Initially known as the guitarist for one of the city's most popular bands, The Hero Factor, Matt Fisher is a guitarist of whose skills many casual observers probably had a skewed perspective. Near workaholic tendencies keep him working the local club circuit with weekly gigs and a creative wellspring has produced two EPs of a proposed trilogy and concepts for two DVDs for his most recent project, Vandevander. Fisher may be both one of the busiest and most misunderstood musicians in Tulsa.
"I kind of felt like this wasn't even a competing rock band in Tulsa," Fisher said last week. "It seemed like people were more interested in watching what was going to happen."
"Now," he continued, "We're finally starting to get compared to other original rock acts."
Last year's release of the Vandevander debut, The Great State of Emotion, was a warning shot for the local music scene that Fisher was back and that this wasn't warmed-over Hero Factor leftovers. Instead, Vandevander is another beast altogether.
Conceived as a trilogy, The Great State of Emotion kicked off an intriguing introduction to the band and an exploration of the human psyche as the protagonist suffered the dissolution of a relationship. In theory, the trilogy was to be completed with The Great State of Denial and The Great State of Redemption. Fisher explained it as a conflict between two people, followed by the internal conflict of the protagonist, and finally the redemption or resolution of the situation. In many ways, when listening closely, it loosely parallels the grief cycle.
Now that The Great State of Denial is ready for release, it is proving to be more than just the next step in the human psyche. Sure, it's a record full of emotional upheaval and the logical step from Emotion, but it also marks a similar progression for the band's identity. No longer married to the Hero Factor legacy, Fisher seems to be rediscovering himself and his strengths.
One of those strengths is being one of the tastiest guitar players in Tulsa. For years I've given Fisher grief for his guitar tone and quizzed him on his equipment, only to be laughed at and told that he just looks for old tube amps in pawn shops. As sick as that is, Fisher's gift has always been conveying emotion through his instrument, no matter what the context. With Vandevander, he's only made that all the more apparent.
Last year's Great State of Emotion was easily one of the most heart wrenching albums I've heard for years. With Great State of Denial, the protagonist is fighting through the next two stages of the grief cycle, anger and denial, often wavering between the two and searching for a light at the end of the tunnel. And while the storyline and songs read as a voyeur into someone's diary, there's also a parallel with Vandevander's progression as a band.
"Basically, I think the music will be a lot more confident, but just as honest," Fisher explained.
"When I was going through what I'll call one of my shittiest situations, I realized what was being done to me was that parts of me were being attacked and some of my most charming characteristics were being beat up," he continued. "I realized that, previously, I was pretty content with who I was and didn't want to be someone else.
I realized my self esteem took a pretty good kick in the face. Now, I'm more confident as I've taken time to get to know myself and how I operate in society and musically, I think that will translate."
Lyrically and sonically, it certainly translates, as the protagonist fights through the pain to sort out his place and separate reality from fabrication and reassess his self worth. Perhaps most telling in that search is "Sleep with My Scars."
"To me, that's one of the heaviest/darkest cuts on the disc, but it's kind of a love song," Fisher commented. "It's all about the presentation: trying to convince them while trying convince yourself."
By the time the disc wraps up, the protagonist is left in the standing at a tipping point and we're left to see if he'll spin back into despair, as hinted at in "Hollywood Heartbreak" or if "Rain/Hallelujah" will bring him to the point of redemption and closure.
That's not readily apparent yet, even to Fisher. There are other options available if The Great State of Redemption doesn't make itself readily apparent.
"I've started writing again and want to record again," Fisher told me. "Initially, I was going to finish the trilogy. If the five songs come to finish it out, that's great. If not, that's okay."
"I'm going to try not to rob myself of the experience," he explained. "If I have to go through more shot to finish it, I will. I want 'Redemption' to be sincere, and if my heart doesn't write it in the next month, that's okay."
No matter what the progression, Vandevander is establishing itself as a serious presence with a disc that lies up to its predecessor. The release party for Great State of Denial is this Friday night, August 8, at The Colony, with an $8 cover. The Straight Lines will open the show at 10pm before Fisher, Nathan Price and Eric Arndt take the stage as Vandevander and recreate the turmoil. The show will be recorded for a future DVD, hopefully capturing the raw emotion of the disc and the electricity in the air when playing in such an intimate setting.
And don't worry about the completion of the trilogy bringing signaling the dissolution of the band.
"I'm just taking my time right now," Fisher told me. "The third EP is hardly the end of Vandevander--it's just the end of the introduction."
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