woody guthrie poets

This machine writes poetry
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

by Alan Gann

“Good people, what are we waiting on?”

The refrain of Woody Guthrie’s folk battle cry, “What Are We Waiting On,” is at the heart of the all-original work written by the Woody Guthrie Poetry Group, or the Woody Poets, now in its 13th year. The group has done readings since 2005 in conjunction with Okemah’s Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, which starts July 11.

Oklahoma poet and editor Dorothy Alexander, a founding member of the Woody Poets and a coordinator and anthology editor for the group, elaborated on how the theme resonates with her.

“When are we going to change things? [Woody was] about change. Let’s move on. Let’s get beyond ourselves, let’s get beyond whatever muck we’re in at this point,” Alexander said. “Sometimes people have to be jogged, and I think art is perhaps as much as anything, maybe as much as politics, spurs people to change. It’s a way of expressing a need for change, and Woody was all about that.”

The WoodyFest poetry readings started when George Wallace, noted poet and former writer-in-residence of the Walt Whitman Birthplace, attended the festival in 2004 at the behest of his friend, songwriter David Amram. Wallace questioned the festival’s lack of a poetry contingent, given Guthrie’s history as a poet. He contacted 1995 Oklahoma Poet Laureate Carol Hamilton, who was then joined by Jim Spurr, Nathan Brown and Alexander as the first group of presenting poets. Wallace also approached the festival committee to secure a spot on the 2005 WoodyFest program for the poets, a feature that’s continued every year since.

Alexander, who grew up in Roger Mills County during the Dust Bowl, is an apt choice to help carry on Guthrie’s poetic legacy. During her childhood in the Dust Bowl years, she and her family attended country dances, social gatherings organized by the community for families with little to no money. Guthrie, who at the time lived in nearby Pampa, Texas, often performed music for these dances. She recalls her mother later hearing Guthrie on the radio in the early 1940s, when Guthrie had moved on to California, and asking her father, “Isn’t Woody Guthrie that boy who used to come and play for the dances?”

While Guthrie’s been in Alexander’s orbit for nearly her entire life, she credits his recent resurgence as an Oklahoma icon to the George Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2011 purchase and eventual relocation of Guthrie’s archives to Tulsa from New York.

“The tremendous price paid for them gives him legitimacy, if that’s the right word,” Alexander said, though she notes his legacy has been celebrated outside of Oklahoma for some time, even inspiring the work of Bob Dylan. “He has been so admired in many places. Oklahoma can be a little slow to recognize their own.”

At home and abroad, admiration for Guthrie’s work has certainly surged in recent years.

“He was the voice of our conscience. He was a socialist, and he always, always allied himself with working class,” Alexander said. “He had his little sticker attached to his guitar that said, ‘This machine kills fascists.’ He’s always been the voice of the working man, the working poor.”

Through his writing, Guthrie still manages to project that voice, and the growing interest in the poetry at WoodyFest is just more and more people chiming in to his chorus.

“Poetry has always been a way of protest and resistance,” Alexander said. “Last year, we had the largest crowds we’ve ever had in all of our readings. I think that’s why we saw so many people from so far away and all through all strata of society submitting poems last year, wanting to have a voice, for someone to hear their voice. That’s what ‘What Are We Waiting On’ means. … Let’s say it now. Let’s say it over and over, say it louder this time, let’s say it stronger, let’s say it better. And that to me is what art is about, not just poetry.”


DUST BOWL MIGRANTS

It was hard to go, but harder to stay,
to endure the wind, to wake each morning
in drought, swirling in a pool of poverty
like a June bug in a cup of milk.

The ones who went suffered broken hearts.
I’m coming back someday, they wrote,
but most never did,
the old life too small to fit anymore.

They’re still out there in Bakersfield,
Phoenix, Tempe. They shuffle along the streets
in packs, watch for senior discounts
and cars with Oklahoma license plates.

But, they stay as far away as they can
from the drought-bitten prairie
with its dusty winds of longing.
And cling to a more certain life.

Thing is, they can’t forget.
Gone for decades, they still call
Oklahoma “back home.”
When I go to visit, they talk and talk

about how it was, and ask: Is it still that way?
I always lie and say, Well, it hasn’t changed much.
What I don’t say is, It never was the way
you remember it.

— By Dorothy Alexander, born in 1934, who still remembers the Dust Bowl & The Great Depression

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smash mouth

Get the show on: Smash Mouth comes to Oklahoma for free Newcastle performance
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

by Jay Blakesberg

The years start coming, and they don’t stop coming.

But the airtight cadence and pitch-perfect 1990s-ness of San Jose, California, band Smash Mouth’s 1999 hit “All Star” have placed the act in the sweet spot where musicianship, nostalgia and memes overlap. Almost 20 years after its release, the song is ubiquitous again, and with its resurgence, the band is riding an elusive second wave of mainstream relevance.

Smash Mouth’s founding guitarist and principal songwriter Greg Camp, who penned the band’s biggest hits, including “All Star” and 1997’s “Walkin’ on the Sun,” rejoined the band early this year. He answered some questions for The Oklahoman ahead of the band’s free show at Newcastle Casino.

Q: Smash Mouth came to prominence at the end of a really strong era for alternative genres on pop radio, right at the cusp of pop music coming back into fashion. That first album (1997’s “Fush Yu Mang”) is kind of a punk album outside of the first single, “Walkin’ on the Sun.” And then your second album (1999’s “Astro Lounge”) is much poppier. How do you explain that shift in the sound in such a short period of time?
Greg Camp: We set out to be a band that was a little more into all of our influences at that time, which varied from pop and reggae and ska. We got together in 1994, so between ’94 and ’97, the four of us were in a room writing songs and coming up with ideas together. When it came to the second album, most of that record was written on the road, on a tour bus and backstage, and everybody was sort of scattered and off doing their own thing. When we finally got home and it was time to buckle down and do that album, it was mostly myself and the producer Eric Valentine in the studio putting the record together. It was a little more focused on the production and the songwriting, and at that point I had become the key songwriter for the band.

