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.”
Austin songwriter Hayes Carll returns to Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa for The Oklahoman / NewsOK
Five years passed between Austin songwriter Hayes Carll’s acclaimed 2011 record, “KMAG YOYO (and other American stories)” and the 2016 release of his latest album, “Lovers and Leavers.”
The former found Carll at the peak of his tongue-in-cheek, character-driven storytelling: The title track is from the point of view of a baby-faced G.I. on the front lines, and “Another Like You,” about a hardline Republican and Democrat finding common ground in a one-night stand, topped American Songwriter’s list of best songs of 2011. Carll’s knack for straddling touchy themes like war, politics and religion with a dose of acerbic humor spoke to fans on both sides of every fence, in whiskey-soaked clubs and honky tonks across the country.
“Lovers and Leavers” is a world away. In measurements of time, it was five years and 53 days. In measurements of life, Carll saw hundreds of nights on the road, went through a divorce and fell in love. The Hayes Carll who went into the studio to record this album had a deeply personal list of themes to cover, and the plaintive record, by comparison to “KMAG,” is downright sparse and displays that gravity in spades.
As Carll wrote in the album’s artist notes: “ ‘Lovers and Leavers’ isn’t funny or raucous. There are very few hoots and almost no hollers. But it is joyous, and it makes me smile … It’s my fifth record — a reflection of a specific time and place. It is quiet, like I wanted it to be.”
Q: I think you’ve been pretty classically misunderstood by a lot of your fans. What’s the quote about irony that you like? Not everyone gets it?
Hayes Carll: Yeah, Ray Wylie Hubbard dropped that one on me. I’ve found it to be true. People take what they will from most forms of art, and it can be a losing battle to try and control how it hits them or how they interpret it. I’ve written a lot of things that I didn’t intend to be taken at face value but were, unfortunately, by a lot of listeners. That is one of the challenges of using irony or writing in a character that isn’t me.
Q: Your new record for me felt like you drawing a line in the sand a bit about what kind of artist you are in the present. Was there trepidation about making that statement?
Carll: I was drawing a line in the sand. I didn’t want to leave as much gray area for interpretation. I wanted to make a singer-songwriter record because I wanted intimacy and connection to the material that I hadn’t previously had or communicated. I am becoming more private and developing stronger boundaries as I get older. The opposite of doing that just isn’t that much fun anymore. I had some trepidation in that I was afraid I wasn’t offering something for everyone as I had tried to do in the past, but I’m not Wal-Mart. I’m an artist with a specific thing to say at a specific time.
Q: When you were choosing the songs for “Lovers and Leavers,” did you set out to purposely create the mood of this record?
Carll: Yes. I set out to make what I thought of as a singer-songwriter record. I wanted it to exist in its own world and give the listener the aural equivalent of a close read, if they chose to listen that way. I wanted it to have a sonic signature, but one that was not overwrought or overthought. And it isn’t. I chose the songs I chose because they were the ones I felt closely connected to, and if I didn’t feel that, I didn’t force them into the record.
Q: Why was Joe Henry the right producer for these songs?
Carll: I knew that Joe has the confidence to stop producing. Not everyone does, and a song can end up with way too much tweezing and piling on instead of being allowed to stand on its own as a composition. He displays that in his own recordings and those he makes for others. I trusted that he knew what to do with the kind of record I told him I wanted to make. And he did — we finished it in five days. Not a whole lot of polishing there, which I think was the right choice.
Q: Your girlfriend, Allison Moorer, is a prolific writer of great songs and many other things. Have her methods affected yours?
Carll: Her discipline and work ethic, and understanding that it doesn’t all come out at once, have given me more perseverance in my own work. She’s also good at making sure she stays inspired by sort of constantly looking for sources, staying curious and enthusiastic about all art forms. Her curiosity and open-mindedness inspire my own. She also doesn’t give up on ideas and revises until she can’t anymore. I’ve tended to give up when the inspiration died until recently. I know now that good writing is rewriting most of the time.
Q: What are you reading or listening to lately that you find inspiring?
Carll: I just read “CVJ: Nicknames of Maitre D’s and Other Excerpts from Life” (by Julian Schnabel). Allison picked it up recently, and I read it before she got a chance to. It holds a lot of great advice for artists — how to stay engaged, how to listen to and trust yourself and your own instincts rather than listen to others and putting their opinions before yours. Musically, I’m into Rayland Baxter, Gregory Alan Isakov Dawes and Jason Isbell a lot these days.
