hayes carll

Austin songwriter Hayes Carll returns to Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

Brooklyn, NY – December 18, 2015 – Hayes Carll. photo credit: Jacob Blickenstaff

Five years passed between Austin songwriter Hayes Carll’s acclaimed 2011 record, “KMAG YOYO (and other American stories)” and the 2016 release of his latest album, “Lovers and Leavers.”

The former found Carll at the peak of his tongue-in-cheek, character-driven storytelling: The title track is from the point of view of a baby-faced G.I. on the front lines, and “Another Like You,” about a hardline Republican and Democrat finding common ground in a one-night stand, topped American Songwriter’s list of best songs of 2011. Carll’s knack for straddling touchy themes like war, politics and religion with a dose of acerbic humor spoke to fans on both sides of every fence, in whiskey-soaked clubs and honky tonks across the country.

“Lovers and Leavers” is a world away. In measurements of time, it was five years and 53 days. In measurements of life, Carll saw hundreds of nights on the road, went through a divorce and fell in love. The Hayes Carll who went into the studio to record this album had a deeply personal list of themes to cover, and the plaintive record, by comparison to “KMAG,” is downright sparse and displays that gravity in spades.

As Carll wrote in the album’s artist notes: “ ‘Lovers and Leavers’ isn’t funny or raucous. There are very few hoots and almost no hollers. But it is joyous, and it makes me smile … It’s my fifth record — a reflection of a specific time and place. It is quiet, like I wanted it to be.”

Q: I think you’ve been pretty classically misunderstood by a lot of your fans. What’s the quote about irony that you like? Not everyone gets it?

Hayes Carll: Yeah, Ray Wylie Hubbard dropped that one on me. I’ve found it to be true. People take what they will from most forms of art, and it can be a losing battle to try and control how it hits them or how they interpret it. I’ve written a lot of things that I didn’t intend to be taken at face value but were, unfortunately, by a lot of listeners. That is one of the challenges of using irony or writing in a character that isn’t me.

Q: Your new record for me felt like you drawing a line in the sand a bit about what kind of artist you are in the present. Was there trepidation about making that statement?

Carll: I was drawing a line in the sand. I didn’t want to leave as much gray area for interpretation. I wanted to make a singer-songwriter record because I wanted intimacy and connection to the material that I hadn’t previously had or communicated. I am becoming more private and developing stronger boundaries as I get older. The opposite of doing that just isn’t that much fun anymore. I had some trepidation in that I was afraid I wasn’t offering something for everyone as I had tried to do in the past, but I’m not Wal-Mart. I’m an artist with a specific thing to say at a specific time.

Q: When you were choosing the songs for “Lovers and Leavers,” did you set out to purposely create the mood of this record?

Carll: Yes. I set out to make what I thought of as a singer-songwriter record. I wanted it to exist in its own world and give the listener the aural equivalent of a close read, if they chose to listen that way. I wanted it to have a sonic signature, but one that was not overwrought or overthought. And it isn’t. I chose the songs I chose because they were the ones I felt closely connected to, and if I didn’t feel that, I didn’t force them into the record.

Q: Why was Joe Henry the right producer for these songs?

Carll: I knew that Joe has the confidence to stop producing. Not everyone does, and a song can end up with way too much tweezing and piling on instead of being allowed to stand on its own as a composition. He displays that in his own recordings and those he makes for others. I trusted that he knew what to do with the kind of record I told him I wanted to make. And he did — we finished it in five days. Not a whole lot of polishing there, which I think was the right choice.

Q: Your girlfriend, Allison Moorer, is a prolific writer of great songs and many other things. Have her methods affected yours?

Carll: Her discipline and work ethic, and understanding that it doesn’t all come out at once, have given me more perseverance in my own work. She’s also good at making sure she stays inspired by sort of constantly looking for sources, staying curious and enthusiastic about all art forms. Her curiosity and open-mindedness inspire my own. She also doesn’t give up on ideas and revises until she can’t anymore. I’ve tended to give up when the inspiration died until recently. I know now that good writing is rewriting most of the time.

Q: What are you reading or listening to lately that you find inspiring?

Carll: I just read “CVJ: Nicknames of Maitre D’s and Other Excerpts from Life” (by Julian Schnabel). Allison picked it up recently, and I read it before she got a chance to. It holds a lot of great advice for artists — how to stay engaged, how to listen to and trust yourself and your own instincts rather than listen to others and putting their opinions before yours. Musically, I’m into Rayland Baxter, Gregory Alan Isakov Dawes and Jason Isbell a lot these days.

Q: Are you strict or academic about your artistic process? Or is there a particular head space you have to be in to get things done?

Carll: No. But I need time, and having my head be clear does help.

Q: What do you do differently to mentally prepare for a Cain’s Ballroom show versus many of the quieter theater shows you’ve been doing this year?

Carll: I like using the different muscles for different types of shows, and after I’ve been doing more of the quiet, acoustic shows, it’s fun to get a little rowdier. The quieter shows are more open emotionally for me, but the trio and band shows are more open musically since I don’t have to do every bit of the work. Both are their own special way of communicating.

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samantha crain

Okie songwriter Samantha Crain flexes creative freedom on new record
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

photo by Dakota Lewallen

Norman-based songwriter Samantha Crain has long been lauded for her dramatic, character-driven songs. Much was made in the media about her effusive musical storytelling, the tiny woman with a very big voice and an acoustic guitar, and Crain latched onto this public persona for upward of a decade.

“I got described as this girl who sits in a cornfield and writes songs,” Crain said in her media material. “And I went with it, because I didn’t really know who I was. I realize now that I missed out on a lot of creative freedom by treating my songwriting so preciously.”

