‘Monsieurs and madams, straight from Stillwater, Oklahoma, America: Other Lives!’
Nobody from Oklahoma’s had a bigger year than Other Lives, what with the release of a fine album, successful tours across the States and Europe, and the recent announcement that they’ll be opening the first leg of Radiohead’s upcoming U.S. tour. It’s hard to believe that one of the last times I saw them, they were playing for maybe 50 people inside Opolis.
Well, they look to be building on all that success with more shows in the U.S. and Canada, in addition to the dates accompanying Radiohead. They’ll be touring with a fellow mini-orchestra that goes by JBM, which I can assure you you’ll most definitely like if Other Lives make your kind of music. Those dates are listed below.
12.05.11 - Crepe Place - Santa Cruz, CA * 12.06.11 - Cafe du Nord - San Francisco, CA * 12.08.11 - Mississippi Studios - Portland, OR * 12.09.11 - Media Club - Vancouver, BC * 12.11.11 - The Tractor Tavern - Seattle, WA * 12.14.11 - Hi-Dive - Denver, CO * 02.06.12 - Jackpot Music Hall - Lawrence, KS 02.07.12 - Ciceros - St. Louis, MO 02.08.12 - Waiting Room - Omaha, NE 02.09.12 - 7th Street - Minneapolis, MN 02.10.12 - Lincoln Hall - Chicago, IL 02.11.12 - The Basement - Columbus, OH 02.13.12 - Ninth Ward - Buffalo, NY 02.14.12 - Drake - Toronto, ON 02.15.12 - Sala Rossa - Montreal, QC 02.16.12 - Great Scott - Boston, MA 02.17.12 - Bowery Ballroom - New York, NY 02.18.12 - Kung Fu Necktie - Philadelphia, PA 02.21.12 - Red Palace - Washington, DC 02.22.12 - Brillobox - Pittsburgh, PA 02.23.12 - The Southern - Charlottesville, VA 02.24.12 - Local 506 - Chapel Hill, NC 02.25.12 - TBD / Pour House - Nashville, TN / Charleston, SC 02.27.11 - American Airlines Arena - Miami, FL ^ 02.29.11 - St. Pete Times Forum - Tampa, FL ^ 03.01.11 - Philips Arena - Atlanta, GA ^ 03.03.11 - Toyota Center - Houston, TX ^ 03.05.11 - American Airlines Center - Dallas, TX ^ 03.07.11 - Frank Erwin Center - Austin, TX ^ 03.09.11 - Scottrade Center - St. Louis, MO ^ 03.11.11 - Sprint Center - Kansas City, MO ^ 03.13.11 - 1st Bank Center - Broomfield, CO ^ 03.15.11 - Jobing.com Arena - Glendale, AZ ^
* w/ JBM ^ w/ Radiohead
Included in the announcement was this awesome hour-long video of them performing for Le Mouv, which appears to be some sort of French radio station/media outlet. Please let me know if that’s not the case, as I do not speak French. I’ve seen a ton of these shows as they’ve played for KCRW, NPR’s Tiny Desk series and plenty of others, but few are this long and none are on such a glossy, professional-looking stage as this. Watch:
And don’t worry, Okies: Other Lives’ Twitter handle has assured me they’re looking to book a return-home show sometime in late January. Keep your calendar cleared. It’s gonna be an incredible homecoming.
Before the renowned mash-up DJ’s most compacted show in years, he talked about the music that spins his gears.
Somehow, Opolis remains.
It’s a surprise the cat paintings are still there, let alone the building itself. Although I imagine it had to be squeegeed clean of puddles of sweat and sticky confetti after the massive, writhing rave that thrived inside for more than two hours Saturday night.
It was the typical Girl Talk fare: One second, it felt like a ’90s grunge video, with flood lamps and the chorus from Nirvana’s “Lithium”; the next, Pimp C or Notorious B.I.G. or some other long-gone rapper had returned from the dead, accompanied by that part from the pop song that sticks in your brain like an adhesive mouse trap. The swelling synths of M83’s “Midnight City” inspired euphoria, and Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson’s vocals were isolated, and injected with teenage angst by gnarled, aggressive guitar riffage from Trent Reznor.