Q: Are you strict or academic about your artistic process? Or is there a particular head space you have to be in to get things done?
Carll: No. But I need time, and having my head be clear does help.
Q: What do you do differently to mentally prepare for a Cain’s Ballroom show versus many of the quieter theater shows you’ve been doing this year?
Carll: I like using the different muscles for different types of shows, and after I’ve been doing more of the quiet, acoustic shows, it’s fun to get a little rowdier. The quieter shows are more open emotionally for me, but the trio and band shows are more open musically since I don’t have to do every bit of the work. Both are their own special way of communicating.
Okie songwriter Samantha Crain flexes creative freedom on new record for The Oklahoman / NewsOK
Norman-based songwriter Samantha Crain has long been lauded for her dramatic, character-driven songs. Much was made in the media about her effusive musical storytelling, the tiny woman with a very big voice and an acoustic guitar, and Crain latched onto this public persona for upward of a decade.
“I got described as this girl who sits in a cornfield and writes songs,” Crain said in her media material. “And I went with it, because I didn’t really know who I was. I realize now that I missed out on a lot of creative freedom by treating my songwriting so preciously.”
There’s less acoustic guitar, more technicolor and an abundance of unpretentious humor on her fifth offering, “You Had Me at Goodbye,” out Friday via Ramseur Records. Turning the lens inward has been fruitful, as “YHMAG” paints a more complete picture of Crain as she exists outside of music journalism: a loud talker, both confident and self-effacing, sweet with sharp edges and startlingly funny.
Q: Is allowing yourself to be kind of poppy and funny in your songs something you’ve wanted to do before but stayed away from? Samantha Crain: It’s not like I was holding myself back. I was maybe not aware enough of myself or tuned-in enough to realize that was part of my personality I could inject into the songs I was writing. This album would’ve been the first time I would’ve been able to pull that out of myself.
Q: Did you study any pop records for this while to get into a particular head space for this kind of writing? Crain: Not a whole lot of modern pop music, but I did kind of deconstruct and look a little closer at David Bowie or Beatles songs. Because we know those as pop songs, we automatically align that with meaning they’re common or simple, but actually the reason they’re so magnetic is there’s something unique about them, key changes and weird half bars. That’s what makes them catchy, I think. Those and “Toxic” by Britney Spears.
Q: You chose to work with John Vanderslice again for this album. How did he react after hearing the new songs for the first time, since they’re so different? Crain: John’s always excited to get people out of their comfort zones. He likes it when people feel like they’ve maybe jumped in a pool that’s a little too deep. And he’s right; he has some sort of emotion to work with. When you feel completely confident and safe with a group of songs, it’s really easy to not capture any dangerous moments because you’re so locked-in. It’ll sound good, but it won’t necessarily be that exciting. I also kind of gave him free reign, like, ”If you have an idea that maybe you think I wouldn’t have been OK with in the past, but you think it could be something really cool, then let’s just go for it. Let’s try it.”
Q: It was crazy to me that the first few seconds of the record are like “Mr. Sandman,” that kind of happy 1950s pop, and then it becomes modern really quickly. Are the finished songs anything like you imagined them going into the studio? Crain: Some of them went completely different directions. “Antiseptic Greeting” is pretty spot-on. I wanted that to be like a “Mr. Sandman” but maybe if somebody took some psychedelics before they wrote that song. “Dear Louis,” I knew the feel of that song was going to be pretty upbeat and punky, power pop. “Smile When” was a big surprise. I wrote that song to sound like a Bruce Springsteen ’80s arena rock song, and it got turned into a Talking Heads thing. Drums, bass and vocals. All of the instruments are me doing vocals. That was JV. He said, “This is going to make you feel uncomfortable.”
Q: You have such a long relationship with him now, it is OK for him to say that now. Crain: We’ve definitely built up a rapport at this point. He’s never been one to walk on eggshells, but since we’ve known each other for five years now, he knows that if something turns out weird and I get mad at him for a second, it’s not a big deal.
Q: The promotional photos for this album are super cool. You picked a local photographer, and then Jarod Evans, of Blackwatch Studios, directed the video for “Dear Louis.” How much of this is you having an idea and pulling people close to you into it, and how much of it is you putting your trust in people because they know you personally? Crain: In the past I was hands-off when it came to the visual aspect, and it’s always been a little bit unfulfilling once I got the finished product. I tried to really take the time, this time around, to have a clear vision of what I wanted for photos and the music video and to relay that. Dakota (Lewallen) is a great photographer to work with because he’s really young, and he’s still learning and excited about different kinds of photography. I caught him in this stage where he was really into doing studio photography. He was making scenes.
