POSTED ON MARCH 27, 2013:
Kings in Different Kingdoms
Neal Tiemann and Andy Skib return to Tulsa
Time's a funny thing: Although it seems an eternity since MidWest Kings were a staple on our local music scene, it doesn't feel like it's been over six years since the band's Incoherent with Desire to Move On EP was released in December of 2006. Of course, at that point, David Cook had moved down from Kansas City to join MWK following the dissolution of his band Axium, and the Kings continued to play locally and regionally until Cook went on to compete in and win American Idol in 2008.
That didn't signal the end of MWK, but it did markedly change the band's status, as Cook tabbed Tiemann as his new band leader once his solo career was launched and Skib came on board as a multi-instrumentalist and background vocalist and all of them relocated to Los Angeles.
Since that time, Tiemann has left Cook's band to pursue other opportunities and Skib has continued to develop his own solo career, releasing a pair of EP's under the moniker To Have Heroes. Both are currently working their respective projects and will be in town this weekend for separate shows at the Shrine, and even though they are both moving in opposite directions creatively, they are still (and will always be, at some level) tied together creatively and as musicians.
Raising a Little Hell
For anyone familiar with guitarist Neal Tiemann, it comes as no surprise that after departing from David Cook's band to pursue his own career, he would end up in a band that moves in a far heavier direction. That band, Hell or Highwater, pairs Tiemann with vocalist Brandon Sallers, the drummer from metal band Atreyu. Instead of moving in a strictly metal direction, however, the pairing of Sallers and Tiemann produced a more groove-oriented hard rock band.
Hell or Highwater first released its debut album, Begin Again in August of 2011 and played a show at Downtown Lounge that fall as the band made its debut and was on its way to join another tour. What fans found at the time was a band a world separated from David Cook's pop and far heavier than MWK, yet still grounded in the kind of solid, grounded guitar riff that have always been Tiemann's forte.
Since then, the band has continued to tour behind the album, which was just rereleased on the Pavement Entertainment record label, giving the album a second life with physical distribution in record stores and chains like Best Buy and Target.
When catching up with Tiemann last week and asking about any potential new material, he explained, "We just rereleased the album with three bonus track on Pavement, which gets us in stores because we didn't have a hard release previously. Right now, we're really focusing more getting this record out to more people and getting as many people as possible to hear our music."
That's not to say the band hasn't been looking forward to a new record. "We've been writing since last fall," Tiemann said. "Any time we're home for more than a month, we write a couple of songs. At this point we're six or seven songs in, but we're not in a hurry. We want to put out some new music, but we also want to get as many people as possible to hear the current record as well."
When asked how he got involved with Hell or Highwater and his transition to more of a hard rock band, Tiemann shared, "I had done the pop thing for a while -- even MWK had a pop element to it, which I'm comfortable with -- but I've always been a big fan of metal and hard rock. Brandon had put out feelers, wanting to put a new band together. A friend told me about it, so I tried out and we played out first shows two weeks after he told me I was in the band."
"It just made sense for me," Tiemann explained. "I've always wanted to do something heavier and I've very comfortable with this. Joey and Kyle (bassist and drummer) had been in a '70s-style band together before, and this comes pretty naturally to them as well."
Although Hell or Highwater is definitely a hard rock band, it really doesn't veer into metal territory, instead balancing heavy riffs with a commercial sensibility. As Tiemann explained, "Especially with the current album, there are a lot of '50s pop influences that we mixed with a '70s and '80s meets active rock vibe. The live show adds a heavier element to it, which comes very easily and naturally in a live atmosphere, but that wasn't necessarily the intention."
Looking forward, Tiemann shared that the band is looking to expand its sound and incorporate some elements that have been cast aside from '70s and '80s rock, moving away from a strict verse/chorus structure. Mostly, though, the band is looking for a bigger, broader sound. As for now, though, the focus is on bringing Begin Again to as many people as possible. A trek across the country from Los Angeles to Maine to join a tour with Stone Tower beginning April 2 brings Hell or Highwater through Tulsa, so the band will be playing at The Shrine this Friday night, March 29, before moving on.
In a Pop Kingdom
Perhaps the flip side of Tiemann's hard rock direction is Andy Skib's solo career. As the lead vocalist for MidWest Kings, Skib had one of the most distinctive male voices on the Tulsa music scene, so seeing him in the background with David Cook always seemed a little odd for some fans. Even as Cook's career was first launching, Skib released his first solo disc under the pseudonym To Have Heroes in July of 2008.
The Cook gig didn't derail Skib's creative outlet either, as he quietly released the follow up EP, the five track Lost in America EP in May of 2011. Although Cook's touring schedule has kept Skib from touring or heavily promoting the release, he was able to support it with shows in California while on touring hiatus.
With some down time in the David Cook schedule, Skib recently relocated to Nashville with his wife, Jenny, and will be back home in Tulsa this weekend as well, playing a solo show at The Shrine on Saturday night, March 30, providing a contrast to Tiemann's hard rock outlet.
If you haven't heard To Have Heroes, you need to go scope it out on Spotify -- or, if you're an old MWK fan, just go directly to iTunes and download both EPs. Although the songs are fleshed out with full arrangements, the songs on both are acoustically based and let Skib's voice take front and center, sharing the spotlight with some great storytelling and songwriting.