What I found remarkable about Girl Talk’s (real name: Gregg Gillis) show was his ability to successfully reference points on every one of his records since “Night Ripper,” (one of his goals, as you’ll soon find out) while also remaining inventive and playful. Opening with the brash, dangerous Black Sabbath/Ludacris mashup that kicks “All Day” into gear, the mix transformed as suddenly as an 8-year-old with ADHD can change the subject. A late highlight from “Here’s the Thing” on “Feed the Animals” mashes “Jessie’s Girl” with a dizzying Chris Brown verse, an unexpected gem preserved for the live show. It’s a useful strategy, enabling him to toss newer music, previously unheard or live-only mixes in without confusing the audience.
Gillis really seemed to relish the small venue (kudos to Axe Body Spray for sponsoring his current college town tour), climbing up on his table above the audience to command his laptop from a Spider-Man-like position before swinging from the rafters and eventually hopping down in the crowd to dance with elated kids. It’s no surprise he’s one of the most consistently sought-after performers of the last half-decade or so. And as you’ll shortly find out, he probably hasn’t played a public show in a venue as intimate as Opolis in just as long.
OKS: Hi, Gregg. How’s the college tour going?
Gregg Gillis: It’s been incredible. We did Tuscaloosa; then we did Starkville, Miss.; then we did Fayetteville last night. The smaller venues have been crazy. We’ve worked really hard at the show to make it bigger, to make it accessible for the larger venues. That’s something I’ve enjoyed doing.
But there definitely is, absolutely, and it doesn’t matter what band you are, there’s something special about those intimate shows. I feel like every fan can relate to that; every musician can relate to that. I think when Axe hit us up and came at us with the opportunity for this tour, where we’d get to bring the whole crew and the whole production to the smaller venues, it was — for me — a no-brainer. I’ve been looking forward to this run of shows more so than any shows out of almost this entire year.
OKS: Save for a couple of stagehands with toilet paper-shooting leaf blowers, you’ve been your own hype man onstage most of your career. How has that gotten easier over the years? Doing your own hype and working the crowd?
Gillis: It’s the sort of thing where experience is everything. Getting in that mode and behaving that way is very different from my day-to-day personality. When I’m onstage, I’m definitely behaving in a way I don’t experience outside of the stage. So I feel really grateful for having six years of no one giving a shit about this project, y’know, touring around and playing for 30 people. Thirty people, 10 people, whatever, with no one caring.
Those years were really fun because there was no fear of failing; you’re touring with your friends and it was a blast. But you really kind of learn to wear a thick coat, you know what I mean? You learn to just deal with any situation. And back then, things could get really grim. People would wanna fight you or unplug you, and it would spiral out of control. So once the shows started to gain some success and momentum, it was a lot easier — way more fun. People were coming out to enjoy the show for the first time in six years, and it just created a whole different vibe.
I think about that a lot when I see young bands because the cycle’s getting kinda fast now, and so many bands just don’t get a chance to experience that — you know, shitty shows and years of being borderline-happy and borderline-miserable. So yeah, those years are really valuable to me.
As the bigger shows have gone on, I’ve been in a lot of different situations, like playing before Kanye West in Las Vegas to playing at a weird music festival in Europe where people don’t know who I am. I think all of those are helpful and you learn, and I feel like I’m better at it now than I was a year ago, and the year prior than that, and I feel at this point that no situation could truly shake me. I’m prepared for whatever the hell’s about to go down.
OKS: Do you ever come up with a really good idea for some mash in your head or on paper that just doesn’t comport when you sit down to work it out?
Gillis: That definitely happens. But most of the stuff I put together isn’t intuitive. Most things that come together are not ideas I had until I heard them together. There might be a new hip-hop song out there I like and I have an a capella of the verse, and I might have an idea of the tempo it’s at. So typically, with that tempo, I could run through a list of songs with that tempo that I’ve used on albums, and ones I haven’t used on albums.
I’d say the majority of things get made up on the spot, but there is the rare case that this sounds like this tempo matches up perfectly with this, and I sit down and I hash it out and it definitely fails. In general, I have more failures than successes, you know what I mean? The majority of stuff I try out does not see the light of day. There are different days of work for me. Some days are just spent isolating samples, and some days are trial and error.
