Credit: Doug Schwarz

Few bands have the sense of state pride as Horse Thief.

The outfit’s sound is the perfect intersection of the dusty country-folk Oklahoma long has been famous for — presently encapsulated by Other Lives — and the quirky, psychedelic noise preached by the likes of The Flaming Lips, Starlight Mints, Evangelicals and Colourmusic.

Thrilled it’s worked out that way, Horse Thief lead singer Cameron Neal gushes every chance he gets about the opportunities the Sooner State has given his group in the past two years. And so, it comes as a huge surprise when you find out that three-fourths of the act (Neal, bassist Cody Fowler and drummer Preston Greer) hail not from the 405, but the ’burbs of Dallas.

Upon graduating high school, Neal and company hated the prospect of abandoning the promising musical chemistry the trio enjoyed as The Tellevators.

“We felt like there was something there, and we really wanted to keep doing it. There was some sort of connection that was driving us,” Neal said. “It was like, ‘We have four years. If something comes, awesome. If it doesn’t, we’ll move on.’”

Instead of letting college or jobs split them apart, they sought greener pastures in Oklahoma City, enrolling in ACM@ UCO, adding a fourth member in Okie native multi-instrumentalist Danny Rose, and saddling up as Horse Thief. ACM@ UCO has been able to harness their ambition, providing them with the lessons and connections to get things done.

“The opportunities are endless, if you know how to get in there and meet the right people,” Neal said. “They want bands to go in there, know what they want and build from there.”

In turn, the guys have been nothing if not model students. Just a short year ago, they opined to be a part of the music scene here. Today, they are on the brink of being the state’s next breakout band.

“We came up here not knowing anything about Oklahoma, and Oklahomans have changed our opinion on it,” Neal said. “We really love this place, and we want to fight to be a part of it.”

Credit: Doug Schwarz

Hoofing it

More so than ever, the group gets a chance to do just that. Friday’s show at Opolis launches Horse Thief onto the road for more than a month, laying tracks across the Southwest and West Coast before culminating at a performance at Free Tulsa on July 27.

In August, Horse Thief heads to England’s End of the Road Festival, featuring acts like Grizzly Bear, Grandaddy, Midlake and Beach House.

The opportunity was afforded by befriending Simon Raymonde, the founder of British label Bella Union — home to Explosions in the Sky and The Walkmen, among others — after he taught an ACM@UCO master class.

“It’s things you dream of doing. Every day, I feel the need to pinch myself,” Neal said. “Four years ago, we were playing in a small room in our house. I didn’t think, ‘We’ll be playing in London less than five years later.’”

Even with bigger opportunities arriving with each passing month, Neal is aware it may take more time before Horse Thief finds itself signed and consistently touring the world.

“The music industry is scary. It’s depressing and it’s hard. You got to do it because you love it,” Neal said. “It’s a long process, and you have to love it to stick through it.”

No matter what happens, at least Horse Thief has a place to call home.

“One of our main goals while we tour is to make sure people know that Oklahoma City isn’t some cow town with cowboy hats and bank robbers,” Neal said. “Everything we’ve done since we got here is in thanks to Oklahoma. No matter what, we’re going to be from Oklahoma here on out. When we go to Europe, we aren’t telling them we are from Dallas. We’re an Oklahoma band now.”

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Music Made Me: Cameron Neal   

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