Q: This record is your “autobiographical” record, is what people are saying. Being from Oklahoma sort of inserts this context for artists, and in the past I feel like you’ve rejected that a bit. But there are all these things very Oklahoma references — a song from Woody Guthrie’s journals and a song about Will Rogers and a response song to a Jimmy Webb song, and he’s from Elk City. Was any of that an intentional way to provide a sense of place? Crain: Those are just things that seep out of me. I never go into any sort of project thinking I need to represent Oklahoma in any way. If anything, I would prefer people get a different view of the state. It’s not just the Oklahoma postcard that you’re getting. There are other things going on, a ton of great visual artists, an underground hip-hop scene. I would like people to get a little bit confused about what’s going on in Oklahoma.
Q: “Red Sky, Blue Mountain” is sung in Choctaw, but to make a new traditional song is sort of touchy territory for a lot of people. How careful do you feel you have to be putting a traditional Choctaw song on your album, surrounded by American pop songs? Crain: The reason I can put this song on the album because I’m kind of done thinking about what everyone else thinks traditional Native American culture should be. I’ve talked about this with Sterlin Harjo and Ryan Redcorn and other Native artists. You can stand by and watch a culture try to hold onto the little bits of uncolonized traditional stuff and eventually die out because the new people don’t feel like they can be involved because they’re not brown enough, or they don’t speak the language fluently. Or you can be proactive and get younger Native artists feeling comfortable creating art, because technically, if a Choctaw person makes art, it’s Choctaw art. I’m trying to be proactive. I’ve captured all that I can. In order to get people excited about keeping the language alive, I think songs can keep traditions going by making them growing and thriving culture rather than one that people are forgetting.
Q: How connected are the recorded versions of these songs versus the live performances of them? This record seems extremely difficult to re-create live. Crain: We are trying to re-create the album pretty much the way it was recorded, and it has proven a challenge. This is the most stressed-out I’ve ever been about band practices. We’re using tracks. I’m still not sure how it’s going to work. I’m not doing any solo shows on these tours. I didn’t even write half of these songs on the acoustic guitar, so I wouldn’t even know how to do it.
Because I did spend so long having a very direct and clear idea about the visual and sonic aspects of the album, I want to be able to control that in a live setting. In the past that maybe wasn’t the most important thing. I just had songs, and the songs were what I was really invested in. With these songs, it’s more about the whole package of the album rather than the songs individually. I want to try to be able to re-create that. And … we will see how it goes.
A few months back, a man pulled up to The Farmer’s Daughter Market in Tecumseh after it had closed and found owner Linda Praytor sitting on the porch, talking with a friend.
“I forgot my wife won’t be home tonight, Linda,” the man said. “I don’t have anything to eat!” Praytor sent him inside, and he soon returned with a bake-at-home pot pie.
“The registers are already closed for the day,” Praytor said. “Just come back and pay tomorrow.”
And he did.
That’s the sort of place Praytor has worked so hard to build. Before opening her shop in October 2014, Praytor grew up on a dairy farm southwest of Tecumseh. That lifestyle saw her up at dawn to work, off to school, and back to farm chores in the evening. This sense of responsibility helped her have a successful five-decade career as a registered nurse. It also instilled in her an admiration for the often-overlooked details of life.
“I learned to appreciate little things like the sunset and sunrise, the grass, the smells of the farm,” Praytor says. “We live such busy lives today; some of us don’t appreciate just waking up in the morning.”
It’s those small details that have made the market a success. The main building houses distinct mini-shops, all decorated in farmhouse chic with Mason jars, raw wood, and farm antiques. Old painted doors cover the walls, and a bathtub taken from Praytor’s grandmother’s home sits in the foyer. Farmer’s Daughter is expansive for an idea with such humble origins.
“I retired in 2013, and this was a dream I had,” Praytor says. “It was supposed to be a little sandwich shop to try to give my town a boost, and it became an adventure.”
