Legendary crooner Johnny Mathis was born to sing
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK
Even via phone from his home in Beverly Hills, the showstopping smile that made crooner Johnny Mathis a heartthrob among heartthrobs early in his career comes through, loud and clear. In his pitch-perfect enunciation, he introduces himself as John, not Johnny — he is 82 now, after all.
On this particular morning, when asked how he’s doing, he responded, without missing a beat: “Oh, I’m old!” followed by a raucous belly laugh.
“I wondered when I was a little kid about when people got old, I wondered what they did, and now I’m finding out,” Mathis said. “Not much. You try to make your day nice and easy, and that’s about it.”
That may be true of most people his age, but here, it’s a stretch. A recent Washington Post article revealed Mathis, a former champion high-jumper, gets up at 5:30 a.m. to work out with a personal trainer whenever he’s at home.
He’s about to embark on a series of tour dates marking his 62nd year in the music business, during which time he’s recorded 79 albums, including last year’s “Johnny Mathis Sings the Great New American Songbook.” It’s a rare feat for an active entertainer’s career to reach its sixth decade, and Mathis has spent most of it on Columbia Records as the label’s most tenured artist. His 1958 record “Johnny’s Greatest Hits” pioneered the greatest hits format. He’s netted five Grammy nominations and three Grammy Hall of Fame inductions.
These are formidable laurels, yet Mathis isn’t resting on them. He is, as he put it, “born to sing,” and the rest? All in a life’s work.
“Great New American Songbook,” helmed by Clive Davis and produced by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, typifies Mathis’ gentlemanly, even passive, approach to making records, as well as the tremendous trust he puts in his collaborators to guide his choices.
“I grew up having to record songs that were popular of the day. That was a very big part of my life as a young performer,” Mathis said. “People are always playing songs for me. I have no idea what would sell, and people will only buy what they want to hear, so I might as well try to sing that.”
“Songbook” includes tracks made famous by everyone from Whitney Houston and Adele to Pharrell, Bruno Mars and even Keith Urban, all delivered in Mathis’ polite, laser-focused tenor. As far as how to approach performing newer pop songs in his traditional style, Mathis says there isn’t much to it.
“You don’t really have to worry about it, because you open your mouth, you sing the same song the same way somebody else did it, and it just sounds like you. You can’t help it,” Mathis said. “The fun part is when you sing one that has been done well by someone else, and yours comes out good, too.”
He credits Edmonds with keeping him on track in the studio, because, despite that “here goes nothing” approach, even Johnny Mathis has his doubts.
“Whenever I would ask, ‘Really? You want me to sing that?’ he said, ‘Come on, give it a chance.’ I need people around me like that because my head is all over the place as far as music is concerned,” Mathis said. “Recording is, I’m telling you, it’s a puzzle, because you think you’re doing it and it sounds OK, and then six months later, you listen to it and say, ‘Oh, why did I do that way?’ But that’s just de rigueur, I guess, for most people.”
He noted that, because he’s gone from, “I sound like a girl, oh no!” to “That’s my favorite song!” about the same recording over time, he is not dogmatic about turning down suggestions. The record company wants him to sing songs people will know. He want to sing songs he thinks people will like. He calls where they land each time “a happy medium.”
Mathis is both pragmatic and deferential, two traits that speak to his longevity. He knows how to keep a label happy and to cater to longtime fans who, let’s face it, are in the room to hear the hits. And they keep showing up, year after year. As jobs go, this is one of the better ones, and Mathis hasn’t lost sight of that.
“I know that I have to repeat a lot of the songs that have been popular over the years like ‘Chances Are,’ ‘Twelfth of Never,’ ‘Misty’ and things like that, but while they’re not watching, I throw in a lot of stuff that I really love,” Mathis said, laughing.
He credits his first voice teacher with teaching him how to preserve the nuances of his voice, particularly in the higher ranges.
“She insisted that I maintain the soft, high notes, so over the years I’ve had a lot of fun singing songs that were a little bit different, and that keeps my interest level up,” Mathis said. “I get the freedom of performing in so many ways, in so many venues, whatever the songs call for.”