Q: I read that the success of your first hit, “Walkin’ on the Sun,” had something to do with Carson Daly. Can you explain that connection?
Camp: Paul De Lisle, the bass player, and I were in a band before Smash Mouth, and I wrote the song “Walkin’ on the Sun” for that band. They passed on it, so it sat in a shoe box on a cassette tape until our drummer pulled it out. We recorded the song, and Carson Daly was working at a little radio station, KOME in San Jose. He started playing the song as his pick of the day, which happened right when people were getting off work, so they were listening to an unsigned band on the radio. Shortly after that, Carson moved to Los Angeles and started working at world-famous KROQ, and he brought that song with him. They put it into rotation on KROQ, and the next week, we had a record deal.

Q: Let’s talk about “All Star.” It was originally kind of an anthem for misfits, but it’s become something so famous that basically everyone in America has a feeling about it one way or the other. Did you know you had something special on your hands when you were writing it?
Camp: Nobody would ever have predicted how crazy it would get, especially nearly 20 years later. It’s like it’s gaining momentum in a way. It was the right song, right time, right place. The lyrics and the vibe of the song were on modern rock stations and crossed over to pop in just all kinds of different ways. Anyone could walk away with that song and apply it to their own lives, and I think that’s sort of why it keeps on giving.

Q: Moving forward, what are the band’s plans outside of touring?
Camp: We have sort of the beginnings of an album, not sure if it’s going to be a full-length or if we’re going to release two EPs back to back. We’re kind of really loving all of the songs that are coming out of us right now, so we want to make sure they all get an equal opportunity to be heard as opposed to putting out a record where people just like one song.

Q: Who’s in the crowd at a Smash Mouth show in 2018?
Camp: When the band first came out, we had a fan base so everywhere we went there were people singing the words to all of our songs. Now people definitely focus more on just the hits, the songs that they know, and the age variance is just incredible. You’ll see little kids who are still watching “Shrek” along with their parents, who watched “Shrek” when it came out. There are all these kids, too, you know, 18, 19, 20 years old. These kids are on social media and YouTube where all you see are memes of Smash Mouth and “All Star.” It’s so wide open. So to answer your question, the crowds vary from kids in strollers to gray-haired people and everything in-between.

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tory lanez

Making memories: Canadian rapper Tory Lanez makes his own way
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

Canadian singer and rapper Tory Lanez has big plans. Currently at the beginning of a five-month tour supporting his March release “Memories Don’t Die,” the Grammy-nominated 25-year-old artist has worked with everyone from Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez to Future and 50 Cent and recently released a new single, “Pa Mi,” from a forthcoming Spanish-language album. Lanez talked with The Oklahoman about ambition, hip-hop as a contact sport and what it means to be swavey. He’ll perform at The Jones Assembly Wednesday with Flipp Dinero and Davo.

Q: This is a really long tour. How’s it going so far?
Tory Lanez: I’m used to this type of stuff. I’ve done 110 shows in a five-month span. I like being around my fans and giving them something to watch.

Q: Do you think you prefer performing to recording?
Lanez: They’re hand-in-hand. I like to record, but I like to see the outcome of what the songs mean to people.

Q: You’ve called your style of music “swavey.” What does that mean?
Lanez: Swavey is a genre of music that I named. It means multi-talented in different genres. You can embody any kind of genre of music that you want that isn’t your primary genre and still make it your own sound. That’s what swavey is. There are a lot of artists who are rappers and singers, rockstars and pop stars. There are just so many different crossovers in music, I thought that was a good word for it.

Q: Is there any style of music you haven’t touched yet but know you want to in the future?
Lanez: Definitely. There are a lot of kinds of music I want to do, but I don’t want to do it until I’m musically ready. I don’t anything to come off corny, or like I’m forcing it. I want it to come naturally.

Q: How do you think being from Toronto made its mark on you as an artist?
Lanez: Toronto is a very multicultural place, and I think that because of that, it’s helped me to always make music that was cultural, music that felt good with multiple different races of people.

Q: I watched an interview where you called hip-hop a “contact sport.” What do you mean by that?
Lanez: It’s a competition. It’s a ruthless competition where people will go to the ends of the earth to pull you down to get up. You have to constantly defend your relevancy at all times. It’s not like everyone’s just friendly. For me personally, it’s a contact sport, even if the contact is verbal.

Q: For all that competition, hip-hop is also very collaborative. “Memories Don’t Die” has at least eight other artists on it. Why is bringing those other people in important to you?
Lanez: I’ve done so much solo music, I feel like I’ve established that I know how to make good records by myself. Sometimes records will be bigger if other people’s fanbases get to experience the records, as well. At the end of the day, I needed to step out of my shell and start recording with other people, so maybe someone would be like, “Damn, OK, this guy is good. He’s messing with my favorite artist, so it’s OK in my book.” I’m going to be the biggest artist in the world someday, and to do that, I know I have to connect everywhere.

Q: That leads into my next question, actually. You come across very ambitious but also really confident. Where does that confidence come from?
Lanez: My dad. My dad always told me that if you have a desire in your heart, it’s real, and you should always go after it. If it’s in your heart, there’s a reason it was put there. I realize that if I put in the work, I can do anything. That’s been a key part of what’s going on in my life.