There’s less acoustic guitar, more technicolor and an abundance of unpretentious humor on her fifth offering, “You Had Me at Goodbye,” out Friday via Ramseur Records. Turning the lens inward has been fruitful, as “YHMAG” paints a more complete picture of Crain as she exists outside of music journalism: a loud talker, both confident and self-effacing, sweet with sharp edges and startlingly funny.

Q: Is allowing yourself to be kind of poppy and funny in your songs something you’ve wanted to do before but stayed away from?
Samantha Crain: It’s not like I was holding myself back. I was maybe not aware enough of myself or tuned-in enough to realize that was part of my personality I could inject into the songs I was writing. This album would’ve been the first time I would’ve been able to pull that out of myself.

Q: Did you study any pop records for this while to get into a particular head space for this kind of writing?
Crain: Not a whole lot of modern pop music, but I did kind of deconstruct and look a little closer at David Bowie or Beatles songs. Because we know those as pop songs, we automatically align that with meaning they’re common or simple, but actually the reason they’re so magnetic is there’s something unique about them, key changes and weird half bars. That’s what makes them catchy, I think. Those and “Toxic” by Britney Spears.

Q: You chose to work with John Vanderslice again for this album. How did he react after hearing the new songs for the first time, since they’re so different?
Crain: John’s always excited to get people out of their comfort zones. He likes it when people feel like they’ve maybe jumped in a pool that’s a little too deep. And he’s right; he has some sort of emotion to work with. When you feel completely confident and safe with a group of songs, it’s really easy to not capture any dangerous moments because you’re so locked-in. It’ll sound good, but it won’t necessarily be that exciting. I also kind of gave him free reign, like, ”If you have an idea that maybe you think I wouldn’t have been OK with in the past, but you think it could be something really cool, then let’s just go for it. Let’s try it.”

Q: It was crazy to me that the first few seconds of the record are like “Mr. Sandman,” that kind of happy 1950s pop, and then it becomes modern really quickly. Are the finished songs anything like you imagined them going into the studio?
Crain: Some of them went completely different directions. “Antiseptic Greeting” is pretty spot-on. I wanted that to be like a “Mr. Sandman” but maybe if somebody took some psychedelics before they wrote that song. “Dear Louis,” I knew the feel of that song was going to be pretty upbeat and punky, power pop. “Smile When” was a big surprise. I wrote that song to sound like a Bruce Springsteen ’80s arena rock song, and it got turned into a Talking Heads thing. Drums, bass and vocals. All of the instruments are me doing vocals. That was JV. He said, “This is going to make you feel uncomfortable.”

Q: You have such a long relationship with him now, it is OK for him to say that now.
Crain: We’ve definitely built up a rapport at this point. He’s never been one to walk on eggshells, but since we’ve known each other for five years now, he knows that if something turns out weird and I get mad at him for a second, it’s not a big deal.

Q: The promotional photos for this album are super cool. You picked a local photographer, and then Jarod Evans, of Blackwatch Studios, directed the video for “Dear Louis.” How much of this is you having an idea and pulling people close to you into it, and how much of it is you putting your trust in people because they know you personally?
Crain: In the past I was hands-off when it came to the visual aspect, and it’s always been a little bit unfulfilling once I got the finished product. I tried to really take the time, this time around, to have a clear vision of what I wanted for photos and the music video and to relay that. Dakota (Lewallen) is a great photographer to work with because he’s really young, and he’s still learning and excited about different kinds of photography. I caught him in this stage where he was really into doing studio photography. He was making scenes.

Q: This record is your “autobiographical” record, is what people are saying. Being from Oklahoma sort of inserts this context for artists, and in the past I feel like you’ve rejected that a bit. But there are all these things very Oklahoma references — a song from Woody Guthrie’s journals and a song about Will Rogers and a response song to a Jimmy Webb song, and he’s from Elk City. Was any of that an intentional way to provide a sense of place?
Crain: Those are just things that seep out of me. I never go into any sort of project thinking I need to represent Oklahoma in any way. If anything, I would prefer people get a different view of the state. It’s not just the Oklahoma postcard that you’re getting. There are other things going on, a ton of great visual artists, an underground hip-hop scene. I would like people to get a little bit confused about what’s going on in Oklahoma.

Q: “Red Sky, Blue Mountain” is sung in Choctaw, but to make a new traditional song is sort of touchy territory for a lot of people. How careful do you feel you have to be putting a traditional Choctaw song on your album, surrounded by American pop songs?
Crain: The reason I can put this song on the album because I’m kind of done thinking about what everyone else thinks traditional Native American culture should be. I’ve talked about this with Sterlin Harjo and Ryan Redcorn and other Native artists. You can stand by and watch a culture try to hold onto the little bits of uncolonized traditional stuff and eventually die out because the new people don’t feel like they can be involved because they’re not brown enough, or they don’t speak the language fluently. Or you can be proactive and get younger Native artists feeling comfortable creating art, because technically, if a Choctaw person makes art, it’s Choctaw art. I’m trying to be proactive. I’ve captured all that I can. In order to get people excited about keeping the language alive, I think songs can keep traditions going by making them growing and thriving culture rather than one that people are forgetting.

Q: How connected are the recorded versions of these songs versus the live performances of them? This record seems extremely difficult to re-create live.
Crain: We are trying to re-create the album pretty much the way it was recorded, and it has proven a challenge. This is the most stressed-out I’ve ever been about band practices. We’re using tracks. I’m still not sure how it’s going to work. I’m not doing any solo shows on these tours. I didn’t even write half of these songs on the acoustic guitar, so I wouldn’t even know how to do it.

