When a band forms, its members usually think it will last forever -- me and my band of brothers out to conquer the world. Later, reality sets in and the group inevitably splinters with members going their separate ways.
Those who really have something special, however, march on unfazed, and, if they're lucky, find an enduring chemistry. For some, the process is disheartening. For others, it steels their resolve to move forward with their musical endeavors.
It appears that we've found a pair of young, like-minded acts that are celebrating a dual CD release party this weekend at The Marquee, 222 N. Main. Van Risseghem and Astellaway may approach it from different angles, but each represents an engaging and positive take on indie pop with its respective CDs.
Perhaps most intriguing is the full-length debut from Van Risseghem. This is Jonathan Van Risseghem's baby, allowing him to present his songs more completely than his solo acoustic shows have afforded him.
Easily one of the most engaging pop records to emerge in the first quarter of the year, Van Risseghem's The Motions combines elements form the singer/songwriter, pop and soul genres to create a sound that's familiar but not pinned down. The project edges closer to the sound and style of early Hero Factor (perhaps due to the layered keyboards or to the understated vocals); but more often than not, it's a mélange that can't be defined.
"That was my main goal with this CD," Jonathan said. "When people ask what Van Risseghem sounds like, I say, 'For it to be indefinable.' The goal was to not sound like this or that. Kind of like if someone asks what Kansas sounds like -- it just sounds like Kansas, like The Beatles sound like The Beatles.
"Part of what I'm proud of is this is a record that my grandparents like -- and sincerely like the music, not just because it's their grandson and they're proud of me," he continued. "At the same time, it's also a record that my little sister likes, someone who listens to totally different stuff."
The nine songs on The Motions do cover a broad swath of styles. When asked about influences and what he listens to, Van Risseghem said, "I listened to a lot of Paul Simon when I was recording this. And Brit rock, like Radiohead and Remy Zero, and a lot of R&B -- old, '60s and '70s R&B that has a good sense of melody and rhythm.
"Like Otis Redding," he continued, explaining his love for classic rhythm and blues. "I remember the first time I heard 'Sitting on the Dock of the Bay' when I was 16 or 17 years old. It just captured that mood so perfectly and did it with such a dang good melody."
As you might surmise, melodies are essential to Van Rissghem's material, but the real strength is in the overall songwriting and structures. As a multi-instrumentalist who can play guitar, piano, bass and a number of other instruments, Jonathan is secure in his writing and playing, with a clear sense of direction.
"Songwriting should be of the nature, that, if you can play it with one instrument or play it with 90, it would still be a good song either way," Jonathan said.
After playing with other bands, Jonathan decided to strike out on his own roughly a year ago. He has since played a number of solo acoustic gigs while writing and recording his debut CD. With the new album complete, he has now assembled a band to perform the songs in a more expanded form.
Beyond the song structures, however, are thoughtful lyrics with spiritual undertones. Jonathan said that he grew up in church and ended up in Tulsa when the family moved for his father to attend Rhema. As a result, faith is a strong theme in his songs without being overbearing.
Instead of sounding preachy, Jonathan was more interested in vocalizing his faith in a manner accessible to anyone. "Everyone knows what it's like to feel like you're not living up to standards and most people can relate to feeling love beyond infatuation," he said. "I just tried to share that so these songs could be played in bars and still appreciated."
Refining the Sound
The second set of Friday night's CD release party features a band that has seen its ups and downs and now has a refocused vision. Astellaway's core members are no strangers to the local music scene, even if the current band isn't a common name yet.
Following the demise of their previous band, Tigereye Lily, Luke and Kacy Chronister knew they were devoted to a career in music. Finding a kindred spirit in bassist Josh Gilbert, the three moved into a house together to write and record a full-length debut CD in less than four months. As a result, Astellaway made its big debut with a new disc in hand, but encountered a few problems.
Without a committed full-time drummer, guitarist Luke Chronister filled that gap while also recording and engineering the disc. When the time came to play live, however, the band was stuck playing with a rotating lineup of friends to complete the rhythm section. After spending six months getting the band off the ground, the trio realized it wasn't where it needed to be and decided to take a break. Gilbert moved out of state while husband-wife duo, Luke and Kacy, stayed in Tulsa and continued writing.
When Gilbert returned and the band reconvened, the material for the new EP, This Time, was completed with a more focused sound. Drummer Jeremy Smith had also joined the fold, giving the group a new sense of solidarity.
The new EP presents the band in a new light; it is more direct than the debut album a year ago: building on tight song structures, an aggressive pop sound and Kacy Chronister's distinct vocals, which draw comparisons to Veruca Salt, especially when combined with Luke's tightly wound guitar work. Everything works incredibly well, emanating a distinct energy.