Q: Let’s say someone likes a couple of your songs, or they’ve heard your records. Why should they come see you perform live?
Lanez: I have the best live show. Period. Point blank. No single artist can come onstage, talent-wise, energy-wise, sound-wise. I take a lot of pride in that. I could put my live performance head to head with anybody. I would love to prove myself.
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republican hair

Nashville feel-good rock band Republican Hair keeps it high and tight
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

by Casey Pierce

Luke Dick talks a lot about perspectives, and he’s lived enough lives to have a few. He’s been an adjunct philosophy professor, a forklift driver and a documentary producer: The forthcoming “Red Dog” chronicles his own childhood spent hanging out in a topless bar. Currently, the 39-year-old Oklahoma native fronts the shimmering, punky rock band Republican Hair while making his living penning country hits for artists like Dierks Bentley, Eric Church and Miranda Lambert.

For Dick, the road to the Country Music Awards was paved with Sweet’N Low. He broke into the professional (read: paid) songwriting world by writing a different kind of commercially successful music: music for actual commercials. From there, the leap to Nashville’s Music Row wasn’t as drastic as one might think.

“A lot of people at ad agencies who develop commercials are frustrated English majors, and I get along with frustrated English majors,” Dick said. “They’re artistic in the sense that they have creative aspirations for selling ketchup and Sweet’N Low, and I could indulge that and had fun with it.”

Having a goal for songwriting — not “banishing the muses,” per se, but being able to translate another person’s perspective into song — is something Dick said carried over from his agency work to writing for country artists.

“I’d written so much music for myself and thought I had a vision, but I honestly don’t even know what I was writing about or if it connected with anything,” Dick said. “Strangely, writing about ketchup was connected to the world somehow. When I write with other people, with the artist in the room, they have something that they want to say. To use all of my creative powers to help them be a character or create something, that became a skill, a perspective … one that I started learning musically and sometimes lyrically by selling ketchup.”

That skill has been key to the arc of Dick’s career, of late. Songwriting often has a mysticism projected onto it. People who don’t do it imagine that it’s more translating latent talent and inspiration into notes than it is a craft to be learned, nurtured and challenged. Dick’s songwriting perspective falls somewhere in between, at once supernatural and down-to-earth.

“It’s not like I don’t have some level of romanticism, but that radical perspective on songwriting … it makes me roll my eyes,” Dick said. “I take songs seriously, but ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ was pretty f—— good, you know. And most songwriters won’t get a ‘Good Golly Miss Molly.’ To imagine that a songwriter has an answer they can unlock if they connect to a muse or conduit seems pretty pretentious to me. Music makes you move, and it’s so magical, and that’s pretty great. Just focus on that versus some wild inspiration you’re privy to.”

Republican Hair focuses on that magic pretty intently. It’s easy to mistake this project as tongue-in-cheek, more so if you talk to Dick and hear the equal mix of deadpan punchlines and belly laughs he gives while discussing it. But if you let yourself listen without trying too hard, the Republican Hair discography possesses a signature brand of magic that doesn’t require too much analysis: It’s candid and absurd and has a refreshing lack of irony. Dick sings as a protagonist who’s, like, really glad you’re here, as long as you’re gonna be cool about it. The band is an exercise in proving that anything can be a song if you let it, and the formula has worked since the beginning.

“I sat down with another guy named Luke, and I could tell by the look on his hands that he couldn’t write country music, so I wasn’t going to force a country song,” Dick said. “I wanted to write a song that had two awesome guitar parts, went by in one and a half or two minutes, and that I was done recording it in six to eight hours. So that’s what I did. The first song that was ever a Republican Hair song before Republican Hair was even a thing is called ‘I Don’t Care,’ and it’s about the end of the world. I finished it and really liked it, and I liked the perspective, and it turns out there was this whole other side of my brain, my creativity, this sort of chaos, rat’s nest that I needed to explore more.”

Other treasures from that rat’s nest include “Whatever Blows Your Hair Back,” from 2016’s debut full-length “High and Tight,” sparked by Dick and his son blowing a leaf blower in their faces. Then there’s “Miss Prince,” from 2017’s “The Prince & the Duke,” a funk-laced, falsetto-filled party track about — what else — missing Prince. It isn’t country in the least, but the song, or the idea of what makes a song, remains the same, at least a little.

“I would say country at its best, or maybe always, strives for some kind of lyrical narrative,” Dick said. “There’s a focus in this intellectual endeavor, songwriting — though I don’t consider Republican Hair an intellectual endeavor — and even at its most flippant, I can’t get away from thematic writing. That’s country.”

What sets these songs apart, then, is the result of slight modifications to Dick’s philosophy.

“I try to make decisions quickly with Republican Hair, and if something is not happening quickly, I’ll abandon it,” Dick said. “It’s all an outward expression. There’s not too much singer-songwriter-y, inside-the-head situation happening. The lyrics have gotten a little more nebulous to where I’m OK with just throwing similar colors from the palette at the wall rather than trying to make the story be so cohesive. You don’t have to understand it but should at least want to enjoy it in some capacity.”

This sentiment is driven home across Republican Hair’s whole aesthetic, from the band’s psychedelic, Technicolor music videos, directed by Nashville artist Casey Pierce, to the live-and-let-live mantra that echoes through so many of the band’s lyrics.

“Oh, don’t wanna hear about your problems,” Dick croaks on the appropriately titled “Don’t Be a Drag.” “Oh, can’t we just have a good time?”

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waxahatchee

Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield talks moving on, moving forward
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK / LOOKatOKC

Nearly regardless of who you ask, Waxahatchee, also known as 29-year-old songwriter Katie Crutchfield, put out one of 2017’s best albums.

Seminal rock critic Rob Sheffield wrote about “Out in the Storm,” which landed at #14 on the year-end best-of list for “Rolling Stone,” calling it a “punk rock answer to Carole King’s ‘Tapestry.’ ”

“That made my day,” Crutchfield said. “I feel pretty fortunate because even when all else is going wrong in my life, usually record critics will like my records for the most part. I do feel very blessed in that. It’s not super frequent that it’s a horrible review, at least — knock on wood — not yet.”

