Oklahomans Other Lives combine a huge pool of influences to gorgeous and life-affirming effect
You’ll struggle to find a band more aptly named than Other Lives.
Transporting the listener from the humdrum din of towns and cities to a place detached from our own, Other Lives’ intermingling of Americana, folk and classical music is refreshing and emotionally stimulating. Their sounds invite the exploration of landscapes and lives not dissimilar to our own, yet somehow haunting and magnificent. Layered, ethereal and uplifting, this is the kind of music that gets under the skin and resurfaces time and again.
Other Lives haven’t simply solidified out of a dreamy vapour to suddenly take hold of our attentions. The five-piece from Stillwater, Oklahoma originally came together in 2004 as instrumental ensemble Kunek, and after adding vocalist Jesse Tabish to the mix, released the album Flight of the Flynns two years later. Alongside this addition of vocals, the essence of instrumentalism lived on under a new name, Other Lives, with a natural inclination to compose rather than song-write evident in their sound.
The studio environment may have inhibited Other Lives’ self-titled debut record somewhat, but their foundations and experience meant that the band was ideally placed to serve up a complex and distinctive second effort in Tamer Animals. Never comfortable within the constraints of genre labelling, the deliberate rejection of these expectations has yielded Other Lives’ best work. Tamer Animals is a natural expression of their talent; musicians at ease with their surroundings and the process they’ve created for themselves.
The recent showering of praise should come as no surprise to a band that have worked incredibly hard to establish themselves as an original voice in the music world. Poised for the wider acclaim they so clearly deserve, Other Lives have done themselves nothing but favours by embarking on their current mammoth world tour. Having recently played a resoundingly successful live session at Radio 1’s Maida Vale Studio, they have really hit their stride. And if general critical huzzah is not enough, TBD Records label-mate Thom Yorke has provided a much-coveted stamp of approval.
Crack caught a leisurely morning word with Jesse Tabish while the rest of the band slept their way to Green Man Festival.
You recorded Tamer Animals in your hometown, Stillwater, Oklahoma – what was the thinking behind this and what do you feel it allowed you to achieve that you couldn’t otherwise?
Well, you know, our first record we did in a proper studio and we found it to be a little too confining and the time restraint was a little too much. So we decided to do it in our own space, in our own time, where we weren’t watching the clock. We felt like we needed that time to create the kind of record that we had been wanting to make. Living in Stillwater gives us some creative freedom – some financial freedom also. We were able to spend eight hours a day in the studio for fourteen months, and to have that kind of luxury allowed us to do all the things that we’ve been wanting to do. We put the hours in and we really wanted to, it was really fun, we had a blast doing it every day. It was great to wake up and look forward to a full day of work.
Your vocals are noticeably less at the forefront of this record in comparison to your debut effort, what motivated you to make this choice?
Yeah, I mean a lot of people have actually criticised the vocals and you know I really stand by it. It’s something where I wanted the vocals to coexist with the music, rather than be at the forefront. The lyrics and vocal are meant to be less of a personal narrative and more of a third party. So I wanted it to act more as an instrument that sits in with the music rather than on top of it.
The percussion on the record has a really interesting complexity that again seems to be a development from the last album. How do you think this has affected the sound of the record?
Yeah, you know it was kind of interesting because a lot of the music had been written and then we searched a lot for drums. We were sick of back-beats and just a hi-hat and a snare, you know it’s like strumming a G chord on a guitar, it just doesn’t resonate, I’ve heard it too much. So we searched and searched for different sounds and different approaches, we tried a lot of layering. We treated the percussion just like the violins and everything that made up the sum of it.
The increased emphasis on singles resulting from download culture seems to have caused a decline in artists recording albums as a whole – were you conscious when recording Tamer Animals that you wanted to fight that trend?
Umm, not exactly. I’ve always been interested in records and it’s not really a fight for me, it’s a real natural thing to want to make a complete work. I think there is that trend of singles and that’s fine, but I think for music lovers the album will always be there, just because it’s a representation of a period of time. So at least for me it’s something that I’ll always aspire to do.
It’s perhaps not appropriate to ask if you have a favourite track from Tamer Animals given the contextual nature of each song, but if not a favourite track, do you have favourite moments?
Well, I would gravitate towards songs like Dark Horse, Woodwind or Landforms, those are probably the three, I guess, favourites. But I like those tracks because they really stray away from the traditional rock instruments. They’re the more composed songs and I just like how there is a lot of interplay between the instruments and it’s not a case of one riding on top of the other. They all kind of work together and were written that way. So I think in my mind those three were the biggest success in terms of an overall goal.
How have you been able to translate the layers and flow of the record to your live performance?
When we decided to record the album we consciously chose not to think about live. We didn’t ever play the songs live and they were recorded piece by piece, so when we got to the end of it and we were rehearsing we ran into a little bit of a dilemma because there are so many instruments and there’s a lot going on. We basically gathered up all the instruments that we used and the record kind of gave us a roadmap as to what to do live and which instruments to have live. We are able to reproduce it, I mean we use Ableton – playing a lot of loops, and people are using two or three instruments in one song sometimes, so I think it’s working. I hope so!
You’ve been touring for several months now and must be well-drilled – does fatigue set in, or are you all as fresh as the day you set off?
Yeah, we’ve been on the road for four months so there’s been periods where everyone is really exhausted, but then we maybe have a really great show and it perks everybody up. Or even we have a day off and everyone gets a good night’s sleep. So it’s back and forth but everybody’s really enjoying what they’re doing right now and that keeps everybody’s spirits up. Fatigue is part of the job but the important thing is that everybody’s really enjoying what they’re doing.
What element makes a gig the most enjoyable for you?
There are some nights where the audience is really there with you and you make a real connection and it’s really as simple as that.
How does playing in the UK compare to the US?
Well we’ve had a really mixed reaction here the past two shows, but it doesn’t seem like there’s that much difference. But we’re really happy to be here, we’ve wanted to come here for a long time and we’re so grateful to have an opportunity to be in the UK.
After finishing your tour, what’s the next stage for Other Lives? Will you be writing and recording again soon?
You know, I’m writing right now. We do the East coast with Mates of State after Bon Iver on the West coast and then we come back to Europe again in October, November. But this whole time I’ve been writing, hopefully we’ll have some time this winter to record at home. But I think it’s going to be touring for the rest of this year and some of next year.
Do you think your writing is taking a new tangent or do you think it’s a development of the same direction? Do you think you’ve picked up any new influences on the road?
We’re just taking it all in. Everywhere on the road is kind of a new experience and you don’t quite know what you’ve picked up until after it sinks in. So it’s probably affecting us in ways that we’re not aware of, but it’s all really enjoyable. I think there will be some changes for sure, but I think we’ve laid down at least the foundation that we’ll probably build off of – there’s a little bit of the language that we’ve developed musically that I think we can take from. There’s a lot of different ideas floating around so you never know what the next record could be, so I’m interested to see what could come out. It could be a little bit of both, I’m not sure.
What do you think your best achievement as a band has been?
As far as I’m concerned finishing that record by ourselves, and I say by ourselves but I can’t forget to mention Joey Waronker who also co-produced it and mixed it, because he did such a fantastic job, but finishing that record has so far been our best achievement. Just because, like I’ve said, it’s a record we’ve wanted to do for a long time and it felt really nice to complete that.
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Words: Aaron Z Willson