By the time Fiawna Forté finally released her debut CD, Transitus, last May, the buzz around her was already reaching fever pitch. More than two years in the making, the title alone was telling as the disc truly did represent a transition period for the artist.
Starting out as a singer-songwriter and playing acoustic shows at local coffee shops, Forté had already moved on to an electric guitar and rock tunes by the time she entered the studio, but was admittedly still finding herself. Midway thru the recording process she decided to scrap the sessions and start over with the band that had finally started to truly gel around her, with Hank Hanewinkle III on drums, Philip Hanewinkle on bass and her brother Lance on guitar.
While UTW's own Chris Rodriguez declared it something of a mixed bag at the time, perhaps a better understanding of Forté sheds more light on the disc and makes it more understandable. Regardless of your take on the disc, it's nearly impossible to argue the catchiness of "I'd Rather Die" (which garnered an ABoT Music nomination for Song of the Year) or not get caught up in the funky wallow of "Mother Mary" or "Jealous of You," and if you haven't been privy to the video for "Boat Song," you've missed one of the most and stirring videos to come out of Tulsa's local music scene.
Although Forté is hard to categorize, the depth of her voice and the passion of her live performances make her a mesmerizing artist. On CD, she dances between indie rock and singer-songwriter niches. Live, she's more of a rocker, combining the darkness and tone of Johnette Napolitano (who herself wavered between ethereal and gut-wrenching rocker chick in her days with Concrete Blonde) with the unbridled tenacity of Alanis Morissette's initial club tours.
Following the release of the CD and a few key shows over the summer, however, Forté seemed to settle back into the shadows for a bit. That's because she was preparing for a fall wedding with bassist Phil Hanewinkle, truly making the band a tight knit family, and planning the next steps of her career -- as well as launching her own gelato business.
As we turn the corner into 2011, Forté is positioned to take the next step with her music, both physically and artistically. When discussing the new year last week, she nonchalantly mentioned there was "a possibility of playing a few acoustic shows" in the early part of the year, only to mention later that her opening slot for Alpha Rev at Cain's Ballroom next Wednesday, Jan. 26, is actually an acoustic performance.
"That should be interesting because I haven't done that for three or four years," she said.
Perhaps more interesting to fans is to see how everything ties together as she comes full circle and returns to an acoustic format. No longer the artistic high school girl with dark poetry and guitar, this round of shows will undoubtedly reveal a more mature Forté drawing not only from her life, but also her now fully realized rock sensibilities as well.
That's not to say that the band is taking the back burner, as that's definitely not the case. In late March, the group will go out on its first proper tour, starting out in Austin, Texas, during SXSW, and then moving east before playing a handful of shows in Florida, then working its way back home with stops in Georgia and Tennessee along the way.
"This is kind of a trial tour," Forté said. "We've kind of reached the point in Tulsa where we can keep doing the same thing or we can try and branch out and do something different."
Ultimately, much like many other musicians, Forté's end goal is to be a touring artist, spending her time on the road performing. Instead of merely talking about it or playing regional shows, however, she's tying together a list of contacts that she's collected over the years and making things happen instead of waiting for an opportunity to come to her.
"That's one of the great things about my childhood: we travelled nonstop, so I know someone in just about every city -- or at least it feels like it," she said with a laugh. "I've been collecting a box of contacts, but not using them -- until now."
Along with the pending tour, you can be sure that new songs have been brewing in the background as well.
When asked, Forté revealed that she's got enough material for roughly and album and a half at this point, but the timing and direction aren't certain yet.
"I've been kind of working on a new album mentally, yeah ...," she said. "But more funding and exposure will go into the next one. It will be more orchestrated and planned -- we'll work out more of the details in advance."
"Transitus was more personal," Forté said. After starting out as a solo record, band members changed during the process and she eventually scrapped the original sessions and started over with the current lineup. "I really evolved during the process of making that record."
Another key change is that Transitus was truly a solo record, with Forté writing the songs. At this point, writing has become more of a band process with Fortés name at the forefront. "Never, until now, have I begun constructing songs together as a whole," she said. "So now, it's like starting fresh."