It’s this silver lining outlook that makes “Out in the Storm” unusual for, as Crutchfield calls it, “a breakup record.” What sets it apart is its laser focus on honest reflection, two-party blame and moving forward. There’s no painful wallowing (see: Ryan Adams’ “Heartbreaker”) or that other, less tactful trope of breakup songs, revenge (see: Beyonce’s “Lemonade” or any other woman taking a “Louisville slugger to both headlights”). Instead, Crutchfield’s songs focus on the other side of what Sheffield called “gnarly emotional wreckage.”

“I wanted it to be hopeful. It’s about heartbreak, and it’s about picking yourself back up,” Crutchfield said. “It’s not really about longing or missing the relationship. It’s kind of about the frustration, the relief, but also having a lot of anger to get out. I want people to, as they take the record off the turntable, to be like, OK, now I can move on.”

In other words, it’s just over a half-hour of the feeling you get for the first time after the hard part of a breakup, the first morning where you wake up and realize you’ll be fine. And when you take the record off the turntable and feel a little better, Crutchfield does, too.

“Long before I ever made money writing songs, the big reason that I did it was to process emotions,” Crutchfield said. “I’ve always used it as this tool to kind of get my feelings out; it’s always been cathartic. This record is a big example of me needing a vehicle to get through this hard thing.”

Songs already in hand, Crutchfield called on her longtime live band (twin sister, Allison Crutchfield, drummer Ashley Arnwine and bassist Katherine Simonetti), percussionist Joey Doubek and old friend and indie rock go-to guitarist Katie Harkin, known for her work with Sleater-Kinney and Flock of Dimes in addition to her own projects.

“Typically, I’m sort of like a sheepdog, herding everybody into the direction I want, but with this one, I worked with my live band and Katie Harkin and wanted to lean on their personal styles of playing,” Crutchfield said. “Me and the rhythm section of my band have been playing together for a long time, and we’ve turned a lot of old songs into a new thing and have a specific energy I wanted to capture.”

 Producer John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile) also lent his expertise, and, all hands on deck, “Out in the Storm” ended up becoming the record Crutchfield secretly wanted to make in the first place.

“I self-consciously went in thinking I wanted to make a rock record, and then when we were in the studio, I thought, ‘Oh, ha, this is definitely a rock record,’ ” Crutchfield said.

It is a rock record, coming out of the gate with punchy stunner “Never Been Wrong,” on which Crutchfield sings, as a sometimes-antagonist, “I love being right / especially with you,” or the bass-heavy “8 Ball.” There are also extreme pop leanings, as on “Sparks Fly,” an expansive, effects-laden anthem, or the satisfyingly snarky “Brass Beam.”

“I think some of the most groundbreaking music being made right now is definitely pop music,” Crutchfield said, noting that two of her favorite albums of 2017 were Lorde’s “Melodrama” and SZA’s “Ctrl.”

“It’s something I study and am constantly inspired by. I think back about me and my sister, in our early teenage musical renaissance, we’d listen to the Velvet Underground but also radio pop, usually unabashedly. That music is important; it defined our generation.”

Allison Crutchfield, a solo artist as well as sometimes Waxahatchee band member, is also a primary source of inspiration for Katie, who notes her sister’s influence doesn’t always reveal itself in obvious ways.

“She’s been such a big part of my musical journey from Day One that everything I do feels like it’s a little bit her, and vice versa,” Crutchfield said. “I’m not sure that I could pinpoint, like, Allison always does this in her songwriting, and that’s where I get that from, but if she hears a song I wrote and says, ‘This is really good, Katie,’ that’s all I need to put it out into the world. That’s the big strength of our relationship; we make things for ourselves and for each other, and if that feels good and feels right, then we feel like we can share it.”

Calling her back

“Out in the Storm” has Crutchfield sharing a turning point, a substantial lyrical pivot for a songwriter formerly known for intense vulnerability, now giving way to a self-actualization, of sorts. This may explain why, after years of bouncing around the East Coast, Crutchfield recently moved back to her home state of Alabama.

“A lot of the early Waxahatchee songs, the setting is Alabama; it feels Southern. I think I was resistant to that being the narrative because I had really abruptly left and was excited to be in New York or be in Philadelphia and be away from the South,” Crutchfield said. “But as the years have passed, it’s been calling me back. I’m starting to write another record, and I have a lot of ideas, and it’s kind of hard to describe, but I feel like my early voice felt like it needed to be there. It’s a wavelength, and I need to go get back on it.”

The Crutchfield returning to Alabama after a few short years seems vastly different from the one who left, firmly in control of her own narrative now, regardless of geography. Her run of shows through the South, in fact, including Feb. 21’s Tower Theatre performance, are solo performances after a year of performing with her band. “I’ll go back south, I’ll leave it all behind / See myself clearly for the first time,” she sings on “Sparks Fly.”

And, perhaps in a pre-emptive response to fans or record reviewers trying to keep up from city to city, sound to sound: “I know you don’t recognize me,” she sings, breathlessly, “but I’m a live wire, finally.”

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jd mcpherson

Of the music firmament
for The Tulsa Voice

by Joshua Black Wilkins

While writing his new album, JD McPherson didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, he said, but he “exposed maybe one or two chambers.”

A lifelong Oklahoman who relocated with his family to Nashville last year, McPherson recorded the deeply personal Undivided Heart & Soul with his band at the historic RCA Studio B, recording home of Chet Atkins and Elvis Presley and a major player in the creation of the Nashville sound. Permission to do so was an unexpected, saved-by-the-bell twist of fate that capped a series of creative frustrations and false starts. The album is full of lyrical tension and release, experimental work with equipment steeped in history, and, in terms of McPherson’s career, unprecedented levels of collaboration in production and songwriting.