Because I did spend so long having a very direct and clear idea about the visual and sonic aspects of the album, I want to be able to control that in a live setting. In the past that maybe wasn’t the most important thing. I just had songs, and the songs were what I was really invested in. With these songs, it’s more about the whole package of the album rather than the songs individually. I want to try to be able to re-create that. And … we will see how it goes.

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farmer’s daughter market

Market Squared
for Oklahoma Today

A few months back, a man pulled up to The Farmer’s Daughter Market in Tecumseh after it had closed and found owner Linda Praytor sitting on the porch, talking with a friend.

“I forgot my wife won’t be home tonight, Linda,” the man said. “I don’t have anything to eat!” Praytor sent him inside, and he soon returned with a bake-at-home pot pie.

“The registers are already closed for the day,” Praytor said. “Just come back and pay tomorrow.”

And he did.

That’s the sort of place Praytor has worked so hard to build. Before opening her shop in October 2014, Praytor grew up on a dairy farm southwest of Tecumseh. That lifestyle saw her up at dawn to work, off to school, and back to farm chores in the evening. This sense of responsibility helped her have a successful five-decade career as a registered nurse. It also instilled in her an admiration for the often-overlooked details of life.

“I learned to appreciate little things like the sunset and sunrise, the grass, the smells of the farm,” Praytor says. “We live such busy lives today; some of us don’t appreciate just waking up in the morning.”

It’s those small details that have made the market a success. The main building houses distinct mini-shops, all decorated in farmhouse chic with Mason jars, raw wood, and farm antiques. Old painted doors cover the walls, and a bathtub taken from Praytor’s grandmother’s home sits in the foyer. Farmer’s Daughter is expansive for an idea with such humble origins.

“I retired in 2013, and this was a dream I had,” Praytor says. “It was supposed to be a little sandwich shop to try to give my town a boost, and it became an adventure.”

The sandwich shop still is there: The Tomato Patch Café features items like strawberry salad with pecans, bacon, and homemade strawberry poppyseed dressing, and one of the market’s bestsellers is the decadent, gooey tomato cheese pie. The Dinner Bell Takery sells cook-at-home versions of some of the café’s recipes, bottled salad dressings and jams, and local milk, sorghum, and honey.

Pickles & Pigs BBQ, open on Fridays and Saturdays, features the handiwork of pitmaster Jeff Sigman. The smoked turkey is peppery and smooth, and the crowd favorite nachos include dripping white queso and spicy Sriracha sauce with a choice of brisket or pulled pork.

The Kalico Bakery offers dozens of cakes and pies, but the star is the Cloud 9: two chewy pecan cookies sandwiching fluffy cream.

In the spring, Farmer’s Daughter also hosts an outdoor flower market, and truck farmers sell their goods next to the restaurant’s thriving herb garden. The Farmhouse Home Décor store stocks candles, gifts, and home accents, and The Homestead, a refurbished house next door, was converted in 2016 and sells antiques like vintage Pyrex bakeware and quilts. If all this seems like a lot for a retiree hoping for a little sandwich shop, that’s because it is.

“Very few of us get to live our dream, and the people I have here are fulfilling mine,” Praytor says. “They are so dedicated to making this business thrive and making it good for this community. It’s a little town, but we love it to death.”

Get There: The Farmer’s Daughter Market, 302 North Broadway Avenue in Tecumseh, (405) 598-2683 or farmersdaughtermarket.com.

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lucius

Good Grief: Colorful pop act Lucius finds light in the dark
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK.com

photo by Piper Ferguson
photo by Piper Ferguson

Onstage, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius are a Day-Glo Rorschach, matching mod haircuts and sparkly capes. They occupy a single microphone at stage center, with bandmates Dan Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri fleshing out the mirror-image effect behind them. It’s striking, seeing Laessig and Wolfe’s powerful twin vocals performed eye-to-eye, which can turn from sweet to snarling. The human portmanteau that is Wolfe and Laessig operates as two halves of a whole. This impression is more yin and yang than it is identical.

“She’s definitely much more outgoing,” Laessig said of Wolfe. “I was very, very shy. I remember doing a (vocal) recital in high school, and afterward someone came up to me and said, ‘I didn’t know you could sing. I didn’t even know you could talk.’ ”

After meeting at Berklee College of Music in Boston more than a decade ago, the pair moved to Brooklyn and began work on what would become Lucius. Wolfe and Laessig co-wrote the band’s first record, “Wildewoman,” and spent the next years touring rigorously — home, according to a recent interview, a total of 13 days in 18 months.

Returning to a city of constant motion proved too much, and much of the band moved to Los Angeles to work on a follow-up record, 2016’s acclaimed “Good Grief.” The record details with uncomfortable clarity the trials of relationships at the hands of constant travel and where problems go when the whirlwind around you stops.

“At the beginning, it was maybe harder to write a song that’s very personal, to have someone put a different perspective on it,” Laessig said. “But we’ve been touring so much together, we’re together pretty much nonstop. We’re so much in each other’s business that it’s easy to just say, ‘Hey, remember that fight my spouse and I had? Let’s write about it.’ ”

One of the most gripping moments on “Good Grief” resulted from a rare fight between Laessig and Wolfe, followed immediately by a vocal recording session. They are in sync elsewhere — they echo their single microphone stage setup for recording as well — but part ways with abandon on “Gone Insane,” a wild, emotional vocal battle from start to finish. Other raw moments abound: “Leaving you has crossed my mind / I’m afraid another heart is hard to find” from “What We Have to Do to Change.” The album’s opener, “Madness,” starts with a spare, almost creepy duet: “I had a dream where you were standing there / with a gun up to my head.”

“It becomes therapeutic in that way. If you bring an idea to the table and someone else says, ‘But what about this?’ You think, ‘Okay that wasn’t where I was coming from,’ ” Laessig said. “Then you reassess your inner turmoil. It’s unusual and a learning experience to be so intertwined creatively with somebody else.”

