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Magnificent 7

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Photo: Nathan Poppe

Right in the thick of a deep run into the NBA playoffs, Oklahoma City came together earlier this year in not only a frenzy of fandom, but a dawning realization that this indeed is a major-league city and, by extension, state.

Somewhere between the OKC Thunder sweeping the Dallas Mavericks and taking its bittersweet trip into the finals, local producer Kelcy White approached songwriter Brianna Gaither with an idea of how to connect Oklahomans in something beyond sports.

“That hype led to so much unity in Oklahoma. It made us think, ‘How could this apply to music and how can musicians become a part of that unity?’” Gaither said of the result, The 7 Project, in which seven local musicians wrote and recorded seven songs in seven days. “It’s an experiment in community.”


Group dynamics

The two found no shortage of talent interested in being part of what every one felt was something special. Gaither was joined by Keri Blumer (Fos), Matt Stansberry, Denver Duncan, Alberto Roubert (Defining Times), Zach Zeller (The Non) and Michael Bewley (The Rockettops), with White producing and recording the album.

They were given access to rehearsal and studio spaces at Oklahoma Christian University in September, writing songs in the first two days, and recording and refining every part in the last five. No one came in with preconceived songs or even melodies, just his or her instrument and skill set.

“We had a structure for how we were going to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish, but we had no ideas going in,” Blumer said. “I felt blind, like, ‘How’s this going to work?’ It’s not that I ever thought it couldn’t be done … but I didn’t know how it could be done.”

The seven wrote furiously for the first 48 hours, sometimes working as a full group, sometimes breaking off into smaller ones.

“There was no room or reason to stop,” Blumer said.

With the artists having vastly different backgrounds, ranging from acoustic hip-hop to folk and indie rock, the songs rarely resembled any one’s usual motif, rather becoming a collective canvas to which all contributed their own stroke.

“We have a distinctness about us. Naturally, those things
come out,” Gaither said. “At no point did I feel like I had to impress
myself into something; my personality just comes through. When everyone
is collaborating, you can totally pinpoint influence from every person. It’s cohesive as a record; it’s eclectic and a lot of different sounds, but it’s those same seven people.”

The finished
product — recalling anything from Radiohead to Justin Timberlake — is
tied together by a level of quality none of the contributors thought
possible, given the situation.

“It’s one thing to write seven songs with people in seven days,” Gaither said. “It’s another to actually like them.”


Final equation

Weeks
removed from the experience and prepping to release the record on
Sunday, all parties involved have found themselves to be more capable
musicians.

“You always
grow when you’re forced to put out a product,” Duncan said. “Sometimes
it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. This experience was good.”

Added
Stansberry, “I really learned that my ideas aren’t always the best ones
on the table, and listening is just as important in collaborating as
contributing my two cents. When my ideas are good, I need to be subtly
assertive with them, but much of the time, just listening and bouncing
off other ideas leads to a better end product.”

“There
was this sense of wanting to do something great, something
exceptional,” Gaither said. “There’s a respectful honesty that is a
wonderful grounds for growth.”

No one is prouder than White, who has seen his idea come to fruition.

“I
wanted this project to show what a community of talented Okie artists
could accomplish under a high amount of pressure,” White said. “This
record proves they can accomplish a lot.”

And with so much still to learn, something like this will happen again sooner, rather than later.

“When
you’re in a band, it’s easy to get caught up in your own music, but
this project forces you to give that up for the sake of collaboration,”
Zeller said. “Hopefully, we can share in what we have in common, despite
our diversity. I hope people want more, because I’m surely hooked on
the idea.”

Hey! Read This:
Brianna Gaither's Love Is Patient album review  
Defining Times interview   
Matt Stansberry & the Romance's Let’s Brighten It Up album review  
The Non interview   
The Rockettops interview 

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