Interview Other Lives: ‘It’s Better Than We Imagined It’

‘Tamer Animals’, self-recording and production, Radiohead, Philip Glass, beards and… cheese.

As I arrived at the Kentish Town Forum, one hirsute man greeted me and led me to a room containing two further hirsute men, having passed several other such gentlemen on the way. As you will find out later on, beards and quality musical output can only go hand in hand. The two men I was taken to meet were Jessie and Jonathan from Oklahoma’s Other Lives. I wasn’t just here to sit in a room with these people. I was here to talk serious business about their rather good new album ‘Tamer Animals’, their recent and first ever tour of England and everything else that could possibly be important to know about a band.

Beginning with the most mundane of questions, I’m assured that they are indeed enjoying their time in England. And you get the impression they genuinely are, despite the pissing rain that’s pissing against the windows. Then straight to the album, ‘we’re pleased with it yeah’ Jessie expresses in the most laid back of Southern American accents, but he also insists that ‘after hearing this one, there’s new things we want to accomplish on the next’. Even within the first few seconds of the interview you get the impression of a band that are incredibly proud of what they achieved with their album but that they are also driven to bigger and better things. This attitude is also evident in that they recorded and produced the album themselves over a fourteen-month period. ‘We felt that we had a real goal in mind, and it was up to us to find it’ is how Jessie saw this process. They seemed positive about this way of doing things compared with the more traditional approach of their debut album. Jonathan emphasising that as the process moved along, they ‘couldn’t have done it any other way’. The result of which seems to be a great improvement musically.

Composers Philip Glass and Ennio Morricone aren’t who you’d assume to be major influences on a contemporary folk-ish band. But they are, and Other Lives are far more than ‘folk-ish’. Jessie stresses the importance of Philip Glass style short repetitive phrases and Morricone’s expansive western sound in influencing the album. Of the songs themselves he says ‘they always come from an instrumental place’. If you listen to the album and bear those influences in mind you really notice it - the music really creating strong, vivid imagery before the vocals even take effect. A thousand landscapes and films fill your imagination. This makes perfect sense when they explain that they were trying to write music to the landscape of their native Oklahoma. With track names like ‘Dustbowl III’, you get the idea.

‘We always looked up to God Speed (You! Black Emperor) or Sigur Rós’, Jessie explains. This further explains where their love of orchestral sounds has come from. Although he’s quick to state that their sound is quite definitely their own.

When I ask them about the move from recording the album to playing it live, it was interesting to find that they’d never played it together until the album was finished. Several months were taken to conquer this challenge alone. ‘To be honest, it’s better than we imagined it’, Jessie says of how the live show has turned out. He really is level headed for a man who’s obviously got such vast talent, having seemingly played every instrument under the sun on the album. He is serious and passionate about his music, especially how they’re going to express it live - ‘We’re here to represent a body of work, it’s not just an entertainment thing, we want to show this art…and definitely have the flow of the album.’ It’s a bold claim to almost dismiss entertainment as the main goal of your live performance. He doesn’t come across as remotely pretentious though when saying this, and luckily for them, the live performance really does represent the ‘art’ they’ve made. They also tell me that Radiohead are the best live band they’ve ever seen and especially their ability to transcend the impersonal size of the crowd. The idea of a personal performance seems very important to them.

Then for my first really serious question of the day… what is the most epic song ever? To which they answered ‘the song from the end of the film Michael Collins’ (watch here). Even they didn’t know who it was by, but fair enough, it’s suitably epic. Their favourite albums are ‘After The Goldrush’ for Jessie and ‘Harvest’ for Jonathan, both by Neil Young. This adds to our understanding of what influences them. It all seems to fit together very nicely. As the conversation moves to the state of the music industry, they explain how they ‘don’t care if people steal their music’. To them it’s more important to make the music they want to make, and if people like it, that’s just a great bonus.

As the interview gets to even more serious matters, Jessie admits that if he could work with any musician alive or dead, it would be…. ‘Bill Murray, if he was like a drummer’.

My next questions are those that really make or break a band. Is there a direct relation between facial hair and quality of music I queried? And of course, by their very appearance, they agreed, admitting there was ‘definitely a linear relationship’ between the two; and that much like Samson in the bible, removal of hair results in a loss of power. I’ll take their word for it. Furthermore, they haven’t heard of Jaffa Cakes, but from what they fathomed, it’s definitely a cake, not a biscuit. Neither did they know that cheesecake isn’t strictly a cake, but now they do… This is important stuff. Important stuff that paved the way wonderfully to the big question, what is Other Lives’ favourite cheese? Jessie’s is Muenster cheese… which obviously everyone’s heard of… apparently it melts well. Jonathan’s is a more conservative answer of goat’s cheese. And to cap it off, they could name a very impressive seventeen cheeses in thirty seconds. An achievement for which I highly commend them. I had to assure those who had entered the room moments before that the interview consisted of more than a five minute chat about confectionaries and cheese. Yet Jessie insisted that this topic had made him the chattiest he’d been all day.

Other Lives are a band who make beautiful, orchestral ‘folk-ish-ish’ music, know their cheese, don’t know their Jaffa Cakes and are very good humoured, lovely people. I urge you to seek out and enjoy their work.

Other Lives’ new album ‘Tamer Animals’ is out now.

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