The sandwich shop still is there: The Tomato Patch Café features items like strawberry salad with pecans, bacon, and homemade strawberry poppyseed dressing, and one of the market’s bestsellers is the decadent, gooey tomato cheese pie. The Dinner Bell Takery sells cook-at-home versions of some of the café’s recipes, bottled salad dressings and jams, and local milk, sorghum, and honey.
Pickles & Pigs BBQ, open on Fridays and Saturdays, features the handiwork of pitmaster Jeff Sigman. The smoked turkey is peppery and smooth, and the crowd favorite nachos include dripping white queso and spicy Sriracha sauce with a choice of brisket or pulled pork.
The Kalico Bakery offers dozens of cakes and pies, but the star is the Cloud 9: two chewy pecan cookies sandwiching fluffy cream.
In the spring, Farmer’s Daughter also hosts an outdoor flower market, and truck farmers sell their goods next to the restaurant’s thriving herb garden. The Farmhouse Home Décor store stocks candles, gifts, and home accents, and The Homestead, a refurbished house next door, was converted in 2016 and sells antiques like vintage Pyrex bakeware and quilts. If all this seems like a lot for a retiree hoping for a little sandwich shop, that’s because it is.
“Very few of us get to live our dream, and the people I have here are fulfilling mine,” Praytor says. “They are so dedicated to making this business thrive and making it good for this community. It’s a little town, but we love it to death.”
Get There: The Farmer’s Daughter Market, 302 North Broadway Avenue in Tecumseh, (405) 598-2683 or farmersdaughtermarket.com.
Band of Brothers: Meet the new Flaming Lips drumming duo for The Oklahoman / NewsOK / LOOKatOKC
What has two heads, four arms and is green all over?
If you’re a Flaming Lips fan, it’s not your favorite drummer: That’s Steven Drozd. But when the Lips experienced a dramatic lineup change in 2014, two mysterious, green-coiffed men stepped in on twin percussion duties without any real ceremony or introduction. The duo rounds out the Lips’ core trio of Wayne Coyne, Drozd and Michael Ivins, in addition to multi-instrumentalists Derek Brown and Jake Ingalls.
Two years later, we now know the Brothers Griiin are Matt Duckworth and Nicholas Ley, already familiar to many fans who follow the Lips collective. Duckworth, who lives in Norman, also is a member of Lips collaborators Stardeath and White Dwarfs, and Ley is the drummer for Stillwater-turned-OKC band Colourmusic, managed by Lips manager Scott Booker.
“I’d also been working with the band for eight years doing merch, and Nic knew everyone because of Colourmusic,” Duckworth said. “The idea was originally that Nic and I would split the gigs and play together when we could.”
Accordingly, the band worked out solo and double drummer arrangements for live shows, where it quickly became apparent that all preferred the versatility of two percussionists.
As Coyne told “Rolling Stone” in 2014, “There are two guys here who want to be part of this thing. I think it’ll be a great addition to this cool group of weirdos that we take around with us, and they’re guys that we know right from here. I think it will be really exciting and The Flaming Lips will be better than ever.”
In addition to Stardeath, Duckworth fronts a musical project called Brainwasher, in which he dresses in almost-drag, including a green wig, which hatched the initial aesthetic. The unaddressed mythology behind the pair is dual-purpose: It’s interesting to look at, sure, but it also created a necessary anonymity during the trial period.
“I could’ve been an asshole. None of these guys had ever traveled with me,” Ley said. “It just let the air out of the whole situation. There was no risk of, ‘Oh this guy’s our new drummer!’ and then, ‘Now he’s not anymore.’”
The wigs are undeniably a gimmick, but in the bizarrely honest way that is the trademark of The Flaming Lips’ many, many visual experiments: Think massive video walls, dancers, confetti cannons. Both Colourmusic and Stardeath also are bands that, even in the smallest club shows, take great pains to put on a good show, making the transition to a larger stage a natural one.
“I’ll be in my head about the music, but it’s hard to take yourself seriously wearing a green wig. I’ll look up and Pamela Anderson is onstage holding a ‘Save the Whales’ sign, and Wayne is on a gorilla’s back. It’s absurd,” Duckworth said. “Even as a kid, the music I liked was like that. Garth Brooks was my KISS. Going to a show, seeing the drums fly around like a UFO, explosions and rain, smashing guitars. I’ve always loved that.”
“It’s entertainment,” Ley said. “I’ve seen way too many bands phone it in, get up and want people to think they’re cool. I’d rather do more than do less.”
