Although 2013 has been a busy year on the music front, the past few months have been relatively quiet on the local music scene. We've seen a few local releases from artists like Kinsey Sadler, Brother Rabbit, and KSon, but we've entered the fall season with a relative lull.
Of course, we also roared through the summer with a burst of activity, with local artists highlighting festivals like Easter Island and Mayfest in the spring, carrying through Backwoods Bash and Stone River and even making some noise for Tulsa's music scene at more regionally and nationally-focused Wakarusa and Medicine Stone festivals.
The big showcase of the summer was undoubtedly Center of the Universe, providing a showcase for Tulsa's artists throughout the Brady District after the headliners finished on the main stages. Although it would have been nice to see more Tulsa talent spotlighted on either of the two big stages, the festival proved successful in drawing out a huge audience that rarely ventures downtown or into the local clubs. It delivered a broad selection of local music to their feet while giving the bands a broad new audience to impress and win over.
All About A Bubble
Once the summer started coming to a close, however, the local scene seemed to fall asleep -- at least on the surface. As the old adage states there's always calm before the storm and that relative quiet hasn't been all it seems. Although you may not have seen the activity in the clubs, many of Tulsa's artists have been busy writing and recording new material, plotting tour strategies and planning their next steps.
Occasionally, if you begin to doubt our local music scene, you just need to look beneath the surface. That's what we've done over the past few weeks, and although we've only gotten mere glimpses of what's to come, we're sure that we're not the only ones excited for what's on the horizon and what is just beginning to arrive.
Three big releases
The album that has been creating the most advance buzz just arrived within the past couple of weeks, as We The Ghost released its third studio EP, Sinking Suspicion, on Oct. 15. Easily the band's most focused effort to date, this seems to be the one that the group (and many outside sources) are banking on to break the band on a national level.
Packed tight with eight songs (seven new tracks and a holdover from the White Noise EP, "Let Me Know") the disc contains probably four solid potential singles. Produced by Rockwell Ryan, who has raised his game yet again with this release, the disc seems primed for radio airplay as the group continues to develop its signature sound, blending dance rock with a touch of hip-hop and reggae underpinnings.
Now is the time for We The Ghost to strike as radio is primed for this sound, as witnessed by Fall Out Boy's summer breakout track, "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark." The big hook and chorus of "Light 'em Up, Up, Up ... I'm on Fire!" show that radio is looking for something in this vein, and We The Ghost is poised to capitalize on it.
The only question right now is whether radio will actually embrace an independent artist and send it into the stratosphere. Personally, my main concern revolves around centering its efforts on title track "Sinking Suspicion" (arguably the strongest song on the disc) as its lead single. The industry model says that the best bet is to lead with a big hook, then follow up with a stronger track once you have the public's attention. That strategy would incline me to lead with "Bad Girl" and save "Sinking Suspicion" as the breakout single.
Digging in a little deeper, "Come Down" and "Take Somebody Home" hold major potential, as well with enough spark to grab the dance club audience. This bodes well for the group, as it could tap into multiple market demographics, giving it a broad audience and potential longevity.
The buzz on this disc comes from a nomination for album of the year at the Los Angeles Music Awards, something the band and its publicists will certainly capitalize on when marketing the album. Admittedly, it's a great marketing angle, but it comes in a little sideways when an album gets nominated before it's actually been released.
Regardless of that, the banjd has composed its strongest effort to date and deserves recognition for that. The question that remains to be answered is if the band can now capitalize on that and take its game to the next level. As one of the strongest pop/rock releases Tulsa has seen since The Hero Factor or RadioRadio's debut, there's a ton of potential here, and the music industry continues to shift in favor of independent artists. That should make the final quarter of 2013 and early 2014 crucial for We The Ghost to make a broad impact with the disc and turn up its touring, which has been limited up until now, with the band strategically selecting its appearances. With all of the hype built up to the point, all eyes will be on We The Ghost to see if band leader Beau Tyler and his crew capitalize on the buzz they have created so far.
Another band that deserves some attention is After Midnight. With its sophomore effort, The Luminous EP, due for release in November (a release party is scheduled for Nov. 8 at The Vanguard), this young quartet is focused squarely on the indie-rock demo. A relatively young band that just started playing last year, there's a ton of potential here in a band that casts a wide sonic net.
Nine & Ten
Trying to summarize the band in one tidy package isn't easy to do. The band obviously draws inspiration from a variety of bands, and you can hear elements of U2, Mutemath, The Police and Switchfoot in the mix. Once filtered through the band's independent lens and producer Kendall Osborne, it's hard not to draw comparisons to Lovedrug and Copeland as well.
