From Engine Summer to Nebs and back: Love and Self-Awareness are “Heard”

Nebs (Photo: Sean O'Connor)

Originally published in Third Coast Review. 

With a little help from his friends, Ben Kostecki became Nebs. That is, his band mates from Engine Summer, Chicago’s own post-punk, dance and guitar-infused storm, encouraged him to go solo for Nebs’s debut solo track, “Heard”.

“The guys actually pushed me to release this…it didn’t fit Engine,” which is comprised of guitarist and vocalist Jeremy Marsan, drummer Ryan Ohm, and bassist Kostecki. “I wanted to really be able to do everything myself…because most of the time, I feel like I’m shoving all these ideas into one part,” is another reason Ben took off on his own for this one. In fact, Ben wrote and recorded every voice in “Heard” himself.

Perhaps too self-aware, Kostecki explained that he didn’t believe in his solo art until others told him how talented he is. “It kept surviving.” That’s how Kostecki described the year-long evolution from manifestation to release of “Heard.” “I just didn’t hate it every couple weeks I’d listen to it…it’s almost narcissistic but I really liked listening to this song.”

That’s when I broke down and scolded him for being mean to himself, to which he laughed, “Ok.” “Heard” was released one month ago and is nearly at 2,000 hits on Spotify. He’s got six others in the can, under cover and soon to come out, too.

Kostecki wants his listeners, both current and prospective, to know that his music will aim to invoke their comfort in knowing that they’re not alone. “It’s becoming more and more mental health [focused], but I definitely suffer from depression quite a bit and I just want to let people know this is very common,” he shared.

When it came to making the video for his first solo project, “Heard,” Ben entrusted the work to best friend Ohm, who co-owns Weird Life Films. He said Ohm drew inspiration for the video from what he knows about Kostecki and the song. Ohm has been in the video biz for a long time, having created almost every video for his and Kostecki’s previous group, The Gnar.

A combination of politics and pop, censorship bars cover people’s eyes in social settings (and even a dog’s) to symbolize loneliness, the he-for-himself mentality and the good fight. Kostecki said it’s about “A lot of things being leaked from the Office that were just, like, lies…they’re trying to sew confusion with what’s actually going on,” adding that the lyrics are from the point of view of “the unforgotten masses, people that feel like their needs aren’t being heard.”

Engine Summer is active in the live space, playing at least a couple shows per month across Chicago and surrounding the Chicagoland area. But Kostecki works a full-time job, which still allows him to pursue his dream in music. When I invited him to the studio with just hours’ notice, his response for leaving work early was, “My boss is all for it.” In fact, that boss has supported Ben’s musical endeavors by even attending an outdoor show on one of the coldest March days two years ago.

“I would love to be able to live off of making music,” said Ben, an accountant at a special needs cooperative in the suburbs. And I think he will.

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