Other Lives' Jesse Tabish talks opening for Radiohead, playing crepe houses and touring in Iceland
It should be so easy for bands to envy Other Lives. Think of their luck: While playing a gig in Oxford, England, the most famous band in the neighborhood — Radiohead — stops in to check out their set.
Next thing they know, Other Lives is opening for Radiohead in arenas around North America.
“We felt like the luckiest band in the world to be able to have that opportunity,” said Jesse Tabish, singer of the Stillwater, Okla. group.
But it’s impossible to hate Other Lives, because their music is ... is ... well, it’s just so fantastic. Their debut album Tamer Animals is a lushly orchestrated yet highly organic-sounding blend of folksy, indie Americana — think Bon Iver before Justin Vernon rediscovered Bruce Hornsby. (And then there’s that — Other Lives got to tour with Bon Iver last fall, too. Lucky bastards.)
Other Lives will play their first Tampa show next Wednesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, giving Radiohead fans a great incentive to show up early. Here are excerpts from our recent chat with Tabish.
What does it say about Radiohead that they wanted to choose an opening act that has such an organic sound?
Oh, I wouldn’t guess. I would have no idea, really. I think those guys are into loads of different music.
If this tour with Radiohead were not happening, what kind of venues would you be playing right now?
We play anywhere from 200- to 500-size clubs. And outside of Bon Iver, that was the largest thing we had ever done. When we play by ourselves, it’s basically clubs. Sometimes even a few restaurants even there.
With people eating and serving food?
Seriously. We played a Thai restaurant and a crepe house before.
A crepe house?
That was actually really fun. They were really good crepes.
So you’re going from Thai restaurants and crepe houses to 20,000-seat arenas? How do you adjust your performance? There’s no middle ground there.
It’s not necessarily us adjusting our set more than the sound guy adapting to larger rooms. But there is something to be said about how the band plays at a 200-size club and a large festival, which we’ve done. You are forced to not only play as an ensemble, but you don’t have that kind of physical touch with the crowd. You have to learn how to be able to express that on an emotional level to a large audience. That’s kind of the challenge for us. But it doesn’t really change how we play. We are adding another violinist, just to bulk up the sound a little bit. But virtually, it’s the same show.
Everybody in Other Lives plays multiple instruments, right? Guitars, horns, strings, woodwinds? How did that come to be?
People have learned this out of necessity. When we started Tamer Animals, we wanted it to be a recording project. We didn’t want to rehearse the songs as a band, we didn’t want to be limited to just what we play. After we were done with the record, we had all of this layered instrumentation, and only five people. So it kind of forced the band to learn how to multitask and pick up new instruments. It’s only out of necessity that people play these things. I like that, because we didn’t decide, 'Hey, let’s just pile a bunch of instruments on there just for fun, or to look cool.” It’s because that’s what the record calls for. We want to stay as close to the record as possible, and not dumb it down live.
That’s something that Radiohead does as well. Last year, when they did a U.S. run, they brought in a second drummer. Or they’ll play a song like There There, and they’ll have three members on percussion.
Right. I think the idea becomes more that these are performance pieces, rather than, “1, 2, 3, let’s hit it, boys!” And it makes it interesting for the musicians themselves, to be able to have that challenge and recreate what you did in the studio.
How important is it to keep the organic sound that you have in your music?
Earlier on, we used to be a little more hard-nosed about, “No electronic elements.” But I’m definitely not opposed to anything, and would never say it’s always going to be this purist idea. I’m just naturally inclined to classical music, so I hear a lot of organic instruments, and want to use them. But even with Tamer Animals, we did a lot of tricks — electronic strings mixed in with real strings. As long as it has the right tone and the right sound, it doesn’t matter if it’s a synthesizer or string.
I missed something that you said a second ago — did you say you listen to a lot of classic rock, or classical?
Classical. (laughs) Nah, like a lot of Ted Nugent.
You’re a big fan of Philip Glass, who, like Radiohead, has produced music that some might say is deliberately challenging to the listener. As a songwriter, do you feel yourself wanting bring listeners around to a difficult point of view?
No, actually I don’t. It’s a challenge to myself, you know what I mean? For listeners, I always want the idea to come across in ... not an easy way, but we always want our listeners to get it, and to move them in a positive way. The challenge part of it is kind of an internal thing, of going, “I want to write something that I would find very interesting.”
When an artist produces a piece of work, is it incumbent upon the consumer to sort of let themselves be swept away with it? To quote-unquote “go there” alongside the artist? Or do you feel like there’s any sort of contract between listener and artist in that regard?
I don’t know. That’s a really great question. I think maybe the only thing the artist should live up to is doing work that interests them. And hopefully, it’s always the best combination, when it interests the artist and they’re doing it from the place of kind of love, and the listener also interprets that and connects with that and takes something personal from that. But I would hate to say what an artist should or shouldn’t do, or what a listener should or shouldn’t do. I think it’s completely individual experience.
You guys went to Iceland last year. What was your favorite part?
Man, we got to take a drive around the countryside, and just got out in spots and walked around and took pictures. That was it for me, man. That’s where I kind of got the whole Iceland thing.
I wonder if that’s the big-country midwesterner in you.
(laughs) I think it was. The openness of it, and it’s like this untouched land. It’s pretty stunning.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*