Two singers set apart by a generation have been united by the city that launched their careers.
Chainsaw Kittens' Tyson Meade and Philip Rice of The Neighborhood are both original singers with an ear for melody and the voices capable of carrying it above layers of messy guitars. Both will play solo sets at the Opolis on Saturday, delivering a union of old and new Norman rock.
Tyson Meade and Philip Rice will play at 9 p.m. Saturday at Opolis, 113 N. Crawford St. in Norman. Tickets are $8 advance, $10 door. Call 447-3417.
Meade, lead singer of Defenestration in the Eighties and the Kittens in the Nineties, has written songs that thrashed alongside The Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer and Everclear when wry, adventurous rock 'n' roll was on the radio and everywhere else. He has become a kind of music shaman heralded among Normanites.
His former Kitten bandmate Trent Bell runs the Bell Labs recording studio in Norman and lends his production ear and knobs to a slew of national and local bands, including The Flaming Lips, Starlight Mints and, more recently, Rice's The Neighborhood.
Bell passed a copy of The Neighborhood's debut, "Our Voices Choked with Fireworks," to Meade after the singer returned from his new life teaching English to Chinese students in Shanghai.
Meade said he immediately became a fan.
"Some records I hear and I think, 'Oh, this is a cool band. They'll be really cool later,' because the songs sometimes are not completely there," Meade said. "But The Neighborhood record had sort of an immediate sound. But it also had, I hate saying maturity, but maturity that a lot of bands just lack."
When Meade talks to Rice, he's in good spirits and very curious about the younger singer's next steps.
NORMAN MUSIC FESTIVAL
Meade is hopeful that the large attendance at the recent Norman Music Festival, which featured sets from The Neighborhood and a reunited Chainsaw Kittens, is a sign of a regeneration of an art-friendly town.
The Neighborhood was also tapped to open for the Kittens at a secret, invite-only pre-festival show at The Conservatory, and when Rice's band took the stage for a festival set the next day, Meade was watching.
"There are certain places that the Kittens would play that I would never ask my relatives to come to," he said. "We played this festival, so this huge group of family was there. And, you know, selfishly, I got to see The Neighborhood play twice."
Meade's sincere, sometimes uplifting, heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics are delivered with his dexterous voice, alternating between Little Richard falsettos and Ian Curtis lows " a large reason the Kittens' catalogue sound fresh even today. Rice's voice travels nearly as intensely. Both singers said the solo acoustic form to be heard Saturday will showcase their songs as they were originally written.
"There's no immediate structure, and the only person I have to follow is myself," Rice said. "It allows for the ability to just organically tell a story, instead of being a hyped-up rock show."
"Which is cool in its own way," Meade said, "and that's what took me many years to realize: that a song, or the way it starts, can be just as cool to people listening."
Meade closed the conversation with advice " a variation on the art-for-art's-sake argument which has served him well over the years, and will be a balm to young, striving singers like Rice well into the future.
"Always just completely believe in what you are doing," he told Rice. "Just really keep that positive energy and just enjoy it. You may become super-popular or you may leave a legacy of sorts and not be a super-popular band. But whatever happens, I think that the ride — for me, anyway — was definitely worth it." —Danny Marroquin