On the eve of 2005, Omaha, Nebraska's music scene found itself in a state of flux. Long a hotbed for blues, jazz and folk talent - and a popular stopping point on those genre's established touring circuits - it had, since the early-to-mid nineties, been fostering a nascent strand of contemporary indie rock typified by its country inflection, emotionally direct nature and rather amorphous approach to band membership.

It was what was to become known as the 'Omaha sound', a loosely-defined - save for the characteristics listed above - catch-all term for the wave of bands nurtured by local independent labels, Saddle Creek and Team Love Records - both of which were founded by members of the Oberst family: the former in 1993 as Lumberjack Records by Justin Oberst alongside local musician and producer Mike Mogis, the latter in 2004 by Oberst's younger brother Conor, a member of numerous Omaha mainstays including Bright Eyes alongside Mogis, Desaparecidos and Commander Venus, which also included Cursive's Tim Kasher.

If a picture of the incestuous nature of the Nebraskan city's scene is already springing forth, that's because of just how interwoven its musical web was, and continues to be. Play a game of six degrees of separation between any two Saddle Creek acts and the odds are high that you'll come up trumps. This kind of cross-pollination within a regional hub of cultural activity is nothing new, sure, but you won't find many scenes operating with quite the same degree of interconnectivity as Omaha's in the mid-noughties.

And yet, it was still very much bubbling underneath the wider public's radar as the midpoint of the 21st century's first decade was breached. Oberst's Bright Eyes had become the scene's flag bearer on a national scale, releasing a trio of LPs - 1998's Letting Off the Happiness, its 2000 follow-up Fevers and Mirrors, and their first nationally charting album, 2002's LIFTED - that while not always critically revered, found a place in the record collections of many a more clued up listener at the time. It was his subsequent duo of albums, the confrontational folk of I'm Wide Awake It's Morning and its more electronic sibling Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, both released on January 25th, 2005, that would bring Omaha's countrified indie twang to wider acclaim.

Meanwhile, the label responsible for releasing much of Oberst's output to this point - yep, you guessed it - Saddle Creek, were beginning to look further afield for new additions to the roster, having recently put out records by LA's Rilo Kiley and Athens, Georgia's Azure Ray, they were soon to bolster their books with signings including San Francisco's Two Gallants and Ontario's Tokyo Police Club.

Just as Saddle Creek was widening its outlook and beginning to branch out of Omaha, establishing itself as a label with far more interests than its trademark regional sound, so to Oberst was looking outwards, not just in drawing upon a wider cast of collaborators, but - with I'm Wide Awake It's Morning in particular - broaching subjects far more outwardly focused than ever before. Bookended by two of his most political tracks to that point, 'At the Bottom of Everything' and 'Road to Joy', it was a record that felt less tied to small town ennui and despondency and more with the move away from home, finding a world outside the hometown hallmarks that once represented your universe, and finding yourself far more politically, culturally and sociologically aware, for better or worse. A trajectory previously hinted at by the closing track of LIFTED: the raucous 'Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and to Be Loved)'.

In order to fully realise the wider scope of his ambitions across both I'm Wide Awake... and Digital Ash, Oberst drew on a cast of collaborators that both encapsulated and extended far beyond the ever-growing Saddle Creek family. It represented a veritable who's who of US indie and folk as the first decade of the 21st century reached its midway point, taking in local bands and Omaha scene luminaries (Tilly and the Wall, Cursive, The Faint), likeminded peers from further afield drawn in by the Saddle Creek ethos (Rilo Kiley, Azure Ray, The Elected) and new friends made through Bright Eyes' expanding national popularity (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, My Morning Jacket, Dntel).

It's apt then that this duo of records - so ready to push beyond the wide Nebraskan plains, punching at a nationwide jugular - marked the first time a Saddle Creek act breached the top 10 of the Billboard 200 albums chart. After all, while primarily Oberst's creation at a foundational level, the 22 tracks across both I'm Wide Awake and Digital Ash, rather serve as a perfect cocktail of the label and scene's output to date: the country twang so typically associated with the 'Omaha sound', the arcs of electronic influence that had begun to strike through the music of several Saddle Creek acts, the gradual move away lyrically from the confessional to the more outrightly confrontational and politicised. Too often viewed - until the solidification of über-producer Mike Mogis and multi-instrumentalist Nate Walcott's status as full-time Bright Eyes members prior to 2007 follow-up Cassadaga - as the sole brainchild of Oberst, here we shine a light on some of the two LPs' supporting cast; the collaborators who, noteworthy or otherwise, served a vital role in carving the road to joy that Oberst conjured across the two records.



Clark Baechle

Drums on 'Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)', 'Another Travelin' Song', 'Road to Joy', 'Gold Mine Gutted' and 'Ship in a Bottle'.

