"Some of the best stuff ends up coming from happy accidents," Guardant's Greg Hulett said last week. And although he was specifically talking about the writing process for Guardant and its live shows, he could have just as well been talking about the band itself, its sound and direction, or his musical endeavors in general.
The group that has quietly become one of Tulsa's favorite acts didn't intend to be a band from the outset. For Hulett, it was just an outlet to hang out with friends and take his mind off other things. Nevertheless, when the efforts snowballed, Tulsa ended up with a keyboard-driven, new wave-inspired, indie synth-pop act.
Pardon all the adjectives, but give these guys a listen and try to come up with something better. Is it dance-pop? Is it indie rock? Is it electronic? Does it sound like music from 1983? The answer is "yes" on all fronts. Is it retro-kitsch? Perhaps, but when it's this fun, who cares?
Tulsa likely hasn't seen an act this fun since Stevedore rolled out its EP Almost Beautiful roughly four years ago. Guardant is ready to take Stevedore's mantle for the revival of new wave and synth-pop and run naked through the streets with it.
Roughly two years ago, Hulett was coming out of a relationship and turned to music to occupy his mind. As the former drummer for The French Connections, he turned to a drum machine and keyboards, designing riffs and tunes with Toad (brother Stephen Hulett, also formerly of The French Connections) and Milo (Jason Lockhart). With no intention of creating a band, the trio almost recorded its first Guardant tune, "Helium Flash," on a home recorder. At the time, it was simply three guys passing time and playing together.
In Greg's mind this was strictly an electronic project, keyboards and drum machines only. That vision quickly evolved, however, when old friend and former French Connections guitarist Fry (Ryan Thomas) started sitting in. Guardant's driving premise took control, and it sounded good. With the guitar parts quickly falling into place, it opened up the arrangements and premise to add bass and whatever else, if it served the song.
"We really started out as an electronic band because it was just the three of us," said Milo. "We were just trying to multiply and recreate ourselves, so we'd keep adding parts."
"We never really set out to make or write a song," Hulett added. "We would just say 'That sounded cool, let's play it again,' and it ended up developing into something more. Once Fry started playing with us, it really started coming together."
Take one listen to "Helium Flash" and the band's electronic, '80s new wave influences are obvious. If you listen to the limited number of songs the band has on MySpace, however, you realize the band is developing into something more.
"We started out more electronic and dance-y," said Hulett. "We were looking for a sound like Hot Chip or LCD Soundsystem or maybe even Justice, but over time it became more rock sounding."
Because he sequences the drum machines and sets them to match the band, Hulett took special note of the tempo. "I noticed that most bands in the genre play at about 120-130m BPMs (beats per minute); but probably because of our rock background, we tend to play at more like 135 to 140, or sometimes even as high as 150 BPMs. I'll walk into practice and they're playing at nearly 160 BPMs and I have to slow it down gradually."
The real question: How did this non-band end up becoming a band and playing live shows? After Fry joined, the foursome continued playing in the garage from June to October of 2007 and made its debut after Bart Ford offered the guys a show at Under the Mooch.
"Toad and Fry and I had played in The French Connections previously," Hulett said, "and I kind of missed playing live and that adrenaline rush. Plus, a live show gives you a good feel for what people think and like, so we decided to do it.
"We didn't really play well, but we got a good initial response and it was pretty full, with people outside. Still, we didn't try to book anything except for Overground (the film festival after party), just because we thought it would be cool."
Initially overlooked, Guardant got an invite just a couple of days before the Overground show and quickly wrote a new tune, "This is Binary," in time to debut it that weekend. Since, more shows have followed with Guardant making regular appearances at Monolith (the band's home venue), Soundpony and UTW's 2008 NewVo concert series.
The band's popularity has risen, and although Guardant won't take credit for it, electronic dance rock has been reemerging in T-Town with acts like Kamikaze Slut, Jesus Mazerati and Tip Top Secrets. The group's hand on the scene and regular gigs at Monolith have also allowed it to play with independently touring acts as well as more popular Tulsa acts such as Wighead, Stevedore and Recorder.