McPherson and band (guitarist Doug Corcoran, keyboard player Ray Jacildo, drummer Jason Smay, and bassist Jimmy Sutton) will play Cain’s Ballroom Saturday, Dec. 16, at the tail end of two months of intense touring in support of the album, which was released in October.

Becky Carman: You’re calling this a “truly romantic garage rock record.” What does that mean?

JD McPherson: I was a little more transparent with thoughts and experiences. I love it when music is sort of jagged and maybe even a little abrasive, but it’s coming from sort of a tender place, and I kept thinking about music like that when I was writing. It was almost like I had this fear of the music being an unexpected twist for fans of our band, and somehow I was already in the muck and decided to let more personal things out. I guess it’s probably the most vulnerable I’ve allowed myself to be yet. When you think about garage rock or any kind of loud fuzzy stuff, it doesn’t usually conjure images of vulnerability. I kind of wanted it to be a little of both.

Carman: The record seems to be doing really well critically. At what point in your process are you most at peace with the finished product?

McPherson: I am happy with it, but I’m still a bit haunted by some of the inner-band politics that happened during the making. The band was having a really hard time when we were making that record, and it was probably because of the nervous breakdown vibe I was putting out. I felt like I was dragging a refrigerator across a parking lot. There were some tough decisions that had to be made, and we’re still feeling that on the road. Looking back, it was a fond experience, but the other side of that is you’re still trying to play these shows with the band, and you put them through a lot. We’re gonna be okay, though.

Carman: You had a plan to record in a different studio. What happened?

McPherson: I’ll play both sides here. It was very detrimental to morale and to the budget, but the producer pulled the plug after the first day. Nobody’s making Van Halen bucks anymore, so record budgets are pretty small, and when the session gets canceled and nothing comes of it … that was a huge loss, and it just made everybody feel bad. Everybody was like, wow, one day, and we can’t cut it?

On that producer’s side, the songs really weren’t ready, and the band wasn’t, as far as morale goes, in shape. I guess it wasn’t moving fast enough for the producer, so he pulled the plug. I’m actually quite happy with the way it ended up, even though for a while it felt like we were just the scum of the earth. It took a little bit of nursing our wounds, but being invited to RCA Studio B was the best thing that could have happened. For history nerds like us, you couldn’t have picked a better spot.

Carman: What are a couple of specific things on the record that only happened because of RCA Studio B?

McPherson: Anytime you hear a vibraphone. We put a vibraphone track on pretty much every song. The bell sound on “Lucky Penny”—that’s vibraphone. The marimba on “Style (Is a Losing Game).” The Floyd Cramer piano was the reason Ray and I started writing together. That piano was a really magic piano. Two things about it: The studio staff has to clean out the piano, because people will come on the studio tour and dump a relative’s ashes into it. The other thing: One day we pulled the music stand out to write a chord chart, and the light hit a certain way, and there were decades of ballpoint pen remnants of people writing out charts. Indentations from the golden days.

Carman: There are many influences people have picked up on on this record. As somebody who hoards musical knowledge and really loves those subtleties, has anyone drawn any parallels or noticed something that surprised you?

McPherson: The one word that 80 percent of people use—incorrectly—is “rockabilly.” I’m not purposely excluding rockabilly as an influence; it’s definitely a thing in my mind, and we’ve never done that thing. But as long as people are talking about the album, I’m grateful. In Birmingham, Alabama, this guy came up to me and said, “You guys really remind me of my favorite band, Sonic Youth.” I couldn’t figure it out but also was really pleased.

Carman: You did several co-writes for this album. Do you have a dream co-writing partner?

McPherson: Yes, and what’s really, truly sad about it is that I already had a crack at it and failed miserably. I was Nick Lowe’s first co-write. Nick Lowe visited Nashville, and his manager called me and said Nick was flirting with writing with other people and “We’d really like you to be the first guy.” So I’m in Nick’s hotel room, and he’s lying on his bed in his socks with a guitar, and the news is on, and I didn’t really have any ideas. If you told me there was gonna be a co-write with Nick Lowe, I would have taken a year to prepare for it. I played him some songs I was working on, and he played songs he was working on, and, you know, what do you say? Like, oh yeah, there’s another brilliant example of perfect songcraft. I was punching myself in the forehead on the elevator. I don’t think there’s anybody better or cooler than Nick. Maybe one day I’ll get another shot.

Carman: How do you feel about Cain’s Ballroom? For somebody with your appreciation for the history of music, it seems like it might mean a little bit more to you than it does to others.

McPherson: The first shows I ever went to were at Cain’s. At that time, there were pews. It sounds really, really hokey, but in the back of my brain, there was some sort of church-like image I summoned up whenever I thought about going to Cain’s. It became my favorite place to be, to play. I think it’s pretty much everybody’s favorite place to play.  To me, the music firmament of the United States is an example of what can be right and what can be good, and Cain’s is my favorite example of that. I think about that every time I’m there.

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jen kirkman

Comedian Jen Kirkman brings her personal-meets-political comedy to the women of Oklahoma City
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

Jen Kirkman is a “feelings comedian.”

The New York Times best-selling author, television writer and stand-up performer’s signature comedy style highlights the absurdity of her personal experiences, from street harassment and solo travel to menstruation and marriage. Kirkman, who calls herself a “flaming liberal feminist,” also has found comedic respite in modern American politics, including election night sadness and the so-called Bernie Bros.

A sample joke from her Netflix special, release in January and titled “Just Keep Livin’?” illustrates the personal-meets-political bent she’s perfected in her two-decade career: “I don’t have time to be afraid of ISIS. I’m just busy being afraid of plain old men.”

