Neva Dinova's Saddle Creek Records debut might have come out a lot sooner but for the hard-headed perfectionism of front man Jake Bellows, and the barroom dustup that blew out his left eardrum. And, oh yeah, there was that flood in the studio, too. "In general we kind of waited a long time to do (the album), and then when we did start to do it, there were a lot of weird delays and setbacks and things that were kind of unforeseeable,” the singer-songwriter-guitarist said from his Omaha, Neb., home recently. Delay No. 1: When the first round of recordings was completed, Bellows wasn't happy with them. "It didn't seem to have whatever that intangible quality is that makes it sound kind of special,” he said. "They just sounded like songs, you know? Seemed like we kind of rushed our way through the studio, didn't do it quite right.” Bellows wanted do-overs. "We pitched that idea to Saddle Creek, and we were like, ‘So what are you guys planning on spending on this record?' They kind of threw us a number and I was like, ‘Hmm. Why don't you give me the money and I'll go buy some equipment, we'll make up our own studio, we'll rent some space downtown. You know, we'll just record it ourselves.'” Now, the Omaha-based Saddle Creek label is a major player among the minor league independent record companies specializing in alternative rock and pop, but they're not loaded with Sony-sized bucks. But given Neva Dinova's longstanding position at the forefront of Omaha's fertile music scene, alongside bands such as Bright Eyes, the Faint and Cursive, to name a few, the label decided to take a chance. After all, the first two albums from the creative team of Bellows and longtime partner-bassist Heath Koontz, "Neva Dinova” (2002) and "The Hate Yourself Change” (2005), had brought the band well-earned acclaim for its uniquely melancholic, rural-pop textures. So Bellows took the money and bought a battery of top-drawer recording equipment, installing it in the corner of a rented warehouse in downtown Omaha. "It was really kind of a chance for them to take,” Bellows admitted. "And what if we ended up coming out, you know, with just a real crap bar, it just didn't sound good and they've already spent their money and we just have a studio now, and they're just like, ‘Damn, we got screwed three times in one swoop.'” Then came the storm. "Kind of a freak rain storm came in the spring and I think it dumped eight inches of rain in three hours or something,” he said. "It like filled up that whole room. Crazy thing was, that equipment's all so expensive and very sensitive to moisture, and it was all wet. We just kind of set it all in front of fans for about three weeks. "We let 'em dry out, turned 'em all on and ... they worked. Computer, tape deck, preamps, amplifiers, everything, they (expletive deleted) worked, except for this one real crappy Morley wah pedal that I always hated. It broke and I almost laughed. Aw, I couldn't believe it. It was really like a miracle.” Recording could resume. Completion of the new Neva Dinova album seemed within their grasp. Then came that night of the drunken disaster. "I was at the bar, which I'm no stranger to, you know, and I was walkin' out at closin' time and this dude, some kind of beefcake, was like, ‘Hey, there's cops outside, why don't you hurry out there and drive so he doesn't give me a DUI.' "I said, ‘All right, pal, that's exactly what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna go out there, I'm gonna hurry up and I'm gonna drive so he doesn't give you a DUI. How's that sound?' "And then I turn to walk out the door and he just blindsides me, just cracks me in the ear. Just happens to catch me just so and blew my drum. My hearing was gone out of my left ear.” The happy ending is that the eardrum eventually healed, Bellows' hearing came back, and "You May Already Be Dreaming” was finished and finally released in April. The album has made Saddle Creek, a lot of rock critics, many fans and — most importantly — Bellows very happy. "Making music in general is like a game of telephone,” he said. "When it comes to an engineer, a studio and all these things that you have to typically go through to get the music to the point where you can vote on a CD, you end up kind of, like, having your vision changed. "With this deal, we were able to get as close to what we had imagined as possible, so that was different.” Now Neva Dinova is sharing its vision on tour, and coming to the Conservatory on Thursday — barring any more manmade or natural disasters.
Neva Dinova• With: Ladyhawk and The Condition. • When: 8 p.m. Thursday. • Where: The Conservatory, 8911 N Western. • Information: 607-4805.