Although I missed connecting with Skib last week, I do know that this is a brief trip home giving Skib a chance to visit with family and reconnect with some old friends. Part of that connection includes the Saturday night show with a band that is being put together specifically for the Tulsa show. Skib's band mate with David Cook, Monte Anderson will be holding down bass duties again and the band will be rounded out by Phil Marshall on guitar and Ely Gattenby on drums.
Although I expect to hear all of the To Have Heroes tracks and a few old MWK favorites, I'm holding out hope for a few new tunes as well. Billed as Andy Skib instead of To Have Heroes, the time has come for Skib to step forward and make a name for himself: He's a great songwriter with what continues to be one of my favorite voices in pop music. Matt Brietzke and Bryan Jewett will open the show with Skib closing out the night.
In case you were wondering, MidWest Kings isn't dead and gone. Even though the band hasn't been in the spotlight, Skib and Tiemann have released three independent EPs since they left Tulsa. Luna Despierta was recorded at Yellow Dog Studios in March of 2008 and released the following July. Its follow up, Luna Espera, came out in November of 2011, and June of 2012 saw the digital release of Luna Se Hunde.
When discussing MWK's status with Tiemann, he explained, "MWK is still around; it's not even on hiatus. I moved to New York briefly in 2007-2008 and since then, I've just kind of been in the mindset that MWK is just not in the forefront, but it's not gone. The whole time, it's just been in the background."
"I'm always writing," he continued. "Some songs are perfect for Hell or Highwater, sometimes they're perfect for MWK, and sometimes they're something I call Zac (Maloy) on to pitch to someone else."
"So no, MWK isn't gone, it's just kind of lying back in the background. When Andy and I have time to get together, we've always got that to go back to. With Andy recently moving to Nashville, that just kind of put MWK even further in the background for now."
When discussing the three EPs with Tiemann, I shared that to me, the three all tied together musically and thematically.
"Good, they're supposed to," Tiemann responded. "They're really meant to be played in succession, like one album. There's probably a little bit of a shift, because they were recorded as three EPs because of time and budget, but all of the songs are really meant to go together."
So there you have it: Although Tiemann and Skib are currently on different paths, MWK will always be there. The only question is when it will reconvene. As for now, you can catch Tiemann's current band Hell or Highwater on Friday night with We the Ghost, Society Society, Carnegie and, on Saturday, Andy Skib with Matt Brietzke and Bryan Jewett. Tickets for both shows can be found online at TulsaShrine.com or Stubwire.com.
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Although the calendar says spring is here, the weather sure has been argumentative the past few weeks. Regardless of what Mother Nature wants to say, Tulsa's live music scene is starting to hit full bloom as we've got plenty of great bands -- most of which are local acts -- making sure all of our live stages are smoking hot this weekend. As always, you can check the events calendar for complete listings, but here are this weekend.
Thursday, March 28
Mercury Lounge kicks off the weekend early by hosting Mike and the Moonpies. If you head downtown, you can catch Don't Stop Please at Soundpony and Maria Fantasma rocking the house at The Yeti
Friday, March 29
If you're looking for a glimpse of the local up and comers, this month's Homegroan Showcase spans two clubs as Cody Slane, Hope Seeker, Summit, Blackwater Rebellion and Absence of Ink team up for the night, and $5 gets you into both The Vanguard and Hunt Club.
Elsewhere around town, The Rusty Crane hosts Paul Benjaman Band as the restaurant dips its toes into the weekend music scene. Brandon Clark plays his home turf at Mercury Lounge, and blues fans will flock to River Spirit Events Center for a sold out Johnny Lang show. The hot gig of the night, however, is at The Shrine, as Hell or Highwater (featuring Neal Tiemann of MidWest Kings) headlines with We the Ghost, Carnegie and Society Society filling out the bill.
Saturday, March 30
What do you get when you have four guitar amps and more guitar pedals than you can count on both hands and feet, all sharing the stage at the same time? If past experience plays out again, the PA may not be able to keep up with the guitars, but that won't matter as Tony Romanello & the WALL OF SOUND (AKA Black Jackets) return to The Colony, with Radio Wave Days opening and part of the band pulling double duty backing Mike Taylor to finally bring Radio Wave Days to the Tulsa stage.
Of course, the other hot show of the night is Andy Skib at The Shrine with Matt Brietzke and Bryan Jewett opening, but that's not all. Randy Crouch takes over at Mercury Lounge, and Brian Hughes holds the CD release party for his debut, Cavanal, at The Treehouse before taking his show on the road. Meanwhile, in the Brady District, Rude Amps plays The Yeti for punk fans, and classic and Southern rock fans can catch Black Oak Arkansas at The Vanguard with Judge Parker and The Sparrow Thieves opening. Finally, don't forget to check out Fiawna Forte with Kyle Reid and Damion Shade at Arnie's Bar for an up close and personal night of rock.
Sunday, March 31
It's a quiet wrap to an otherwise busy weekend, but you can always catch Paul Benjaman & Friends at The Colony, Brandon Clark at Mercury Lounge and a weekly open jam session at The Treehouse.
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