When singer-songwriter Autumn arrives in Tulsa for a show at the recently reopened Church Studios on Friday, Nov. 27, it will be a long overdue homecoming. Although she was raised in Tulsa and has been a professional musician for roughly 10 years now, this will be her first time to perform in Tulsa.
If anyone tries to tell you timing isn't everything, tell them they're wrong. As fate would have it, just as Autumn finally arrives in T-Town, she is one of the first performers to play Church Studios, perhaps the only locale in Tulsa to rival Cain's Ballroom in prestige and mystique. Considering this young lady's intimate songwriting and style, she couldn't debut in a venue any more appropriate.
Those not familiar with Autumn's work can be forgiven. As an independent artist, she's not had the blessing of a major label push or widespread radio airplay. Once you hear her, though, it's hard to not become thoroughly engaged and drawn into the world of her songs. Hints of Natalie Merchant's soulful swoon and Maria McKee's gospel tinged heart collide on Autumn's single release "Rain Down," but that's only the tip of the iceberg.
This young lady graciously dances between pop, gospel and folk in a style that ends up being classified as Americana, if only by default and a lack of better explanation. Even so, she's not only an adept pianist and singer, but a songwriter on the rise. Both emotionally engaging and lyrically vivid, she's an artist that doesn't just tell stories but paints pictures and creates images with her songs.
Although she was raised in Tulsa, Autumn departed for Boulder, CO in 1999 to study classical piano before transferring to University of Texas (UT) in 2002 and being immersed in the Austin music scene. It was then that she heard the Pat Green single "Ruby's Two Sad Daughters" and her musical aspirations shifted.
"I just thought 'Oh, my God...' when I heard it the first time," Autumn said. "I'd never heard songwriting like that, so I started studying it and found out the man who wrote it was Walt Wilkins."
From there, she became immersed in the Austin songwriter's scene, listening to artists like Patti Griffin, Pat Green and Kevin Welch.
"I'd never been exposed to that kind of music and songwriting growing up," she said. "I was always exposed to pop music by my parents and stuff like, I don't know, The Bangles or bands like that," she said laughing.
Once immersed in the Austin music scene, where there are artists playing every night, the young musician discovered a whole new world of music. As she explained it: "I just knew I wanted to be a part of that group. There are so many great writers and teachers in that circle."
Autumn's exposure to the music industry isn't just as an artist, however. While at UT, she needed to find an internship and knew she wanted to do something in the music industry. As luck would have it, an internship popped up at a radio station and it turned into a six year stay at Mix 94.7, KAMX, where she served as the female sidekick on the no. 1 rated "JB & Sandy Morning Show."
"As the morning girl, I had to get up at 4:30 in the morning and as a musician, I was out playing until 4:30. Eventually, I had to choose and I chose music, although I still love radio," she said. From a music fan's standpoint, that may not seem important, but the radio and speaking experience undoubtedly helped shape Autumn's stage presence and ease with an audience, which shows in her performance demeanor.
In fact, although she has become an impressive songwriter with a couple of very good CD's, she's much more enamored with the live performance. "The live show is when the good stuff happens. It doesn't matter how much you rehearse or what you plan on saying, the magic happens when you play live," she said.
When Autumn arrives in Tulsa this weekend, that magic should be palpable as she settles in at the Church. Although this is her debut (both in Tulsa and at The Church), it is also the beginning of what is planned to be an extended series of shows, with Autumn returning to play and host each one on the first Friday of each month. With the holidays approaching, however, the series will likely begin in February.
When discussing Church Studios, she said that "The acoustics--the way that Leon (Russell) set everything up-- everything is for the sound. I've never played a room that sounds so good. I'm really looking forward to playing there."
As the series progresses, Autumn said that firm plans for how it will progress aren't yet in place. She'll likely come in with a series of songwriters, but she and Jacob Miller (Church Studios' owner) have kicked around a few ideas, ranging from concerts with special guests to hosting a songwriter's circle with the artists trading songs and making it interactive with audience requests.
It also hasn't been decided if they will feature more local or touring talent because, as she explained, "There are so many gifted musicians here in Tulsa, but there are also so many traveling musicians that would love to play here." Once the series begins, it's sure to evolve and change with time.
This weekend's show will showcase Autumn and expose Tulsa to her playing and songwriting skills. Backed by Walt Wilkins (yes, the same one who wrote "Ruby's Two Sad Daughters" and went on to produce Autumn's debut disc) and Ron Flynt, another native Tulsan, it should be an incredible night of music. In fact, the evening should be particularly engaging as it will also be homecoming for Flynt, who Autumn explained was one of the original musicians to work and record at The Church when playing with Leon Russell.
Autumn also said that part of the dream is to eventually restore The Church as a recording studio, as well as a live music venue. For now, however, the primary goal is to bring people into The Church and make Tulsans aware of not only its history but its revival.
Don't take it as just a bonus that the artist featured this week is a young songwriter on the rise. While she's far too humble to say it herself, a few listens to her latest disc prove that Autumn is one of the most promising young female songwriters coming out of Texas right now. The fact that she's a Tulsa native only makes it more appropriate that she should help bring The Church back to life.
For a full history of the Church Studio, see "Feels Like Religion" by Mike Easterling online at urbantulsa.com.
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