His career has been based solely on his uncanny ability to interpret great songs with incredible technical skill and emotion. He is not the sort of famous many of his contemporaries sought to be, calling the prospect of being the topic of conversation “boring” and likening record promotion to “beating the bushes.” Even more unusually, he is not his own producer, songwriter or accompanist. He makes clear the line between what he does, which is sing, versus everything else.
“When I was young, I’d say, ‘Oh I think I should record this, and I think I can hear the accompaniment,’ and a couple of times, without ruining my career, I’ve done that, and it’s a pitfall,” Mathis said. “I was born to just sing. It’s really not a crime to say that I don’t have a handle on (selling records) … and I’m not a good musician; I’m really a singer who is learning to be a better musician.”
People who’ve heard his albums may have their doubts about this particular point of his modesty. Whether he’s feigning a limited understanding of the ins and outs of musicianship or not, he knows what’s good when he hears it. When asked what record he’d listened to most recently, he named Earl Klugh, calling him “par excellence” and “kind of a jazzer, but he plays so beautifully that most people don’t even know.”
Tasked with making plans for his next album, he recently asked longtime accompanist and collaborator Gil Reigers, as if he weren’t Johnny-freaking-Mathis, “Do you think Earl Klugh would make a record with me?”
Reigers contacted Klugh, and he agreed, to Mathis’ apparent surprise.
“I said, ‘Oh wow!’ And so hopefully, my next recording will include at least a couple of songs with the great guitarist Earl Klugh,” Mathis said.
Until then, he has roughly 20 tour dates across the country, spanning through January 2019, during which Mathis, as always, will be doing what he loves, what he knows best, what he was born to do.
“I’m interested in singing a good song and singing it as best I can.”
The more they changed, the less we felt:
The Smashing Pumpkins satisfy longtime fans during the Shiny and Oh So Bright Tour performance
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK
Oklahoma City’s July 14 date for the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Shiny and Oh So Bright Tour” was only the second arena performance on what is slated to be a 40-plus-show run spanning the remainder of the year. It’s something of a reunion, with founding members Billy Corgan, guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin performing onstage together for the first time since 2000. (They’re joined by Jeff Schroeder on guitar, Jack Bates on bass and Katie Cole on keys.)
The impact of this reunion, like pretty much every 20-year reunion in 2018, has sort of been ruined by the internet. First, there’s the conspicuous absence of founding bassist D’Arcy Wretzky, who has participated in some fairly volatile online feuding with Corgan since the reunion was announced. Then, there’s the elephant in the room: Pumpkins fans already know what everyone involved has been doing since we all last saw each other, and one of the things Corgan has been doing, at least since 2005, is touring and making records as the Smashing Pumpkins … mostly sans Chamberlin and definitely without Iha and Wretzky.
Corgan is, by reputation at least, a storied control-freak possessed of an interminable ego. Add to that a tendency toward purposely alienating his collaborators and the fans who’ve tried to stay along for the ride in fretful and surprising ways. So the reunion tour did raise concern, as posed by Joe Coscarelli for The New York Times in March: “The question now is whether fans — who have weathered years of diminishing returns from Mr. Corgan’s mercurial antics, broken promises and odd decisions — will allow themselves to trust the band enough to care.”
I went into Saturday’s show jaw clenched, nervous for the thousands of die-hard Pumpkins fans who filled out Chesapeake Arena’s seats on the promise of Corgan and company’s return to their most-admired form: an evening full of material almost exclusively from the band’s first five albums, performed faithfully by (most of) the musicians on said records.
At promptly 8:15 p.m., following a brief and politely received opening set by Canadian rock band Metric, Corgan took the stage and performed “Disarm,” from 1993’s “Siamese Dream,” alone, his reported 6′ 3” form towering in silver boots and a black jacket emblazoned with a zero on the back, a nod to the “Zero” persona he developed starting with the video for 1995’s “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.” Defaced childhood photos of Corgan cycled on-screen behind him, one of the only moments in the show where the video work had any real gravitas. “I used to be a little boy,” Corgan yelped in his trademark nasally tenor, which, at 51 years old, sounds as powerful as ever. “So old in my shoes.”
There was probably not a better way to start the show than with an air of vulnerability, however staged it may have been. Otherwise, Corgan is a rock star through and through, a bizarre and charismatic frontman who strutted and costume-changed his way through 31 songs in a set that lasted just over three hours.