The album’s lone “light” horse, “Born Again Teen,” is a spirited, feel-good pop anthem that was eventually chosen as the lead single — an unusual decision given its notable absence of sad subject matter.

“The record label wanted that. That was a fight, actually,” Laessig said. “But we took a chance on it because it’s the rebel on the album. When we sat down to write, we had a lot of heavy material. We thought, ‘Do we have to deal with all this right now, or can we just write something cheery and off-the-wall?’ It was born out of being different than everything else.”

“When we first came to L.A., Jess and I wrote a bunch of simple demos and sent them to the guys, and they got together and worked out arrangements,” Laessig said. “By the time we got into the studio, we were coming in with two versions of every song.”

Producer Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes, Weezer) suggested that the band members put names of songs they liked into a box. They then listened to those selections and made notes about qualities they wanted to employ, song by song.

“It ranged from Beyonce to Metallica, so many different influences between the five of us,” Laessig said. “We got a lot of different references, and I guess that came through.”

The album’s release put Lucius back on the road for another grueling year of travel, in the throes of the lifestyle that produced the material for the new record, though perhaps a few thousand miles wiser. For Lucius, there’s sure to be more grief and an equal amount of experience and good to come from it.

“I think it’s good to grieve. If you do, it’s hard. If you don’t, it’s so much harder,” Laessig said. “It’s good to feel. It’s necessary. There has to be a balance of good and bad in everything, I guess. That’s just how it is.”

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the anniversary

Emo band The Anniversary takes reunion show to Oklahoma
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK.com

Think Haight-Ashbury and 1960s rock, Leon Russell and the Tulsa Sound, or indie rock in Omaha in the mid-1990s. Geographical pockets of bands operating loosely under the same genre umbrella often have tremendous impacts on popular music nationwide. One of the Midwest’s contributions, at its commercial peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was “emo,” short for “emotional,” a label often shrugged off by the bands categorized within it.

Though Dashboard Confessional, from Florida, and Saves the Day, from New Jersey, are bands that thrived in that era, many of the most successful bands of that time hailed from suburbs in Illinois (Braid, American Football) or Kansas. Lawrence’s The Get Up Kids is a prime example, as are The Appleseed Cast and The Anniversary. The Anniversary, the band that perhaps least fit the sonic mold of its emo counterparts, erring more toward classic rock ‘n’ roll, recently reunited after a 13-year hiatus and will perform at Opolis on its brief reunion tour. Singer and guitarist Josh Berwanger answered a few questions about the band for The Oklahoman.

Q: Why did The Anniversary break up, kind of at the peak of its success?
Josh Berwanger: Looking back, I think we were young and didn’t know how to deal with everything that was going on around us. So instead of trying to really sit down and figure it all out, most of us were like … It’s over.”

Q: Why reunite after so long?
Berwanger: Janko (drummer Chris Jankowski) has been trying to get this thing going for a while now, and most of us have been into the idea and times and not into the idea at different times. Finally, we felt there was a window, and if it was gonna happen, now was the time. We really looked at this as having fun and being together again. We toured nonstop from 2000 to 2004, and when we weren’t on tour, we were recording. And some of us didn’t see each other again until the first practice 13 years later.

Q: The timing seemed particularly strange given you just finished recording a solo album under your project “Berwanger.”
Berwanger: I think the timing was surprising to everyone. A year before we agreed to reunite, I still thought it would never happen. Berwanger has a new album called “Exorcism Rock” coming out Nov. 4, and we’ll be playing Tulsa and Norman the first week of December.

Q: What’s your connection to Norman?
Berwanger: Ricky Salthouse, from My So Called Band fame. I met Ricky when I was touring in my band (that I started minutes after The Anniversary broke up) called The Only Children. He plays in Berwanger now. We recently recorded a record in Norman with Jarod Evans (at Blackwatch Studios). I love Norman. It’s a second home to me.

Q: Tell me about the first show back, at the Taste of Chaos festival in San Bernardino, Calif.
Berwanger: I wouldn’t recommend a band’s first show in 13 years be in front of 15,000 people. That was a bit intense. All of the other shows have been great. We played after Gwar at Riot Fest.

Q: What have you learned in your other bands since The Anniversary that might’ve led that band to continue on its trajectory back then?
Berwanger: I’m not sure anything could have helped us, since we were so young. As I’ve gotten older, I feel I’ve learned how to handle certain situations better and am able to deal with what I can and cannot control in life. Everyone in the band is a parent now, so with that I can say some of the little things we thought mattered so much as a 20-year-old don’t matter at all.

Q: Once you focus on Berwanger this winter, is The Anniversary kaput again?
Berwanger: It’s really hard to do any Anniversary show, since everyone has serious jobs and kids. The Anniversary is planning a 10-day West Coast run in the summer, and that’s all we have planned. Maybe that will be it, maybe we’ll make another record, maybe we won’t. We have short-term memories, so we may forget this reunion ever happened.

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enter through the drink shop: a banksy art show

Banksy street art finds a home in Oklahoma City
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK / LOOKatOKC

Rarely does this much come from a game of H-O-R-S-E.

In fall 2012, Oklahoma City’s James Nghiem, a comedian, musician, and writer, planned an art show loosely based on the elementary basketball game. Each artist’s piece had to have a title that corresponded to one of the letters in the game. Nghiem said a visual artist friend of his had lamented a lull in her productivity, and he planned the art show partly as encouragement to spur her to create a piece for it.

Oklahoma City artist Mike Allen, then a casual acquaintance of Nghiem’s, submitted art for that show, and the two struck up a friendship. Shortly afterward, Nghiem relocated to Los Angeles for a while, and upon his return, he, along with Allen, found new inspiration in their shared interests and specifically in a type of gathering of pop culture aficionados he experienced in Los Angeles that he couldn’t find here.