While it does seem the band has established itself, don't expect things to stagnate. If anything, evolution is the rule for Guardant.
"I was wondering at the beginning, do we really want to play behind computers? Standing behind a computer doesn't leave much to the imagination, because there's not much of a performance," Hulett said. "We wanted to keep a band aesthetic, playing live instruments. Now I want to incorporate live drums.
"Even playing with drum machines, you can still change things around," he continued. "It's not always easy, but it can be done. When playing live, you can make errors, but sometimes the best things come from happy accidents."
So, what to expect from Guardant in the near future? The band sees a busier schedule during spring and summer; ideas are already spinning in members' heads about the band's next steps. Of course, some formal recordings would be nice, and the band is currently working on material and expanding its catalogue, but that may still be a ways off.
The band is also putting together a new live show, which will blend together a dance party or DJ set and possibly even toy with touches of disco.
"Yeah, it's kind of kitsch, but it's fun" Hulett said.
"That's what we're really about: having fun," Milo added. "If people are moving and dancing and having a good time, that's what it's all about for me."
Keep an eye out for Guardant because you won't want to miss it when the dance party comes your way.
While things may seem a little sleepy this weekend, spring is here and it's a great time to be out on the town. As always, we've got the highlights...
Thursday nights may seem calm, but we've always got a couple of reliable standbys. This week you can reclaim your inner Irish with Cairde na Gael at Arnie's or relax at McNellie's for Dustin and Jesse's Higher Education, a lesson in music appreciation that never grows old.
Friday night, April 3, has a little something for everyone. If you want to embrace the hippie within, head to Flytrap Music Hall for The Schwag (a Grateful Dead tribute band) with Mountain Sprout. If you're feeling rootsy, Starkweather Boys tear it up at Mercury Lounge, and if you're more into indie/up-and-coming bands, Here Is There plays Soundpony.
Metal and hard rock fans have a show of their own with Creeper and Brake Vegas at The Marquee. Pop fans, however, may want to make a short road trip on Friday to catch Meg & Dia at King of Clubs in Claremore.
Saturday night's big party is the 7th Annual '80s Prom, which has graduated to bigger digs yet again and has moved into the Blank Slate. Wear your best '80s prom gear and join the biggest spring dance of the year with DJ Robbo.
Meanwhile, Steve Pryor wails the blues at Arnie's and Cannibal Corpse keeps things heavy at The Marquee with The Faceless, Neuraxis and Obscura.
Sunday is jazz night and the Jazz Hall of fame hosts the OSU Jazz Band for a 5pm show.
And as we head into next week, we get the heavy hitters. Monday night, April 6, sees Avenged Sevenfold and Papa Roach infest The Brady with Violence to Vegas opening, followed by Oklahoma superstars All-American Rejects and Shiny Toy Guns on Tuesday with openers Ace Enders and Vedera.
If it's living legends you're looking for, however, you'll need to look to the north as B.B. King takes the stage at Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino.
And finally, B.B. is only outshined by The Boss himself as Bruce Springsteen returns to Oklahoma for the first time since 1978 to play the BOK Center. There's no opener for the 7:30pm show, but UTW and OneOK have teamed up to sponsor the pre-show concert on the plaza with Woodshed Revival. If you don't have your tickets already, you can try your hand with the scalpers or check early in the afternoon, as Springsteen has a history of doing "ticket dumps" day of show. That's how I landed third row corner seats in '92. Good luck!
And finally, we pay our respects to Mary Shirrell "Rusti" Love -- one of Tulsa's fiercest female blues voices. After a 14 year battle with cancer, one of Tulsa's true and honorary Divas passed away on March 22. Not only was she an amazing voice, but an impassioned performer and person, donating her time and energies to the "Cancer Sucks" charity and many others. She will be sorely missed by Tulsa's musicians and fans.
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