Remember how insane it seemed to put out a two-hour, two-disc alternative rock record in 1995? And how good of an idea we thought “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” was once we’d listened to it? I left the show feeling that same way, that the high points and admiration for the band’s sheer ambition more than made up for any perceivable lows. They continue to gild the lily, in other words, but at their core, they’re exceptional enough to warrant looking past the frills.
Among those high points: early hits like “Today” and “1979,” which brought a wave of well-deserved nostalgia along with hard-hitters like “Zero,” which was preceded by a decidedly creepy video speech from Corgan, during which he pronounced, “Let’s blow on fading embers, to boast about things … forgotten and buried. ‘Tis the end, ‘tis the end, ‘tis the end.” “Mayonaise” [sic] from “Siamese Dream” into “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” (from “Mellon Collie”) was another strong pairing, both songs kicking off with jangly, quiet guitar work leading into the meaty ‘90s alt-rock the band helped define.
And among the lows: the muddled concept of the video screen content, some of which was beautiful, some of which was generic and some of which was, for some reason, Sugar Ray singer Mark McGrath in a vaudeville costume blathering on so the band could take short breaks.
Also, Corgan’s voice is so recognizable that cover songs just come off kind of weird. Their take on Bowie’s “Space Oddity” came closest to feeling OK in context, but a stunted performance of “Landslide” and a hilariously overwrought “Stairway to Heaven” were only saved by being the bread on a “Tonight, Tonight” sandwich, a song so well-written and well-produced that it sounds timeless and that they performed without fault.
For the first time in a very long time, the Smashing Pumpkins delivered on exactly what their fans wanted and then some, which is a bit of a miracle, even if it was by design.
“We collectively need to rebuild the public trust in our brand,” Corgan said in the aforementioned NYT piece, before going on to admit, “We’re going to say, ‘Look, yes, we’re brats. Yes, we’ve tested your patience. But this is our absolute best effort.’ ”
They finished their set with “Muzzle,” during which Corgan sang, particularly meaningfully in light of the captive audience, “My life has been extraordinary,” before returning for an encore led off by “Solara,” a new Rick Rubin-produced single that sounds as at-home during their greatest hits show as it would on any featured album. Maybe, as his visage commanded earlier, “Tis the end,” but maybe that end also is a beginning.
Get the show on: Smash Mouth comes to Oklahoma for free Newcastle performance
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK
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.
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.
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.
Nashville feel-good rock band Republican Hair keeps it high and tight
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK
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.”
“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?”
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.”
“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.”
Of the music firmament
for The Tulsa Voice
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.
Band Q&A: Berry
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK
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.
Concert review: Hop Jam Beer and Music Festival 2017
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK
I’m not a festival person.
By that, I mean the crowds, the chaos, the parking, the sheer length of time people stand outdoors in a constant barrage of smells and sounds. I once watched a row of portable bathrooms catch fire, the resulting plume of black smoke curling through the sky behind the stage. None of that is for me.
On the other side of my first Hop Jam — Sunday’s craft beer and music festival founded by Tulsa pop-rock band Hanson four years ago — I’m happy to report I might’ve met my festival match. In the vein of Nathan Poppe’s Hop Jam recap from last year, here are a few observations from the fest’s fourth edition:
- When I spoke with Taylor Hanson before this year’s Hop Jam, he said the festival had no specific inspirations, only that they wanted it to be “world-class,” of the caliber of other festival events with longevity like Coachella and Bonnaroo. Hop Jam is tiny by comparison, and that works to its advantage. I arrived shortly before the official public start time of 3 p.m. to see a line from the craft beer area stretching all the way to the main stage at the other end of the festival. But only a short time later, everyone had gotten where they needed to go, in a shockingly orderly fashion. I revel in that level of organization. (Hanson bingo: I spotted all three brothers at different times, carrying radios and appearing to deal with various festival management ins and outs.)
