POSTED ON JUNE 27, 2012:
Travels of the Moai
The Moai Broadcast carves its own niche in the face of Tulsa's music scene
On the island of Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, there stand or lay nearly 900 giant statues known as moai. Centuries old, they were carved in stone and hardened volcanic ash by the island's indigenous people. Many archaeologists believe the statues were created as a representation of the ancestors, chiefs or other high ranking officials in the island's history. Still others believe the giant heads hold a spiritual significance and represent something higher.
It should come as no surprise then that Tulsa's The Moai Broadcast stands out amongst its peers. Much like the natives of Rapa Nui, the group dedicates its time to carving its own niche within the bedrock of Tulsa's music scene, and much like those giant heads on Easter Island, the band represents something more within the local musical landscape.
Even in its early stages, it was clear that The Moai Broadcast was different than other bands in Tulsa. Instead of just being content finding a pocket and comfort zone within the local music scene, the band has always been in a state of flux. Although it started out as an electronic-based instrumental ensemble with a sound similar to Sound Tribe Sector 9, the group quickly started evolving, incorporating more organic tones and eventually adding vocals to the mix.
In its earlier days, the band played semi-regular shows at White Owl on Cherry Street, but also appeared at Soundpony, performing for the indie rock crowd. Today, the group is just as comfortable within the cozy confines of the Colony as it is on a festival stage or packing the dance floor at Treehouse.
Not content to stick to one context, however, The Moai Broadcast has moved beyond the clubs and created its own opportunities, first with the annual Easter Island Festival (which is now in its third year) and then with Winter Rebirth, last winter's overnight festival held in a warehouse space downtown. Not content to rest on past successes, however, the band continues to look forward to the next Easter Island, the next Winter Rebirth and the next big idea.
The Next Chapter
When sitting down with The Moai Broadcast, it's hard to get the group to slow down. Instead of looking backward and ruminating on where it's been, the group (which consists of keyboardist Jordan Holt, drummer Nick Bernson, guitarist Cody Brewer, bassist Nick Abbott and vocalist/sax player Josh Coffman) is already in fast forward, fleshing out its next plan to move forward.
The idea, which Nick Bernson presented to his bandmates just a few days earlier, doesn't follow a conventional line of reasoning, however. Instead of thinking bigger, they are thinking smaller, looking to make a more personal connection with its fans.
"We're just thinking about how to play differently in Tulsa," Bernson said. "We love The Colony and Treehouse, but we're considering how do we change things up? How could we host our own events?"
"What we're thinking of is basically a series of house parties," he explained. "Can we find a host that could accommodate 30 to 60 people? It would be a smaller show and cost a little more money, but we'd give everyone a CD and make it something more personal."
"We're just trying to exhaust different angles," Coffman interjected. "We always want to try different things, not just the weekly gigs at the local bar. We always want to push ourselves and push our audience."
"Nick popped the idea on us a few days ago," Jordan Holt said, "and at first, I thought it was kind of hokie. Once I got to thinking about it, though, it's a really good idea. The people that would be there want to hear you and there's an exclusivity to it that will attract people. We would have to modify our sound, as in how loud we play, but we can figure that part out pretty easily."
"Just think about it," said bassist Nick Abbott. "You get 30 pairs of ears that are there to listen to you specifically."
"If this can work and we find the right people, it could grow naturally," Bernson said. "It could theoretically turn into a Moai house party tour. We could start with a three date run of Tulsa, Norman and Stillwater. We'd have to modify some things, like not playing so loud and scaling back our lights, but we want to bring the entire show, lights and all."
"I just think that most bands think 'How can we play bigger venues?', but that's the wrong way to think. You should be asking 'How do we connect with more people?' because that's really the key."
Granted, this is a different concept, but The Moai Broadcast has always approached things differently -- that's what has always made the group stand out. Ultimately, Bernson explained the band's perspective by sharing "I feel like unless we do something different, we'll hit a brick wall and we don't want to do that."
A Little Perspective
If anyone in Tulsa can make a concept like this work, it's The Moai Broadcast. After all, it's not like this is a new idea. House Concerts Unlimited has been hosting shows in individual's homes within Tulsa since late 2008 and the economics of touring have proved this type of show to be beneficial to the artists and the fans. Traditionally, however, the house concert concept has been limited to primarily acoustic shows and more traditional singer/songwriter material.
