by chuck bell
Most rock musicians struggle their entire lives to form a band with any kind of relevance, and unfortunately, there is a very low rate of success. You may not know his name, but Steven Pedersen has played an integral role in not one, but four landmark bands. When you have this much music under so many different names, it is easy for some of it to fall through the cracks. While Slowdown Virginia, Cursive and Criteria are his more famous vehicles, The White Octave is the one that tends to go unnoticed.
A forefather of the Omaha music scene, Pedersen began his career with Tim Kasher and Matt Oberst in The March Hares. After they broke up in 1993, they joined with Matt Maginn and Casey Caniglia to form the now-legendary Slowdown Virginia. Every Omaha band from Bright Eyes to The Faint has gone on record as saying that Slowdown Virginia (affectionately called “Slowdown”) were the reason that they started playing music. After 2 years of touring, they disbanded, and Pedersen, Kasher and Maginn formed Cursive with drummer Clint Schnase, formerly of Smashmouth (not to be confused with Smash Mouth).
Early on, Cursive drew their sound from the early 90′s D.C. scene, namely Fugazi and Shudder to Think. Pedersen and Kasher shared vocal duties, with Kasher’s melodies and Pedersen’s screaming complementing each other. After releasing only one full-length and several EP’s, the band broke up in 1998. That same year, they posthumously released their second LP, The Storms of Early Summer: Semantics of Song, on Saddle Creek Records. Cursive’s breakup was entirely due to the fact that Pedersen had gotten into Duke University’s law school, and had to move to Chapel Hill, NC. It is here that Pedersen formed The White Octave, where he would be the primary songwriter for the first time.
The White Octave allowed Pedersen to expand his sound beyond that of Cursive, utilizing fuzzed-out bass and disrhythmic drums to create a truly bizzare niche. Pedersen’s voice has been compared to At the Drive-In’s Cedric Bixler more than a few times, and for good reason. He absolutely thrashes his vocal chords on every song, and he is rarely in tune. The band released their first full length, the criminally underrated Style No. 6312, on Deep Elm Records in 2000. From the battered acoustic guitar of opening track “Appeals For Insertion” to the chaotic close of the title track, the album is a unique work of makeshift post-hardcore.
The band released several tracks on Deep Elm Samplers, as well as a split EP with Sorry About Dresden. In 2001, they released their second LP, Menergy, on Initial Records. The production value on this album was much lower than Style No. 6312, but Pedersen’s voice and driving guitar were still intact, accounting for another great record. Around this time, Pedersen had become a lawyer, and he needed to get back to his family in Omaha. The White Octave broke up, and Pedersen went on to form Criteria, who have since released 2 stellar albums that are more in the vein of second wave-Cursive. Of all the bands that Steven Pedersen has been a part of, The White Octave’s songs are by far the most sincere and original. This very well may be the reason why it is the most overlooked portion of his work.