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Omaha Magazine

Not Your Typical Rock ’n’ Rollers

Mar 03, 2020 04:17PM ● By Sean Robinson

What do more than 100—possibly tone-deaf, definitely buzzed—people jamming out with one of Omaha’s hottest up-and-coming bands at midtown’s O’Leaver’s Pub sound like?

Bach Mai is wrapping their latest set with their folky, whistle-laden anthem “Daybreak.” They don’t just want the audience to sing along. No, participation is a priority here and screeching the compassionate chorus, “Cause there’s pain, there’s dark, there’s hate, there is heartache/But there’s love, there’s light, there’s hope, there is daybreak,” isn’t enough.

Instead, the crowd is asked to literally shake, shake, shake. Everyone is given maracas and other small percussive picks courtesy of the band. Bach Mai breaks into song, and 100 become one. It’s feelings first, musical talent second. For four minutes, all are a part of the band.

“Our songs and shows are definitely audience-driven,” said Molly Gaughan, lead guitarist. “Hearing the crowd singing along helps me express vulnerability through my playing. It’s knowing there’s someone else—everyone else maybe—who also feels this way.”

Bach Mai is a band that leads with its heart, from their stripped-down shows to the self-penned lyrics woven into every song.

KISS they are not.

Founded in Omaha in 2012, the indie band mixes pop punk tropes with verses laminating mistakes, broken hearts, and feelings of hope and love. Bach Mai’s music is the pain of growing up given a voice. It’s feel-good music for a time where the world seems anything but good. It’s the emotion of four friends put to a beat.

“There’s a more thoughtful, internal feel behind our approach,” said Bach Mai, the lead singer and founder who, yes, the band itself is named after. “The lyrics can seem a bit emo, but then there’s also lots of calls to action to get people to sing and have a good time.”

Beyond Mai and Gaughan, the current members of the band include drummer Nick Wenner and bassist Logan Myers. The band has played musical chairs a couple of times, with some members coming and going as careers and parenthood crop up. The one constant has been Mai.

“It started with me. Whoever wanted to play with me, I kept around as long as I could,” Mai said.

Before recruiting bandmates, Mai played music alone. He wrote his first song during his freshman year of college at University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he studied from 2012 to 2017, earning degrees in music entrepreneurship and marketing as well as a minor in international business. He met Gaughan and Myers in college and Wenner was a buddy he worked with during the Conspire Music and Arts Festival.

The band name acts as a symbol of this expansion, not as a stroke to the founder’s ego. Bach Mai is a Vietnamese name that means growing green tree. Just as the band started with only Mai before adding more members and growing with audience participation during each performance, a tree starts as a seedling that sprouts into something much bigger. 

“I’ve been in several bands, but I didn’t get into one with longevity until Bach,” Gaughan says. “He listens, he collaborates. It’s not just us playing what he wants us to. We all get to have a touch on it.”

Before Gaughan or any of the other band members see a song, the process begins somewhere between 2 and 4 a.m. Mai does most of the preliminary songwriting from his own bed in the wee hours of the morning. He picks up a guitar and plays around with a chord progression until he starts saying gibberish. At some point, the gibberish becomes words.

For Mai, espousing gibberish is songwriting at its most raw and honest—it’s all about emotion, not logic.

“One of the most important goals for me is to write stuff that makes people feel what they need to feel, whether they are ready to or not,” Mai said. “I grew up very uncomfortable with emotions, and it led to an unhealthy lifestyle. Music allowed me to be a healthy person again.”

Once the skeleton of the song is formed, Mai brings it to the band. They then flesh it out together. Most of the words are still his, but this is when the melody and mood of the music takes shape.

“I’m not good at everything…like at all,” Mai said. “I really trust the people I collaborate with. It’s always proven to be more than worth it.”

The band’s first album, We’re Gone…We Begin, was formed through this collaborative effort. Mai said he hopes the second album—which is wrapping up now for a late summer or fall 2020 release—will be stronger as members aren’t switching out.

Bach Mai also looks forward to touring more this year. In 2019, they embarked on their first 10-day tour going south into Texas, but they want to expand towards the coasts.

In the meantime, they’re more than happy vibing with Omaha in venues such as The Waiting Room, Reverb Lounge, Slowdown, and Harney Street Tavern. They scored a spot in the 2019 Maha Music Festival and hope to make it into the lineup again this year.

“Performing is a lot more than just trying to get yourself in front of as many people as possible,” Mai said. “There’s a real currency to live performances. The true uniqueness of your band shines when you’re in front of people.”

A band that brings their own bag of percussion instruments to pass out? It doesn’t get much more unique than that.

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This article was printed in the March/April 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Bach Mai at their practice space

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