“These shows totally started because I was depressed that California had something that Oklahoma didn’t,” Nghiem said, recalling a “Ninja Turtles” art show he saw while he was living in Los Angeles. “I have a lot of talented friends who don’t get a lot of opportunities to express themselves. I just want to see cool things happen and be involved in them in an invisible way.”

“James and I have long, winding conversations when we hang out, which sometimes lead to an idea,” Allen said. “We try to steer away from subjects that are too popular or too niche, but really nothing is off the table. I’m still shocked that so many people are into ‘Cowboy Bebop’ in this city.”

On Saturday, this creative conglomerate opens “Enter Through the Drink Shop,” a curated gallery show featuring the work of several area artists tasked to create pieces inspired by mysterious London street artist Banksy.

Allen, a longtime visual artist, said his submitted pieces for the Speakeasy shows have been different from his other work. “I have made a conscious effort to shed my normal style for these in order to fit the theme,” Allen said. “I’ve found that what I trade away in freedom of subject matter, I get back in freedom from expectation.”

Nghiem agrees about what the Banksy theme offers artists that other shows may not have: “Freedom. I think this theme is a lot more open-ended. I want people to say what they want in their pieces.”

The shows also push the boundaries of what visitors may expect from an ordinary art gallery: themed food menus, performance artists in character and live music are on tap for the Banksy show. The aim is more to create an environment based around the theme than to just have sterile art viewings, though the art itself is garnering attention as well.

“Someone from Allied Arts told me we have amazing pieces and is interested in a lot of our artists. That felt validating,” Nghiem said. “Also, the Speakeasy rearranged their space to have more of a gallery vibe upstairs for us. I’ve been doing comedy there for seven years, and I never thought they would do something like this for a project, especially something that isn’t my specialty.”

Nghiem may consider himself a comedian first, but his social experiments are sparking a considerable amount of creative interaction from those around him, visually and socially. “I like to use pop culture to try and get people to experience other culture. It’s a good way to put bands and artists in good situations and get people talking to one another,” Nghiem said. “It’s not really anybody’s job to facilitate this, but it’s better than living in a state where no one talks.”

From the artists’ side, Allen said, “A theme ‘levels the playing field,’ because it’s likely that most artists who submit, whether established or not, are trying something new.”

For people interested in participating in upcoming shows, Nghiem and Allen want everyone to know the door is open — and dedication and interest can trump perceived skill level.

“If I could just get people who live here to believe in themselves as much as I believe in them, we can really make something,” Nghiem said.

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cyndi lauper

Expect the unexpected with Cyndi Lauper’s new album, visit to Oklahoma City
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

Musical icon, feminist, activist, author and winner of Tony, Grammy and Emmy awards: Cyndi Lauper’s list of accomplishments runs as long as her storied, three-decade career.

Although the eclectic 63-year-old singer says she has many dream projects in the works, when she makes a tour stop in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, her extracurricular to-do list is short: She wants to see the Vince Gill statue at Northwest Classen High School. “So funny,” Lauper said. “I gotta take a picture of myself in front of it so I can show him.”

An ’80s pop singer seems an unlikely Vince Gill fan, but unlikely is the name of Lauper’s game. Since the release of 1983’s “She’s So Unusual,” which spawned the megahit “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” Lauper has released nearly a dozen genre-spanning albums, from old standards to electronic dance music and even Memphis blues. Her latest, released earlier this year, is “Detour,” an amalgam of classic country hits. Gill is one of many superstars, including Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and a yodeling Jewel, to lend their vocal talents.

Channeling Wanda

Lauper’s powerful voice sounds surprisingly at home subbing for Patsy Cline on tracks like “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “I Fall to Pieces,” with a few charming glimpses of her signature Queens accent here and there. The album opener, a take on Oklahoman Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love,” could easily be mistaken for the original if not for modern production value.

“That song, I connected to. It was the first one where we realized, this is what (the record) should be,” Lauper said. “I wasn’t looking to reinvent the wheel, just have fun and be in the genre. It’s a singer’s record.”

“Funnel of Love” in particular may serve as an overdue homage to Jackson, whom Lauper looked to when she was studying female rock ‘n’ roll singers in her pre-solo rockabilly band Blue Angel.

“Without learning from her … I don’t think that I would’ve been able to sing ‘She Bop’ like that or even thought to sing it like that, or ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun,’ ” Lauper said. “I was able to do all those kind of rockabilly things. They called Wanda ‘the devil woman,’ because she was singing rock ‘n’ roll. They said she’s country, but she’s not.”She recalled arguing with industry professionals about Jackson’s lack of recognition when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in the ’80s. “They should’ve inducted her,” Lauper said, “but they’ll never hear that. There’s no women on that board.” Jackson was later inducted in 2009.

Lauper is intimately familiar with butting heads with music’s upper echelon of suits and has not shied away from voicing her dissent, as far back as the start of her solo career. “In my band, it was easier, it was a given that we wrote together. But female singers sometimes have a Svengali standing behind them, and I hated that,” Lauper said. “I would be like, ‘Let me explain something to you: If you could sing, you could do all those things you think are so wonderful, but I have a voice and a mind along with it that I would like to use.’ ”

‘Some kind of feminist’

Lauper, who grew up in a household of women, said, “I just made decisions that I thought were right for women. People would ask, ‘Are you some kind of feminist?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, of course I am. I burned my training bra. Is that a problem?’ Gimme a break. That’s what feminism is. Figure out what your rights are.”

