Dereck Higgins New Project Swells with Emotion
By Kyle Eustice
Photo credit Sam Herron
Whether you know it or not, Dereck Higgins is a local legend. The longtime musician and former Community Alliance mental health care specialist has put his fingerprints all over the Omaha music scene since his punk band Digital Sex was at the forefront of it all. Long before Saddle Creek Records and Conor Oberst shined a spotlight on Omaha, Higgins was knee-deep cultivating his own homegrown sounds. With stints in Norman & The Rockwells, Full Clip, Elvis & His Boss, Righteous Vibration, Disco Ranch, Ernst, Flowers Forever, Paddy O’Furniture, and Backworld, it’s safe to say Higgins is a vet. After connecting with fellow musicians Son, Ambulance and Nik Fakler (Icky Blossoms), Higgins had a rebirth of sorts and is now creating more music than ever. His most recent album, Murphy, echoes the work of German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk with its electronic vibrancy and heavy synth sounds. It has the ability to crisscross all demographics with its brilliantly accessible and vintage feel.
Higgins has also been an integral voice in the revitalization of North Omaha, most recently as assistant to former Def Jam Recordings creative director Cey Adams. After all, Higgins was the inaugural resident artist at the Bemis Center’s Carver Bank program in 2013 and continues to thrive in his North Omaha community. At the center of it all is his love for people in general. He is perhaps the gentlest person you will ever encounter and his warm smile makes you feel like everything is going to be alright. Higgins had some time to talk to Shout about his new project, working with Adams, his musical legacy, and his own imprint, DVH Recordings.
Shout Omaha (Kyle Eustice): You launched an Indigogo campaign for your latest album, Murphy. How does it feel to reach your goal?
Dereck Higgins: It feels wonderful. I sensed that people would respond to such a campaign. It feels very validating.
Tell me about the creation of the sound of Murphy. What instruments did you use? How long did it take to write, etc?
Murphy was a working title that ended up sticking, but when I think of the word I go back to high school and a friend we called Murphy. You know the type, extremely intelligent, worldly and loved to party. It seemed fitting. This current way of making music is the result of getting Reason 5 software. I did not have midi capability before. The ability to compose and edit in this fashion has given me greater ability to realize my ideas. So starting with Flyover and now Murphy, these albums were composed and played entirely on keyboard using the standard synths and gear that come with the software. I also sample and use my own field recordings in places. My output since Reason 5 last summer has been prolific, around 200 new tracks. For Murphy, the oldest track on it dates November 2013. I hit a jag in April of this year and much of the material was written and recorded between then and July. It’s really cool to hear my music on vinyl so quickly after realizing it. I make this music for my ears first; these are sounds and moods I need to hear. Much of it is full of emotions that can be felt without words.
Let’s back up and talk a little bit about your musical history in Omaha. What was your very first project and when was RAF born?
My first band was Restricted right out of high school. I took up bass and we played hard rock to prog to country. Rock bands always looked like more fun to be a part of. For the record, I was not an original member of RAF. I think local press needed to identify me in some way and perhaps that is why they refer to me as a “punk pioneer.” I think I joined RAF in 1985.
How did being a part of RAF ignite your passion for continuing to make music?
RAF did not ignite it. It has always been there. I’m glad to set the record straight here. Forming the band Digital Sex was a big step in my musical development. I was inspired by the DIY ethic that was part of the punk explosion and it gave me the courage to believe I could play the music I really wanted to and make a go of it.
You recently did a reunion show. How did that go?
RAF is an explosive exhilarating experience. We play hard and fast and it is like being involved in a physical sport. The band generates a lot of energy in a short amount of time and it is such a thrilling high. It was great to show we can still do this at the reunion. The audience really responded as well, so positive.
What do you think about the Saddle Creek Record scene? The Omaha music scene in general?
When they blew up on the international scene I felt a mixture of pride and jealousy. I thought honestly that I should somehow be a part of this perceived success. Through meeting the various players and getting involved in Son, Ambulance, I met and befriended some wonderful people. I do not see this as being part of the SC scene.
Do you feel Omaha is underestimated by the rest of the music industry or do you feel we get ample amounts of attention?
I think Omaha is doing fine.
Tell me about this project with Cey Adams.
I met him through being an alum artist in residence and was hired to be his assistant on a mural project. I am learning tons being around him and putting this mural together. The message of the mural is simple: love.
What’s your songwriting process like?
Mostly it comes from either trying to capture a bit of melody or a sound that has my attention. Other times I will set out to ‘sound like’ something I’ve heard which usually leads me to new places. So words are not important at all, music speaks very loudly to my soul.
Tell me about DVH Recordings. What gave you the courage to just say, ‘Let’s do it?’
The concept for DVH Recordings was actually born in 1994 and the realization of this original idea has been slowly evolving. I’ve always wanted my own record label and has time passed I had to either get started or forget it. I am a retired mental health specialist and the work was about to kill me. That’s why I knew it was time to get out and do what I really love.
What does the next five years look like for Dereck Higgins?
Hopefully continued music and art involvement and increasing financial returns.