Lets just say we kept our shit together, singer Jesse Tabish said of performing for Radiohead, in the very pub that hosted the Grammy-winning alt-rock giants first conventional performance in 1986.
Added Jonathon Mooney, who plays piano, violin, guitar and a host of other instruments in Other Lives intricate, baroque arrangements, Having them in the room is more nerve-wracking than having thousands of people in front of you.
Radioheads members must not have noticed the stress they caused the young Oklahoma band, as shortly thereafter, they asked the quintet to accompany the first leg of their nearly sold-out tour of American arenas. Other Lives are set to open 15 dates through mid-April, from Miami to Mexico City, performing sure enough for tens of thousands of people.
try to shut that out, Mooney said. Im hoping the lights will make
you completely blind to the fact there are that many people in front of
Other Lives swift ascent from playing casual, often
unpromoted shows in Stillwater to garnering international critical
praise for their second album is remarkable for many reasons, mainly
that the fast-paced fanfare came at a direct inversion to the steady,
meticulous construction of their sound, a process that began in 2004
under the moniker Kunek.
Although not quite as mature as the band wished,
2011s sophomore disc, Tamer Animals, stepped decisively forward,
cinematically capturing the Sooner States broad landscape with an
impressive array of traditional instrumentation played nontraditionally,
its poetic lyrics trudging through like a somber traveler.
classical orchestral influence (Tabish claims minimalist composer
Philip Glass as a longtime favorite) comes through on a painstakingly
recorded assembly of horns and strings, some of which band members
learned how to play specifically for their parts in the songs.
didnt want to just have guitar and cello in the song because people
play that instrument, Mooney said. We try to challenge ourselves in
the instruments we used on the record.
Tabish, Its never been about using every instrument you can name.
Its more about exploring possibilities of arrangement and the recording
acts instrumental palette broadened by the myriad talents and acumen
of fellow members Colby Owens, Josh Onstott and Jenny Hsu certainly
increased from Other Lives 2009 eponymous debut to Tamer Animals, the
ambition of the songwriting was pared down to similarly great effect.
longer burdened by the overreaching political philosophy of earlier
songs like Paper Cities and Dont Let Them, Tamer Animals became
much truer to the bands experience, a more articulate expression of the
environment they know.
end result elicited admiration from critics on both sides of the
Atlantic, most notably NPR, which invited the group to appear on public
radios Tiny Desk
Concerts after Flaming Lips leader Wayne Coyne enthusiastically cheered
their Sasquatch! Music Festival set last May. A BBC reviewer praised
Tamer Animals as the most uniquely sublime, meticulous and heroic 40
minutes of the year.
others agreed, and in a matter of months, Other Lives was playing shows
for as many as 800 people in countries theyd never visited before:
Iceland, Amsterdam, Belgium. Suddenly, they were no longer a secret
outside our borders.
Animals and its subsequent hype earned the band opening slots for NPR
mainstays like The National and The Decemberists, a European tour and a
string of dates in the U.S. supporting one of 2011s biggest
breakthrough acts, the Grammy-nominated indie folksters Bon Iver.
When they werent writing
songs on the road, Other Lives were taking notes. Tabish said that Bon
Iver whose nine members often trade instruments mid-song, and
particularly its gifted, explosive bass saxophonist, Colin Stetson
served as a model for sonic expansion.
Listening to the sound quality alone, we got our
heads going, like, OK, how can we improve [our show]? How can we make
it more dimensional live? To see that and hear it every night, it was
really inspiring for us, Tabish said.
now, we dont have the budget for some of those things, but at the same
time I felt proud of our band for accomplishing a really large sound
without monetary success. Seeing that next level of production was
something for us to strive for.
and Tabish said theyll be watching with the same open eyes when they
hit the road with Radiohead later this month, describing the work of
Thom Yorke and his bandmates as a big, fundamental link that shaped
Other Lives now-thorough recording process.
not the only one in the band to feel this, but [Kid A] was the first
record that I was into where the traditional instruments were completely
out, Tabish said. For somebody like myself and for the band, whos
always wanted to go there it was like a light bulb went off: It can
be done through recording. It doesnt have to be sitting around in a
room, hashing out a tune.
Colour by numbers
Long before Radiohead much less anybody outside of Stillwater, really cared about Other Lives, back when
they, like transients, haunted various improvised recording spaces
around Main Street, another great Oklahoma indie band served as a
cheering section at times and a critical ear at others.
The first time I ever hung out with them, they
had a song called Section 2, and I said that some of the piano parts
sounded like Vanessa Carlton, said Colourmusic singer and guitarist
Tabish, both stubborn and ambitious in their thoughts about music, are
great friends and always have encouraged the very best in each other
artistically, occasionally at the cost of bruised egos.
was a song on their first record [as Kunek, in 2006] that I criticized
really aggressively, and when it came out, I remember [Jesse] didnt
want me to hear it, Hendrix said. I probably crossed the line.
he couldnt be happier for Other Lives success and said he constantly
seeks Tabishs advice as Colourmusic records its third album.
He has great ideas, and I use them, Hendrix said.
Tabish and Hendrix all agreed that Stillwaters insular qualities as a
city were fundamentally important to the steady pace of Other Lives and
wasnt that rush. We had patience, Tabish said. The first five years
of our band was just writing music. Its easy to have integrity when
theres nothing pulling at you. Youre left to your own devices and
creating Tamer Animals, Mooney said, We feel like we got somewhat
close to accomplishing what we wanted to on this record. Tabish agreed,
describing the disc as being about 75 percent of what they hoped it
Although Other Lives have been writing songs on the road and booking
space to record demos in their free time, Tabish expects theyll return
to Oklahoma to record their third album, and that theyll take whatever
time the music requires.
We worked slow and meticulously [on Tamer Animals], Mooney said. I dont know that that will change much next time.
Tabish said the tunes theyve been crafting mirror the transient state of the bands life on the road.
think because of the fast pace of travel, and the consistency of it,
and the routine of it, theres a real fluttery, buzzing music Ive been
writing, he said. Its very fast-paced and its very open-ended. I
want this music to feel like it could go anywhere.
Photos by Darren Ankeman and Jessa Zapor-Gray/Jenny Hsu, respectively