Editor’s note: Sam and Mari Crisler were previously employed at The Daily Nebraskan.
If Lincoln residents are looking for a local garage rock band that aims to get a crowd moshing, includes a brother-sister duo and is named after a fictitious cow made by the government as a military weapon — the search ends with Death Cow.
Guitarist Reed Tiwald, drummer Sam Crisler, bassist Mari Crisler and lead vocalist and guitarist Connor Worden have been rocking stages as a band since the fall of 2016. Death Cow frequents local music venues such as The Bay, The Mez and even its members’ own houses, all the while cultivating a faithful following of thrashers.
When attending a Death Cow show, audience members can expect a no-holds-barred performance, as the band shreds and bangs instruments while energetically bouncing on stage. The crowd follows suit with aggressive dance moves to complete the experience.
Sam said he enjoys performing their electric, punk rock songs most when he’s drumming for a crowded audience in his Christmas light-laced basement.
“We’ve been doing Death Cow house shows since the summer of 2017, and they’re really few and far between, but they’re always really, really fun … we always try to book a good lineup, get people moshing,” Sam said. “I like playing here at the house because it feels like the basement is packed and everyone’s moving.”
When Death Cow takes its raw, distorted guitars and growling vocals out of the house, they don’t hesitate to exit the local scene and play dive bars and back alleys in cities across the country. The band’s success has given these Lincoln residents the chance to explore new places and jam with musicians from coast to coast — an opportunity for which Worden is thankful.
“It’s all around just so much fun. I can’t imagine my last three years without music,” Worden said. “It’s taken me so many places, like I wouldn’t have seen Niagara Falls without Death Cow. I think from that aspect alone it’s very rewarding.”
Death Cow’s upcoming Midwest tour — starting Feb. 6 and ending Feb. 15 — includes 10 performances in cities across the Midwest, from Denver to St. Paul, Minnesota. The tour follows the release of their first EP, “Pioneer,” which is set to drop Jan. 31 with a release show that night at The Bay. The EP’s single, “Girl of the Forest,” became the center of their newest music video, which depicted the band members traipsing around the backwoods outside Ashland in wacky outfits.
Not far from those woods, Ashland natives and siblings Sam and Mari grew up. They were music enthusiasts at an early age, forming their interests in bass and guitar, though they hailed from completely different genres.
“When he was getting into Rage Against the Machine, I was getting into Justin Bieber,” Mari said. “We’ve been through a lot together.”
It came as no surprise that whenever Sam and his then-college roommate Worden needed an able-bodied bassist while jamming in the Crisler attic in 2015, they hollered for a tired, pajama-clad Mari. Tiwald joined the group in 2016, the same year they began playing shows, and Death Cow was officially formed.
As for their eccentric stage name, Worden’s would-be novel is to blame.
“‘Death Cow’ came from a book I was writing my freshman year … it’s about these high schoolers in this small Oregon town [who] slowly see all their parents start dying because all their parents are in on this cow that was made by the military to be a weapon, but the cow wouldn’t die so they shot him to the sun, and the death cow came back from being killed to murder all the people that tried to kill him,” Worden said. “I got 34 pages in, and then architecture got the best of me. I haven’t quite ventured back yet.”
Since its literary-inspired birth, Sam said Death Cow has been a gratifying experience for both performers and audience members. For Sam, letting loose on drums in front of an appreciative crowd is always its own reward.
“I think the best feeling is when you’ve had a really, really good show and everyone is really into it, and even if you f***ed up a lot, no one cares because it was super fun,” Sam said. “It’s not that we’re doing it for the validation, but the validation feels really good.”
And, Mari added, every once in a while they meet a fan who reminds them why they started playing music — fans like Charlie.
The 15-year-old student from Lincoln East is one of their biggest fans, Mari said. He’s a devoted follower of the band and claims that a Death Cow performance is better than that of Paul McCartney. Mari said that when the “Charlies” in the audience latch onto them, they are reminded why they grace the stage in the first place.
“It’s just super validating to have somebody that actually likes what you’re doing, and you’re making a difference to somebody,” Mari said. “That’s kind of what it’s all about.”