Just as the seasons must inevitably change, so too must truly creative musicians, though perhaps not as methodically. Jesse Tabis, pianist, guitarist, and lead vocalist of the Stillwater indie folk band Other Lives (whose name came from Jesse’s love of the movie title, “The Lives of Others”) has found himself to be no exception. In the wake of his band’s success with their first album “Black Tables” the inevitable “necessity of change” came knocking on his door. With a recharged urgency and shifting perspective he approached his music anew.
Some changes, such as that from fall to winter, are received with groans of regret. The change evidenced on Other Lives’ newest installment, “Tamer Animals” though, should instead be greeted with applause. Inspired largely by the Dust Bowl region, Jesse declares the album to be, “A little closer to us and our Oklahoma history.” Musically, Jesse uses imagery and themes of nature to investigate the relationship between humans and their environment. This album was part of Jesse’s quest to accomplish musical goals that [he] felt like he hadn’t reached yet. Rather than circling upon the axis of demanding media and fans, his approach to his band’s second installment came from the sum of an internal change that had little to do with other people’s appreciation for his bands first album. “Black Tables” had songs featured on Grey’s Anatomy, Ugly Betty, and One Tree Hill. But even in the wake of that success, it seems Jesse’s focus on his personal artistic progression seems focused and unwavering.
It’s not surprising that Jesse can rattle off an eclectic mix of musical inspirations, citing anyone from Neil Young to Godspeed You! Black Emperor to Steve Rick to Stravinsky. For, like his tastes, his work transcends genre.
The music on “Tamer Animals” relies largely on the delightful interaction between the primal layering of their music. These harmonies sound almost too natural to have been preplanned. While many of these James had thought about before, the band “found ways to enhance the original arrangements, and take what [he] had and make it more expansive.” The band’s adaptive approach is likely responsible for the organic feel of their product, though some of the demos still hold true to the actual recording.
The function of the vocals on “Tamer Animals” is interesting. In some of the tracks, there are little to no lyrics. Jesse sees this relationship as being one of pure arrangement, he “likes to think of the vocal as its own instrument. It rides alongside the bassoon or cello or string.” If lyrics do seem secondary “in this context,” in a larger sense, he sees them as coexistent, symbiotic, with the musical harmony he creates.
Surprisingly enough, Jesse reports little trouble in maintaining Other Lives’s musical integrity in a world of auto-tuned conformity. He explains that “We’ve never been forced to do anything that we didn’t want to do.” While he admits that having a label means, “We’re in the system,” he truly appreciates what he sees as a growing open-mindedness in the music industry. It is perhaps this new acceptance of, and even fetish for indie music like that of Other Lives that propelled it to the kind of fame that allowed it to be featured on decidedly mainstream shows like Grey’s Anatomy.
James is grateful that, “The people that we work with understand that it’s of the upmost importance that we remain true and have the independent spirit.” The indie-kid fairy tale seems to have come true: you can have a paycheck and still hold onto your artistic integrity. And James doesn’t see this dream as one exclusive to Other Lives, “I think that is a trend among a lot of contemporary bands, and that’s why there’s a lot of great music out there, and a whole new wave of bands and fans and industry people are allowed to call the shots.”
Other Lives will be on tour this summer alongside The Rosebuds. Though change will inevitably propel these sunny rays into bitter winds, and Jesse into the next stage of his artistic journey, check out Other Lives this summer, and enjoy the here and now.