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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derrick brown

Subtlety, subtext and surprises: Poet Derrick Brown talks about odd jobs, unusual venues and assorted weirdness
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK.com

Poet Derrick Brown is a writer and storyteller and president of Write Bloody Publishing, a celebrated independent press that has printed more than 100 titles, including his latest collection, “Our Poison Horse.” His resume also includes stints as a paratrooper, Venetian gondolier and contestant on “The Dating Game.” He currently is touring with actress and poet Amber Tamblyn (“Joan of Arcadia”) and will perform at District House Saturday.

Q: Where are you from and where do you live now?
A:
I am from Long Beach, California, and I live in Elgin, Texas. I’ve been in Texas for the last four years.

Q: What is the first poem you remember reading? And when did you write your first poem?
A:
All my firsts were ugly experiences. My first poems I found were confusing, and for years I thought poetry was only for the elite citizens and was lost on my working-class fuzz.

Q: When was the first time that the idea of poetry as a career manifested itself?
A:
When you are an artist, you do whatever you can to hit your bill due dates, have a few beers and squeeze in time to create. I never thought I could do it full-time and am pretty sure the rug could be pulled out at any minute. So, never.

Q: I’ve seen so many things that discuss all the jobs and kind of odd experiences you’ve had (paratrooper, gondolier, weatherman, “Dating Game”). What’s the single weirdest thing that you’ve ever done or that’s ever happened to you?
A:
A few things. One, someone asked if they could come back to my hotel room and bring a friend. Hubba hubba? No. The friend was a 6-month-old baby. A fan said they would make love to me post-reading if I would give my heart to the Lord — the lord of all Mormons. The comedian David Cross once told me, to my surprise, to let his dog out for a walk twice a day and leave the light on. I forgot to leave the light on, and the dog tore up the laundry room. I now know the exact size of the actor Ben Foster’s butt cheeks, (learned) during a tequila fight in Los Angeles. Let’s just say, if you can palm a basketball, you’re there. I shot a bottle rocket into the face and arm of Alexis Bledel on accident. She did not cry and said she doesn’t know how to cry.

Q: People are saying “Our Poison Horse” is more vulnerable/autobiographical than your previous books. Do you agree with that assessment?
A:
It is the most personal, but I don’t know if that holds more value than surreal or fantastical.

Q: Does the autobiographical content of your work ever give you pause when you’re putting it “out there” for consumption?
A:
No. I am still a nobody in this world. If Blake Lively put out a book of poems where she was keeping track of the foods that made her fart the hardest at night, that could be a job-killer for the many people she employs, so the stakes are high for her and very low for me.

Q: The concept of authors doing readings and book signings isn’t new, but Write Bloody seems more structured, like the authors are bands. Why does that approach work better for you?
A:
Well, Amber Tamblyn wanted to be at Barnes and Noble because she is big on fluorescent lighting and loud announcements about calendars on sale when you’re in the middle of a cancer poem. I try and put on shows in venues different than traditional venues because poetry has had so many bullets shot through it, and all the life has fallen out. I love turning the tables and shoving life into those holes. All those holes.

Q: I think writing poetry in general is kind of viewed as a solitary thing, thanks to a long list of famously depressed and isolated poets, but you’ve dedicated a lot of time to making it interactive, not just in your own readings, but curating, making records, organizing tours, etc. Why do you think the performance, the actual hearing of the literature, is so critical?
A:
It’s not critical to the life of poetry, but it is critical to moving an audience. No good writer writes poetry for the audience, but a great writer knows how to make a set depending on the temperature of the audience that night. Too many poets do not care about the relationship between reader and listener, so folks are expecting a drone-fest. Or they expect a bunch of fake actors, fake crying or yelling about politics without a sense of nuance. I sing “hoorah” subtlety — hooray subtext, hurrah surprises.

