Returning from hiatus, Desaparecidos gets the timing just right

It has been 13 years since their first — and, until now, only — album, Read Music / Speak Spanish, but today’s iteration of emo/punk band Desaparecidos will sound very familiar to fans of that initial release. But according to guitarist Denver Dalley, the new album, Payola, released earlier this year, was never meant to be a recreation of Read Music / Speak Spanish.

“We were trying to do it justice, but it was just a special thing at a special time,” Dalley said.

Timing is everything for Desaparecidos, it seems. Their formation in 2001, led by frontman Conor Oberst, helped put the Omaha, Nebraska, music scene on the map. The late-2002 release of Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, by Oberst’s other band, Bright Eyes, made the spotlight even brighter.

But that rising acclaim and increasingly difficult-to-align personal schedules put the band on hiatus at the end of 2002. Dalley said it was a complication the group saw coming. “We knew it was going to be that way the moment Conor joined.”

The next several years were fruitful ones for the five band members. Oberst continued making music with Bright Eyes (which ultimately disbanded in 2011), and began to embark on critically well-received solo work.

The other members of Desaparecidos pursued their own projects; among Dalley’s was the electronic-influenced solo project Statistics.

And then in 2010, the timing was right again. The quintet reunited on July 31, 2010, for Omaha’s Concert for Equality, an event Oberst organized in opposition to measures that prohibited hiring or renting property to undocumented immigrants in Fremont, Nebraska.

“We were all blown away when we reunited,” Dalley said. “We were really shocked at how natural it was, at how we still kind of had that connection.” 

It was the first step toward a full-fledged reunion. In early 2012, Desaparecidos put up a new website and then released two songs, “MariKKKopa” and “Backsell,” in August of that year. Schedules were still a battle, but Payola finally hit stores in June.

Payola maintains the loud post-hardcore thrash of Read Music / Speak Spanish — and might even be louder and angrier than its predecessor. As with the best of punk music, songs by Desaparecidos are highly topical. The band’s name is taken from a term that literally means “disappeared ones” in Spanish and Portuguese, and was originally used in reference to political dissidents who mysteriously disappeared under the reign of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s and 1980s. 

The first Desaparecidos album railed against materialism in American culture. Payola addresses issues like the Occupy movement, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s abuses against Arizona immigrants and white collar crime. “We kind of thought and hoped that by now that first album would be totally irrelevant and obsolete, but it’s just as relevant if not more so now,” said Dalley. 

He said the band’s songs often arise out of conversations the members have when it’s late and time to pack up from their rehearsals at Conor Oberst’s house to avoid disturbing the neighbors, a casual method with its roots in the group’s nearly lifelong friendship, unharmed by years of hiatus. 

Dalley said Desaparecidos’ fans come in a variety of stripes. Many simply follow whatever Oberst does. Others are devoted to the band’s punk approach and don’t care much for the indie folk sounds of Bright Eyes.

More recently, he’s been surprised to encounter young fans discovering the band for the first time. “I think we were all expecting the fans to be kind of our age or older and then we will hear people that are upset our concert’s not an all ages show,” he said. “We think, ‘Wow, you were about 8 when that first record came out.’”

Dalley said he and the band are “just as curious as everyone else” about whether Desaparecidos will continue on with further albums. The band doesn’t have any appearances scheduled past this Thanksgiving. “We’re all having a blast doing it and want to continue doing it, but it’s hard to tell what’s going to come up and what the future holds,” he said.

But the band is eager to return to Milwaukee. Dalley said they played at an old venue called The Globe (now the site of Hotel Foster) back in 2001, opening for Cursive, and remembers feeling a kinship between this city and their home base in Omaha. It’s a commonality that makes him excited to return.


Desaparecidos will perform at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall Ballroom at 8 p.m. Sept. 14. Joyce Manor opens. Tickets are $18 in advance, $20 day of show. To order, call 414-286-3663 or visit

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