The bustling Norman music scene will be well-represented on Friday night when Starlight Mints make a stop with Evangelicals to play a show at the Marquee (with Callupsie once again doing the honors of lead-in).
These are perhaps the two most significant bands currently residing in the beloved college town just south of Oklahoma City. The Mints, who have been together for more than a decade, could arguably be considered the indie elders of the current Norman scene. Their weirdo guitar-and-synth driven brand of psychedelic pop rock is the natural descendent of Norman/OKC's reigning gods The Flaming Lips, and they've received a fair amount of positive national press during the years. They're hitting the road this week (starting with Friday's show) for a national tour in promotion of their imminent fourth album, Change Remains.
Evangelicals, the Mints' support throughout the summer tour, are the current toast of the town. Their first two records, So Gone and The Evening Descends, have catapulted them into the national spotlight, and while they don't sound like anything else in Oklahoma, the same tendency toward seemingly drug-fueled sonic madness and mayhem, as well as a developed, circus-like sense of punk rock showmanship, makes them kindred spirits to the Lips, the Mints and Stardeath and White Dwarves.
Together, Evangelicals and the Mints are cementing a reputation for Norman that started with the Flaming Lips and Chainsaw Kittens: underneath the insipid surface of what is in many ways the epitome of homogenized, Greek-driven state school environments, Norman is a town full of melodically-endowed madmen, indie rock whackjobs and plural noun-inclined, article adjective-hating hellions.
Tulsa music is on its way up, but we could stand to learn a thing or two from the Normanites.
What Hath God Wrought?
Evangelicals began as the brainchild of Josh Jones, a Norman native who initially recorded So Gone in order to attract the attention of other musicians.
"I wanted a band really bad," Jones said. "But I was having trouble convincing people to give the necessary time requirements."
So instead of waiting around, Jones decided to just record the album himself, using what he called "the Field of Dreams method.
"If you make a record, then the band members will come," he said. "Once it was done, I could approach people and say, 'Hey, this is what the band is going to sound like, do you want to be a part of this?'"
The strategy worked; he acquired a drummer (Austin Stephens) and a bass player (Kyle Davis), and, later, a second guitarist (Todd Jackson). They released So Gone locally and began to push it on local and national press.
At first, Jones explained that nobody "gave a shit." But the musician managed to get the album into the hands of Scott Booker (manager of The Flaming Lips and Colourmusic), who told Jones to make a list of 100 labels that interested him. Booker sent the album out and, eventually, a small record company called Misra signed the band. The album received a glowing review from tastemaker website Pitchfork Media, and Evangelicals were suddenly catapulted into the upper echelon of the Pitchfork-approved musical elite.
The alternately chaotic and melodic, relatively lo-fi sound of So Gone evolved with the additional band members, and by the time The Evening Descends was released just over a year ago, the outfit had developed into a more refined, expansive space rock act that reveled in a kitschy, kaleidoscopic kitchen sink of pop culture influences (in an interview with New York Press, Jones referred to Evening as "Marvin Gaye meets Rocky Horror"). A music video for "Midnight Vignette," directed by Tulsa filmmaker Matt Leach, found regular rotation on MTV, and the notoriously hard-to-please Pitchfork again gushed, giving the album a rating of 8.2 out of 10.
While obviously grateful for the initial success, Jones maintains an understandably ambivalent attitude regarding press approval and disapproval.
"The way we try to look at it is that you can't let some guy on some Web site in some city define your emotional well-being as a band," Jones said. "If reviewers are telling the world that you're the greatest thing or whatever, that can be just as unhealthy as getting a bunch of bad reviews... because then you're some crazy ego maniac, and that's setting you up for a fall, because you will make a bad record. Any band should really strive to ignore that stuff."
Now in the midst of recording, Jones said that Evangelicals are contemplating their next step as a band ("...where we want to go philosophically and musically is something that we think about everyday") while maintaining a focus on writing new material.
"There are a lot of new songs. I don't know if it's going to be a record or just songs that we release over time. Probably a mix. We're probably working on a new record and EP at the same time, and at some point we'll start divvying out what goes where."
Starlight Mints first formed in 1997. The core of the band began with Allan Vest on guitars and vocals, Marian Love Nunez on keyboards, and Andy Nunez on drums. Various other members have come and gone, but these three comprise the heart and vision of the band.
After several years of demo-ing and writing, the Mints were ready to release their debut full-length. The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of was released in 2000, followed by Built on Squares in 2003.
"We started recording our first record in 1997 and released it in 2000," Nunez explained. "It's been like every three years (for a new album's release) since '97, which is really slow and retarded, but that's how it goes."
As they toured nationally with The Flaming Lips, they garnered critical acclaim and saw various band members come and go. They eventually added Javier Gonzales on bass and Ryan Lindsey on keyboards and guitar--a lineup which, according to Nunez, has worked well during the last several years and "seems to be pretty stable."
In late 2005, they signed to Barsuk, a respected indie label that's nourished bands like Aqueduct and Death Cab for Cutie into major label recruitment. The band's Barsuk debut, Drowaton, was released in 2006 and found modest success at a time when indie bands were either successfully breaking into the mainstream (Death Cab) or falling by the wayside (Aqueduct).
During the course of the first three records, its sound progressed into its current state; The Dream and Built on Squares were goofy, extremely catchy guitar-driven pop records that at times sounded as if Pixies had recorded an album amidst a cotton candy binge, and Drowaton found a band that was just a bit darker, with a broadened sound that had sometimes overwhelming layers of instrumentation.
Now, on the eve of the release of its fourth album (Change Remains, which will be released during the next month in multiple formats), and after more than a decade of developing and maintaining a modest but loyal following, Nunez said that the Mints are focused on finding a path to the next tier of success. The new album is unadulterated electro-pop, with funky, danceable rhythms and synth melodies in the foreground and guitar work noticeably in the back seat. It's a change of pace for a band that's eager to grow.
"I don't think any band is comfortable with where it's at until you're U2," Nunez said. "Ya know, it's a horrible business as far as security goes. Of course we want to push to the next tier up. Time is not on our side; with the exception of Ryan, who's younger and has his own separate career, we're all in our mid-to-late thirties, and we'd really like to see something happen in the next few years that will enable us to keep going."
In addition to the normal duties of writing, recording and touring, the band owns Opolis, a successful venue in Norman that's seen a diverse roster of national and regional acts on its stage.
Nunez runs the Opolis, which he says is an opportunity, as a sort of Norman indie leader, to assist and mentor struggling young bands while helping to dispel misconceptions about Oklahoma to outside bands.
"I don't know what happened. It seems like we were young just very recently," he joked. "Having the Opolis, it feels good to try to help these local bands that are starting out. And also for bands that are touring, they can come to Oklahoma and see that we're not all crazy right-wing freaks."
Nunez said it was very encouraging to see other bands getting out of Oklahoma to pursue a broader national audience.
"When we got out (of Oklahoma), there were the Chainsaw Kittens, us and of course The Flaming Lips, who have always been out," Nunez said. "But now you've got Other Lives going, Stardeath is starting to get going, Colourmusic, The Uglysuit, Evangelicals. You start to see that there's a decent number of Oklahoma bands getting out of here and doing what they need to do."
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