Doing more is an unofficial Flaming Lips motto, from the ground up. A scrappy, DIY work ethic is the modus operandi of everyone on the crew, whether in the band or not. A tight-knit crew of experienced roadies and techs can throw the show together on a dime.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Ley said. “You get taken down pretty quickly if you think there’s a job you’re above doing.”
“I still do merch. I get done playing, pack up, and go settle the merch after shows,” Duckworth said. “It’s allowed to be a big production because everyone works their asses off.”
Sample big productions since the Brothers Griiin came on board include performing the entirety of “Soft Bulletin” at Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, a David Bowie tribute at Radio Music Hall and a stint as the backing band for pop star Miley Cyrus, including an appearance on “Saturday Night Live.”
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around that,” Ley said. “You know exactly what it looks like, and it’s so familiar and completely alien at the same time.”
“When we went onstage, I couldn’t stop shaking. A song was starting, and I kept thinking, ‘What if a cymbal stand falls over?’ ” Duckworth said. “There have been lots of moments where it’s like, ‘Why am I here? How is this happening?’ ”
Ley and Duckworth also are lucky to have discovered a natural chemistry between the two of them, one that has carried them through the nerve-racking experience of hitting the ground running on Flaming Lips time.
According to Ley, “In other bands you rehearse for days, and sometimes it still doesn’t come off the way you wanted it, and you’re discouraged after. Here you just decide you’re going to do something and just do it. People rise to it.”
That inspired attitude may explain how, in April of this year, the Brothers Griiin found themselves on the bill to DJ during Guestroom Records’ Record Store Day celebration, despite neither of them knowing how.
“All these festivals we play have official after-parties with terrible DJs,” Duckworth said. He and Ley, thinking they could improve upon what they’d seen and maybe make a little money, booked themselves a gig. “We bought a controller and got a free version of the software we use now. That’s how everything happens with me, though. To get things done, I have to agree to do them.” (They have since spent considerable time practicing the art and performing at parties across the country.)
On Dec. 16, the Lips will perform at The Criterion, their first show in Oklahoma City in a few years, and in January, the band will release “Oczy Mlody,” currently available for pre-sale on www.PledgeMusic.com. Moving forward, the duo seems permanently entrenched in all things Flaming Lips — two of the pre-sale options include hiring the Brothers Griiin to DJ parties. Still, the purposeful obscurity raises fan questions, and at the speed of Lips, there’s not much time to assess your situation before packing up and moving onto the next thing.
Duckworth noted fans still ask him if he’s temporary, though he’s worked for and with the band for around a decade.
Ley agreed: “People always say, ‘Oh that’s cool you’re still with them.’ It’s a great gig if you can get it. I don’t know how these things usually work, but this is how it works right now.”
Onstage, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius are a Day-Glo Rorschach, matching mod haircuts and sparkly capes. They occupy a single microphone at stage center, with bandmates Dan Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri fleshing out the mirror-image effect behind them. It’s striking, seeing Laessig and Wolfe’s powerful twin vocals performed eye-to-eye, which can turn from sweet to snarling. The human portmanteau that is Wolfe and Laessig operates as two halves of a whole. This impression is more yin and yang than it is identical.
“She’s definitely much more outgoing,” Laessig said of Wolfe. “I was very, very shy. I remember doing a (vocal) recital in high school, and afterward someone came up to me and said, ‘I didn’t know you could sing. I didn’t even know you could talk.’ ”
After meeting at Berklee College of Music in Boston more than a decade ago, the pair moved to Brooklyn and began work on what would become Lucius. Wolfe and Laessig co-wrote the band’s first record, “Wildewoman,” and spent the next years touring rigorously — home, according to a recent interview, a total of 13 days in 18 months.
Returning to a city of constant motion proved too much, and much of the band moved to Los Angeles to work on a follow-up record, 2016’s acclaimed “Good Grief.” The record details with uncomfortable clarity the trials of relationships at the hands of constant travel and where problems go when the whirlwind around you stops.
“At the beginning, it was maybe harder to write a song that’s very personal, to have someone put a different perspective on it,” Laessig said. “But we’ve been touring so much together, we’re together pretty much nonstop. We’re so much in each other’s business that it’s easy to just say, ‘Hey, remember that fight my spouse and I had? Let’s write about it.’ ”
One of the most gripping moments on “Good Grief” resulted from a rare fight between Laessig and Wolfe, followed immediately by a vocal recording session. They are in sync elsewhere — they echo their single microphone stage setup for recording as well — but part ways with abandon on “Gone Insane,” a wild, emotional vocal battle from start to finish. Other raw moments abound: “Leaving you has crossed my mind / I’m afraid another heart is hard to find” from “What We Have to Do to Change.” The album’s opener, “Madness,” starts with a spare, almost creepy duet: “I had a dream where you were standing there / with a gun up to my head.”