An Omaha native and well-known to anyone who's spent any time perusing the liner notes and credits to Bright Eyes records, Baechle has contributed to virtually every release in their canon since 2002's There Is No Beginning to the Story EP. Outside of this, he's perhaps most known as a founding member of local dance-punk group, The Faint, alongside his brother Todd - who, incidentally is married to Azure Ray's Orenda Fink, another frequent Bright Eyes collaborator. The six degrees of separation theory applies again.



Jason Boesel

Drums on 'We Are Nowhere and It's Now', 'Train Under Water' , 'Poison Oak', 'Down in a Rabbit Hole', 'Take It Easy (Love Nothing', 'Hit the Switch', 'I Believe in Symmetry', 'Light Pollution', 'Theme from Pinata' and 'Easy/Lucky/Free' + additional percussion.

The other most prominent drummer across I'm Wide Awake... and Digital Ash comes from a completely different background to the aforementioned Baechle, but is drawn from an equally impressive pedigree. A crucial part of the sorely missed Rilo Kiley - who had a brief stint on Saddle Creek around their 2002 sophomore album The Execution of All Things - Boesel has also drummed in mid-noughties Sub Pop mainstays The Elected and Oberst's Mystic Valley Band side project.



Jesse Harris

Guitar on 'At the Bottom of Everything', 'We Are Nowhere and It's Now', 'Train Under Water', 'First Day of My Life', ''Another Travelin' Song' and 'Land Locked Blues'.

A prominent songwriter and solo artist in his own right, Harris has collaborated with a veritable who's who of indie, folk and country acts, running the gamut from Emmylou Harris (who appears here on 'Land Locked Blues' too) to Melody Gardot; from Norah Jones to M. Ward. Here, you'll find him lending a hand on guitars across the folkier side of the two records - a favour Oberst would later repay, adding additional vocals to Harris' 11th solo album, Sub Rosa.



Jim James:

Additional vocals on 'At the Bottom of Everything'.

One that needs no real introduction here, Jim James was one of the most iconic - and innovative - figures in US indie rock for many years as the frontman of Kentucky's My Morning Jacket. He's also incidentally one of the few people who can make playing a flying V look halfway decent.



Matt Maginn

Bass on 'We Are Nowhere and It's Now', 'Train Under Water', 'Poison Oak' and 'Road to Joy'.

A founding member of what's arguably Omaha's most important emo - in the truest, Rites of Spring-worshipping sense of the word - band, Cursive, Matt Maginn is well deserving of his due. It's hard to find a duff moment on any of their first five albums, from 1997's Such Blinding Eyes for Starving Eyes to 2006's Happy Hollow - more than worthy of a rainy Spotify afternoon.



Jimmy Tamborello

Programming on 'Take It Easy (Love Nothing)'.

Perhaps most recognisable as the beat sculptor behind Ben Gibbard vehicle The Postal Service, Tamborello has spent the best part of the last two decades creating immersive electronica and glitch under a slew of monikors, most notably as Dntel and Figurine.



Maria Taylor

Additional vocals on 'Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)', 'Poison Oak', 'Down in a Rabbit Hole', 'Theme from Pinata' and 'Easy/Lucky/Free'.

Alongside Orenda Fink, Taylor is best known as one-half of Saddle Creek duo Azure Ray. Originally hailing from Alabama, she moved to Athens, Georgia - yes, of course, she's collaborated with Michael Stipe - to begin writing with Fink, before the two upped sticks and headed to Omaha to join the Saddle Creek family.



Nick White

Piano on 'We Are Nowhere and It's Now', 'Train Under Water' and 'Land Locked Blues'; organ on 'Old Soul Song (For the New World Order', 'Another Travelin' Song', 'Poison Oak' and 'Road to Joy'; vibraphone on 'Land Locked Blues'; keys on 'I Believe in Symmetry' and 'Ship in a Bottle'.

A founding member of another Omaha band to garner widespread attention - within indie circles at least - in the mid-noughties, Tilly and the Wall, White has been a constant across the group's four albums to date - all of which have been released on Oberst's own Team Love Records.



Nick Zinner

Guitars on 'Down in a Rabbit Hole', 'Hit the Switch', 'I Believe in Symmetry', 'Devil in the Details' and 'Easy/Lucky/Free'; keys on 'Down in a Rabbit Hole' and 'Take It Easy (Love Nothing)'.

Another contributor who really needs no introduction, Zinner's cemented a reputation as one of the most inventive guitarists of the 21st century across four albums with Yeah Yeah Yeahs that have consistently shifted and upended expectations. No stranger to cameos, he's also cropped up on records that range from former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha's most recent solo LP (alongside fellow YYY Karen O) to Scarlett Johansson's neither here nor there covers album, Anywhere I Lay My Head.