Spirit Lives HereJun 12, 2018 03:28PM ● By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
The young members of Daisy Distraction have seen a lot of dilemmas. Dilemma was, in fact, the name of the band that several of the members first played in together. Vocalist Erin Mitchell, guitarist John Staples, bassist and keyboardist Neil Osborn, and vocalist Anna Abbott were members of BluesEd, a youth development program. Staples, Osborn, and Abbott were placed in Dilemma with Mitchell, drummer Eric Shouse, and guitarist Logan Hawkins.
The most ethereal member of the group is also the biggest influence. Abbott, along with Staples and Osborn, joined BluesEd in early 2016. Sweet and shy, she performed live starting in April that year. The band was proud to be part of Omaha Entertainment & Arts Summer Showcase on June 10, and at Bridge Beats on June 24.
The show on June 24 was the quad’s final performance together. Abbott suffered an asthma attack the next day that sent her into cardiac arrest, and she died on July 2. The band’s next performance was one week later.
BluesEd gave the heartbroken singers the opportunity to sit out their performance, but the group members knew the ever-positive Abbott wouldn’t want them to miss a performance because of her.
“One time, Anna could see that I was having a bad day,” Mitchell recalls. “I was being negative, but she took the time to show me a photo of a fox because she loves foxes, and it just brightened my day. To this day, when I see a fox it reminds me of that experience and of her.”
The cover band decided to throw caution (and petals) to the wind. Abbott had wanted to perform original music to push herself as an artist, and throughout the summer Dilemma began to perform original songs at their sets, including at a benefit for Anna held at 21st Saloon on July 24, 2016, and as the opening act for the New Generation Music Festival. Dilemma ended their season (and their group) on Aug. 13 with the In the Market for Blues festival.
Aside from the loss of Anna, the group members faced other dilemmas in fall of 2016, one of which was distance. Mitchell stayed in Omaha for classes, but Osborn traveled nearly 170 miles away to college.
Then there was the dilemma of the music. With the change in their musical style, Mitchell, Osborn, and Staples needed a new identity. Mitchell thought of the name one day while driving past a field of daisies and thinking of Anna. “Man, I need a distraction,” she thought.
It may not have been pure coincidence.
“We talked about [how] she was one with the earth,” Mitchell recalls of Abbott. “She just kind of emulated that.”
The group transitioned to Daisy Distraction in late 2016. They performed as often as possible and began to think about recording an album. The individual members (including original drummer Alex Holliger, a close friend of Staples) began to write songs and bring them to practice sessions.
Osborn took the role of producer and, in between gigs and engineering classes at Iowa State University, the album came together bit by bit, using each member’s basement throughout the ensuing year. Abbott remained a guiding force for the group.
“The theme of the album is her energy and her essence,” Mitchell says. “It started out with us trying to get through stuff for Anna.”
Even while recording and attending school, the group found time to perform. In April 2017 they performed at ISU’s Battle of the Bands and brought back a trophy.
Record, perform, study, repeat. By late summer, the group had finished the album, titled For Anna, and they released it during a party on Aug. 31, 2017, at Lucy’s Pub.
The favorite song off the album for many of the members is, naturally, “Sweet Anna Jane.”
“We used a sample of her singing on the last song of the track,” Osborn says. “We thought that was a nice send-off.”
The day after the release party they performed the new music at Femme Fest in Benson. In mid-September they played in Lincoln at the Do-It-Ourselves Fest.
They were nominated for an OEAA in the best alternative/indie and best new artist categories, but did not take home an award.
The next distraction came in the percussion section. Holliger left in early 2018 when he discovered the rigors of the chemical engineering degree he is obtaining from UNL was keeping him too busy to perform. The group announced the addition of drummer Mark Winkelbauer one week after the OEAAs.
“Before I joined, these guys were one of my favorite bands in Omaha,” Winkelbauer says.
Through the spring, the group performed about once a month locally. “We make it work,” Staples says. “We all practice on our own time.”
Now, the group has a new dilemma. “John is moving to Mesa, Arizona,” Mitchell wrote in an email in mid-May. “Neil is most likely taking an internship in Maryland. We hope to have some interim members soon until we figure out something more permanent. They will both be playing in Daisy at some point in the future and hopefully contributing from afar as well.”
And like the free-spirited wildflowers they are, these musicians will persevere no matter the directions in which they scatter.
Visit daisydistraction.com to learn more about the band.
This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Encounter.