And when it is like a trial-and-error day or week, I can have a bunch of ideas or even try out hundreds of combinations and only a couple stand out to me. At this point I’ve just become really difficult on myself and really critical on myself to raise the bar, always. I think people want to see that, you know? People want to see that growth. What I would allow now, on an album, is drastically different from what I would’ve allowed in 2006.
OKS: Other than the obvious “wanting to improve,” what motivations have raised that bar higher?
Gillis: It’s just a personal thing. And learning how to do it. When I was putting together “Night Ripper,” I thought, “This definitely relates to many things before it,” ranging from, like, “Paul’s Boutique” to N.W.A. records to John Oswald. It didn’t come out of thin air. But I did feel like it was a unique sound. That nobody has done this exact thing. So that was at the heart of that. And once it was established, it was like, “How do I grow from there?”
I feel like when people are critical of music, it’s more often the concepts that they’re critical about. I rarely read critical stuff like, ”Oh, that was a sour note in there,” or “Oh, that transition was horrible.” It’s almost never like that, it’s more focused on “Are you into the concept or are you out of the concept?”
And I understand. I don’t expect everybody to be into it on every level. So from there, I’ve been figuring out how to make everything better, how to make my production tighter, the transitions smoother, and I think in the earlier years, it was about smaller loops. It’s been a weird thing because the music’s gotten more accessible, but it’s also gotten more complicated. The way to make it more involved was to find bigger samples and grasp multiple connections for songs.
To me, a great example would be the beginning of the new record, that Ludacris with Black Sabbath. Luda’s there, you’ve got the Black Sabbath vocals and like four different guitar lines, then you come to the vocals in different ways. It’s way different from “Night Ripper,” where there’s like one loop, then you move on.
That was just a personal challenge to myself, of how I could make this more involved. The goal was to make a really complicated collage that’s also not a chore to listen to, that people can actually enjoy. In that regard, I’ve definitely been more critical of myself than anything I’ve ever read.
OKS: Do you feel the responsibility to represent types of music that are often under-represented by, like, the media?
Gillis: That’s weird, ’cause it’s hard for me to do that. There’s so many failures in [making] the music that I can’t ever really think, like, “Oh, this album should have this, or that,” you know what I mean? I can’t actively try to represent this band or that band because there’s so many options and things I can do on the albums that it ultimately comes down to what works best musically.
But I think where each song stands in pop culture definitely factors into the mixes. I don’t mind having a song that’s considered cheesy in the entire world of the mix, but I don’t want to have many of those right in a row. I don’t want to put MC Hammer next to Vanilla Ice, next to Baha Men. But I don’t mind using an element of something like that, if it’s next to something from the opposite end of the critical spectrum, like Aphex Twin or something like that. So that sort of thing has definitely factored in.
Or even songs like one-hit wonders that I think have been glossed over and I want to definitely use them. And that’s less like trying to get something out there to the audience and more like harnessing something powerful in those more obscure pop songs that people know and love and hear, but forget about. There’s a power to that and it’s something I try to use in all the albums. It’s a characteristic of, you know, 10 to 20 percent of samples, those forgotten pop songs that are absolutely great pop landmarks.
OKS: That’s interesting. I was kinda talking more about, like female emcees, for instance. Because I know I probably wouldn’t have ever actively sought out, say, Rye Rye if I hadn’t heard her on “All Day.”
Gillis: With that stuff, it’s just kinda like, that’s my personal taste, I love female emcees. On the record there’s that Rye Rye and Dominique Young Unique. Live, I always try to do a little Nicki Minaj. I really enjoy stuff ranging from like Gangsta Boo to M.I.A. to Lil’ Kim, all that stuff. That’s just kind of a personal thing, a taste thing that shows up on the album.
OKS: I imagine it probably even feels that much better to get stuff you especially like in there when it works with the arrangement. That’s like, the sweet spot.
Gillis: Right. It’s the same with some of the more obscure, older samples. It’s not the goal to get it out there to people, but it’s definitely fun to me and enjoyable when I’m playing a college in 2011 and I drop a Fugazi sample and all the girls are screaming. It’s comical, it’s cool. I love Fugazi. It wasn’t my goal to get them out to this audience, but it’s definitely cool to me that this crowd is recognizing the sample and getting down with it.
