"Supergroup" is a word that is sometimes carelessly thrown around on the local level, but one band that has most definitely earned the title is Native Lights.
The new project is the collaboration of four musicians who have each in their own way found a niche with their day bands--Johnathon Ford, founder of the nationally recognized indie outfit Unwed Sailor, Bryce Chambers, frontman for dream-pop darling Ester Drang, Aaron Hamby, lead singer for local "it" band Callupsie, and Nathan Price, workaholic percussionist and resident drummer for Vandevander.
The idea for the band came from Ford, who moved back to Tulsa two years ago after more than a decade of self-exile.
"I left here in '95 because I wanted to do exactly what I do now, but there were no outlets for me to do it," Ford explained.
He played bass for Roadside Monument in the late '90s before forming Unwed Sailor, a mostly instrumental post-rock band with a revolving door of touring and studio musicians--save for Ford himself. The band, signed to Burnt Toast Vinyl, has found modest success and national critical notices as Ford & Co. have toured prolifically around the world, developing a cult following in the process.
After moving back to town and witnessing the evolution of the Tulsa music scene, Ford had the idea of forming a local rock band that would be a sort of anything-goes creative outlet. He approached Hamby, Chambers and Price (all musicians who at some point have acted as touring players for Unwed Sailor) with the idea a mere few months ago, but the band has coalesced quickly and naturally.
Saturday, May 23 Native Lights will perform their first official show at the Soundpony, 409 N. Main, with openers Ryan Lindsey and Volcano.
"I feel like I've never really been in a local band in Tulsa, at least since 1995," Ford said. "I was just very intrigued by the idea of playing locally. I wanted to get the best people assembled together and make music that nobody's ever heard in Tulsa."
Once assembled, the band members began to practice as a blank slate, starting from scratch and feeling out the process as they went.
"I remember pulling up to Bryce's place and saying 'Man, I have no clue what this is going to sound like,'" Ford said. "We just had no idea, but we all trusted that it was going to be good, because we all respect each other musically and I feel like we've done good things on our own. Put us all together in a room and something good is bound to happen."
The band currently has one demo, entitled "El Rosa", posted on their MySpace (myspace.com/nativelights). The song, originally written by Chambers, has the tell-tale hallmarks of each member. Ethereal vocals (sung by Chambers, who shares guitar and singing duties with Hamby) are complemented by haunting guitar melodies and a driving rhythm section (Ford on Bass and Price on drums) that brings to mind the dreamy otherworldliness of Ester Drang, the cinematic soundscapes of Sailor and the immediate catchiness of Callupsie. The track dovetails into an outro that unites the band members' common infatuation with early '80s post-punk and shoegazer.
Hamby explained that similar taste and influence is one of the secrets to the band's quick writing process.
"We all have an affinity for the same types of bands," Hamby said. "OMD, Slowdive, Jesus Lizard, My Bloody Valentine, old New Order... If we were doing this in '78, we'd probably all just move to Manchester and try to get on Factory Records, ya know what I mean? We all have a deep respect for these bands that didn't conform, that are super-intense and make amazing music.
There's no reason why you can't do the same thing today."
Besides the solidarity of shared taste and acknowledged influences, the members of Native Lights are united through an agreed no-rules approach to the songwriting process. Everyone writes, and no ideas are shot down. No one has veto power, because nothing is vetoed.
"It's just open-ended, there are no rules whatsoever," Hamby said. "There was a part on a song where I just wanted drums and bass, and the bass to just play like a solid line, like a rock song. And there was some hesitation to ask for it, because in my band (Callupsie) it would just be shot down, which is okay, but here it was just no question. We did it and it felt great."
"It actually completed the song," Ford said.
"Exactly. There's no reason for any of us to shoot any of our ideas down, we just trust each other enough. Anything that comes to the table--just do it, if you feel good about it, we support you. If we don't necessarily understand it--"
"--It's just going to come together."
This mutual respect and light-hearted approach to the process have seemed to prove cathartic and productive for the musicians. In just four months, they've developed a set of songs that they'll be performing throughout the summer as they prepare to play DFest in late July. According to Ford, they'll also be traveling to Black Watch Studios in Norman in the coming months to begin work on a record.
"As far as the physical release, there are definitely different ideas on what to do," he said. "But we're all anxious to get something out as soon as we can."
For Ford personally, the project is something of a homecoming, a representation of newfound enthusiasm for his hometown.
"I'm excited about Native Lights being from Tulsa, Oklahoma and contributing to what's happening here. In my opinion, there's a lot happening. I'm excited that I can be back where I'm from, live here and play more music than I ever have living somewhere else."
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