Even “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was originally written by Robert Hazard in 1979 as a male- centric assessment of women’s carefree lives. Lauper rewrote it from a woman’s point of view, and it found massive success and became a call to arms for female autonomy.

More recently, she penned the music for “Kinky Boots,” a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical based on the book by Harvey Fierstein. The musical deals with themes of acceptance for different lifestyles through the lens of a factory worker’s friendship with a drag queen. Lauper, who is an outspoken activist and fundraiser for LGBT causes, found the characters close to her heart.

“I was able to work on a subject matter that was so much bigger than myself,” Lauper said. “It was a great thing to do, and with all those wonderful characters, I could sing any which way I wanted without someone telling me, ‘You can’t sing like that because you’re Cyndi Lauper,’ because I wasn’t.”

Telling Lauper she “can’t” has proved an exercise in futility during the past 33 years, and although she won’t divulge what’s next — “I don’t want to jinx it!” — her audience can be sure that regardless of format or style, Lauper’s true colors will unmistakably shine through.

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jabee

Black Future: Oklahoma City-based rapper Jabee finds his place in time
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK / LOOKatOKC

jabee1

Oklahoma City rapper Jabee Williams’ new album, “In the Black Future, There’s a Place So Dangerously Absurd” — or simply “Black Future” — opens with a reading of the poem that inspired its title. In the poem’s imagined black future, language, education, hope and hard work are the means to moving forward.

“In the black future,” it reads …

We give more than requested

Work harder than required

And believe in the unrealistic

BLACK HISTORY

Written by Oklahoma City poet Najah-Amatullah Hylton, the poem was commissioned for a concert of Jabee’s that never came to pass. After being inspired by a similar show he saw at a museum in New York, he planned a Black History Month-themed performance in Oklahoma City, to include a full band performing songs from different periods of black history, set to video of significant events of the same eras. He requested Hylton write a poem to read live the evening of the show.

Earlier that day, Williams went to a mall in OKC with a friend to get a haircut. They went in separate directions, and he was stopped by security officers who said they’d already told him to remove the hood and accused him of taking video inside the mall. He protested, explaining he’d just gotten there, and after a debate, he attempted to leave. He was followed to the exit and taken out of the mall in
handcuffs.

Williams was placed in a holding cell with many other people, during which time he was not allowed to make any calls for several hours — including to the friend he’d gone to the mall with, who waited without information on her missing friend until after closing time. He was not released until after his showtime had passed.

If you follow Jabee on any social media platform, you know this: “Normally when something happens to me, I Facebook it, I tweet it,” he said. “But I didn’t tell nobody. The KSBI thing had just happened not long before that.”

In July 2014, Jabee was slated to perform on KSBI-52’s “Oklahoma Live!” program, a show he’d guested on before. Upon arriving at the studio, he was asked to leave by a producer who, upon seeing Jabee in person, stated that

a hip-hop act being booked for the show had been a mistake. He and his band left without performing. KSBI’s president later called Williams to apologize. Williams said, of both incidents, “Even though I hadn’t done anything wrong, if things keep happening to you, people are going to think it’s you.”

It’s worth mentioning that Williams is not just a musician; he’s an Oklahoma fixture. He’s known as a relentlessly hard worker and a champion of personal development and positivity. He could often be found handing out fliers and shaking hands while promoting his early 2000s band Invisible Struggle, which often played with folk and punk acts in OKC, or working events for hip-hop collective Puzzle People.

More recently, his local work beyond regular club shows has included performing for youths at schools and social service centers, a pop-up concert in partnership with Oklahoma Arts Council and hosting an annual food and clothing drive. In 2014, he even won a Heartland Regional Emmy for his contribution to an educational commercial for Science Museum Oklahoma.

To put it succinctly: People who know him were surprised to hear he’d run into trouble.

BLACK FUTURE

That trouble did not manage to slow Williams down. When a venue setback moved the new album’s release show from its original date of June 18, he responded to disappointed fans by immediately dropping a hold-over record, a compilation of b-sides and non-album cuts called “Juneteenth.”

And, finally, “Black Future,” after more than a year of production, is in its home stretch, the release show rescheduled for Saturday in Oklahoma City. And as he prepares to share the album with his audience in this emotional climate, he hopes the message of the record is clear.

“I thought people who know me would realize that I would never be exclusive, but look at where the country is right now,” Williams said. “I’m black. My kids are black. It should be OK for me to say I want a future for my people.”

In the black future
There’s a place so dangerously absurd
That words re-emerge as our tools and our friends
Rather than the means by which the man condemns us to ignorance

“ ‘In the Black Future, There’s a Place So Dangerously Absurd.’ It’s almost sarcastic, in a lot of ways,” Williams said. “We can have a bright future, or a dark one. It can be bright, or it can be black.”

The songs tackle a number of heady subjects with stark honesty: personal tragedy, dreams tempered by reality, the salvation hoped for in death, Williams’ relationships with his parents, and the daily challenges of contemporary American blackness.

He initially chose to record “Black Future” entirely at Jivin Studios in Tucson, Ariz., but found himself gravitating back home to Local Cuts, a new Oklahoma City studio (also a barbershop, located on NW 23). Collaborators include Chuck D. and Brother Ali, as well as several Oklahoma artists: Meant2B, Sardashhh and Allie Lauren, among many others.

“My initial plan was selfish: I didn’t want to drown it with Oklahoma features,” Williams said. “But it was a question of what the song needed. With Sardashhh, I heard his stuff and thought, ‘This kid is the future.’ We’d start a song, and I felt like it needed Miillie Mesh. Then everyone started asking, ‘How can I help? What do you need?’ They believed in it, so I wanted to share it.”

SENSE OF URGENCY

Williams was also open with his audience about his artistic process, and he posted videos of studio sessions and provided plenty of updates along the way.