OKS: It’s been just over a year since “All Day” came out and I understand that you’re constantly working and reworking your music. What songs have come out since then that you’ve been working with? Or wanting to work with?
Gillis: Yeah, usually once the album or song comes out, I start working. People expect that at shows. At recent shows in the last year I have a mix — I’ve been doing various versions of it — of [Chris Brown’s] “Look at Me Now,” the Busta Rhymes verse, with a highly detailed, cut-up version of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which I did use bits of on “Feed the Animals,” but this is, like, one of the more involved things. I wish it were on the last record, which is a thought I have a lot. It’s definitely of that caliber. I like it as much as, if not more so, than the majority of the record.
There’s that, Travis Porter’s “Make It Rain,” stuff off the new Jay-Z/Kanye record. I’ve been doing various mixes of Katy Perry’s “T.G.I.F.” It’s been a good year for pop, which is always the case. A hit comes out, then another one comes out two months later and I’m like, “Ah, I wish it were on the record.”
I definitely think I could do an entire show with new material, but there’s always finding that balance of referencing the old material. I know some people like “Night Ripper” more than “Feed the Animals,” and everyone has their favorite mixes, so I try to definitely reference all the albums. But now, a year later, at least over half the set is completely new material from “All Day.”
OKS: That’s nuts. I was listening to “All Day” this morning and the Drake sample on “Steady Shock” — I think it’s the song “Over,” the verse about Jada Pinkett — got me curious to know if you’d listened to his new record, and if you were gonna mine anything from it. I thought that might be an interesting challenge for how sparse and minimal it is.
Gillis: I bought it, and I haven’t listened to it yet. I went on a shopping spree the other day and bought a ton of records. I’ve heard the singles and, uh, Drake to me is really interesting because he makes great pop songs without being that exciting of a character, to me. There are so many other rappers I find more fascinating, but he definitely has this potential to be the next-level superstar.
He can sing and rap and act, and he’s smooth, and one thing I’ve always been impressed with is that he’s kinda pegged as the “emotional rapper.” A lot of his critics label him as too soft, but he’s able to have a verse or the hook on DJ Khaled songs and hold it down next to Rick Ross and Lil’ Wayne, and I’ve always thought that was cool, that he could step into that role and go next to heavyweight-hard rappers and not seem out of place.
But yeah, I haven’t heard the whole record yet. I did like the last one. I thought it was mellow, and yeah, he’s definitely carving out his own sound right now.
OKS: Definitely. I imagine it would probably be really difficult to translate into a Girl Talk mashup.
Gillis: Yeah, I haven’t tried anything off it yet, but is the single “Headlines” on it?
Gillis: That song, that’s a weird one. I like the song, that’s one I hear and it’s like, “I can’t believe this was the beat they chose for the single.” It’s minimal, it doesn’t stand out that much, but I applaud them for choosing it. It’s not what I would do; it’s a surprising pick. It’s definitely something where the first time I heard it, I was underwhelmed, but that beat’s totally grown on me. I really enjoy the song right now.
Norman’s scariest shoegazers talk sound textures, using recordings of alien conspiracy theorists, and their awesome debut album.
Don’t be fooled by the phrase “debut full-length.” Norman Goth/shoegaze rockers Depth & Current are veterans of the local music scene.
Front man and principal member Chris Harris runs a recording studio (Hook Echo Sound) and a small record label (Nice People Records), which have put him in touch with bands both near and far. Guitarist Derek Lemke plays in Shitty/Awesome, and I swear I see him every time I go to Opolis. Drummer Scott Twitchell said he’s played in bands since his first teenage punk band as a kid, and judging by the way he talks about songwriting, it’s probably one of the things he thinks about most.
I got to sit and chat with the band after a recent rehearsal at Hook Echo in advance of their upcoming CD release show at Opolis, mostly about the album itself. As you’ll soon find out, they’re very excited to unveil these new songs in public.
OKS: This, your debut record, is a lot more sonically sophisticated than most locally produced stuff. Is there apprehension about recreating it live?
OKS: Not at all?
