve read about your band was said by Saddle Creek, I believe. You described The Faint’s shows as loud and sweaty, and that’s exactly what they said about Icky Blossoms. They go on to describe your live show as the crowd having “one foot on the dance floor and one foot in the mosh pit.” I thought that was pretty cool. Does that sound accurate to you?

SB: Oh yeah. That’s kind of the goal we have when we write a song: to get people to move. It’s hard to get a lot of people to move at a show, but when we do, we love it. The sound is a lot different live than it is on a recording. We wanted it to have different beats and live and breathe. That’s our goal, and I think it does. When people react to us, we react more strongly to them. We kind of feed off each other, and it’s really cool. We want people to freak out (laughs).

SB: I’m going to pass it back over to Nik, again. (Her voice trails off: Bye, Justin!)

NF: Hello.

TST: Hey. I was just going to ask how Dave Sitek got involved with the album. Did he come to you, or was it kind of mutual?

NF: Early on in the process, we were trying to write two songs a month, and then we’d play a show every month. That’s how we started off. We played those shows…we had this one show we played where we were eight or nine songs deep, and we played a headlining show just to see what would happen. A huge crowd turned out and a lot of people in the crowd were from the local music scene and Saddle Creek Records. We had a really successful show and got signed by Saddle Creek.

So, we started the process of “Let’s make a record,” and we put a list of producers together of who we thought would be a good fit for our music. We kind of had a strong vision of what we wanted, and we put that list of producers together. Dave Sitek was clearly at the top of the list. We went out and started getting in contact with these producers and sending  these demos out that we’d been making. Sitek had a really positive response, and we got a call one day saying, “Sitek really loves it and he wants to talk to you on the phone.” And that was that.

After we spoke to him one time, we could tell it was going to be really good and we were all on the same page with the record. He had been doing stuff like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio, but he really had a soft spot in his heart for dance music and he has a huge collection. We thought he’d be a perfect fit for us, and we’d be a perfect fit for him. We scheduled a time and spent a few months in Los Angeles at his studio. We stayed there, and he has a studio built into his house. We did a lot of pre-production in Omaha in my bedroom and in our practice space. We recorded a lot of parts and did a lot of beats and then kind of came there with a vision of what we wanted.  His vision was our vision, and it was great. We had a really great experience, and that’s the record that you hear.

TST: I think the results are pretty damn cool. I’ve been a big TV on the Radio fan for a long time, and I love what he has done with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I think the pairing of your sound and his touch is an outstanding mix.

NF: Oh, thank you.

TST: You’re very welcome. I wanted to ask you – since I was originally prepping the interview for you – I wanted to ask about your filmmaking background. When I read about Lovely, Still and all the years you put into that project, and then how you were nominated for a Spirit Award for your screenplay and how actors like Martin Landau, Ellen Burstyn, and Adam Scott were passionate about wanting to be involved with a project you put so much of your heart into, I was pretty floored by your background. All of that has to be such a confidence boost as a writer and artist.

I believe I also saw the film was going around the festival circuit in 2011, and the Icky Blossoms bio says you guys came together during a harsh blizzard of 2011. Can you talk about your transition during that time, and how your filmmaking and the band go hand-in-hand?

NF: Yeah. I was a filmmaker long before I started exploring becoming a musician. I started doing filmmaking when I was 15 or 16, and I actually started doing a lot of videos for bands on Saddle Creek Records. That’s how I actually met Derek in the first place was doing videos for Tilly and the Wall. Throughout that process, I was always writing screenplays as well. I really wanted to make a feature-length, narrative film. That was my goal. So, doing a bunch short films and music videos were stepping stones to get to the point of making a feature film.

I started working on Lovely, Still when I was 17 or so, and every year would go by and I was trying to pitch it and trying to get actors attached to it. All the while, I began playing music, because as an artist you have to keep yourself busy with things and find a way to express yourself and not keep things bottled in. Music was a really great way of me being able to get an idea out, whereas filmmaking is a huge, long process and you have to be patient with it. So, I was in other bands, and I started playing music with Derek in Flowers Forever. Then we stopped for a long time. Finally, Lovely, Still got financed and Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn signed on, and I spent two years making that and didn’t do music forever.