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john moreland

This Land is Moreland’s
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK / LOOKatOKC

artwork by Todd Pendleton for The Oklahoman
artwork by Todd Pendleton for The Oklahoman

“This is a record about home. Whatever that is.”

The dedication in the liner notes of Tulsa songwriter John Moreland’s new album is a fitting introduction. “High on Tulsa Heat” was mostly recorded on a whim in a few days in July 2014 at Moreland’s parents’ Bixby home, while they were on vacation.

Produced by Moreland, with engineering and instrumental assistance from fellow Tulsans John Calvin Abney and Jared Tyler, the record is filled with pop rock, Petty-esque gems cut with plaintive ballads, ruminations on being lovesick, loneliness and, above all, the idea of home.

The concept of home is something he’s explored before, a bit more subtly. A line in “Your Spell,” from 2013’s “In the Throes,” lilts, “We knew emptiness like a panhandle road.” And then there’s the title track from 2008’s “Endless Oklahoma Sky,” a line repeated on “Tulsa Heat’s” “Cleveland County Blues.”

“It gets weird after a while. You can’t do that forever, and I need some balance,” Moreland said. “But I’ve been off for a while, and even just driving to SXSW (in Austin, Texas, in March) felt really good. Just getting out of town and driving down the highway, listening to ‘Exile on Main Street.’”

 

Choice words

Upon the release of “High on Tulsa Heat” Tuesday, Moreland will once again pack up for sometimes-greener pastures, with tour dates booked nationwide through the summer. And when he does, crowds can expect the same gravity, the same pin-drop silence that has marked many of Moreland’s recent performances.

“I think I want the words to be the focus,” Moreland said. “I don’t think I’m a very good guitar player; I can’t do anything flashy to grab people’s attention. I would rather the words do that.”

Moreland isn’t a traditional front man and doesn’t seem terribly interested in putting on a show. Instead, he’s a heartbreaker of a different color, possessed of the gift of articulation — whittling the weight of despair, lost love or homesickness into a few choice words.

“I write a ton and then figure out what doesn’t need to be there,” Moreland said. “I just take stuff out until I feel like it’s simple enough.”

The resulting sadness is pointed, palpable — and the assumption is often that all the sadness is his, and that the sadness is all he is. With lines like “I guess I got a taste for poison / I’ve given up on ever being well” from “Tulsa Heat” track “Cherokee,” it’s easy to see why his songs, as Moreland would say, bum people out.

But, as he’ll tell you himself, he’s not really that sad.

“Somebody started a ‘Cheer Up John Moreland’ Instagram account,” Moreland said. “And I think it’s funny, but it’s also like … man, I’m not really that sad. I don’t know what you think I’m like. That happens a lot.”

His friends know this about him, and many of their additions to the record — namely Abney’s late-night synthesizer riffs on “High on Tulsa Heat,” and Kierston White’s whiskey-laden background vocals on “Heart’s Too Heavy” — lift the record’s spirits in unexpected ways.

Hitting his stride

In tandem with this misapprehension about him being a bummer, Moreland agrees that in “real life,” he’s generally a private person. He also recognizes that this makes his career, his art, seem a bit counterintuitive.

“Being a songwriter is weird. You have to be introspective and maybe even self-loathing enough to write the songs, but then you have to be audacious enough to think that the songs you wrote are worth people’s attention,” Moreland said. “And people have asked me if it’s weird to sing this stuff in front of people, but it doesn’t feel weird. This is only context where I could say this stuff.”

He’s made a lifelong commitment to the outlet, though, with his earlier Tulsa bands rooted in hard-core and punk rock because of the same lyrical honesty. Moreland said, when I interviewed him in 2009 with his Black Gold Band, that he got into punk rock because of the “straight-ahead, good songs with no gimmicks,” where the words mean something.

Despite his earlier stabs at this style of song, it wasn’t until 2011’s “Earthbound Blues” that he feels he hit his stride.

