POSTED ON JANUARY 25, 2012:
Other Lives reaps the rewards of hard work and a focused artistic vision with Tamer Animals
Sometimes you just have to stick to your guns and remain loyal to your vision. When it comes to art, some people may not get it, but if you're true to yourself, someone will notice and identify your efforts. It's not easy, but the dividends can be great. If you don't believe me, look to Stillwater's Other Lives as an example.
The first time I witnessed the band, it was still performing under the moniker Kunek at Dfest 2006 at 18th and Boston. When mentioning this to bassist/organist Josh Onstott, he chuckled, remembering that outdoor set from nearly six years ago, especially as I added offhandedly, "A lot has happened for you guys since then..."
Indeed, much has happened. The group has undergone a change in names, incorporated vocals into its previously instrumental only approach, signed a deal with TBD Records, seen its music placed on Grey's Anatomy and released two albums with its label. The group's latest CD, Tamer Animals, was recorded over a 14 month span and released in May of 2011 to a relatively quiet, if enthusiastic response.
Although Other Lives is now a vocally oriented indie rock act, the intricate instrumentation of its days as Kunek haven't disappeared. If anything, they've been incorporated and expanded upon as the group branches out in a chamber pop direction, with cello, bassoon, violin, French horn and even more orchestral instruments worked into the mix.
Tamer Animals is a subtle blend of dynamics, interweaving indie rock, orchestral pop and a distinctly spaghetti western undercurrent to create a cinematic soundscape that grows with each listen. When discussing the new album with Onstott, he shared, rather ironically, that it wasn't really recorded as a band, but more as a recording project.
"Everything was hand crafted and developed in sections," he said. "It all starts with Jessie (Tobias, lead singer and guitarist/pianist): He's a great songwriter and comes up with great ideas to feed off of. Jonathan (Moody, pianist/violinist/guitarist) really stepped up this time as well.
"We didn't have a big budget to make this record, so instead of going into a studio and spending it, we bought microphones and preamps and recorded it in our own studio," Onstott said. "Last time, we went into a big studio and spent our budget there. This time, we decided to take our time. It allowed us time to sit and analyze the songs and live with them and develop them. It made a big difference and made it enjoyable.
"I'm really proud of the 14 months we spent on it," he continued. "Everyone made sacrifices to make this record, working jobs and writing and recording at the same time, because we can't afford to just take a year off to make a record."
Onstott knows exactly what kinds of sacrifices were made, working in Tulsa while living and recording in Stillwater. When discussing the process, he shared that he left for work every morning at 6am to work all day in Tulsa, then returned to Stillwater to hit the studio and record from 7-10pm and turned around to do it again the next day. Surely, it was a long and arduous process, but the results were more than worth the sacrifices made and efforts spent.
As a result, the album not only caught the attention and praise of fans and critics alike, but it also garnered the band some amazing opportunities in 2011. Not only was Other Lives picked as supporting act for Bon Iver's North American tour in September, but the band also made an appearance at Icelandic Airwaves festival, then toured the UK and Holland in October and November.
When discussing the success the band has seen over the past year, Onstott said "It's funny because it's so hard to really gauge anything. We don't really pay attention to the reviews or anything; we just live day by day and believe in daily work.
"You see things start to happen and you just keep working," he continued. "We've had a year of hard work and 14 months of hard work before that to record the album. To me, it's just about working every day and not getting caught up in the pressures or anything. This is our dream and we get to play with our heroes..."
That hard work and focus is precisely why the group has earned a spot playing with its heroes. Oh yeah, in case you haven't heard yet, Other Lives scored the coveted spot of opening for Radiohead on the Midwest and West coast legs of the UK band's U.S. tour that expends through late February and March and picks up again in April, culminating in an appearance at the Coachella festival in Indio, Calif.
When looking back at the band's first encounter with Radiohead, Onstott shared that "We had a show in Oxford, at the Jericho Tavern, where they got their start. They came to our show and there were probably only 25 people there, but Radiohead was there.
"It was nuts," he reflected, laughingly. "I mean, their picture is painted on a mural on the wall and there they are watching us play. We just kind of laughed that we'd better not screw this up, because it may be the most important show of our lives. It was a mind trip..."
Even so, the show proved to be a reminder of how important it is to be level headed and focused. "Jessie said thank you for inspiring us and he said thank you for being inspired by us," Onstott said. "They were really just down to earth, friendly guys who love music."
"Even the Bon Iver guys," he continued, "he's from Wisconsin and so down to earth. They're all just very kind and hard working."
That's exactly what Onstott took away from the experience and continues to exercise on a daily basis with Other Lives: working hard on a daily basis.
Before kicking off the U.S. tour with Radiohead in late February, Other Lives is warming up with a spring run of club shows. The band gets an early start before kicking off the tour on February 7 in St. Louis with a pair of Oklahoma City shows this weekend and a return to Tulsa this Thursday night with an intimate show at Fassler Hall.
"Everything came together kind of quickly," Onstott said, "but we basically called Brian Fontaine and said we want to do this and we want to do it in an intimate space and he was happy to help us. We could play at Cain's or in a bigger room, but small rooms and club shows are just more special."
This is your chance to get reacquainted with Other Lives before the band hits the arenas and gets exposed to an even larger audience with Radiohead as 2012 brings even more opportunities to the band. This one is sure to sell out, so head down to Fassler Hall ASAP and get your tickets for $10 in advance. If any remain at show time, they will be $12 at the door and Brother Bear will open at 10pm.
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