After the film was out, I moved back to Omaha and was back and forth. Then at the bar one night, Derek asked me if I wanted to play and tour with Flowers Forever again, and I hadn’t played music in a long time. It was just really good timing to start back up again. I was having, like, a craving for it. That’s when the first songs were passed around with Icky Blossoms. Derek showed me “Perfect Vision,” and we sort of figured out we really want to get the audience to move. We figured putting electronic beats into it was a direct way to get to people’s dancing abilities. So, we were doing that, meshing, and forming this other thing. Then, while that was going on, I started shooting a feature-length documentary. This is my first doc. So, all of this stuff was happening at the same time: Icky songs were being written, making a big documentary, and going to film festivals. It was a big mixture of things going on, and it was pretty chaotic. It still is chaotic right now, because we’re about to see if we get into Sundance or not with the new one.

TST: Oh wow! I’ll cross my fingers for you, man. The best of luck to you on that.

NF: Thanks, man. That’s the thing that’s great with Icky though, too, is it’s not just a way to express ourselves with music, but we can direct our own music videos also.

Icky Blossoms – “Perfect Vision”

*Directed by Icky Blossoms

TST: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. I was watching the video, or short film, you directed for “Perfect Vision” the other day and just thought it was absolutely fantastic. The energy, the mood, and the technical aspects of it just add so much to the song, and they images and the music go together perfectly. I’d love to hear you talk about that. I also saw Rolling Stone premiered your pretty cool, new video for “Heat Lightning” this morning, and you guys also have an outstanding and ingenious, sexy video for “Cycle.”  If you want to talk about any or all of those, I’d love to hear it.

NF: If this band has a really heavy hand in the creation of all of the music videos, it’s because we all have filmmaking in our backgrounds. We wanted to have Icky be a way to explore a bunch of different kinds of art forms. So, when we got signed to Saddle Creek, we were ready to start making music videos. You quickly learn when you’re in a band – I’m kind of learning as I go –people want things to go the right way. You have very little amount of time and money, and you have to make the best possible thing you can with the amount, but it’s a great process working with Derek and Sarah and putting the ideas together and find a visual match to go with the music as well.

I think all of our backgrounds really lend themselves to the visual side of this band. And, I think when you see the band live, we’re all working on the performance from a visual side, too. I think there has been so much stuff building up to this point -you know with Sarah, and my background, and Derek and all the bands he has been in – it just feels really good to have a band like Icky Blossoms for us to explore all the different sides of ourselves.

TST: I’ve read nothing but great things about that live aspect you were talking about, and I can’t wait to witness it firsthand. I look forward to seeing you guys in Nashville. Congratulations on the album, Nik. I truly can’t get enough of it right now. And again, the best of luck to you with the documentary and Sundance.  Please tell Sarah and Derek thanks for me, too.  

NF: Cool, man. Thank you so much! It’s really great to have your support and the support of everyone online and all over the country to get our music out there, you know. So really, thank you very much.

Icky Blossoms s/t

Icky Blossoms S/T Album


Icky Blossoms Tour Dates

Nov 09  Troubadour                   Los Angeles, CA *

Nov 10  Knitting Factory             Reno, NV *

Nov 12  Casbah                             San Diego, CA

Nov 13  Crescent Ballroom         Phoenix, AZ *

Nov 27  House of Blues               Dallas, TX #

Nov 28  Emo’s                                Austin, TX #

Nov 30  Cannery Ballroom          Nashville, TN #

Dec 01   Masquerade                    Atlanta, GA #

Dec 02   The Orange Peel             Asheville, NC #

Dec 05   9:30 Club                         Washington, DC   #

Dec 07   Terminal 5                        New York, NY #

Dec 08   Paradise Rock Club        Boston, MA #

Dec 09   Club Soda                         Montreal, Canada #

Dec 11   Sound Academy              Toronto, Canada #

Dec 12   Metro                               Chicago, IL #

Dec 13   First Avenue                    Minneapolis, MN #

Dec 14   Sokol Auditorium           Omaha, NE #

*with Tilly and the Wall

#with The Faint

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