Stillwater may seem like an unlikely place to find some of the best music in Oklahoma. In the past, the idea of a significant music scene developing in the small college town seemed like wishful thinking, but during the past two years that's exactly what's been happening. Bands and artists like Kunek, colourmusic and Sherree Chamberlain are helping to define the state zeitgeist right alongside the Tulsa and OKC players. And sooner or later Stillwater will have to accommodate its growing music scene by building venues for bands to actually play in.
By all accounts, there are only about three viable original music venues residing there at the moment, and that's a shame, because Stillwater is currently housing some of the state's best secret weapons. Fortunately for us, Tulsa will continue to reap the benefits of bands in need of a stage, and as the Stillwater scene grows, so will its outpour to Tulsa. If the future sound of Stillwater is anything like Kunek, let us all pray that nobody builds another venue, so that Tulsa may continue to play the surrogate parent to orphan bands in need of shelter.
Mayola is one such band. Founded in Enid three years ago, the band dispersed almost as quickly as it had formed. Riley Jantzen (vocals, guitar and keys), Antonio Laster (bass), Travis Nichols (guitar and horns) and Madden Humphrey (percussion) came together as Mayola in 2005, and quickly recorded a rough EP to garner attention and local booking. Unfortunately, the founding of the band was ill-timed. Most of the members were preparing to enter college, and a short while later, the members of Mayola found themselves scattered across the country. Needless to say, writing as a band became difficult, if not impossible.
After nearly a year of separation, the band decided that if it were serious about playing music, the musicians would need to live close to one another. After some debate, they each agreed to move to Stillwater, and in the summer of '06, the band was reunited. Despite the aforementioned difficulty of finding a suitable venue to play, the band flourished in the college town, and has been developing a loyal following over the last two years. They've since accrued a fifth member (keyboardist Bryan Thompson) and a legion of MySpace fans. They played to a packed house at Dfest last summer, and they'll be returning this year.
This initial success is due in large part to the simple fact that, without local venues available in Stillwater, Mayola was forced to play regionally more than the average Tulsa or OKC band.
"I know a lot of Oklahoma City bands who have never played Tulsa because they're too busy playing (their hometown)," Riley Jantzen, lead singer and guitarist, explained. "But in Stillwater we have to branch out... You know, an OKC band goes to Stillwater and hardly anybody knows 'em, but if we go to OKC or Tulsa, typically we have a decent crowd, just 'cause we were kind of forced into it."
Indeed, with multiple Tulsa shows under their belt, the band has already made a name for itself with the local indie crowd, and it's with this in mind that the band decided to hold their CD release party in Tulsa. Thursday, June 12, the band will play Bob's sidestage at Cain's Ballroom with Callupsie, Here is There and DJ Moody doing the lead-in honors. It's an all-ages show, tickets are $8 and doors open at 7:30.
Self-described as "post-apocalyptic country 'n' western rock 'n' roll", Mayola has developed a sound that's both unique and familiar. It's a manic, eclectic blend of country-tinged indie rock that takes a cue from the blue-collar aesthetic of Pacific Northwest bands like Modest Mouse and Grandaddy, though it lacks the excess of the former and the tongue-in-cheek melodrama of the latter. It's at times contemplative (with recurring lyrical themes of spiritual confusion and the confrontation of mortality), but the energy level is never less than raucous.
"We're abrasive, but not too abrasive," Jantzen said. "It's energetic. We want people to have fun."
Riley attributed the band's eclectic sound to their diversity of taste and influences.
"It's a combination of all our styles," he said. "It's kind of a collection of everything we've gathered our whole life while we were playing music."
The process of songwriting, Jantzen said, usually starts with a skeleton of something he'll write on guitar or piano. Each member then writes their own part, and the song evolves naturally. The mutual respect the band members have for one another prevents the process from getting too hairy.
"I've learned not to be put off when it sounds completely different from what I thought up," Jantzen said. "It's a lot of fun because everybody has their input, and you can tell in every song that so-and-so wrote whatever."
The self-produced Everybody is the latest result of this work ethic. The recording process was helpfully nudged along by a few musical peers and an extremely supportive community, as well as by the democratic equality of the band's writing dynamic.
"We produced it all ourselves," Jantzen said. "The only help we had was Nick Ley from colourmusic-we tracked drums with him."
The creative environment of Stillwater also played a large role in the process. Jantzen and his fellow bandmates maintain close friendships with other artists in town, something that Jantzen said is common for Stillwater musicians, even if it's not common elsewhere.
"It's a huge community of people who all genuinely get along," he said. "That's kind of tough to find. There's not really any competition."
Jantzen's opinion of Tulsa's music scene is equally complimentary.
"One thing I noticed about Tulsa is that the fans there are really nice," he said. "All the people are more accepting of different styles of music than they are in, say, Oklahoma City. They have a lot of people standing around with their arms crossed... [But] Tulsans seem to have a more open-minded or liberal mindset about what they'll listen to."
This perspective explains the fact that Mayola has no less than four shows booked in Tulsa during the next month-and-a-half, beginning with this CD release party. It seems natural that any Oklahoma band would want to play Cain's, especially as a kick-start for a new EP, and for Jantzen it's something of a dream come true.
"I've wanted to play [Cain's] my whole life," Jantzen said. "It's going to be a hell of a show."
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