Don't bother asking the guys in Montu where they got their name or what it means. None of them seem to have any idea.
A Google search leads the curious to the Tulsa band, but also to listings for Montu, the ancient Egyptian god whose name means "nomad" -- and Montu, the Busch Gardens roller coaster, which is named for the idol and at one time featured a live crocodile beneath one section of track.
For anyone looking to learn more about Tulsa's Montu, Google's results aren't entirely off base. Like any good roller coaster, the band's instrumental melodies take listeners on an energetic ride through highs, lows and unexpected twists and turns. Like a nomad, the band's music never stays in one place for very long. The tunes wander through genres and emotions, all while keeping audiences engaged -- and excited.
Montu started in Norman three years ago as a friendship between two University of Oklahoma students: keyboard player John Barkley and bassist John Godsey.
"We'd just jam and drink beers in Godsey's garage," Barkley said. "It was really low key."
The pair met drummer Colby Cowart at a party, and Godsey's friend Jeff Cook eventually joined on guitar.
After playing a couple house parties, the band became a regular fixture at The Deli -- a Norman bar that features live music seven nights a week.
"We love that place," Barkley said. "All the other bars in Norman feel the same. The Deli's like being in a whole other state."
A battle-of-the-bands victory at The Deli won Montu a coveted slot at this year's Wakarusa festival in Arkansas. The event draws top talent from across the country, and has featured Oklahoma's Flaming Lips in the past.
Montu still plays The Deli with some regularity, but the band now performs all over the region, and recently embarked on a mini-tour of California.
Because so much of what they do involves improvisation in a live setting, Montu is often referred to as a "jam band." It's a label that really sells them quite short. The group's songs -- many of which are based around a keyboard melody created by Barkley -- have a definite structure, but one that's flexible enough to accommodate spontaneous creativity.
OU Export. Montu started in Norman three years ago as a friendship between two University of Oklahoma
students: keyboard player John Barkley and bassist John Godsey. A battle-of-the-bands victory at a Norman
bar won the band a coveted slot at this year’s Wakarusa festival in Arkansas.
Barkley doesn't mind being lumped in with jam bands, but he does realize the genre has a bad connotation in some people's minds.
"The term is off-putting even for me," he said. "It makes me think of a generic hippy thing that's not really even about music."
It sounds a little silly, but "jamtronica" might be a better label for Montu. The group's dancey songs have an electronic edge that comes mainly from Barkley's use of synthesizers and vintage keyboard sounds. Songs like "Crentist," for example, sound like what might happen if Stevie Wonder sat in with the French electronic duo Air.
While Montu's music is best experienced live, the band has released two EPs -- one of which they recorded at Tulsa's legendary Church Studio.
As the band's continued to play, the crowds have gotten bigger and so have the shows. Last year, Montu opened for mash-up master Girl Talk at Cain's Ballroom. The excited band played for a packed house, but the experience wasn't exactly what they'd hoped for.
"I think the house lights were on the whole time we played," Barkley said. "You could tell most people were there to see Girl Talk, but it was still awesome."
Montu -- with new guitarist Zane Russell -- will get another shot on the historic Cain's stage Thursday, April 21.. The band's opening for Umphrey's Mcgee, a group they cite as one of their major influences.
Montu shares a similar style and story with Umphrey's -- both are electronic jam bands that got their start on college campuses.
If the members of Montu play their cards right, there's no reason why they can't be just as successful as the headliners.
Cain's Ballroom opens Thursday at 7pm; the all-ages show starts at 8pm. Tickets are $19 at the door.
For more on Montu, visit myspace.com/montumusic
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