Gilbert told me that this is a band focused solely on one thing: making music its career. Now locked into a firm lineup, the band has planned a six-week tour beginning in May. After returning to Tulsa in June, the group will then turn around for another 10-date run before heading to the Cornerstone Festival in early July.
"Cornerstone was really a turning point for us last year," Gilbert said. "We went up there, trying to promote our band without playing any shows, because we didn't have a drummer. We saw all these other bands and all the work they were putting into it and realized we had to get our act together. We can't keep asking favors from our friends -- we've got to get out and do this."
That's exactly what spurred the hiatus and renewed vision for the band. This year's trip to Cornerstone will be more productive as the band has already landed a showcase slot on the encore stage and is setting up a couple more gigs during the festival.
The group is ready to make an impact; following the CD release this week, Astellaway heads down to Austin in just a few weeks to play the Red Guerilla Festival during SXSW week.
These guys are committed and ready to make sacrifices until their career takes off. "We'll go until we're broke, then come back and work to put some money away, then go out and do it again," said Gilbert.
"We've had some labels get a hold of us, but we want to show people we're serious," he said. "We'll play the same to 10 people or 500 people. We're mature enough to not let that get in our heads. We just want to go out there a play a great show and build a buzz."
Gilbert might sound overly optimistic, but an in-depth conversation reveals the dedication of the band. This is a group of musical soulmates and old friends with a formidable chemistry. Having grown up in Henrietta, Josh and Kacy have been friends since they were 8 years old. And 14 years later, they are still great friends that share a vision for the future.
"Our main goal isn't to write a hit song that gets on the radio and only be known for that one song," said Gilbert. "We'd rather have five solid albums and a following than one hit single. We'd like to be known as a solid touring band that likes to play every night and has the same energy every night whether it's just the promoter or a full house."
The time to catch Astellaway is now, as this group loves Tulsa but has no plans on becoming a regular in local venues.
The Astellaway/Van Risseghem CD release party is Fri., March 6 at The Marquee. Tickets are only $10 and include a copy of each band's CD at the door. Check them out now, because both acts have potential for a long future. Newcomer Mitch Hull opens the show at 8pm.
Once again, we've got a full calendar in T-Town this week, and it all starts early with a fistful of options on Thurs., March 5. If you prefer to stick with your standing gigs, Thursday sees Cairde na Gael holding down Arnie's, Dustin and Jesse's Higher Education convening at McNellie's and Brandon Clark and Travis Kidd rocking SoCo's on the South side.
Fri., March 6, offers a more diverse roster with Hayes Carll and Band of Heathens bringing the country to Cain's Ballroom; Coolio, Tone Loc and DJ Moody get funky at Flytrap Music Hall; and RadioRadio and Benjamin Del Shreve rock the Blank Slate while Hosty Duo holds down Exit 6C. Of course, there's always the aforementioned Van Risseghem/Astellaway CD release party at The Marquee; or Cody Clinton and the Bishops at the Collective to fill out your date book.
Cain's Ballroom is celebrating Bob Wills' birthday on Saturday night with The Texas Playboys, The Roundup Boys and Oklahoma Stomp. Meanwhile, the rest of the town throws a party with Soundpony hosting The Frontier Brothers; The Collective bringing you Stevedore, Guardant and Tip Top Secrets and Flytrap rocking out with First Lady Assassins, PDA and Karate High School.
Of course, you can get a little more rootsy on March 7 with Delta Fiasco at Blank Slate, Rocky Frisco at Exit 6C, or Rodney Parker and Turnpike Troubadours at Mercury Lounge. Finally, Gordon Lightfoot wraps up Saturday's calendar with a show at Mabee Center.
Mabee Center's most impressive show, however, is easily the Tulsa return of country legend Loretta Lynn on Sunday evening, March 8. More than forty years later, the "Coal Miner's Daughter" is still packing them in with her voice and stage presence. Tickets are still available for $40, $50 and $61.
The Jazz Hall of Fame continues its winter concert series on Sunday as well with the TU Jazz Band and Sophisticated Ladies at the Jazz Depot.
Finally, your past comes back to haunt you as the reunited New Kids on the Block play BOK Center. Jabberwocky opens the show. You may be embarrassed and denying it, but those tickets aren't selling themselves, people; somebody out there has a guilty pleasure... Personally, I remember crowd watching and heckling from the 11th street Taco Bell when NKOTB played Skelly Stadium back in '91. Something tells me that would be sadder than fun this time around.
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