“When I was writing for ‘Earthbound Blues,’ there was a moment where I knew I actively wanted to get better, and I was writing with that in mind,” Moreland said. “Everything I wrote before that, there’s a lot that makes me cringe, but nothing really since then. I’ve kept in mind that I want to be able to be proud of these songs down the road.”

Buying in

What lies ahead is the release of “High on Tulsa Heat,” where Moreland for the first time finds himself with a marketing team (Nashville’s acclaimed Thirty Tigers) and a booking agent, the latter a luxury he’s only enjoyed for a few weeks.

In that same 2009 interview, Moreland discussed the difficulty of booking after crossing over from punk rock into Americana — that, at first, people weren’t ready to buy in, forcing him to work all the harder to find his market with later records.

Having a team behind him, despite his success so far, is relatively new to Moreland, and while he’s learning to hand control over to people who are working in his interests, he hasn’t lost sight of the work he’s put in so far.

“I’m thankful that I came from this musical background where you learn how to do stuff with extremely limited resources. You do everything yourself that you possibly can. You don’t wait for a break; you just do it,” Moreland said. “I wouldn’t have a career if I hadn’t known how to do that. There was nobody on my team making calls or pulling strings for me for a really long time.”

Moreland wasn’t waiting for a break, but it appears that break may have finally come anyway, and the road ahead looks promising. And in the near future, he’ll be on that road constantly, likely earning plenty of fodder for future songs.

As he sings on “Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars”: “I know this life will leave you cold and drive you mad / make you homesick for a home you never had.”

But after all the exploration, the heartache, the leaving and returning, Moreland seems poised to forever hang his hat in Tulsa.

“I think if you’re going to make a living going to strange and unfamiliar places,” Moreland said, “then it’s probably good to come back to the most familiar place on Earth. Tulsa’s just home.”

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john fullbright

A Man with a Simple Song
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK / LOOKatOKC

As I walk into the coffee shop where John Fullbright and I have agreed to meet, I feel an intent stare coming from the minivan next to me. He beat me here, and when I look over to source the gaze, he breaks into a smile and waves hello.

I’m nervous.

For those of you in the back, Fullbright is something of an Okie wunderkind, a songwriter who, for some of us, seemed to leap overnight from membership in the Turnpike Troubadours and solo gigs at Libby’s Cafe in Goldsby to international recognition and, eventually, a much-talked-about Grammy nomination for 2012’s “From the Ground Up,” his first studio album.

Those accolades aren’t the source of my nerves, though. Fullbright has a bit of a reputation, particularly locally, for being reluctant to talk — not about his music, but about himself. While I’ve seen his professionalism in full effect in all sorts of places, including the Folk Alliance International Conference, South By Southwest and his own shows at the Blue Door, this is the first time I’ve put the spotlight on him.

Often, when talking to Oklahoma musicians, I tread the line between interested friend and biographer, reading articles from around the world written about people I know and asking questions I may already know the answers to. I am nervous, and I tell him as much.

He is patently aware of this. When I press record, he says, simply, “I’m going to use my interview voice.”

I inquire whether or not this reluctance is in the forefront of his mind when talking to media folks like me or, more often, of a higher ilk.

“Absolutely, but I don’t not tell the truth. I’ll tell a truth. A one-dimensional question gets a one-dimensional answer,” Fullbright says. “I give people all I got, all that I want to give ’em, but if one person from a local paper asks you a question, next thing you know, someone on NPR is taking that question to the next level. You have to be aware of what you’re saying now; someone’s going to bring it up later.”

And for those who prod further, past the songs, past the facts, past what he wants to give?

“I go, ‘I’m not going to go into my family history. We’re talking about music,’” Fullbright says. “Or when people ask, ‘Are you a Christian?’ and all that stuff. ‘We’re talking about these songs.’”

This is a conundrum for Fullbright, whose songs — including those on his upcoming album “Songs” — are clear enough and seemingly personal enough to be subjected to an autobiographical reading. I wonder aloud about the struggle to play close to the chest when your art and profession demand otherwise.