This is some impressive stuff: big, anthemic rockers that show a young band finding its chemistry and feeding off of an internal energy. The band impressed at Center of the Universe, and while The Luminous EP is an impressive sophomore effort, it also sets a standard to expect much more form the band in the future, making this a band to keep your eye on in the future.
Also set for arrival in November is the return disc from local metal outfit, Firstryke. Although I haven't gotten a chance to preview any tracks from this one yet, you can expect some classic metal from these veterans of the music scene who won the 2011 ABoT award for "Best Hard Rock" act and haven't slowed down since forming three decades ago.
An aggressive guitar attack is the rule here, while Rick Adams' vocals bring back the muscular howl of classic metal's heyday. Tulsa's metal scene has always lurked behind the scenes, but the audience is still there. Firstryke hopes to be one of the acts that can kick start the scene and bring it back to life. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but metal fans can mark their calendars for a Nov. 23 release party at The Undercurrent to see what Firstryke has in store.
Behind the scenes
Although there are just a few bands with new album releases currently on the books, there are plenty more working behind the scenes. Keeping track of all of them is impossible, as there's always someone in the studio working on something new, but there are quite a few artists with new material in the pipeline that we can look forward to by the end of the year and into 2014.
Brandon Clark has been in the studio with Hank Charles at Valcour Sound working on a new disc that will expand on Clark's sound while heading in a slightly new direction. The Brandon Clark Band as we knew it previously has disbanded and Clark's band project, The Sparrow Thieves, has also run its course, so I'm not sure if this will be released simply as a Brandon Clark CD or if it will come out under the Brandon Clark Trio moniker. What I do know is it will be far less honky-tonk and far more rock than Clark's previous releases.
The initial plan was for the disc to contain 15 tracks and be out during the summer, but studio time never works out as planned. Clark has been laying down tracks at Valcour in the past couple of months, though, and calling in a few friends to flesh things out. You can expect Clark to be ready to release something within the next few months (Current target is a Dec. 20 release).
Clark promises this will be a more aggressive, rock record than his past few releases, and a preview of lead track, "Burn," proves that to be true. There's a little fire and frustration brewing beneath the surface, and I expect to hear that come out of tracks like "Trailer Park Love" and "Low Class," so this should be an interesting turn for Clark fans that have been waiting for him to turn things up.
On the pop/rock side of the equation, All About A Bubble has been working on new material as well. The group originally had an eye set on an EP release in late September. Instead of rushing things, however, the band made a wise decision to lay back and make sure all of the pieces fit. The group has made a conscious decision to cut back on the live shows this fall to concentrate on writing and recording. They have an eye on releasing a new full-length disc, hopefully in the spring.
The partnership between Dustin Storm and Luke Chronister has really started to flourish as they have found their collaborative chemistry and the band has really started to gel as a unit, playing regularly over the past year and a half. That bodes well for a new release. Although no new clips have leaked yet, I spoke with Storm recently and the band has a few new songs that have gotten all of the members excited. A couple have been completed that I hope to get a chance to preview in the coming weeks.
Although Storm has fought through a couple of different band configurations, All About A Bubble appears to be solid and finding its comfort zone. And with Chronister helping flesh out his ideas, this band is finally providing Storm an effective outlet for his songs. ABoT awards for Indie Rock Band of the Year and Song of the Year (for "Matthew") in 2013 appear to be just the beginning for these guys, so that leaves us all waiting anxiously for the next step.
Also on the horizon is the debut disc by Sovereign Dame, a female-fronted rock act led by Felecia Andrews. Essentially, she's got Baron Von Swagger as her backing band, but the dual guitars of Nick Arnhols and Bradley Thomas set back to balance against Andrews' vocals, giving it a slightly more soulful feel.
Granted, Andrews benefits from the punch and energy that the Baron Von Swagger guys provide, but so far, she's proven to be an able front-woman, able to swing between the power-rock vibe of Heart or Pat Benatar and an aggressive soul vibe, channeling a little Donna Summer or Gloria Gaynor with a rock attitude, depending on what the night and circumstances call for.
Andrews was originally aiming for a fall/winter release for this disc, but no date has been announced as of yet, as the final mix and mastering is being worked on. This one should come across the horizon shortly, however, as I know that the band was recently busy with a fresh photo shoot, so the wheels are obviously in motion, gearing up for a pending release.
Speaking of female artists, Fiawna Forte has a new solo album in process, but no expected arrival date has been hinted at just yet. The summer did see Forte hold a series of shows to help raise funds to start the recording process, and even included a primarily acoustic "album to fund the album" release. Individually printed with hand-made artwork, the disc provided a preview of the songs planned for the next full studio release with proceeds from CD and ticket sales earmarked to specifically fund the next recording sessions and album production.
