“I’m Just Ready To Get On-Stage:” Youth-led Bands Take on the Omaha Music Scene
While acts of pre-teens and teenagers light up stages, a local non-profit supports the trend with new mentoring programs.
Like most bands, UN-T.I.L. owes its origin to a concert. The only thing is, the three members weren’t even there.
It was their moms who met each other weaving through the crowd of an Ex Hex show at Reverb. They struck up a conversation, bonding over being too short to see through the crowd, their music taste and, most importantly, their daughters.
“I don’t really know what they were talking about, but somehow it got back to us,” 14-year-old drummer Tierney Coughlin said. “They were like, ‘Our kids should play together. You guys can meet each other and play some music.’ So we did, and the first few times were really, really awkward.”
But once they pushed past the discomfort, Lena Seavey, 14-year-old bassist/singer; Inara Seavey, 12-year-old guitarist/singer and Tierney bonded over their love for “Stranger Things,” the Pixies and of course, playing music and formed UN-T.I.L. About a year later, they found themselves playing to a crowd of hundreds at the 2021 Maha Music Festival.
UN-T.I.L. is one of two youth-led bands making an impact in Omaha, playing big stages across the city while building word of mouth within the local scene. Along with the other group, Nothing Rhymes With Orange (NRWO), both bands of pre-teens and teenagers also developed their music and camaraderie through Omaha Girls Rock (OGR)’s band lab pilot program.
OGR initially began as a week-long summer camp for young, female-identifying musicians in 2011. Campers attend the five-day camp, learning an instrument of their choice, forming a band with others and ultimately, performing an original song at an end-of-the-week showcase. Since its inaugural year, the non-profit has expanded their programming with year-long instrument instruction, after-school music groups and the band lab program.
“Band lab is an extension of what we do in camp,” OGR program director Kat Ludwick said. “We give hard and soft skills to these bands, to young people that want to be in bands and help scaffold in some learning. We help get them where they need to be so that they can start playing around town.”
Ludwick wanted to institute year-round workshops for OGR campers since becoming program director in January 2018. Since UN-T.I.L. and NRWO were already established groups engaging with OGR through instrument instruction and seasonal showcases, she thought it was the perfect time to launch her idea.
Both bands agree the mentoring provided by Ludwick and OGR has given the musicians opportunities they didn’t know existed for young musicians.
“[OGR] is really helpful, just to have that support and resources,” Lena said. “Starting a band and playing places is kind of scary at first.”
Now UN-T.I.L. as well as several NRWO members volunteer as instrument instructors for younger OGR campers, giving back to the program that supported their ambitions.
“It’s like we had someone to fall back on,” Tierney said. “If something went wrong with the music or the lyrics, we have someone to help us. I don’t know if we would have been able to play gigs so quickly [without them].”
While UN-T.I.L. spent time getting to know one another before stepping on stage, NRWO was formed a bit differently. NRWO bass player Ady Borchert and guitarist/vocalist Lyla Hurt, who is also Ludwick’s niece, met when they were 5-year-olds.
“Our moms were crying on the first day of Kindergarten, and we were just chilling in the cafeteria,” Ady said. Lyla added, “We’ve been best friends ever since.”
So when the two now 14-year-olds wanted to form a band, it didn’t take them long to loop in their neighbor Jones Grot (12, guitar/vocals) and eventually Ludwick’s son Leo Ludwick (12) on drums. Ady, Jones and Lyla orchestrated a quasi-tryout to see if Leo was capable of keeping pace. The song they wanted him to play? Lyla and Ady’s favorite, “Cloud 9” by indie-pop band Beach Bunny.
The four-some have been lighting up stages ever since, their first gig being a youth open mic organized by OGR at Culxr House this past November.
“Playing the first show was super nerve wracking,” Leo said. “But then mid-way through the set, I couldn’t stop smiling because I just love performing. Now, the day of the show, I’m never nervous because I’m just ready to get on stage.”
As program director, mom of Leo and aunt of Lyla, Ludwick cherishes every performance.
“Nothing’s more motivating than being able to be in that band,” Ludwick said. “To have the opportunity to perform and really play a song. It’s one thing to do rudiments in the basement with your drum teacher, but it’s a whole other thing to just really shine together.”
The gigs didn’t stop there. NRWO joined UN-T.I.L. in playing at Benson First Fridays, the Memorial Earth Day celebration, Dundee Elementary’s carnival, as well as Community Day at Millwork Commons. In between performances, the bands bonded, even having a NRWO & UN-T.I.L. sleepover.
“I didn’t have that much stage confidence,” Jones said. “I was really self-conscious about my singing voice because I am a real perfectionist. Playing with them has sort of helped me overcome that.”
Both bands play a mix of covers and original songs. UN-T.I.L. covers “Rebel Girl” by riot grrrl genre pioneers Bikini Kill as well as “Heads Will Roll” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. NRWO covers “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana and, of course, “Cloud 9.”
In terms of originals, UN-T.I.L. wrote their first song, “Crown of Gold” specifically for Maha. While Lena says the song is often mistaken as a romantic ballad, it’s actually based off of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
Their other songs “Helium” and “Bloody Mary” have horror movie influences.
NRWO has three originals as well: “U Know That,” “Stronger Dose” and “Sunset Sunday.” They hope to release an EP later this year also titled “Sunset Sunday.” UN-T.I.L. has started exploring the recording process, as well.
“We’ve been practicing in the space, with the click track and the headphones on which is kind of stressful, but we’re getting more used to it,” Inara said.
For now, the majority of both bands’ covers and originals can be found on YouTube or TikTok via their Instagram accounts.
While the bands have experienced continued praise and opportunities locally, they recognize that breaking into the business at their age presents a unique set of challenges.
“I don’t think you have to be older to play music, the only difficult thing is booking gigs,” Ady said. “Some venues won’t allow underage performers. There’s definitely barriers and less people take us seriously.”
These concerns are exactly why the band lab exists. With the help of Ludwick, the two bands learned how to book their own gigs, advocate for themselves as performers and ultimately, take ownership of their talent.
“It’s hard as a minor to get into shows because there’s not a lot of all-ages venues,” Ludwick said. “We want to try and change that and talk to local venue owners about how we can provide safe spaces for these young people to be able to get this experience of playing as a band, playing on real-life stages. They have it in them.”
Despite the challenges, UN-T.I.L. and NRWO continually draw support from other local artists, their families and friends. Lyla says seeing audiences at NRWO concerts is encouraging and proves people are interested in uplifting younger musicians new to the scene.
UN-T.I.L. specifically experienced this euphoria at Maha. Looking out at the crowd, under the glare of the summer sun, they felt like they had a community behind them.
“It’s interesting to perform with people who are older than us because they kind of understand where we are, writing music and that kind of thing,” Tierney said. “They’re very supportive of what we’re doing, and I think it’s because they understand that this is still new for us, but they can see us going places.”
This story was originally published in The Reader.
All the photographs were taken by Isa Luzarraga.