Moai's take on the concept expands it to another level, though, incorporating a full band experience, albeit within a private and personalized atmosphere. And if you know Moai Broadcast, this won't be a polite, sit back and watch the show affair: This will be a full-on house party because if Moai doesn't get you dancing, no band will.
Even if it seems like a stretch, Moai is the band to make it work. After all, this isn't the first time the group has thought outside of the box. Back in June of 2010, Moai initiated its first Easter Island Festival on a plot of privately owned property in Broken Arrow. Inspired by the Phish 8, Bernson returned with a vision for their own festival, a one night affair with overnight camping.
The event went over so well that it expanded to two nights in April during its second year and filled the property to capacity. This year, the event moved to Valley Sports Complex because it had outgrown its initial location and added regional headliners. The festival has continued to expand, yet it has retained the relaxed atmosphere that Bernson originally envisioned while bringing a sense of community to the local music scene and also giving The Moai Broadcast a platform to perform to an even larger audience.
As if a spring festival wasn't enough for one band to undertake, Moai came up with another concept last year and held its initial Winter Rebirth, an overnight festival incorporating music, art and vendors in an urban atmosphere, housed in the John L. Rucker warehouse in downtown Tulsa. Even at the inception of Easter Island, Bernson shared the band's vision for an urban camping event and festival, so it wasn't a huge surprise when Winter Rebirth came up, a retooling of the original concept with a seasonal twist.
The bottom line is, The Moai Broadcast is a band with a vision. If conventional avenues don't accommodate their goals, the group stays the course, undeterred. It's a band that doesn't break the rules, it simply makes its own -- and stretching outside its comfort zone isn't an exception, but a rule.
Ever since the beginning, Moai Broadcast has been in transition. Formed in 2008 after Andrew Lubner moved to Colorado, Jordan Holt joined up with Nick Bernson and guitarist Cody Brewer, who had been discussing the possibility of doing something with Holt, to form a new project. An ad placed on Craigslist looking for a bass player rendered Nick Abbott, who came with a background in metal, jazz, funk and even ska, but no experience in electronic music. An initial search for a vocalist didn't yield the desired results or a good chemistry, so the group moved forward as an instrumental act, carving its own niche in the local scene with sound that straddled electronic and jam rock.
In May 2009, Josh Coffman was approached by Bernson to sit in on sax for a few shows (including the band's June performance at Wakarusa) and by the end of the summer he was an official member of the band. Coffman's sax playing added an organic element to the mix, but his impact wasn't complete yet. While in the studio the following year, Coffman began singing a melody over Jordan Holt's playing and the two decided to hash out vocals for the song. In the fall of 2010, Coffman began performing vocals in front of live audiences to a positive response and the band continued to evolve.
Now, in 2012, the group is working on its third album, a follow up to the concept album, Human, and is functioning in a whole different manner than when it started. Instead of Bernson constructing songs around jams with studio editing, the writing process has now become a collaborative effort, with all five members contributing in the studio. Although a new album is yet to be finished (with hopes for a late summer or fall release), the new direction is readily apparent in Moai's live shows.
Once a downtempo instrumental group with psychedelic and electronic influences (band members laugh that Jeff Porter once called their sound "elevator music on acid"), the interaction of the band, more organic nature of the music and energy of the live performance has seen Moai develop into more of a rock band that incorporates its original influences while spreading its wings and becoming something more.
Most important in the evolution, the group's chemistry has continued to develop, allowing it to truly function as a band. As Coffman shared, "There really is a kinship and closeness in this group that I've never experienced in any other band I've ever been in."
"The music itself is becoming a reflection of that so we're not just internalizing it and bottling it up, but reflecting that to our audience," he continued. "We want to share that and that's kind of our message right now: Wherever you are, whatever you are, come party with The Moai Broadcast."
"It's really something special," Coffman said. "The closeness I feel with these guys is what I want to express to anybody who wants to be a part of it."
In the end that's what the The Moai Broadcast has always been about. It's something larger than just the music. It's a sense of community and kinship that has become more apparent as the band has evolved. Every bold move they have made has been an attempt to extend that sense of community and connect with the fans. That was the original goal of Easter Island and its logical extension, Winter Harvest.
Now, The Moai Broadcast is focused on scaling down and connecting with its fans on an even more personal level and growing in the process. Ultimately, it's yet another stroke in carving Moai's niche and place within the local music community -- and creating something bigger.
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