“I want people to buy into it. I wanted to make them a part of it,” Williams said. “And I feel like if I’m not talking about it, it’ll get lost. I wanted to keep that momentum going up until the release. I wanted to always have something to show or share, something to talk about.”

This is true of Williams in the context of an album release but also his artistic path overall — a sense of urgency and a desire to share his music have been fundamental to his success so far.

“You think you have time, but you have no time,” Williams said. “I’ve said, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow,’ to people I had plans with, and then it never happened. I could be driving, doing anything, thinking about how if something happens, how will my music get out, or who will do this thing (that) has to get done. You just don’t know what’ll happen. There’s a song on the album where I say, ‘I close my eyes, and I’m gone.’ I talk about not making it to tomorrow, and am I finishing everything I want to do?”

For Jabee, working hard ensures a legacy; his art controls the message he’ll leave behind. In the black future, according to Hylton:

We see today through tomorrow-colored lenses
Because progress rarely puts out for those who feed it
We give more than requested, work harder than required
And believe in the unrealistic, because we matter
And our babies, even more than our own bodies, will depend on it

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broncho

Double time: Tulsa’s BRONCHO returns with sonically drenched new album
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK / LOOKatOKC

photo by Pooneh Ghana
photo by Pooneh Ghana

“You gotta settle into it.”

Ryan Lindsey, singer and guitarist of Tulsa quartet BRONCHO, is talking about the band’s new album, “Double Vanity.”

When he says it, we’re reclining on a thrift store sofa in the makeshift living room of BRONCHO’s post-apocalyptic warehouse space in Tulsa, surrounded by trusses, mirrors and metallic plastic sheeting. There’s a large tube television playing a VHS tape of the 1985 Chevy Chase comedy “Fletch” and a slowly floating but seemingly permanent haze in the air.

I did eventually settle in, to the environment and the album. In both cases, it did not happen right away.

In other words, meet BRONCHO 2.0: They’re here to set the mood.

Off the heels of “Class Historian,” the 2014 earworm single whose “da da doo doo doo doo” refrain made it a breakout hit (the track currently boasts more than 12 million plays on Spotify), Lindsey’s talent for penning pop and punk hooks reached its largest audience yet.

It comes as a surprise, then, that the band’s next move slows things down considerably. “Double Vanity” is a statement record: grungy and expansive, with every song chugging along at the same leisurely tempo, all vocals and guitars alike twisted under billowy recording effects.

But still, under that first impression are the fundamentals, glimmers of the trademarks that have made BRONCHO successful so far. Giving the album time, according to Lindsey, is crucial: “Once you commit to it, that’s where the little parts of it start to show themselves.”

Matter of understanding

One of those critical reveals is Lindsey’s singing style, a distinctive drawl that has grown increasingly unintelligible since BRONCHO’s inception. It’s what SPIN recently called “androgynous” and “elastic,” and Lindsey doubles down on this style on “Double Vanity,” along with studio effects further obscuring most every line.

“That’s the one thing everyone in our crew had an issue with, but that’s what everyone has always had a problem with, with me — they can’t understand what I’m saying,” Lindsey said. “It’s not intentional; it’s just the way I am. When I focus on ar-tic-u-la-ting, I think about that rather than taking in whatever makes me feel good about performing.”

The vocal character Lindsey plays in BRONCHO has contributed to the band’s charm immensely, but of course complicates clarity for the listener, literally muddying what the band has to say. This is something Lindsey understands despite his tongue-in-cheek stage antics.

“Ben and I, when we’re talking lyrics, we want things completely drenched,” Lindsey said. “I care about lyrics that might be misheard, but sometimes I’ll hear a song and think it’s great, and I hear the real lyrics later and lose some emotion for it.”

Take “Fantasy Boys,” the new wave-y lead single in which Lindsey coos, “Is it something in your walk / is it your legendary play / I wanna eat you up / I wanna drop your name.” Reviewers pounced on the innuendo of the track, likening it to ’80s romantic movie anthems. Close friends, however, say it was initially inspired by the dynamics of a fantasy basketball league. As ever, BRONCHO leaves it up to listeners to decide what they’re hearing.

“I’m making stuff for myself, something that I like,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think of it selfishly until I have to step back and explain myself. And maybe it is a little selfish or self-indulgent, I don’t know. I think there’s people who get it. And hopefully we find the people who do.”

Influential partners

Whether you get it or not, “Double Vanity” owes no small thanks to a couple of the people who do: the production team of Jarod Evans and Chad Copelin at Blackwatch Studios in Norman. The two have incidentally become less-than-silent partners in this era of BRONCHO, harbingers of a technical kismet that has borne heavy influence.

“We’ve gotten to a place where we know how to work with them, and I didn’t wanna mess that up,” Lindsey said. “I like the way they deal with the stress of the studio and the stress of getting something done.”

Working with longtime friends in a familiar setting also allowed BRONCHO some liberties with the record’s pace and environment. According to Lindsey, the band spent the first week of studio time “getting the vibe right,” finding drum sounds and setting up a lounge that included parking the band’s RV and adding patio furniture and artificial grass to create a studio lawn.

And spending that time proved critical. After initial “scratch” recordings and drums were completed, Copelin had the opportunity to purchase an AKG BX20, a massive analog spring reverb unit discontinued some decades ago, famous for its ability to re-create concert hall-style echoes within a small studio space.

“I fell in love with it. It brought the record to life for me and everybody in the band, like, ‘Oh, there it is. We have a record,’ ” Lindsey said. “It felt like cheating. Two weeks into recording, I found out I liked the way my vocals sounded through it and the way guitars sounded through it, and we were on a path.”