There’s a common theme around here about truth in songwriting. Canadian artist Scott Nolan sings the plight of the Oklahoma songwriter in his “Bad Liver/Broken Heart” with the plaintive line: “Doesn’t anybody care about truth anymore?/Maybe that’s what songs are for.” Okie John Moreland, in a nod to Nolan, echoes that plight in “Nobody Gives a Damn About Songs Anymore,” saying, simply, “I guess truth is what songs are for.”

Fullbright, who notes that for him, songwriting has generally been a lonely task, decries this limitation in a different way on “Songs.” “Every time I try to write a song/I can’t seem to get a word in edgewise,” he sings on album opener “Happy.”

Fullbright puts forth that songs, “when they’re well-written, are about the listener,” but notes the obvious problem with that.

“Write a song that everyone can connect with, and suddenly everyone will start assuming that you know what you’re talking about. Ask me what ‘Jericho’ is about, and I can go line for line, and you’ll fall asleep. It’s the most boring story on Earth. But when you internalize it and make it about you, then it’s epic and exciting. That’s what songs are for.”

He explains further by paraphrasing a Shel Silverstein interview: “He said that when you write a song, you have to say everything that you mean, and it has to be interpreted exactly like you want it to be interpreted, and if it’s not, then you’re not doing it right, because you can’t chase someone down the street and say, ‘Now let me tell you what I really meant to say.’”

He’s lauded as a songwriter first, musician second. I’d categorize him as a sharp observer above all else, and keenly funny, despite an early NPR review of “From the Ground Up” that said he could “use more humor.”

If anything, he’s victim of the aforementioned local papers pigeonholing him with a swath of “Aw, shucks!” folk cliches: Yes, he’s from the same coupling of small towns that produced Woody Guthrie, and yes, he still lives there. Yes, he has an acoustic guitar, though for those who’ve seen him live, it’s inarguable that his piano playing is more impressive. One SXSW reviewer even called him milquetoast.

There’s a palpable absence of a cultivated image in Fullbright — and he is of course aware of this and of the limited perception that keeps that projected version of him alive. “If there’s a preconceived notion that I have to be some kind of Woody-head, then they’ll keep that about as long as it takes for them to come see a show and see that that is not the case,” Fullbright says.

The dark, racy video for his 2013 single “Gawd Above,” featuring Fullbright singing solo in a peep show confessional booth, may have been an answer to that as well.

“I just wanna be known for writing a clear, concise song,” Fullbright says. He goes on to say that experience is teaching him to whittle his songs down precisely to nothing more and nothing less than they should be.

“At the end of the day, I’m two years better than I was when that first record came out. In every way. Better singer, better writer, better guitar player, better piano player, better whistler,” Fullbright says. “I’m better at all kinds of stuff, and if the record doesn’t reflect that, then I’m not doing it right. That’s where the whole thing about stripping it down came from. This has to look like I’m better at this than I was before.”

And it does, I think. “Songs” is powerful in its simplicity, and it’s (theoretically) difficult to interpret his intent. But don’t get too attached. Apologies for using another folk cliche here, but he is an old soul. It’s difficult to remember he’s only in his mid-20s, only on his second studio record.

“Maybe once or twice a year, I’ll take a little stroll down memory lane because there are (older songs) I want to hear again,” Fullbright says. “But I’m looking ahead. I’ve got stuff to write and new experiences, and I’m not the same person I used to be. This new person’s gotta write all that down.”

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bacon jam

Bacon Jam
Written for and published in McSweeney’s Reviews of New Food.

Did you know that they make tiny slow cookers? I found this out because I am 29 and live by myself still, and I was waiting for a wedding registry to come into my life so I could get all new kitchen appliances, but then I got tired of waiting because I found out bacon jam was a thing that could exist.

