There's a movement in Tulsa's music scene right now that many aren't aware of. With all the talk of scenes--the indie scene, the radio rock scene, the metal scene, the rockabilly scene, the red dirt scene-people can easily forget that at the end of the day, the quantification of generic differences can sometimes be counterproductive to the common goal of local musicians. That goal-to create music and retain inspiration-is something that can get lost in the shuffle of growth and competition.
Establishing a unique voice and pursuing higher forms of recognition are two things that every unsigned artist pursues avidly, but the idea of enjoying the moment by simply finding new forms of inspiration within the local bubble is something that many artists do not understand or are flat-out not interested in.
But within the storm of attempting to achieve fame, fortune and artistic recognition on a national level, there's a calm center. There are groups of musicians who aren't so much concerned about money, image and recognition as they are about continuing to push themselves and others to create. One such group is a local collective of Tulsa musicians, dubbed Organum Records. Despite the name, Organum isn't a record label so much as it's a loose group of like-minded artists who are determined to grow as artists through cooperation and camaraderie.
Both expansive and incestuous, Organum is made up of resourceful artists, most with a jazz bent, who share practice space, studio space and stage space. The roster includes some of the most talented and interesting bands and musicians in Tulsa--Matt Hayes, Chris Combs, Josh Raymer, Dylan Aycock, Jesse Aycock, Mark Kuykendall, Jared Tyler, Brian Pryor, Lindsey Neal, Andrew Bones, Paul Benjaman and many many others. Band monikers and other collective projects they're associated with include Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, The Doldrums, Harmonious Monk, Sage Flower, The New Honey Shade, Archer Collective, Higher Ed and on and on. Many of the band members play in multiple projects and it's not uncommon to find these musicians routinely cross-pollinating, sometimes to a mind-boggling extent.
For example, Andrew Bones plays with Harmonious Monk, but he's also known to play live with the Green Quartet and Lindsey Neal. He's recorded drums for the Doldrums, and he's now the permanent drummer for Cecada.
Mark Kuykendall has long been associated with the Doldrums, but he also has a solo project in the New Honey Shade. He's recorded parts for Straight Lines and he frequently contributes to various other bands and projects.
The Aycock brothers alone have their artistic finger prints all over numerous projects across town.
This group defies the ego-driven autonomy that's so prevalent among many other artists. The need for recognition, the desire to be the frontman, these are not traits that one finds in Organum.
What's amazing is that these guys really are in the top-tier of performers, statewide. For the most part, it's safe to say that, locally, they're the best at what they do. Even more amazingly, they seem to live a lifestyle that's permanently communal, as if they're all drawing from the same artistic well and they're all aware that what they possess also belongs to everyone surrounding them.
Last Wednesday night, the Archer Collective (a trio made up of Josh Raymer, Chris Combs and Matt Hayes) convened at Capella's, 1st and Detroit, to play a set that, during the course of the evening, would feature a revolving door of on-hand musicians who may or may not have planned on playing. The set ranged from well-rehearsed, ambient takes on the Doldrums and JFJO to free-form improv sessions that showcased the master craftsmen at their most impressive.
Before the performance, I sat at the bar with Dylan Aycock and Bones and discussed both Organum and the new Doldrums EP. Aycock has been recording under the Doldrums moniker for the last four years, while Bones has, for several years, been the percussionist for both Harmonious Monk and a slew of random acts.
They both stressed that Organum is a young, ever-evolving concept that's future is unsure but wide open.
"It's good to have a collective. My brother's part of an art collective in Lawrence," Bones said. "The whole reason they do it is to push each other to create more, and that's what I think about this. We're all pushing each other and inspiring each other all the time."
"We all understand what each one of us, individually, is trying to do musically," Aycock explained. "We're all friends and we're all trying to support each other with other more spiritual things, and we're all branching out."
Credit Where Credit is Due
Organum musicians frequently share various studio and practice spaces, but Bones and Aycock both expressed a desire to eventually have a more central point of operation.
"Matt [Hayes] and I have talked to Steve Liggett at Living Arts. [Right now] we all stay in this brick building, this little brothel building on Peoria," Aycock said. "And there's this shared space by Deadtown, this old warehouse, where me and Mark and Brian Pryor work out of. Jacob Fred has a studio space at Living Arts. We all have these separate spaces, but we're trying to get together in one single area."
"At our house on Peoria, we'll all get together and record," Bones continued. "It's sort of fun--we have a little thing you can look up on the (MySpace) page to hear those recordings, it's called Glee and it's just a bunch of random stuff that we've done that's real raw, real weird shit. It's all Organum musicians."
Community and camaraderie is obviously at the forefront of Bones and Aycock's minds. They both spent very little time talking about themselves and instead frequently drew my attention to other musicians' work.
"Have you heard Tae Meyulks (the recording alias of local musician/producer Brian Pryor) at all?" Aycock asked. I told him I was only familiar with the work he'd done on Jacob Fred's new album (Lil' Tae Rides Again). "His solo stuff is so amazing. He's a weird guy, he just keeps to himself and doesn't really push his music or anything."
Aycock brought Meyulks up when asked about who exactly constitutes the Doldrums. Aycock was reluctant to brand the project as strictly his own. He elaborated on the contributions of many musicians that made the recordings possible (including Meyulks) and didn't seem very comfortable accepting credit.
"It's not exclusive," he emphasized. "I typically arrange the songs, but I take so many different sounds from so many people--some of these songs are remakes of songs that were started by Mark (Kuykendall) seven or eight years ago."
Aycock further credited his older brother Jesse (who's 27, five years his brother's senior) and Kuykendall as having inspired him to make music in the first place.
"They're older than me. Mark's my brother's age and I had all these old recordings they'd done," he said. "Little loops and random things, as a kid they stuck in my head. When I got older and started learning about music, I was able to arrange some of those songs myself. That was the whole reason I wanted to make music--because of Jesse and Mark."
Now, with the new EP Mirth and Songs, Aycock is gearing up for his first experience with label distribution. Make Mine Music, a British label, has given the EP a limited release in anticipation of the Doldrums' second full-length album, which the label will distribute sometime in the fall. Aycock hopes to bring together an elaborate live show to complement the release, which he said is much more live-oriented than previous material.
"The first album was self-produced, it didn't have any distribution or anything," he explained. "I still haven't played a live show, not one since I started making this stuff, so it's still mostly a recording project. But by fall I want to gather all these guys and have a really big (live show), because almost everybody around me, all my friends have put some kind of sound on there."
With both the pending new release and the ongoing Organum project, Aycock and Bones share optimism-regarding Tulsa music-that's running rampant right now.
"The indie scene is huge right now, and Tulsa musicians, they're all doing the same thing," Bones said. "It's like, if we do it together, it's louder."
"Everybody's feeling that right now," Aycock added. "No matter who you are, it seems like everybody's trying to come together... Everyone's definitely appreciating each other."
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