“It becomes therapeutic in that way. If you bring an idea to the table and someone else says, ‘But what about this?’ You think, ‘Okay that wasn’t where I was coming from,’ ” Laessig said. “Then you reassess your inner turmoil. It’s unusual and a learning experience to be so intertwined creatively with somebody else.”
The album’s lone “light” horse, “Born Again Teen,” is a spirited, feel-good pop anthem that was eventually chosen as the lead single — an unusual decision given its notable absence of sad subject matter.
“The record label wanted that. That was a fight, actually,” Laessig said. “But we took a chance on it because it’s the rebel on the album. When we sat down to write, we had a lot of heavy material. We thought, ‘Do we have to deal with all this right now, or can we just write something cheery and off-the-wall?’ It was born out of being different than everything else.”
It’s certainly not the only stylistic leap on “Good Grief,” which hops genres from song to song and sounds vastly different from its predecessor. Where “Wildewoman” had a decidedly gentler folk bent throughout, the new album uses synth pop and heavy guitar, even tiptoeing into electronica and disco at times.
“When we first came to L.A., Jess and I wrote a bunch of simple demos and sent them to the guys, and they got together and worked out arrangements,” Laessig said. “By the time we got into the studio, we were coming in with two versions of every song.”
Producer Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes, Weezer) suggested that the band members put names of songs they liked into a box. They then listened to those selections and made notes about qualities they wanted to employ, song by song.
“It ranged from Beyonce to Metallica, so many different influences between the five of us,” Laessig said. “We got a lot of different references, and I guess that came through.”
The album’s release put Lucius back on the road for another grueling year of travel, in the throes of the lifestyle that produced the material for the new record, though perhaps a few thousand miles wiser. For Lucius, there’s sure to be more grief and an equal amount of experience and good to come from it.
“I think it’s good to grieve. If you do, it’s hard. If you don’t, it’s so much harder,” Laessig said. “It’s good to feel. It’s necessary. There has to be a balance of good and bad in everything, I guess. That’s just how it is.”
Think Haight-Ashbury and 1960s rock, Leon Russell and the Tulsa Sound, or indie rock in Omaha in the mid-1990s. Geographical pockets of bands operating loosely under the same genre umbrella often have tremendous impacts on popular music nationwide. One of the Midwest’s contributions, at its commercial peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was “emo,” short for “emotional,” a label often shrugged off by the bands categorized within it.
Though Dashboard Confessional, from Florida, and Saves the Day, from New Jersey, are bands that thrived in that era, many of the most successful bands of that time hailed from suburbs in Illinois (Braid, American Football) or Kansas. Lawrence’s The Get Up Kids is a prime example, as are The Appleseed Cast and The Anniversary. The Anniversary, the band that perhaps least fit the sonic mold of its emo counterparts, erring more toward classic rock ‘n’ roll, recently reunited after a 13-year hiatus and will perform at Opolis on its brief reunion tour. Singer and guitarist Josh Berwanger answered a few questions about the band for The Oklahoman.
Q: Why did The Anniversary break up, kind of at the peak of its success? Josh Berwanger: Looking back, I think we were young and didn’t know how to deal with everything that was going on around us. So instead of trying to really sit down and figure it all out, most of us were like … It’s over.”
Q: Why reunite after so long? Berwanger: Janko (drummer Chris Jankowski) has been trying to get this thing going for a while now, and most of us have been into the idea and times and not into the idea at different times. Finally, we felt there was a window, and if it was gonna happen, now was the time. We really looked at this as having fun and being together again. We toured nonstop from 2000 to 2004, and when we weren’t on tour, we were recording. And some of us didn’t see each other again until the first practice 13 years later.
Q: The timing seemed particularly strange given you just finished recording a solo album under your project “Berwanger.” Berwanger: I think the timing was surprising to everyone. A year before we agreed to reunite, I still thought it would never happen. Berwanger has a new album called “Exorcism Rock” coming out Nov. 4, and we’ll be playing Tulsa and Norman the first week of December.