Twitchell: The live stuff usually just happens. Last week was the first time we’d played a couple of the songs live together. It’s always going to be a little different, but they’re the same songs. It’s interesting how it takes everything on the record — the sounds and the textures are still there — but it takes it all and makes it a little more raw, I guess. It’s a lot more fun that way.
Harris: There being only three of us, we’re using sequence for our live shows so everything’s all timed to the music. We’re able to fly in bits and pieces of sounds from what you’ve heard on the album or maybe even an alternate take of something, and recreate the same kind of soundscape ... to me, it’s the same kind of soundscape, but it’s more intense live.
OKS: Louder, usually?
OKS: So the spoken word stuff’ll be there, too?
Harris: Yeah, you’ll hear that live.
OKS: That’s awesome. One of the things I talked about recently with Brady Smith of Gentle Ghost, they had the spoken-word samples playing too.
Harris: Yeah, they had them going between every song. It was awesome. I think they had them going through a little tiny guitar amplifier on stage. It sounded really cool.
Lemke: They used one of those Boss loop pedals. Just loaded some stuff on there and [makes flipping sound].
Twitchell: That’s a really good, easy way to do it.
OKS: Yeah, Brady said Ryan Lindsey had gotten him and Seth McCarroll listening to these paranormal-investigation podcasts.
Harris: You know what it sounded like? It sounded like these weird, small-town AM radio stations where they go crazy with, like, over-the-top conspiracy stuff. I used to be able to listen to that from my apartment because I had an old PA — it’s actually the PA we use for practice now — and we would record through it. We were getting the levels all wrong, and it started picking up weird radio frequencies and different CVs and stuff, and I would hear some outrageous alien-conspiracy stuff. I probably still have bags and bags of that stuff recorded on it.
OKS: No way.
Harris: It was freaky.
OKS: There’s gotta be a project in there.
Harris: I’ve mined that stuff and used a lot of it. There’s stuff where I’d hit different distortion pedals and make it louder and sound different in some way. I did a lot of that stuff. It first started happening when I lived off of Highway 9, over at Post Oak Apartments. I would hear a lot of CV radio. Then when I moved out to Amber [Okla.] and lived out in the country, I would hit these distortion pedals and hear these crazy preachers and alien-conspiracy theorists and government-conspiracy theorists. It was pretty insane.
OKS: There’s the spoken-word piece that opens the album. Is that mined from one of those old recordings?
Harris: No, that’s an interview that we found that was pretty strange and deranged. We chopped it up, and rearranged some of the words so it would tell a different story from what it was actually telling. And then we decided — instead of using the voice we found in the interview — that we’d take all that chopped-up and rearranged stuff and make a computer say it. It would take some ridiculous reverse-engineering to figure out where it all comes from, but it basically is a story that we heard that we thought sounded cool if you changed the sequence of events.
OKS: That bit primed me — when I listened to the album, I interpreted it this way — for the notion that the narrator of the songs wasn’t necessarily evil or crazy or whatever. It sounds more like it’s society around him.
Harris: Yeah. That’s at the heart of a lot of the themes on the record.
OKS: Talk a little about My Bloody Valentine’s influence on this record. When I listened to “Chkill” and the second song, it was the first band that came to mind.
Harris: It’s a huge influence on us for sure.
Lemke: Pretty much my favorite band.
Harris: Even the other songs that aren’t so blatantly and obviously stealing from that vibe, there’s atmospheric things going on that might be operating in a different context from what My Bloody Valentine would’ve done. It’s where a lot of the textural stuff comes from.
It would be so crazy for people to be able to hear the record where they could turn Derek all the way down, and hear what it sounds like. And then Derek all the way up and hear the textures and soundscapes. It’s like, when you’re listening to the song, they’re not right there on the front of the song. They’re atmospheric. But if you hit “mute,” you would notice it was gone immediately, and it would sound worse. And then as soon as it comes back, it’s like “Oh, yeah, that’s the sound.” A lot of that comes from My Bloody Valentine and their textural pop music.
Twitchell: Derek’s kind of a guitar wizard.
Lemke: I’m a noise wizard.
Twitchell: Yeah, there you go.
Harris: Yeah, he can do that shit with any instrument.
Lemke: I’ll make anything noisy.
