POSTED ON JUNE 3, 2009:
Band of Brothers
Dante Schmitz makes new music with friends, gaining a fresh creative outlet
Different Hats. Patience, timing and the right connections have greatly benefited the formation of Dante and the Hawks. Although the group hasn't turned Schmitz from folkie to metal head, it has definitely added some muscle to his already mainstream-minded pop songs.
I've long held the opinion that a good song can stand on its own. Regardless of the full orchestration, if stripped back to a simple guitar or piano, the song should still sound solid. If not, it's all smoke and mirrors--an impressive arrangement, but not a tune that will stand the test of time.
While we've definitely seen bands scale back with acoustic discs and provide a new spin to its material (or complete a record contract), it's not often we see artists go the other direction--barring a remix disc--and deck out songs for the sake of expanding.
Of course, the exception is when a solo artist expands his focus to incorporate a full band. While results may vary, it often proves to be a good move, revealing more to the artist than first meets the eye.
Here in Tulsa, we've got one such artist who is doing just that; and if the initial results are any indication, it's a move that should be opening many doors for him. Relocating from Oklahoma City roughly three years ago, Dante Schmitz has turned out to be one of our most impressive local singer-songwriters. Unfortunately, though, limited exposure means he has remained a hidden treasure.
Each of Schmitz's three solo discs (2005's Bitter Sweet, 2006 follow-up Ulysses and 2008 release The Steps Between) have seen his songwriting and compositional skills grow. Performing as a solo acoustic act has had its pros and cons, however. On the upside, Schmitz has been able to afford to tour regionally and nationally and fill summers with gigs leading praise and worship at youth summer camps as well as incorporate his own, more mainstream material at coffeehouses and small clubs.
The flip side of that is the limited exposure that those café shows provide; and, constant touring hasn't allowed him to truly establish a strong presence on the local scene. And while Schmitz isn't looking to leave his bread and butter gigs behind, he doesn't want to remain an unknown entity.
During winter, Schmitz put the wheels in motion to provide another outlet for his music with a full band. Patience, timing and the right connections have greatly benefited the formation of Dante and the Hawks. Although the group hasn't turned Schmitz from folkie to metal head, it has definitely added some muscle to his already mainstream-minded pop songs.
A limited number of gigs during the last several have allowed the group to fine tune its presentation and work up a few new songs. As a result, Schmitz and company are now ready to roll out the current project with more shows, a debut EP and a CD release party this weekend at Joe Momma's downtown. The show serves as something of a coming out party for the group.
Schmitz said that while he's enjoyed the opportunities he's been afforded, he was also looking for a way to do incorporate a band as well. "The most logical solution turned out to be Dante and The Hawks." This way he can enjoy having a band without having to turn his back on solo gigs.
About the move, Schmitz said, "Logistically, especially in Oklahoma, it just makes more sense to do it this way." While he will definitely jump at the chance to play as often as possible with the band (future plans do include playing regional markets like OKC and Dallas), it's often a matter of economics.
"Many gigs just can't afford to pay a whole band," he explained. "And in those cases, I can still travel to do a solo acoustic show with much of the same material."
So far, the new format seems to suit him. "I like the model of the classic singer-songwriter bands--a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers type of thing. It just took some time to get the right people involved."
After a period of auditions and crossing paths with other musicians who showed interest, The Hawks were formed with Ted Scott (formerly of Congress of a Crow) on guitar, bassist Promo Dave (formerly of Band Camp) and drummer Daniel Daigneault. The group then laid down six tracks with engineer/producer Ben Hosterman during the winter.
According to Schmitz, three of the songs were reworked form his solo catalogue with another three freshly written and created as a band, shedding light on both sides of the writing process. The result, he said, "is a good indicator of what to expect from us. It sets the tone for what this band is and what we'll be doing in the future."
Although Schmitz has a number of fans who admire his solo work, he laughed saying that many times he's been told, "Yeah, I love your stuff. I put it on at night to fall asleep to." But playing with a band has lent Schmitz a new outlet.
"As a solo artist, I do have a very chill vibe, just naturally," he shared. As a band, though, Ted and Robby (Merrick, formerly of MidWest Kings, who has since replaced Daigneault on drums) have a strong rock background. They've definitely added an edge that I didn't have as a solo artist. After all, I do like to rock out. I just didn't really have the opportunity by myself."
After debuting the band's EP this weekend, the group will play a few shows during the next few months as Schmitz takes advantage of the opportunity to capitalize on his solo project for a summer tour.
A Dfest slot at McNellie's on Saturday, July 25 marks a real jumping off point for the band. And a September 4 show at the Riverwalk Amphitheater will help the band expand its market.