With three years under her belt and a major change in band line-up, it will be interesting to see just what Forte has planned for her next album and how it will all flesh out beyond her acoustic arrangements. As one of Tulsa's most engaging singer/songwriters, I'm sure it will be worth waiting for. As it turns out, she's also got another surprise up her sleeve, but we'll get to that shortly.
What else is going on in Tulsa circles? I do know And There Stand Empires has been in the studio recently, and Ester Drang has studio time planned to start recording a new album, as well.
On top of that, singer/songwriter Mark Gibson is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to fund his next recording project with plans to hit the studio in November. Gibson is looking to grow with this project, infusing a bit more of the bluesy direction that his live performances have taken into his third solo disc. As soon as he wraps that up, however, he plans on taking it a step further and recording a full-on, Motown inspired soul album as the New Year arrives. Fans of Gibson and local music in general are encouraged to contribute so we can see just what kind of magic he can muster in the studio and how many heads will turn when he defies expectations.
And finally, it's no secret that Jesse Aycock has been in the studio. Actually, that studio time was last year, as he recorded a new disc at The Church with Neal Casal and George Sluppick (currently of Chris Robinson Brotherhood) adding to the sessions. The album is done and finished, but it's still sitting on the shelf. I know that Aycock was reportedly shopping the album, trying to find a label to release it, but there's currently no word on the status of a pending release. Once it finally comes out, I know there will be a giant sigh of relief across Tulsa as we get to finally hear the next chapter in Aycock's evolving career.
Hitting the road
As much as we don't want to lose anyone from the talent pool here in Tulsa, the bottom line is: you've got to play if you want to get paid. Unfortunately, we also know that local musicians don't get paid much playing original music in Tulsa. Part of expanding your fan base and reaching the next level is touring. Whether it be across the state, regionally, or nationally, you've got to get out and play if you're going to expand your reach.
When we're sitting at home, we don't often hear much about our local bands being on the road. Granted, some of them don't get out much (or at all), but others are getting out and not only building a name for themselves, but also for Tulsa music in general. So who's been out on the road, spreading the love? There are a few that have been busy this year...
First and foremost off the top of my head is Dustin Pittsley Band. With a baby on the way and due any day, Pittsley hasn't been on the road much recently and will be staying close through the end of the year, but after building on a couple of runs opening for Dierks Bentley last year, he's started to create a solid following outside of Tulsa.
Another trip to Memphis for the annual International Blues Challenge certainly helped his reputation to the east, but a smoking performance at Buddy Guy's Legends last year earned him a return welcome and it looks like there will be another encore appearance in early 2014, with a route that may also take the band through St. Louis, possibly up to Milwaukee, and hopefully back through Indianapolis to stop in at The Slippery Noodle Inn to help solidify Pittsley's reputation in the upper Midwest.
Of course, reputation is no issue when heading northwest, as Pittsley has grown a loyal following throughout key markets in Colorado and pretty much an open invitation to return, so you can expect to see Pittsley and his band headed back that direction at least two or three times a year in the future.
Tapping into a similar vibe, Paul Benjaman Band has been building a solid reputation regionally and forming a strong following in Northeast Arkansas, all the way out to Little Rock and Fayetteville, from my understanding. All of this is good for Jesse Aycock, who frequently hits the road as a sideman for Benjaman and Pittsley, giving him a broader exposure as well.
The one artist that can be easy to overlook is David Castro, as he seems to spend more time on the road with his band than he does in Tulsa. October's tour schedule takes Castro and his crew north to Kansas City before winding west through New Mexico and Arizona and making multiple stops in California as they continue to work his last album, Forward Parade.
If we're talking touring, we can't overlook John Moreland, who recently made a run across the Southeast with Austin Lucas in support of his latest album, In the Throes. He's also been picking up a few shows in Texas as well and was a featured artist in the Medicine Stone lineup this fall, so word is getting out. After seeing him churn out a ton of material in the recording studio over the past couple of years, it's great to see him finally getting out to play more and get the recognition he deserves.
Looking forward, SocietySociety has a west coast run in the works for early next year that has all of the pieces falling into place to take the band out to California and back, wrapping up with a show at Cain's Ballroom, opening for Badfish, the Sublime tribute, on Jan. 29.
As busy as all of our local bands have been, there are a few more established artists that continue to make even bigger waves and have a national reach.