To that end, Kirkman is performing a comedy show for a female-only audience (trans-inclusive) in Oklahoma City, to benefit Planned Parenthood’s Central Oklahoma City Clinic. In Kirkman’s words about the show, “87% of women have reported being sexually harassed … in real life and online. I want to provide a safe space for women to laugh loudly, speak freely and feel safe — and a space where I can see what it’s like after 20 years to perform to a roomful of people that have similar experiences just being on planet Earth in our bodies.”

I spoke with Kirkman at length about the show, her material, social media and the wisdom of Matthew McConaughey.

Q: How did the idea to do a show benefiting Planned Parenthood’s Central Oklahoma City Clinic come about?

Jen Kirkman: Obviously in areas like San Francisco and New York, I think there’s better access to programs like Planned Parenthood and probably people doing things for them all the time, so I wanted to find somewhere it seemed like they needed the support.

Q: This is the only all-female audience show you’ve done. Where’d that idea come from?

Kirkman: I was inspired by the “Wonder Woman” screenings and things like that, but now I sort of feel like an old lady who’s 10 steps behind as we keep growing and changing. People have been emailing me saying they’re not binary, or they’re agender, so can they come? What do I mean by women-only and trans-inclusive? What about all the other things? I’m a white, straight woman; I have privilege and blind spots. We’re all learning so fast.

 My whole point was trying to find somewhere people who have been harassed because of their gender, whether they express that subtly or overtly, can come and laugh without worrying. Not every man coming would be shouting us down or trying to hurt us, but when I taped my Netflix special last year, the women were laughing, and the men were quiet. I’ve had trouble at my shows with boys who think they know better, who think they’re feminists. I wanted to see what it felt like for everybody if they weren’t there for one night. It might be more than a show. I hope people will speak, and I’ll bring the mic around, and people can tell their #MeToo kind of stories. Honestly, a show where men come and watch that might be really informative, but that’ll be next.

Q: Americans look to their comedians as an extension of their identity politics. How do you broach that expectation?

Kirkman: Honestly, I don’t feel any expectation. It’s an interesting question, and you’re right; I can look at it as a big picture thing and see that society has an expectation. Or look at Jimmy Fallon, who doesn’t do politics, and I’m like, “Dude, why not capitalize on this time to be cool and do the right thing, or even just take an opportunity to talk about what’s on everyone’s mind?” Some people still want entertainment without politics.

I’m always preparing for my next album or special, so my material has to not be stuck in a certain period of time. In my Netflix special, I talk about street harassment and how we’re not supposed to talk about our periods. … I’ve always been sort of the personal-as-political female comedian. I talk about the generation gap, and how sad I was on election night, and I do a really silly bit about watching a Hallmark movie instead of the election results. It’s politics, but it’s really not hard-hitting. I’m a feelings comedian. I don’t want to talk about anger, but the sadness underneath it. It always comes back to me.

Q: How has being an American been different in all of your travel pre- and postelection?

Kirkman: I think people root for us because they know we’re not all terrible. In Canada, I got some booing and some guys coming up to me after shows because they love Bernie Sanders so much they didn’t want me to tell my experience. I have jokes about how his supporters harassed me and told me they were feminists; I have one about a guy who chased me into a parking garage to tell me he’s a feminist, and when I pointed out that what he was doing scares women, he said it shouldn’t because he’s one of the good ones. I was talking about aggressive male feminism that doesn’t listen to women and ironically got booed during it onstage.

Q: From a public personality’s standpoint, and someone who, when you started your career, it didn’t exist: Is social media good or bad?

Kirkman: For as much hell as social media can feel like, it’s really helpful. Is it bad to hear everyone say horrible things to me? Yes. I keep my filters on, though, and try to use it very strategically. I use it as a promotional tool, but I’m very careful now; I don’t go looking for trouble.

Also with the stuff we were talking about earlier, I get to eavesdrop and learn from people who are different than me all day long. I don’t talk to 10 people of color a day and 10 trans people or 10 gay guys, but I can on Twitter, so I can learn. Just like anything now, it’s a terrible environment for women: Whenever a new world emerges, we’re as scared as we are in a parking garage or whatever. I don’t enjoy the things everyone hates about it, but I find more positive than negative. Overall it’s evil, and also my experiences with it, at the end of the day, are mostly positive.

Q: You have a tattoo that says “JKL,” which is a reference to Matthew McConaughey’s slogan, “Just Keep Livin’.” Is that well-known? Do people know what you’re talking about?

Kirkman: No … (laughing) I think if it were more mainstream or my initials weren’t JK I probably wouldn’t have done it. It came from the writers’ room on “Chelsea Lately,” where anytime he came up, I would rush to his defense, like, “Guys, he seems really nice.” He started saying it after his dad died, and he has foundation for kids or whatever. It turned into a joke where whenever I would have a touch of good luck, like catching a flight someone else missed, my friends would say, “Oh, that’s JK livin’.” I never thought of myself as someone who had good luck, so it was sort of this moment in my life where I realized I don’t have to be who I always thought I was; I don’t have to be this sort of negative person. It’s really dumb, but it’s symbolic to me of how at any point you can change your perception of yourself. Now I think of myself as someone who’s really lucky. It means a lot to me on a weird level, and it’s technically a funny story.

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stories from the resistance

Excerpt. Originally published in The Tulsa Voice.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes

“When Donald Trump was elected, we began the fight of the century,” said Aaron Wilder, media officer for Planned Parenthood Great Plains and the organization’s political affiliate, Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes. “The election was bleak for us. Pence has a record of being one of the most anti-women legislators of all time.”

Once the results were in, Wilder said both organizations hit the ground running.