Q: What’s your connection to Norman? Berwanger: Ricky Salthouse, from My So Called Band fame. I met Ricky when I was touring in my band (that I started minutes after The Anniversary broke up) called The Only Children. He plays in Berwanger now. We recently recorded a record in Norman with Jarod Evans (at Blackwatch Studios). I love Norman. It’s a second home to me.
Q: Tell me about the first show back, at the Taste of Chaos festival in San Bernardino, Calif. Berwanger: I wouldn’t recommend a band’s first show in 13 years be in front of 15,000 people. That was a bit intense. All of the other shows have been great. We played after Gwar at Riot Fest.
Q: What have you learned in your other bands since The Anniversary that might’ve led that band to continue on its trajectory back then? Berwanger: I’m not sure anything could have helped us, since we were so young. As I’ve gotten older, I feel I’ve learned how to handle certain situations better and am able to deal with what I can and cannot control in life. Everyone in the band is a parent now, so with that I can say some of the little things we thought mattered so much as a 20-year-old don’t matter at all.
Q: Once you focus on Berwanger this winter, is The Anniversary kaput again? Berwanger: It’s really hard to do any Anniversary show, since everyone has serious jobs and kids. The Anniversary is planning a 10-day West Coast run in the summer, and that’s all we have planned. Maybe that will be it, maybe we’ll make another record, maybe we won’t. We have short-term memories, so we may forget this reunion ever happened.
Rarely does this much come from a game of H-O-R-S-E.
In fall 2012, Oklahoma City’s James Nghiem, a comedian, musician, and writer, planned an art show loosely based on the elementary basketball game. Each artist’s piece had to have a title that corresponded to one of the letters in the game. Nghiem said a visual artist friend of his had lamented a lull in her productivity, and he planned the art show partly as encouragement to spur her to create a piece for it.
Oklahoma City artist Mike Allen, then a casual acquaintance of Nghiem’s, submitted art for that show, and the two struck up a friendship. Shortly afterward, Nghiem relocated to Los Angeles for a while, and upon his return, he, along with Allen, found new inspiration in their shared interests and specifically in a type of gathering of pop culture aficionados he experienced in Los Angeles that he couldn’t find here.
“These shows totally started because I was depressed that California had something that Oklahoma didn’t,” Nghiem said, recalling a “Ninja Turtles” art show he saw while he was living in Los Angeles. “I have a lot of talented friends who don’t get a lot of opportunities to express themselves. I just want to see cool things happen and be involved in them in an invisible way.”
Nghiem, along with Allen and in partnership with the venue, started a series of themed art shows at 51st Street Speakeasy. The video game “Street Fighter” was the concept for one, the next was based on Japanese animated series “Cowboy Bebop,” and the last borrowed elements from the films of Wes Anderson.
“James and I have long, winding conversations when we hang out, which sometimes lead to an idea,” Allen said. “We try to steer away from subjects that are too popular or too niche, but really nothing is off the table. I’m still shocked that so many people are into ‘Cowboy Bebop’ in this city.”
On Saturday, this creative conglomerate opens “Enter Through the Drink Shop,” a curated gallery show featuring the work of several area artists tasked to create pieces inspired by mysterious London street artist Banksy.
Allen, a longtime visual artist, said his submitted pieces for the Speakeasy shows have been different from his other work. “I have made a conscious effort to shed my normal style for these in order to fit the theme,” Allen said. “I’ve found that what I trade away in freedom of subject matter, I get back in freedom from expectation.”
Nghiem agrees about what the Banksy theme offers artists that other shows may not have: “Freedom. I think this theme is a lot more open-ended. I want people to say what they want in their pieces.”
The shows also push the boundaries of what visitors may expect from an ordinary art gallery: themed food menus, performance artists in character and live music are on tap for the Banksy show. The aim is more to create an environment based around the theme than to just have sterile art viewings, though the art itself is garnering attention as well.
“Someone from Allied Arts told me we have amazing pieces and is interested in a lot of our artists. That felt validating,” Nghiem said. “Also, the Speakeasy rearranged their space to have more of a gallery vibe upstairs for us. I’ve been doing comedy there for seven years, and I never thought they would do something like this for a project, especially something that isn’t my specialty.”
Nghiem may consider himself a comedian first, but his social experiments are sparking a considerable amount of creative interaction from those around him, visually and socially. “I like to use pop culture to try and get people to experience other culture. It’s a good way to put bands and artists in good situations and get people talking to one another,” Nghiem said. “It’s not really anybody’s job to facilitate this, but it’s better than living in a state where no one talks.”
