RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
When you think meccas of indie rock, Brooklyn, New York and Seattle, Washington may come to mind. Omaha, Nebraska, maybe not. But there's one man who has helped put Omaha on the indie music map: Simon Joyner. After two decades of making music, Joyner is still not a household name.
But as Clay Masters of member station NET Radio reports, that's just fine with him.
CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: In the early 1990s, the now-famous musician Beck listed Simon Joyner in a personal top 10 list in "Rolling Stone" magazine. Famed British DJ John Peel, known for making careers for playing just one of a band's songs, played Joyner's fourth album in its entirety - something the DJ rarely did.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JAVELIN")
MASTERS: Peel boosted Joyner's career. But Tim McMahon, a music critic who has covered the Omaha scene since the 1990s, says Joyner was among the first to show what this city could do.
TIM MCMAHON: Simon was among those early acts that influenced so many other people to see that someone from Omaha could record their own music, could do something that was uniquely in their own voice, that sounded like really nothing else that was going on, could make some money off of it and could get some attention and national exposure.
MASTERS: One of those Omaha musicians influenced by Simon Joyner is Conor Oberst, the man behind the band Bright Eyes.
CONOR OBERST: Just the way he structures his songs and the importance that he places on the lyrics and the phrasing, I think, really became the template for my music. And I think once you get hooked or you get the bug, it's really something that stays with you. And he has such an incredible body of work that there's a lot for somebody to digest.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE DRUNKEN BOAT")
MASTERS: In person, Simon Joyner seems like your everyman. He's a father, husband and owns his own business. He's an antique dealer and he doesn't seem at all concerned about fame or staying in the spotlight.
: As my kids have gotten older, there is less time because they're so active, so the distance between my records has increased a little bit over the years. But there's a lot of time that you don't know that you have until there's something you want to do, and then you just find a way to do it.
MASTERS: Joyner does music and the antique business out of a warehouse on Omaha's south side.
(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)
MASTERS: Surrounded by old furniture, lamps, cardboard boxes, Joyner has set up a makeshift studio.
(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MIKE FRIEDMAN: When you did it, you did the same thing. You were like, oh. Should we listen to that?
FRIEDMAN: Does it distort?
(SOUNDBITE OF A REEL-TO-REEL MACHINE)
: Well, I mean it doesn't go into the red.
MASTERS: No computers are in sight. He's recording on a reel-to-reel machine he borrowed from Conor Oberst. Pedal steel guitarist Mike Friedman is laying down the final touches.
(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)
FRIEDMAN: ...might be fine too.
(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATION)
MASTERS: Joyner recorded his last few albums in a proper studio, usually booking about a week's worth of time to record the songs. He's been on various independent labels. But this latest project has become sprawling - so many songs that he wanted to release it as a double vinyl LP. So, he turned to the website Kickstarter, where artists ask their fans to pay for projects.
: Since record labels, especially independent ones, are in a tough spot right now, to me it made perfect sense to go that route and not put an undue burden on one of these generous independent labels that have always helped me out in the past.
MASTERS: Simon Joyner's already surpassed his online goal for funding the mixing, mastering, and manufacturing of this new album. And this will mark his 20th anniversary of putting out records. But it's not the artistic path he envisioned.
: You know, I had originally intended to write stories and books. And I just kind of got side-tracked writing songs and I ended up being a songwriter instead. But I'm not interested in touring six months out of the year. I prefer the way that I've been doing it along, which is sell enough records to be able to do the next record and that's all that's really mattered to me.
MASTERS: While some of the musicians he's influenced have gone on to make bigger names for themselves, Joyner is content with a family, a day job, and the chance to let real life to shape his storytelling.
For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters in Omaha.
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