“I know what losing feels like as a progressive in Oklahoma, but typically, win or lose, you get an opportunity to take a breath and decompress, relax, think and plan again,” Wilder said. “For Planned Parenthood and lots of organizations, that breath never came.”

Prior to his current position, Wilder was the Oklahoma organizer for PPGP and PPGPV. He said the challenges, however daunting, came on the heels of two years of steady growth leading up to the election and an influx of support afterward.

“Since November, we’ve identified more than 4,000 new supporters in Oklahoma, a 29 percent increase,” Wilder said. “We’ve been able to translate that into real political power for Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes and reproductive rights in Oklahoma.”

In January, PPGPV trained 300 Oklahomans to become activists in the federal fight over the Affordable Care Act. In April, they activated protesters to attend Republican Representative Jim Bridenstine’s town hall. The organization endorsed two candidates, Jacob Rosencrants in Norman and Karen Gaddis in Tulsa, in special elections this year. Both won seats in the State House.

Wilder said the expansion continues with new staff positions open, including the Oklahoma organizer role he vacated. A new health center is slated to open in Oklahoma City in March, with another breaking ground in Tulsa next year.

“We’ve been part of Oklahoma’s fabric since 1937,” Wilder said. “Planned Parenthood Great Plains is strong and isn’t planning on going anywhere.”

Levi Parham

by Pete Lacker

During last year’s Standing Rock protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), Oklahoma songwriter Levi Parham found himself at a crossroads.

He released his 2016 album, These American Blues, with Music Road Records, a label co-founded by Austin songwriter and former Oklahoman Jimmy LaFave and funded by Kelcy Warren. Warren is the CEO and chairman of Energy Transfer Partners, the operators of DAPL.

Protestors demanded Parham and other artists sever ties with Warren’s label. The songwriter called his contract with Music Road “basically like charity.”

“Nobody was going to make any money,” he said. He had never met Warren and landed at Music Road only by way of LaFave’s support.

For Parham, it was a gray area: He had no relationship nor any connection with Warren, only assistance from the label’s small staff. He credits songwriter Samantha Crain for putting the issue into perspective.

“She told me, ‘You’ve got to stand on the right side of history,’” he said. “I had to make a decision.”

In November 2016, Parham opted out of the second album in his contract and made a statement on Facebook, a subtle move with heavy implications.

“It meant publicly separating myself from people … who wanted nothing more than to help me and giving up knowing … I’d have the opportunity to make art,” Parham said. “Jimmy was going through cancer at the time. It was all a whirlwind of emotion.”

Music Road still owns These American Blues, which Parham did not have the funds to buy back. He said communication with the label about the album has been difficult but that his decision was the right one.

“I don’t regret it,” Parham said. “It was the best way I could stand in solidarity with Standing Rock.”

LaFave passed away from spindle cell sarcoma in May. DAPL began shipping oil to customers in June.

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wild heart ranch

Wild and Free
for Oklahoma Today

By Lori Duckworth

Those who visit Wild Heart Ranch, a wildlife rehabilitation facility outside Claremore, likely will meet Pat. Pat looks something like a half-shaven turkey or a miniature ostrich. Curious and docile, she has probably seen better days, but it’s hard to say, because nobody even knew exactly what Pat was when she was rescued in April.

“She was found running around a shopping center with no feathers,” says Annette King, Wild Heart Ranch founder. “We weren’t sure at first, but we know now that she is a Cornish hen.”

Pat’s in good company with Wild Heart’s other residents: several talking birds, a free-roaming crow, the office bulldog, a pig, a donkey, and Keebler the lemur, a circus veteran who spends much of his time snuggling with teddy bears.

With this motley crew of unlikely mascots, it’s easy to see what King means when she says, “We take the odd kids, the hopeless. We fall in love with all the broken ones.”

Wild Heart Ranch began on a lark in 1996. King, then working for an insurance company, started rescuing horses, cats, and dogs. She brought so many to her land that she had to move permanently onto a larger property to care for them and eventually had to purchase the farm across the street to accommodate all her rescues. When a friend brought her a pair of orphaned baby raccoons, she decided to get her wildlife rehabilitator license.

“I had no idea what I was doing, but I had to figure it out,” King says. “The first seven months, I was brought 860 wild animals.”

Since its founding, Wild Heart Ranch has rehabilitated 57,000 animals. King says she owes the ranch’s above-average save rate to Google and help from veterinarians like Claremore’s Lesleigh Cash Warren, as well as some of her own twelve years’ experience as a veterinary technician.

Last spring and summer, King and her volunteers—including her husband Dan Hardt—cared for, among others, baby armadillos, skunk kits, cottontails, ducks, chickens, possums, raccoons, owls, turkeys, and bottle-fed fawns. All orphans are housed indoors at first and, once old enough, are moved outdoors into pens. If healthy, they’re eventually released into appropriate natural habitats.

Wild Heart takes as many as 250 calls per day, and King and her crew refer and offer advice to some and take in animals from others. Occasionally, she’s asked to assist in a capture, and many of her emotional stories are detailed on Wild Heart’s website: a hairless raccoon runt mistreated as a house pet; a wolf kept chained around the neck; and a terrified cougar cub that had been caged and abused.

King worked several jobs—vet tech by day, bartender by night at one point—to fund her efforts, even borrowing against her own home. During a period of financial struggle in 2001, the local game warden asked her to take in a mother dog and nine puppies that had been dropped at the home of Sandy Brooks, then-wife of Garth Brooks. She reluctantly accepted as a favor to the warden and found facilities to take care of the dogs. When Brooks later called to adopt one of the puppies, King explained she wasn’t a dog rescue and gave Brooks the number to the shelter. The pair ended up spending hours on the phone discussing wildlife rehab, and a week later, Brooks showed up to volunteer, sparking a friendship that has been fundamental to Wild Heart’s continuation.