From the artists’ side, Allen said, “A theme ‘levels the playing field,’ because it’s likely that most artists who submit, whether established or not, are trying something new.”
For people interested in participating in upcoming shows, Nghiem and Allen want everyone to know the door is open — and dedication and interest can trump perceived skill level.
“If I could just get people who live here to believe in themselves as much as I believe in them, we can really make something,” Nghiem said.
Musical icon, feminist, activist, author and winner of Tony, Grammy and Emmy awards: Cyndi Lauper’s list of accomplishments runs as long as her storied, three-decade career.
Although the eclectic 63-year-old singer says she has many dream projects in the works, when she makes a tour stop in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, her extracurricular to-do list is short: She wants to see the Vince Gill statue at Northwest Classen High School. “So funny,” Lauper said. “I gotta take a picture of myself in front of it so I can show him.”
An ’80s pop singer seems an unlikely Vince Gill fan, but unlikely is the name of Lauper’s game. Since the release of 1983’s “She’s So Unusual,” which spawned the megahit “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” Lauper has released nearly a dozen genre-spanning albums, from old standards to electronic dance music and even Memphis blues. Her latest, released earlier this year, is “Detour,” an amalgam of classic country hits. Gill is one of many superstars, including Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and a yodeling Jewel, to lend their vocal talents.
Lauper’s powerful voice sounds surprisingly at home subbing for Patsy Cline on tracks like “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “I Fall to Pieces,” with a few charming glimpses of her signature Queens accent here and there. The album opener, a take on Oklahoman Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love,” could easily be mistaken for the original if not for modern production value.
“That song, I connected to. It was the first one where we realized, this is what (the record) should be,” Lauper said. “I wasn’t looking to reinvent the wheel, just have fun and be in the genre. It’s a singer’s record.”
“Funnel of Love” in particular may serve as an overdue homage to Jackson, whom Lauper looked to when she was studying female rock ‘n’ roll singers in her pre-solo rockabilly band Blue Angel.
“Without learning from her … I don’t think that I would’ve been able to sing ‘She Bop’ like that or even thought to sing it like that, or ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun,’ ” Lauper said. “I was able to do all those kind of rockabilly things. They called Wanda ‘the devil woman,’ because she was singing rock ‘n’ roll. They said she’s country, but she’s not.”She recalled arguing with industry professionals about Jackson’s lack of recognition when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in the ’80s. “They should’ve inducted her,” Lauper said, “but they’ll never hear that. There’s no women on that board.” Jackson was later inducted in 2009.
Lauper is intimately familiar with butting heads with music’s upper echelon of suits and has not shied away from voicing her dissent, as far back as the start of her solo career. “In my band, it was easier, it was a given that we wrote together. But female singers sometimes have a Svengali standing behind them, and I hated that,” Lauper said. “I would be like, ‘Let me explain something to you: If you could sing, you could do all those things you think are so wonderful, but I have a voice and a mind along with it that I would like to use.’ ”
‘Some kind of feminist’
Lauper, who grew up in a household of women, said, “I just made decisions that I thought were right for women. People would ask, ‘Are you some kind of feminist?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, of course I am. I burned my training bra. Is that a problem?’ Gimme a break. That’s what feminism is. Figure out what your rights are.”
Even “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was originally written by Robert Hazard in 1979 as a male- centric assessment of women’s carefree lives. Lauper rewrote it from a woman’s point of view, and it found massive success and became a call to arms for female autonomy.
More recently, she penned the music for “Kinky Boots,” a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical based on the book by Harvey Fierstein. The musical deals with themes of acceptance for different lifestyles through the lens of a factory worker’s friendship with a drag queen. Lauper, who is an outspoken activist and fundraiser for LGBT causes, found the characters close to her heart.
“I was able to work on a subject matter that was so much bigger than myself,” Lauper said. “It was a great thing to do, and with all those wonderful characters, I could sing any which way I wanted without someone telling me, ‘You can’t sing like that because you’re Cyndi Lauper,’ because I wasn’t.”
Telling Lauper she “can’t” has proved an exercise in futility during the past 33 years, and although she won’t divulge what’s next — “I don’t want to jinx it!” — her audience can be sure that regardless of format or style, Lauper’s true colors will unmistakably shine through.