- Sixty-five breweries is a lot of breweries. Ticketed beer patrons were given a small Hop Jam tasting cup on a detachable lanyard, and word has it the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission was out and about watching the size of the beer vendors’ pours. That’s probably for the better, since theoretically, one could sample 200-plus types of beer in the five-hour tasting window, were he or she methodical about it. (I did not do this. But for the record, my favorite new beer I tried was the Anderson Valley G&T Gose.) Taylor Hanson noted that many of the craft breweries they contact for the festival are only now looking into distributing their goods in Oklahoma because of the industry’s brief tenure here. Hopefully Hop Jam proves the existing market for them.
- When you’re standing in a parking lot for three hours, 76 degrees might as well be 90.
- Props to whomever is curating the Hop Jam main stage lineup. It’s a healthy mix of local talent (this year’s Oklahoma artists were Count Tutu, John Fullbright and Johnny Polygon) and national acts. This year’s offerings, South African alt-rock band KONGOS and neo-soul act Mayer Hawthorne, are famous enough to draw a crowd and polished enough to entertain festivalgoers unfamiliar with their music.
- Hanson fans love Hanson. Hop Jam fell on the fourth day of a long Hanson.net member weekend, where “fansons” from across the country flock to Tulsa to participate in a number of private events, including a Hansonopoly tournament, karaoke and a concert only available to fan club members. Even though their Hanson cups had runneth over at this point (just kidding, ABLE!), dozens of dedicated fans parked it in front of the main stage hours before the music actually started, in order to get a prime spot for Hanson’s headlining set over five hours later.
Hop Jam drew an impressive crowd on a Sunday when downtown Tulsa had at least two other concurrent festivals nearby. Despite a sanctioned five-hour drinking session for many attendees, the crowds remained fairly tame, and many of last year’s complaints about long lines seem more or less resolved. As Hop Jam continues, it’ll be interesting to see how and if the festival affect the craft beer industry in Tulsa and elsewhere in the state, and whether it takes on a life more its own and less connected to Hanson, the band.
Tulsa’s Hanson readies fourth rendition of beer and music festival
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK
Twenty-five years ago, nearly to the day, Hanson — then ages 11, 9 and 6 — performed what Taylor Hanson calls “the first proper concert we did that wasn’t a family reunion or in a living room,” a set at Tulsa International Mayfest in the Brady Arts District.
The precocious trio’s work ethic manifested even then, and over the next four years, Isaac, Taylor and Zac performed often, released two independent albums and acquired a manager, whom they famously found busking while at South By Southwest in Austin.
What happened next, you probably know: In 1997, the release of “MMMBop,” the lead single from Hanson’s major-label debut “Middle of Nowhere,” charted at No. 1 in 27 countries, including the U.S. “Middle of Nowhere” sold 10 million copies worldwide and set ablaze a whirlwind period of international touring and press saturation.
That era also marked the beginning of the Hanson fan club, a subscription model that includes limited-edition merchandise, exclusive songs and web content and invitations to attend two annual retreats, one held in Jamaica, and an annual Hanson Day in Tulsa — actually a multiday event, held this weekend, that includes private performances, karaoke, photo ops and songwriting lectures given by the band.
“It really feels like it’s bigger than the three of us. It’s very much a celebration of the community,” Taylor Hanson said, when I spoke with him last week by phone from Tulsa. “A lot of the folks who have stuck with us, it’s pretty amazing. They’re good friends as a result of connecting through music and have known each other for 10, 15, 20 years.”
If you haven’t kept up, here’s what those Hanson fans already know. Following a turbulent split from their record label after the release of 2000’s “This Time Around,” Hanson, then barely out of high school, formed an independent record label in order to retain control of their music. Isaac is now 36, Taylor 34 and Zac 31. 3CG Records, named for the three-car garage the band recorded in as kids, has released four Hanson records, most recently 2013’s “Anthem,” which reached No. 22 on the Billboard 200.
3CG has been housed for a decade in a former warehouse space in the Brady District, and the operations at Hanson headquarters include not only their record label, but a studio space and workings of the band’s nonmusical passion project, Hanson Brothers Beer Co., which launched its flagship pale ale MmmHops in 2013 — a tongue-in-cheek nod to Hanson, the band, turning 21 that year.
Which brings us to The Hop Jam, Hanson’s craft beer and music festival, now in its fourth year. With a comprehensive array of international beer vendors and a music lineup, including John Fullbright and Mayer Hawthorne (and, this year, headlined by Hanson), the festival aims to breathe new life into an already-storied area of Tulsa.