“I couldn’t borrow any money for my facility after the real estate market crashed,” King says. “I was ready to close down. Sandy suggested I become a nonprofit and offered to fund my paycheck and pay the bills. She’s been making that donation for the last ten years. It’s more than incredible.”

On a relative shoestring budget of donated funds, Wild Heart Ranch matches the capacity of much larger facilities. It’s not glamorous and often is thankless, but King says saving creatures like Pat at Wild Heart Ranch is where she’s supposed to be.

The Buffalo Run Casino and Resort in Miami is hosting a fundraiser for Wild Heart Ranch November 4. Tickets are $50. (918) 230-2134 or buffalorun.com. Wild Heart Ranch, (918) 342-9453 or wildheartranch.org

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berry

Band Q&A: Berry
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

By Josh Newman

For 15 years, Midwestern indie pop band Berry has been writing and releasing its intricate, experimental pop songs. From the band members’ early days as Chicago roommates, beyond the frustration of the music industry and to the members’ current lives, spread across the country in a variety of careers, Berry’s creative nucleus has maintained its pull.

The band, which meets by phone regularly and travels to create music together annually, has completed a new album, “Everything, Compromised,” along with producer Paul Klimson (John Legend, Erykah Badu). In celebration, Berry is embarking on a brief tour of some of some of its members current hometowns, as well as Oklahoma City, in which Berry’s long had creative partners.

All four members of the band answered some questions for The Oklahoman about Berry — past, present and future. They’ll perform at Speakeasy on Thursday with Samantha Crain and new band WAD, featuring members of Student Film.

Q: Berry seems like it was a pretty prolific, active band for so many years when you lived in the same place. What eventually pulled you all in different geographic directions?
Joey Lemon: Living in the same house together had kind of an equal-and-opposite-reaction effect on us. Our nucleus had become so tight that we kind of had to explode. We’d pushed and pushed and pushed as a band, and it was hard to see any progress with music as a “career.” I think we were all a little tired of that prospect, so we had to go find other “careers” in order to make music a “joy,” together, again.

Q: Relocation is something that has pulled a lot of bands apart. Was it always clear that you planned on collaborating long-distance?
Lemon: We left our last full-length album, “Blue Sky, Raging Sun,” unfinished when we dispersed. We knew we had to finish that, and we did. We eventually released the album, and we toured, but it wasn’t clear how we’d actually proceed from there. We never said that we were “breaking up,” so I think that helped. Shane has always been a driving force in our continuation, though. He came late to the Berry game, so he’s always had a little more motivation to re-create our unique time together in Chicago.
Paul Goodenough: In hindsight, it is easy to say it was clear all along we should find our way back into regular, sustained, intentional, musical collaboration. There is a powerful force we are all drawn into when we work together, and that I think we all desire very deeply to connect with.

Q: What are some ways the band’s physical separation has informed the way you work together?
 Shane Bordeau: Supporting each other and being in touch has become crucial. Times when we haven’t been in touch for two weeks or more really put a strain our ability to work together. We have to put intention into staying connected.
Matt Aufrecht: The time we spend together physically is precious and focused. We can essentially create the outlines for entire albums in a handful of days.
Goodenough: I have learned to be more emotionally invested in my bandmates’ lives. It is just as important that we celebrate each other’s highs and console each other’s lows in daily life as it is for a certain percussion track to get recorded or for a particular press inquiry email to get sent.

Q: With so many self-produced records in your catalog, why was it the right choice to hand “Everything, Compromised” to Paul Klimson?
Lemon: PK mixed our first full-length album. Since then, he’s always been this distant source of inspiration. With “Everything, Compromised,” I was really struggling (with the) live tracks we’d recorded as a band. I was fighting a lot of depression that led to apathy, and PK started kicking my a– … not literally. He’d heard about these songs, and he wanted to hear them. PK is probably the only person I’d trust to help out, so as I finished up vocals and overdubs, I just started dropping everything on him. We haven’t looked back.

Q: What’s your connection to Oklahoma? And to the other artists on the Speakeasy show’s roster?
Aufrecht: We first played with Student Film at a festival in Texas, and they became one of my all-time favorite bands. I made it my mission to play with them as much as possible. Now, whenever we get the chance to play shows, Oklahoma is pretty much mandatory.
Lemon: We met Sam Crain unrelated to the Oklahoma scene. She was studying at a small music program that Paul and I went to on Martha’s Vineyard. I remember hearing her sing around campfire and thinking, ‘Damn, she’s good.’ A year or so later, I booked a solo tour with her. She was a workhorse and an awesome person to collaborate with, so we later booked a Berry tour with her. I recorded her first EP and her full-length album.
Goodenough: There are some appreciable similarities between downstate Illinois where we started and Oklahoma. Lots of weekend piety and church camp, conservative politics, racial injustice and mostly latent, some notably and tragically explicit, white supremacy. Cultural force-feeding from MTV and SPIN. I don’t think it is a big stand I’ve taken or anything, but I have always gravitated towards other people who are similarly fed up, and are seeking other ways of being faithful, political, social and artistic. Sam Crain, the Student Film guys, and lots of people we’ve met through them; we just really vibed with them. We’re kindred spirits.

Q: What happens after this run of shows (and with this new album finally complete) for Berry?
Goodenough: We have poured the foundation for eight more songs. I’ve been really eager to get working on them, as I know we all are. I look forward to us continuing to make new friends and collaborators.
Lemon: More of the same, I hope. We have a start on another album; this one PK has been with from the beginning, so we’re all pretty excited about finishing that. We’re also feeling a certain level of urgency. In the current political/social climate, it seems important to maintain our voice. I think we’d like to keep gathering and recording and playing shows. Maybe we’ll actually try to sell some music instead of giving it away.

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