OKS: That brings up a point worth discussing. You guys clearly like noise, but you don’t speed up super-fast, which I thought was interesting because a lot of bands attracted to noise are also attracted to speed.
Twitchell: We don’t have any recordings of a whole lot of fast stuff, besides “Calm to the Sea,” but live, we’ve played several different versions of songs twice as fast. The slowest song on our first EP, we’ve played that several times live and it’s--
Harris: Three times as fast.
Twitchell: Yeah, it’s been a complete punk-rock overhaul on the song. And it’s pretty fun, it’s awesome.
Twitchell: The live stuff kinda changes for whatever the event calls for. One of those shows that I’m talking about was the last time we played Norman Music Festival. Instead of doing our crazy, psychedelic light show we try to provide, we just threw up a couple flood lamps, punk-rocked our entire set and got off the stage, to get out of the way for the other bands. If this is something we can really take our time and set up for, we’ll do it to the click and we’ll do it really trippy and we’ll get the entire rig going. That’ll change the style of our set we do.
Harris: But our sweet spot is the mid-tempo rock songs.
Harris: It’s the best way to make room for textures and for things outside of a normal rock song. Seems like the faster you go, the less space you have to wedge sounds into.
OKS: How do you guys feel going from the EP to now? I listened to “Arms” again after I’d listened to the new one, and it struck me pretty obviously as a longer, more cohesive, better-developed album. There was more of everything — it was longer, there were more textures, the atmosphere was larger, y’know?
Harris: We used the gap between “Arms” and ... we spent a long time making goofy pop songs with drum machines, and that spiraled into the idea of a more post-punk, shoegazey sound. From that point, everything was different. We were able to start from right there. It’s bigger and beefier now because what we found was our zone. It was our spot, sonically.
OKS: So do you guys really feel like you’ve hit your stride?
Harris: I think, sonically, yeah. We sound fucking awesome.
You do spend a lot of time, and people get bogged down chasing all these sounds, but we’re at a point where we have a sound that I love, and everything we do now — like if I buy a new pedal at a pawn shop or something — that just adds to the sound. We’re definitely at a place where we’re less likely to toss things out moving forward, and more likely to build on what we’re doing.
Twitchell: Yeah, I think we have a reference point now, for our band and what we can achieve, despite pretty much any obstacle. We don’t have a bass player when we play shows, and that’s pretty amazing in itself. We talked about it the other night: How far does the rabbit hole go for this band? How far can we dig and just go, figuring out new ways to interpret our thoughts.
OKS: That was a thought that occurred to me when I was listening to the record. Sometimes I was like, “Is there a bass in here?” and others I knew, but I also was curious since [Lemke and Harris] both play guitar.
Harris: There’s a lot, both bass synthesizer and bass guitar all over. You gotta have that low end. It sounds awesome. That’s another one of those things that you don’t necessarily think about, but if somebody hit the mute button, it’d just be gone. You’d notice for sure.
OKS: What are your plans for touring on this album?
Harris: Just a little bit. Right now we’re going to do the two shows we have coming up in Norman, and then we’re going to St. Louis and Chicago the two days after our CD-release show. And then when we get back, I’ve got a vacation with my wife for our anniversary, so I’ll be gone for a while. And then we’ll be back in the spring.
By that time, we’ll see what’s happening promotion-wise with the album. I’ve got somebody working on it while I’ll be gone. Hopefully, we’ll come back and it’ll be like, “Oh, hey, while you were outta the country all these awesome bloggers said really sweet things about the album, so let’s go on tour.”
OKS: Are you guys in touch with a bunch of bloggers?
Harris: I do a version of promoting and publicity through Nice People with a mailing list and press releases, stuff like that. I think you can look out with social networking and blow up without [traditional promotion], but I think 99 percent of the bands I know like that had a publicist.
OKS: Or they’re just exceptionally good at doing it themselves.
Harris: Yeah, and that’s fucking hard. I mean, it really is. Having done it for all the releases on the label, even just putting together a press release and sending it out the first time is hard, and then dealing with following up and all that stuff, it’s real, real hard work.
Lemke: It’s a full-time gig.
Harris: And, the reality is that the people who get paid to do it are better than you no matter how good you are at it. Because they’re professionals. Hopefully when I go out of town, I’ll return to some buzz.