One of those artists is Eric Himan, who has been able to capitalize on his strongest album to date, Gracefully, with a few national reviews and even a run to New York with his Soultré Singers. As he revealed a few weeks ago, however, he is refocusing his touring and songwriting on the solo acoustic experience in most markets and is continuing to reestablish himself along the East Coast.
Himan is also getting national airplay, as live studio session recordings of "Everything to You," "Red Hot Tears," and "Waiting for the Thunder" have been in rotation on Sirius/XM satellite radio. Hollister recently picked up "Everything to You" for its in-store playlist nationwide.
Himan's fans can't help but hope that the next step will be seeing him get picked up as an opener on a national tour, especially as he has opened individual shows for Kristy Lee, Edwin McCain and Patty Griffin in the past month, hopefully opening doors for more extensive opportunities in the future.
And if we're going to think on a national level, we can't overlook Brian Haas (of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey). Haas' latest solo effort, Frames, was recorded with Matt Chamberlain and just came out on Oct. 15 and is taking him on a national tour, playing with a variety of different drummers, including Dave Wayne, Johnny Vidacovich, John Speice, Josh Raymer, Scott Almendola, and Allison Miller.
Haas composed this one as a collaboration with Chamberlain, but the current tour runs coast to coast and pairs him with different percussionists to create a unique live experience that continues to evolve.
The lesser known project that I expect will start making waves is Booomclap, the new side project for Josh Raymer and Chris Combs. They've been lying rather low so far, but September gigs in Denver got rave reviews, and the duo recently opened for Mike Dillon in Tulsa. Once they decide to ramp up their efforts, their ties to Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey will undoubtedly open doors as they put a new slant on modern jazz while experimenting with samples and different grooves.
And the little surprises
As fun as all this is and as much as you can try to keep track of what's going on locally, it's usually the things that you don't see coming that bring the most enjoyment. Just recently we got not one, but two of these surprises launched on us within the same week.
One of those surprises came from someone we've already discussed. Although Fiawna Forte has been clear in her objective to record a new solo album, a more collaborative side project wasn't on the radar for most fans. When you're married to a musician and multi-instrumentalist (drummer/bassist/guitarist Philip Hanewinkle), though, you've got to think that your music might start to overlap at some point, right?
On Oct. 9, the duo released a video for "What If That Isn't Lightning?" the new single for their collaborative project, Nine & Ten. My inclination is to think this is more driven by Philip, as it has a slightly more melodic structure in the background and puts his vocals right up next to Fiawna's as she lies back in the mix just a bit. Forte definitely leaves her stamp in the mix, however, and it proves to be a fun little romp that mixes pop with a little vaudevillian jazz for something subtly dramatic.
The duo promised to reveal something new on Oct. 23, just in time for the Halloween season, so I expect they will continue to develop their style. The duo have been relatively quiet about this project so far, but with more already promised, it's safe to say they've got a broader vision for this that will continue to be revealed before an official debut that I would hope will surface next year.
The flip side of this coin is Hank Hanewinkle III's new band project, Nuns. I caught wind of this one just a few days before the leak of "I Don't Know Where I Stand" via Soundcloud on Oct. 10. Although this one came out of left field, it's the track that has me most excited this fall.
Initially built as a solo project, Hanewinkle has somehow managed a minor miracle in that he has harnessed the sonic experimentation and splash of bands like Ester Drang and And There Stand Empires and folded in the melodic sense of Oasis and Keane. In essence, this is shoegaze and indie experimentation run down a melodic hallway and headlong into The Beatles. Even more amazing: Hanewinkle is behind all of it, playing every instrument and providing all of the vocals.
"I Don't Know Where I Stand" arrived on iTunes on Oct. 15 with the b-side track "Slow Down, Reach Out," which admittedly moves in a more ambient/experimental direction. The primary track, however, is already gaining attention overseas and has gotten airplay in England, so this project is off to a stellar start, right out of the gate.
Hanewinkle has his sights set on a 2014 release for Opportunities, his solo debut album under the Nuns moniker. And although it's just him in the studio, he's already assembled a killer live band that includes Deric William and Chris Davis (of Foreign Home) on guitar and bass, Bryce Chambers (of Ester Drang) on guitar and keyboards, and Nathan Price on drums. In essence, as cool as the recordings are, the live show promises to be even more exciting.
So there you have it: a whole list of reasons not to lose faith in our local music scene. Just like life, everything comes in seasons, and if it seems like the local music scene has become stagnant, that usually means spring is right around the corner. All is not what it seems, and we've got plenty brewing right now just beneath the surface -- which means this winter and early 2014 promise to provide the season where we start to see everything come to fruition.
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