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Straying from the norm



Photo: Doug Seymour

Don’t bother asking The Stray Birds how they came up with their beautifully evocative name. Even they’ve forgotten by now.

were trying to name the project and felt like we should be some kind of
bird. Obviously, The Byrds is out,” said Oliver Craven, the band’s
jack-of-alltrades. “We travel around a lot, so there’s the idea of being
without a home. And then there are incredibly profound, philosophical
depths to it, like when you see a bird in the sky and think it’s free.
But what if it’s just lost? Honest to God, though, I think I just read
it on a shoe box.”

same playful nature is even present when Craven tries to describe his
position — and the positions of bandmates Charles Muench and Maya de
Vitry — in The Stray Birds.

all sing lead, so I do that and I write songs, but I’m not the only
person who does that either,” Craven said. “I play the fiddle and I play
the guitar, but so does Maya … I play a lot of guitar and I sing my own
songs. I think a lot of bands have an ‘Oh yeah, I play the drums’ or ‘I
play the guitar’ attitude, but we’re unusual in the way that we all
pass the instruments around, sharing the roles and backing each other up
when the time comes.”

the eve of their second anniversary as a proper touring band, The Stray
Birds embark on another tour, bringing their rootsy folk to their
favorite venue in Oklahoma City, The Blue Door.

from Lancaster, PA — most famous for their Amish communities — Craven
understands many people might think it’s strange for a band from the
Eastern states to be so involved in this kind of music, but he believes
it’s just in his blood.

a lot more bluegrass, stringband, Appalachian music going on south of
where we’re from, but we all grew up with parents who were musicians who
were already active in the string-band or the roots or the old-timey kind of community,” he said. “My dad has been in bluegrass and string bands since he was my age, so I started playing music with my family band. We just kind of inherited the interest.”

Besides the typical bluegrass influences, Craven and The Stray Birds also give it up to Oklahoma’s musical legacy every chance they get, citing J.J. Cale as one of their biggest musical heroes.

“People are always surprised when I tell them how much music I enjoy from Oklahoma,” Craven said. “People out east make associations about the Midwest. But you get down to Oklahoma, you spend a little time investigating it and you learn a lot. We like the Tulsa Sound especially. It’s pretty obvious that, as a state, Oklahoma has pretty rich history in American music.”

The band is preparing its second show at The Blue Door in two years, and Craven said music fans should expect a “tight, nuanced” performance.

“It’s really harmony-driven; there’s a pretty big focus on sharing the stage,” he said. “There’s a lot of original material, good songs, and there’s a lot of subtlety ... it’s not designed to be always highenergy and loud, and it’s not meant for an absolute party.”

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