It is basically like if you were going to make barbecue sauce, but then you replaced the ketchup in the recipe with bacon, and then you took out a bunch of the spices and put in more bacon. I made it today, in my tiny slow cooker, and I do not care anymore about wedding registries or family-sized kitchen appliances or finding love, because I cannot eat bacon jam on any of those things.

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an open letter to the oklahoma city thunder’s seventh man

An Open Letter to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Seventh Man
Originally submitted to McSweeney’s Open Letters. They didn’t publish it, but they did tell me they hope Nick and I live happily ever after.

Dear NBA Dreamboat of My Heart Nick Collison,

I am pretty sure that the most important things to look for when choosing your very first favorite professional athlete are not perfectly symmetrical cartoon beautiful head shape and whether or not he matches his shoes to his home and away jerseys. And when I say I am pretty sure of this, I mean that I am gleaning it from the eye rolls I receive when I talk about those things.

What I know about your college is that it is in a town very similar to mine, except yours has an Urban Outfitters. I know our team is surprisingly good and that our guys are on average too young to have publicly become bad people. That is important to me. From what I understand about basketball, you come off the bench and then large guys run into you a lot, which is a sacrifice you make for your teammates and not very glamorous but probably important. Maybe you have realized by now that I do not know a lot about sports. Don’t worry, because I do not feel like this is an obstacle for us.
Here is the thing, Nick: You are 31 years old, and I am 29 years old, and according to my mom, we are both “not getting any younger” (though I admit she has not said that about you specifically).

When I live tweet your sweet playoff dunks and nod knowingly when people ask if I saw your “screen” just then, it is because I love you. And when I try not to drop the f-bomb when my friends send me text messages that say you are at the same restaurant they are, it is because I am sure that it will happen for us, someday, and I need to play it cool for now.

You are the only Thunder player who does not tell me (us) on the Internet to “have a blessed day” and you also probably like the same things as me, which I can tell because you are so funny in your blog and so am I, and also you have the same taste in restaurants as everyone I know.

When my dad rolled his eyes and told me that the Spurs would knock your team out of the Playoffs, I pledged to disown him in a way that was much more dramatic than was probably necessary, but it was my birthday when he said it, and also it hurt my feelings.

Up-close basketball tickets are apparently very expensive, so I have not gotten a chance to express my feelings in person yet, but I feel confident that our time is coming. And when we hit it off, and I introduce you to my parents, my tiny Korean mom will be so excited that you are the tallest person in the world and also gainfully employed. (Head’s up: She will probably wish that you played tennis instead of basketball, but don’t worry. Sorry in advance, but if you know any other Korean moms then you know that this is totally normal.)

I don’t want to put a time limit on our potential love, but there are only so many times I can start a “COL-LI-SON!” chant in a bar before I am asked to leave because the game hasn’t started yet and also because the Thunder isn’t playing.

I think that you live here now, and all the free time you’ll have in the off season means it’ll happen soon, us meeting (and subsequently falling in so much love). You like pizza, and I also like pizza, and maybe we will want to eat pizza at the same time. Maybe you will order something weird on your pizza like jalapenos, and I will order jalapenos at the next table, and we will lock eyes and smile. And I will tell you how much I liked that one screen you had during that one game and offer up all of the hilarious nicknames I’ve given your teammates.

And eventually, you will tell me that you like my perfect head shape and notice that shoes match my outfit.

Yours,
Becky Carman

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dana carvey

‘Special’ performance
for Oklahoma Gazette

A scheduling snafu on the interview meant I received (and kept, of course) a long, charming, rambling voicemail from Mr. Carvey’s cell phone, explaining he’d had trouble operating his technology in Canada and hoping I’d call him back. I did. To date, the most surreal interview I’ve ever done. He’s eager to please, did many of his famous impressions on the phone for me, and told me I’m funny, that I made him laugh.

