After rocking a holiday compilation, the bands behind 'Checking It Twice' give another gift: a free show 

Checking It Twice Holiday Concert
7 p.m. Saturday
Meacham Auditorium, Oklahoma Memorial Union
University of Oklahoma
900 Asp, Norman
nicepeople.bandcamp.com

Things have come full circle for Jonathan Fowler and Chris Harris.

In May, they met on the back patio of Gray Owl Coffee in Norman to discuss a possible project for Harris' record label, Nice People, with backing from Fowler Volkswagen of Norman " where Fowler acts as general manager " as a contribution to the local art community.

Six months later, they are discussing the finished product in the very same coffee shop when they see a couple approaching the wrapped gift box on the floor holding several copies of that product, unaware that the two minds behind the vinyl disc are just feet away.

"Look at this," Fowler said, pointing as a young woman picked up a copy of the holiday-themed "Checking It Twice: The 2010 Nice People Holiday Companion" album and showed it to her own companion. "This is exactly what I had in mind for this project. She gets to take this little gift home and discover all these great local bands."

Then he smiled.

"Just seeing that alone is enough for me," Fowler said.

THAT'S THE JINGLE BELL ROCK
Fowler had the idea to do some sort of compilation featuring local musicians a few months back and approached Harris about organizing the artists and recording the tracks for it. Harris decided a holiday-themed record was ultimately the way to go.

"When you play with the idea of putting out a compilation album, it's natural to pick out a theme," he said. "Having a holiday song is something every band thinks about in November when it's too late to really do it. I knew a lot of bands would be interested in helping out, because it's something everyone wants to do but keeps forgetting about it."

He was right.

Harris approached several of the bands he has worked with through his Nice People label; the response was almost unanimously, "Yes."

Oklahoma acts including Evangelicals, Student Film, Gentle Ghost, Gang Starr Museum and several others contributed tracks to the project, none of which sounded remotely like "Deck the Halls."

Harris said he was expecting a lot of obvious covers and generous use of jingle bells, but instead, got a wide array of original holiday singles " plus one Pet Shop Boys cover from Crocodile " of the highest quality. Not only did the acts manage to capture a unique glimpse of the Christmas season, but also translated that in a manner in keeping with their own styles, as The Boom Bang did with its decidedly un-"Silent Night" addition, "The Coast of Christmas Trash."

"I was surprised by how legit all these tracks were," Harris said. "At first, I wasn't sure how they would turn out, but I'm so impressed with how much effort these bands put into the songs. They all turned out fantastic."
Fowler and Harris knew they could settle on a digital release for this collection, but agreed that they wanted to make this special for the community, opting to release it for free on vinyl as well.

"A download is just something floating out there," Harris said. "This is a very real thing. This is something you can show and share with people."

"We knew we could do it online-only and save a lot of money, and it would have worked just fine," Fowler said. "But it wouldn't have that cool factor. There wouldn't be that in-your-face art and tangibility of holding a vinyl."

KEEPS ON GIVING
The vinyl release of "Checking It Twice" has proven to do a lot more than just be cool. It has become a gift within a gift within a gift, a present that continues to reveal still more surprises within itself, as it has done something for people at every level of the community.

Music lovers, of course, get the joy of discovering new groups " on vinyl, nonetheless " without any sort of cost to them.

"The other day I came out to Gray Owl, and I saw this women with her two kids walking out the door, and the littlest kid was holding the record, and I thought, 'How cool is that?'" Harris said. "Who knows what that might mean for the kid down the road? That's the idea: to put it in the hands of people that might make some small difference in their lives."

Local musicians get to hold a physical copy of something of their very own creation, as well as finally finish that oft-forgotten holiday track.

"Bands practically tear up when they see a record for the first time," Harris said. "It's a big deal, and this is just as much a gift to them as it is everyone else."

Distributing the vinyl through local stores also has helped store owners find new customers, music lovers discover local businesses, and regular patrons happen upon free music that might pique their interests.

"We would have still had as many downloads as we do now, but we wouldn't have had the people coming into places like this (Gray Owl) and just finding it there," Harris said. "The idea was to get people out around town to these places they might not have been to, or to have someone stumble upon it while they happened to be shopping there."

The givers also have received a few unexpected gifts of their own.

Harris was one of those musicians who had never finished a holiday track, and he got to do so with his own band, Depth & Current, all while putting a serious dent in his Christmas shopping list.

Fowler got an even bigger reward, one he'd have never gotten otherwise.

"I've always wanted to be in a band. I even kind of feel like the sixth member of all the bands on this record, but I don't have the talent to actually be in one," he said with a laugh. "This is the closest I'm ever going to get."

ON, COMET! ON, CUPID! ON, CONCERT!
Fowler and Harris aren't done giving quite yet. "Checking It Twice" will come to life Saturday night on the University of Oklahoma campus in a variety show format " hosted by Forward Foods co-owner Steve "Wampus" Reynolds " with all of the contributing bands (except for Locust Avenue) performing their tracks live, with a few surprises in store.

"It was a logical progression," Harris said. "How do you not do something like this without having the show? This show had to happen. We had to see what would come out of it."

"There's going to be a little cross-pollination," Fowler said. "These little moments where three bands hook up for one song, and that's never going to happen again. How cool would it be to be a part of something like that?"

The two men aim to make this a new holiday tradition; plans for another release and show are already in the works, with acts lining up to contribute.

The community may also see more compilations " both digital and physical " pop up throughout the year, whether in conjunction with Norman Music Festival or something else entirely.

"I kind of like the idea of playing with lesser-known holidays. Maybe you'll see one on Columbus Day," Fowler said, laughing. "Or Earth Day."

"I like the idea of keeping the Christmas album our big yearly release, though," Harris said. "It really does just feel like a gift."

MAKING A LIST
Download "Checking It Twice" for free at nicepeople.bandcamp.com or pick up a free vinyl copy at these locations:

Oklahoma City
Bad Granny's Bazaar, 1759 N.W. 16th
Collected Thread, 1705-A N.W. 16th
Forward Foods, 5123 N. Western
Guestroom Records, 3701 N. Western
Shoe Gypsy, 6434 Avondale

Norman
Birdie, 566 Buchanan
Fowler Volkswagen, 591 N. Interstate Dr.
Gray Owl Coffee, 223 E. Gray
Guestroom Records, 125 E. Main

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