“For the last 10 years, we’ve been set up on Main Street. This area is really a music hub in Tulsa, with the heritage of Cain’s Ballroom, the Brady Theater,” Taylor Hanson said. “Building on all those things, what better place to host our festival than the neighborhood where it all started?”
Sunday’s Hop Jam features 65 brewers (Hanson was diplomatic but noted he’s particularly excited about Canada’s Unibroue) doling out samples of more than 200 different craft beers. The 21+ craft beer area is ticketed, but the festival’s music, located just outside the beer grounds, is free to the public. Past Hop Jams have attracted a reported 40,000 attendees.
While partnerships between Oklahoma craft brewers and musicians isn’t new — COOP Ale Works has long sponsored musical events, including a stage at Norman Music Festival, and Anthem and Mustang host concerts in their breweries, for instance — Hop Jam is the first beer-centric event of its scale in the state with music free to the public in a thriving city space. They’ve managed to somehow balance the family-friendly festival crowd with alcohol enthusiasts.
“We saw the potential to create something greater than the sum of its parts,” Taylor Hanson said. “You have the craft beer community beginning to grow but without a larger forum to draw in new fans. We thought this event could bring out music fans who could then get exposed to the craft beer community. When you put those things together, you create a kind of happening, you create a moment. You kind of have to come up with a reason to not go.”
Hanson is capitalizing on the crowds to do some good as well. Proceeds from the raffle of a hop-shaped custom guitar as well as ticket sales from a curated brewers’ dinner benefit the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, a tradition nearly as long as the band’s career.
“All the way back to our first major tour, people would bring us gifts. At some point, we had to say, we’ll never be able to appreciate this much adoration, so we directed people to the food bank,” Taylor Hanson said. “We wanted to know that enthusiasm was directed in a way that made a difference. To us it’s just a natural fit to find a real, organic way to support the community when you have such a positive event bringing people together. It’s a way to channel some really good energy into something that makes a difference.”
MIDDLE OF EVERYWHERE
Just before Hanson’s own festival performance this year, they’ll be inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, a timely honor in the band’s 25th year. After Hop Jam, the band embarks on a world tour aptly called the “Middle of Everywhere.” This year the band also will release a Christmas record (their first since 1997’s “Snowed In”) and a greatest hits compilation that includes one new single, “I Was Born,” out May 26.
“We chose ‘I Was Born’ ” — the refrain of which is, ‘I was born to do something no one’s ever done’ — because it is just completely to the vein, just true optimism, unjaded, unadulterated,” Taylor Hanson said. “This idea of really believing in what’s impossible is what’s kept us going, always being interested in the future.”
Unsurprisingly, Hanson’s affinity for Tulsa factors heavily into that future. As likely patron saints for the second coming of the Tulsa Sound, a torch suggested to Hanson by Steve Ripley of the Tractors, the band recently has worked with several area artists representative of those same influences, including Paul Benjaman, JD McPherson and John Fullbright.
“It’s that fusion of melody and gospel and rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, a tinge of Red Dirt. A lot of these artists are part of that lineage,” Taylor Hanson said. “Tulsa’s always had a music heritage, but we see a real through point, a real organic heritage that a lot of us who grew up in Oklahoma feel, whether we mean to or not. It’s coming through in our songs.”
One collaborative project in the works celebrates the work of Leon Russell and other canonical Oklahoma music. “We were so devastated to lose Leon Russell last year. When he passed, it was just like a ton of bricks,” Taylor Hanson said. (Taylor Hanson performed at Russell’s memorial service, and the band performed a tribute to his music at 2017’s SXSW.) “It reminded us so vividly why you can’t wait.”
The forward thinking that catapulted Hanson to widespread success as kids has lingered. There are plenty of nostalgic laurels to rest on. … One glimpse at this year’s interview headlines reaffirms that: Haircuts! The ’90s! MMMBop! … but from Hanson’s point of view, there’s too much work yet to do: “I guess the short of it is that I’m excited to still be using all of our creative energy towards new challenges, new musical challenges. It’s not about replicating what you’ve done.”