Although he’s known for characters like The Church Lady and “Wayne’s World”’s Garth, there’s one moment in Dana Carvey’s career that cemented his future: “My first 200 shows or so I did for free, but for one gig, I got $50. I said, ‘This is it. Fifty bucks.’ I felt incredibly rich.”

Foregoing his backup plans and those of his parents — waiter and typist, respectively — Carvey says he “rode the wave” of the exploding comedy scene in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

“By the time I got on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ there were 10,000 comedy clubs. When I was in college, there were none,” he said. “I was performing at music venues and places with people heckling me and ignoring me.”

After joining the cast of “SNL” in 1986 — a sure sign at that time, according to Carvey, that you’d made it as a comedian — he found an immediate hit with his pious Church Lady bit.

“My very first show, I did ‘Church Chat,’ and it barely got on,” he said. “It was the last sketch before the goodnight, but it killed. There were a lot of religious scandals back then; that was the first thing to hit for me.”

The 1986-87 season was the show’s 12th, but the show faced cancellation for the first time in its history.

“We had to dig our way out,” Carvey said, “but we had Phil Hartman and Mike Myers, then Dennis Miller, Jon Lovitz, Adam Sandler … this hybrid cast from 1990- 93 was kind of a peak. I also think the current cast is brilliant, though I was on the last phase of the show before the Internet and cable were really everywhere. It meant a lot to be on NBC on Saturday night.”

After his departure from “SNL,” ABC aired a mere seven episodes of “The Dana Carvey Show” before pulling it, reportedly due in part to family-unfriendly material. The cast included future comic superstars Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell and Louis C.K., among others.

For comedians now, Carvey said, “It’s easier to kind of break in a lesser way. There are young people on YouTube making a hundred grand a year doing videos from home. It’s easier to be in the business and make it to the middle level, but to make it to the top is always hard.”

For now, he will continue to do things the old-fashioned way: stand-up in cities across the globe. Despite his affection for the region — “I love the Sooners. I love Oklahoma. I could live there!” — Carvey’s visits have been infrequent. He makes amends Friday, with a performance at WinStar World Casino in Thackerville.

Expect plenty of new stand-up fodder, like this sample gem: “There are rules when you talk about your friend’s wife. You can’t say, ‘My wife’s kinda moody, but Barbara’s a bitch.’ That’s against the rules.”

And don’t worry: The show will include plenty of political ribbing from both sides of the fence.

“Most places, making fun of the far right is fun, but the real challenge  is finding leverage to also make fun of the left. It’s very challenging to satirize Obama; there’s a lot of sensitivity. I like to play both sides. I’m a radical moderate … a social liberal with a dollop of Karl Marx and a spoonful of Ron Paul. I don’t belong to a party. I don’t want to have to call someone up and ask what my opinion is. I’m an Americanist.”

Well. Isn’t that special?

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wye oak

The complex grain of Baltimore duo Wye Oak doesn’t run straight; it swirls rings of dreamy heartache
for Oklahoma Gazette

There isn’t really a correct way to interpret Wye Oak. The Baltimore rock band, comprised of singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner and drummer/keyboard player Andy Stack, doesn’t mean to give the wrong impression, but there’s no reconciling the sonic inconsistencies between its albums, nor the divergence between the sound of the record and the setup of the live show.

It’s also nearly impossible to believe that Wasner, who in person is disarmingly friendly and animated, owns the heartbreaking voice behind the majority of Wye Oak’s catalog ” a depressing array of songs that touch on everything from family turmoil and religious doubt to the trials of a failing relationship.

“The Knot,” released on Merge Records last year, is heavy-handed compared to the band’s latest EP, “My Neighbor / My Creator.” The former relies a great deal on distortion; the vocals are quiet and the drums loud, for the most part. The latter is comparatively triumphant and clear, although tackling many of the same issues.

Perhaps most interesting about Wye Oak is that the heavy layering and complex tempos are handled onstage by the same two people who recorded layer after layer in studio.