The bond within the band is so strong that Forté refers to the band when discussing her performing, separate from her as an individual. "In all honesty," she said, "I catch myself talking about Fiawna Forté as an entity (the band), not who I am. It's almost like Fiawna Forté was a character I was playing because I didn't know who I really was. Now I've found myself and it's become something else -- and I can enjoy it."
That has been pivotal in Forté's evolution as a singer and performer. When considering her next album, she believes that it will have a completely different tone, that it will be stronger, not just in the songwriting, but in the sound and structure, itself.
"Transitus was kind of my stepping stone, that period of deciding which path I wanted and needed to follow," she said. "Now that I've found what I want to do, that makes it a little easier."
With a new year and plenty of opportunities ahead, Forté starts gearing up for what's ahead with a pair of shows in the coming week. First up is a band gig at Crystal Pistol Friday, Jan. 21, at 10pm. Also on the bill are a pair of Oklahoma City bands that are worth checking out on their own merits.
Pretty Black Chains is one of the most promising bands coming out of OKC right now as guitarist and songwriter Derek Knowlton leaves behind the retro 80s vibe of his previous band, Stock Market Crash. Already back in the studio in Portland, Ore., last week after releasing its debut disc in October, Pretty Black Chains continues to evolve and become more gritty and visceral at each turn.
Gang Starr Museum is the wildcard of the bunch, but promises to quickly create a buzz once audiences realize it a sonic marriage between Mickey Reece of El Paso Hot Button and Eric Nauni of Student Film. Together, the pair takes their sonic experimentation to a new level while remaining indie chic.
Looking out into next week, Forté takes a more reflective turn as she makes her first acoustic appearance in quite some time, opening for Alpha Rev at Bob's at 8pm. Each show provides an opportunity to see Forté reveal a different side of her writing and performance as she and her band prepare for what promises to be a big year ahead.
When the weather can't decide what it wants to d other than just remain cold, it makes for a great opportunity to settle in at your club and enjoy the music with friends. Of course, there are plenty of places to do just that, and we've got the highlights to help you pick.
On Thursday, Jan. 20, jam and improv fans can choose between The Move at The Colony and Ego Culture at Treehouse. If classic pop is more your style, crooner Johnny Mathis will be at Mabee Center with Tulsa Signature Symphony. If you just want to dance, though, your best bet is to hit the HIPTRONIK party at Electric Circus with DJ P, DJ Love and Squirt D for only a $5.
Friday, Jan. 21 offers up a little bit of everything: from old friends and favorites like Brandon Clark Band settling in at Mercury Lounge to Eclipse keeping its format flexible with Project Huckleberry and Grasscrack to the blending of R&B, funk and rock of Branjae & the All Stars at Sharky's. Of course, the aforementioned Fiawna Forté/Pretty Black Chains/Gang Starr Museum show is a safe bet, as is Moai Broadcast at Blue Dome Diner.
The most anticipated show of the week, however, is easily the Tulsa debut of Cody Canada & The Departed at Cain's Ballroom on Saturday, Jan. 22. Expect a healthy mix of blues, rock and red-dirt as the band covers a catalogue of Oklahoma songwriters and throws in a couple new songs.
Also of note is Vince Gill at The Joint as the Hard Rock Casino starts its concert season by pulling out the big guns. Perhaps the only irony is that Hard Rock is scoring so many impressive country artists (Dwight Yoakam and Randy Travis are also on the calendar).
Elsewhere around town, Dante and the Hawks play Hunt Club while Recorder, Guardant and Chrome Pony share the bill at Eclipse for a 9pm show. For those who miss industrial music, however, the show to chase down is Pittersplatter with Axis and God In a Machine at Soundpony.
Looking into next week, Crystal Pistol continues to impress by bringing the return of Goddamn Gallows on Monday night. The real sleeper of the week, however, is the rescheduled date for Dale Watson at Mercury Lounge on Monday, Jan 24. Unfortunately, last week's show got postponed at the last minute, but all will be redeemed when Watson returns to the corner of 18th and Boston.
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