Schmitz even admitted that he's not opposed to working up some cover material if that's what it takes to get his foot in the door.
Although he obviously prefers to play his own material, "For some venues, we may mix covers and originals," he said. "In my opinion, if your originals are good enough, they will win the crowd over. If not, then maybe your songs aren't as good as you think they are. As I see it, my challenge is to convert the crowd from covers to originals."
That mission starts Friday night as Dante and The Hawks holds its CD release party at Joe Momma's Pizza, First and Elgin. There's no cover and Josh James opens the show at 9pm. Stop in to get a preview, then expect to hear plenty more from the band as it ramps up its schedule in late summer and early autumn.
Perhaps the best kept secret of the week is the Eric Hutchinson show at The Marquee on Tuesday, May 9. After expanding his show from a solo acoustic act to band format and turning out his third CD, Sounds Like This, Hutchinson has become the latest pop-songwriter to emerge from under the radar. Constant touring and exposure on VH1 for "Rock & Roll" and "OK, It's Alright With Me" have led to a headlining club tour that stops in Tulsa this week.
Roughly a year after releasing the full-length, Hutchinson just released an internet-only EP, Sounds Like This Live, rearranging a few of the tunes to keep them fresh.
In conversation last week, Hutchinson said, "I've been touring full time for over six years and over a year and half with the band. Most of the songs were written as solo artists, so this is just getting back to their roots. I've been really excited to see how people respond to different versions of the songs and how they go over."
One of my favorite female songstresses, Meiko, opens the Marquee show, the second night of their current run together. When discussing the pairing, Hutchinson shared that they've toured together in the past and it proved to be a fruitful match. "I really like having her as a female opener. It gives the night an added dynamic."
Perhaps a bit lower key, Meiko is just as engaging with a subtle yet charming stage presence. Anyone who enjoys great songwriting and strong pop songs will want to stop in and see a pair of the genres rising stars. Tickets are $15 in advance and $17 at the door.
Did You Hear That?
Yes, you heard it here first. Urban Tulsa's Absolute Best of Tulsa awards are underway. No longer just a catch-all, we're spinning off the music categories to give our local artists the recognition they deserve. More details will emerge next week, but we're creating a whole new monster, filling the gap for the all-new Absolute Best Music Awards with nominees in more than 25 categories taken from your write-in votes on the ABoT ballots.
Once the nominees are finalized, we'll have a new online voting system, complete with audio samples and brief backgrounds, and a full-blown awards show like none before it at Cain's Ballroom August 8. Bands need to start rallying the troops as Tulsa music fans will be called upon to vote for the best in each category.
We know Urban Tulsa readers are in the know. Now is the time to prove it: your favorite bands are counting on it.
June has finally arrived, and with it the concert schedule is warming up with the weather. This month kicks off with a trio of CD releases, a handful of Cain's shows and a summer wakeup call from Riverwalk's outdoor stage.
Thursday night, June 4, jump-starts the weekend with a pair of packaged shows on Main Street. The show at Bob's features Steddfast, Relentless, Swan & Sword, Lee Jones Band, Colin & Scott Band, David Castro Band, Of Minds and Re-Agent. Just down the street, The Marquee hosts Benjamin Del Shreve, Vandevander, Mr. Joshua, Simply Confused and Zasa Zasa Ketzner. Both shows have an $8 cover and doors open at 6pm.
Friday night sees the Riverwalk Amphitheater stage start its summer stride with a Z104.5 sponsored show by RadioRadio and Ziff at 8pm. Moving downtown, Flytrap Music Hall presents Jimmy Herring (of Widespread Panic) with Fayetteville Funk Ensemble and Wink Burcham opening the show. The rest of the evening seems to be dedicated to CD releases.
As mentioned previously, Dante and The Hawks launch the band's debut EP on June 5 with Josh James opening at Joe Momma's Pizza at First and Elgin. If you're more suited to Hip-Hop, jump across the tracks to Cain's Ballroom for RSun's release party for Manic/Depressive with Kawnar, Nutter and Algebra opening. The show drawing the most attention, however, may well be Starlight Mints' pre-release party for Change Remains at The Marquee with the Evangelicals and Callupsie. Tickets are $15 at the door.
Saturday, June 6, brings entirely different options, ranging from country with Jeremy Johnson and the Lonesome Few at Mercury Lounge and Texas Swing with Asleep at the Wheel at Cain's to dance party tunes with Milk and Knives and DJ Wolf Gloves at The Marquee. Of course, if you're looking for something fresh, stop in at Soundpony to check out The Wheeler Celebration.
Cain's wraps it's week with Robin Trower and Hurricane Mason in the Ballroom on June 7 and Corey Smith with American Aquarium in Bob's on Wednesday, June 10.
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