“We always think, ‘Oh, God, how are we going to do this?’ But we don’t ever let that stop us from doing some-thing on a recording” Wasner said. “We definitely have moments where we think, ‘This is the way we want it, and it’s going to be difficult to duplicate this.’ It was tough for me to get over that, but I realize now that it’s OK if the songs are different live.

“We get a big kick out of re-imagining them … stretching their boundaries and making them work in our live setup. It can be really frustrating for certain songs, where we’ve gone at it again and again and never hit upon something that works live. That’s definitely a bummer, but for the most part, our two-person setup is something we’ve stopped considering as a limitation and realized it’s just part of who we are.”

Among Wye Oak’s other defining characteristics are its deep ties to Baltimore. Stack and Wasner are natives who moved away for college, returned home and, shortly thereafter, formed the group.

“I’m definitely one of those born-and-raised folks. Our families are there,” Wasner said. “I never realized how exciting a city it really is musically, artistically, creatively and culturally until I tried to move away. We got lucky; we grew up at a time when Baltimore was blossoming in a lot of ways, and it’s an inspiring place to be, but I will say this: If I didn’t travel a good chunk of the year, I don’t know where I’d be. By the end of a tour, I’m so excited just to be home, but by the end of my time at home, I’m like, ‘Get me the fuck out of here. I need to go on tour.’ I don’t know how long I can necessarily keep that up, but as of now, it seems to be a pretty good balance. Baltimore’s an important part of the kind of people we are.”

Indeed, themes of family and home weigh heavily into Wye Oak’s songwriting. The group’s lyrics are at once vague and strikingly personal, and many of its songs find Wasner openly questioning her belief in God; the tray liner of “The Knot” disc reads, “There is no great eye on the sparrow?,” taken from the album’s “Mary Is Mary.”

Wasner attributed the biblical reference to another source: the recently deceased Mark Linkous of alternative rock band Sparklehorse, whose “Hundreds of Sparrows” is a favorite of Wasner’s.

“It’s one of those songs I just really, really love. When I heard the news (of Linkous’s suicide), it hit me really hard,” he said. “I didn’t realize until now how much that song had influenced me lyrically. That line, ‘You are worth hundreds of sparrows,’ just stuck with me. It’s about how I’m going to handle religion, or the lack thereof, in my life and how I’m going to handle that with my family. His lines have been in my head the whole time, and it came full circle: I put that reference back in my own songs and, yes, there is a question mark on the end. I do not have that shit figured out.”

And rightfully so. The gravity of Wye Oak’s music makes it easy to forget that Stack and Wasner are young, both in their 20s ” and semipublicly dealing with the very same issues that plague everyone else their age. Case in point: A couple linked since the act’s 2006 inception, Stack and Wasner recently parted ways, romantically, while their friendship and working relationship has remained intact.

“We’re still on tour, and we’re still playing the same music, and we’re still the same kind of friends we’ve always been. We’re not making a press release about our personal lives. We’re not egotistical enough to think anyone would really care,” she said. “We’re also not trying to hide anything. It’s not a huge part of who we are musically, but when you’re a duo, people are curious. … I think it’s important to keep the line drawn between the important stuff ” the really personal stuff ” and a public persona, but shit, we’re just people. I’m not going to lie to anybody.”

Currently on tour with Texas act Shearwater, Wye Oak performs Friday at the Opolis in Norman, and recently completed a stint at Austin’s South by Southwest festival.

“We’re getting along great on tour. We’re both happy and content with the state of our band partnership and our friendship. Things are good,” Wasner said. “We get to travel around in a van and have good times, and you can’t really ask for much more than that.”

During “I Hope You Die,” from “My Neighbor / My Creator,” Wasner sings, “Was it deafeningly loud, or was it peace ” sweet peace?”

With Wye Oak, it’s always at least one or the other, and most of the time, it’s both.

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