Meanwhile, Evans’ newfound interest in manual video production meant much of the recording process was captured visually as well, inadvertently creating a hazy, multicolored aesthetic that has synced up perfectly with the songs and album-related artwork.

“Those cameras kind of have their own vibe and really set the tone for what we wanted to do with our first video,” Lindsey said.

Evans had been searching for a discontinued editing system called Video Toaster (originally engineered by Brad Carvey, reportedly the inspiration for his brother Dana’s character Garth in “Wayne’s World”) for some time. While in the studio, Evans found it for sale — for a mere $500, in Norman. The result of that fateful purchase is a blurry and absurd but suggestive video for “Fantasy Boys,” shot mostly in the warehouse.

Places and parties

A former production space for bathroom fixtures, the industrial building and its surrounding land are peppered with empty hot tub shells, the ceilings and walls coated with inches of chemicals layered so thick it all appears to be frosted, part dirty cake, part limestone cave. BRONCHO’s headquarters looks exactly like a place where an album like “Double Vanity” could be conceived: more than a little dirty, littered with bygone artifacts and somehow still brand-new.

A stage and catwalk are prominent in the center, and various iterations of the stage set — a complex tangle of mirrors, plastic foliage, wire fixtures and purple lighting — are assembled inside when the band is at home.

Currently, though, BRONCHO is in the middle of the first of several summer tours, this one a monthlong, cross-country trek of the sort that has consumed the members’ lives over the past few years.

“I found a way to never be home,” sings Lindsey on “Soak Up the Sun,” track nine of the new LP. Whether that’s really what he’s saying is anybody’s guess, of course.

“All I know is ‘Double Vanity’ is a place I’ve been trying to get to,” Lindsey said. “In some ways, people might be turned off by it, but it also opens us up to other people. There have been those fans after the shows who just want to party, party, party … but I think this is more of a party record than any of our other records. This is the type of party I would go to.”

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a giant dog

Dog pile
for The Tulsa Voice

Equal parts vulgar party band and thoughtful pop artists, Austin quintet A Giant Dog has spent eight years culling the best of its influences—think the creepy-sexy swagger of T. Rex and the driving energy of AC/DC, among other things—and mutilating them into its own brand of garage glam rock.

Songwriters and vocalists Sabrina Ellis and Andrew Cashen formed A Giant Dog in 2008 with guitarist Andy Bauer, bassist Graham Low and former drummer Orville Neeley (current drummer Danny Blanchard is new to the lineup). Their newest record, Pile, out May 6, is a 15-song tour of sex, drugs and rock. The album is the band’s first offering on Merge Records, and it nearly never came to be.

“We’ve had it recorded for a year and a half and almost gave up trying to put it out,” Cashen said. “Then Merge happened. We’re excited.”

Pile (which follows the also comically titled albums Bone and Fight) is the band’s second record with producer Mike McCarthy (Spoon, White Denim) who, according to Ellis, captured the band’s live energy “almost protectively.”

Ellis noted, “He’s a collector of vinyl and always pulled out stuff for us to listen to. He goes really deep into immersing himself in what he wants the sound to be, an engineer through and through.”

Among McCarthy’s LP references during the making of Pile were of course a lot of AC/DC, but also The Pretenders—a surprise that ultimately makes sense when you arrive at the gentler moments on the album. Singles “Get With You and Get High,” which features guest vocals from Spoon’s Britt Daniel, and “Jizzney” are definitively love songs, though still peppered with the band’s signature debauchery. The latter is an admonition for infidelity in an imagined relationship and comes across heartbreaking and a little stalker-y. It’s a great example of the pervading tongue-in-cheek lyrical humor that appears throughout the album.

Overall, though, Pile is certainly more sour than sweet. A Giant Dog’s songwriting has honed in on the bravery found in hopelessness, the moment when caring becomes too much, so you just don’t. I could watch you die and not feel a thing, Ellis sings on “Creep.” I can’t even remember being young, goes the dire refrain of “Sex and Drugs.” These are anthems for lovelorn nerds and hungover outcasts alike, written and performed to sound both flawless and reckless by seemingly loose cannons with intent focus and style.

Notably, Cashen and Ellis are also the primary songwriters for a second Austin act, Sweet Spirit, founded in 2014. On keeping their creative endeavors separate, Ellis said, “You know when there’s a litter of puppies born, you can tell right away which puppies are going to be good and which puppies are going to be really bad dogs? It’s the same way with babies: You know which one’s going to be really good and take care of you and which one’s going to end up in jail. When we’re writing songs, we know right away whether they’re going to be better for Sweet Spirit or A Giant Dog. A Giant Dog is our ‘end up in jail’ band.”

Would-be show-goers should heed that warning: Ellis is a renowned frontwoman with antics ranging from the coquettish and dramatic to the outright gross, and the band’s shows are always loud and always interactive. A Giant Dog is in the midst of a six-week club and bar tour, a room size Cashen said he appreciates because it’s easier to get a feel for the night.

“We can figure out what kind of mode the crowd is in,” he said. “How drunk they are, if they wanna go apeshit or just stand there with their arms crossed.”

And if it’s an arms-crossed kind of night? “We try our hardest to make them uncross their arms.”

“If I feel like people are bored, I start acting like an angry child who’s been told that they’re very beautiful and special,” Ellis added. “In Brooklyn one time, I peed myself. I spit at people, pour beer…especially on people who seem vulnerable.”

A Giant Dog will perform at Soundpony May 14, a venue perfectly suited for the leotard-wearing, head-banging, sweat-spraying crowd involvement the band’s fans have come to love and expect. Until then, stretch, hydrate, and study hard the overarching message of Pile, perfectly summed up in a single chorus line: “I believe that there’ll come a time when we can all just rock ‘n’ roll.”

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