It takes a lot to lure me to Dallas. It takes even more to make me remember it fondly.
Despite a deep antipathy toward the city, in April 2011, I traveled there to see my favorite, The Decemberists. Along the harrowing ride through metropolitan traffic, I made the mistake of expressing indifference toward the opening band, Other Lives, of whom I’d never heard. I was graced with a look of withering scorn from my driver, who proceeded to play an album by the band’s previous incarnation, Kunek. I was reluctantly intrigued, but still not entirely sold, until literally the second the stage lights came up and the music began. I was instantly transfixed, surrounded by orchestral sounds that were by turns hauntingly uncomfortable and embracing. It was simply, as they say, epic.
During the break between shows, I rushed to the merchandise table only to be informed that the new album was not yet for sale. The ensuing wait until the record’s release was spent foot-tapping and mentally reliving the auditory saga of the show, hoping against hope that the album could somehow deliver the same utterly immersive music I’d experienced live.
Tamer Animals fully delivered on the promise of the Stillwater band’s live performance and is now on constant rotation for music fans across the globe.
According to Other Lives frontman Jesse Tabish, the band’s unique sound has been informed by such iconic musical acts as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Rós and Radiohead. “These are bands that went beyond just drums, bass and guitar, and made other bands realize there’s life outside a three-piece rock band,” he says. “Those bands were with us when we first started, and they’ve always been an inspiration to us.”
Recently, the members of Other Lives (Tabish, Jenny Hsu, Jon Mooney, Colby Owens and Josh Onstott) came face-to-face with some of their heroes when they played a show in Oxford, England, and Radiohead just happened to be in the audience. “We luckily didn’t fall apart on stage and kept our nerves together,” Tabish says. After the show, the band found themselves in the realm of fantasy when they were asked to open for Radiohead’s U.S. tour.
“It was a dream come true for us,” Tabish says. “Radiohead is a band we’ve always looked up to, and to open up for them was quite an experience.”
Tabish says touring with such major acts as Radiohead, The National and The Decemberists “stretched the band and made us focus on details of playing together on high-quality sound systems. We grew as a band and learned to really perform together.
“There’s a different feeling when you see people right in front of you, when you hear the sound coming out of speakers,” he says of playing smaller venues. “There’s no pretense there, no barrier between you and the audience. We always feel at home playing those shows. That’s how we started … at the same time, with bigger audiences and stages, you focus more on the band. There’s a different intimacy there because you play to each other.”
For other bands, a national tour might present the opportunity to live the quintessential rock-and-roll lifestyle; not so for Tabish and his bandmates.
“Being on the road for such a long time becomes like home,” he says. “You develop routines as if you were a family of five, waking up, making breakfast. The craziest thing about being on the road is how domestic you get.”
After months of touring with Radiohead, Other Lives kicked off its own headlining tour last fall at Tulsa’s historic Cain’s Ballroom, sharing the stage with long-time friends Colourmusic. For the band, it was an extraordinary evening.
“It’s such a special venue,” Tabish says. “Everybody feels that way when they walk in the place. It was such a great Oklahoma night for us to start our tour there with friends and family. We were happy to finally headline there.
“Living in Oklahoma has allowed us to have the time and space to create our music,” he says of the state’s creative inspiration. “I don’t think we could have made the same music with the same patience in New York or Los Angeles. Tamer Animals is about writing the landscape of Oklahoma. It wasn’t on our minds in the beginning, but living there for 10 years, it seeps into your subconscious, and that’s what we found ourselves writing about.”
Of the new album – currently being recorded in Portland, Ore. – Tabish says that the process closely resembles the recording for Tamer Animals. “We rented a house and are recording it ourselves. We’re not doing anything fancy. We’re in a new space and a new environment, taking it song by song. We just started our first song last week, and we have a lot of material to sift through. We’re taking it a day at a time.” He says it might be a year or two before the new work is released.
The band’s move to Portland has generated some anxiety among Oklahoma fans that they will no longer get to see their favorite native musicians in such hometown venues as Cain’s or Oklahoma City’s Blue Note. Tabish assures that this is not the case and explains why the experience of recording elsewhere was necessary for the band and its music.
“A lot of kids go to college and get to leave home for a while,” he says. “I’ve never had that experience of moving from home. I’ll always consider myself an Oklahoman, but we decided it was time to go somewhere where we don’t know anyone or anything and record there. Traveling for the past two years gave us the bug. We wanted to put ourselves in an unfamiliar, uncomfortable situation.”
He compares the move to the band’s musical transition from Kunek to Other Lives. “Kunek is still a part of Other Lives and always will be,” he says. “But in some ways, it’s almost like this change, like the move to Portland, is again a matter of challenging ourselves, of putting ourselves in new places and headspaces. The name change (to Other Lives) itself is metaphorical: to rethink what we’re doing and start over again. When we finish a project, we instantly want to change what we’ve done and disregard the past and move to places that are new and kind of uncomfortable.
“Oklahoma is always our home,” he says. “We’re taking a year to live somewhere else, but we always come back home. No matter where we go or are at, Oklahoma is in us.”