Gergedan Müzik

Other Lives

When Other Lives emerged from Oklahoma, their sweeping, cinematic arrangements and haunting, wistful melodies had an extra side effect: the uncanny ability to evoke big skies and broad horizons, as if the band’s DNA was the wide-open space of their home state’s prairies. Breaking through with their 2011 album Tamer Animals, MOJO magazine labelled Other Lives, “The next must-have pastoral American sensation”, and judging by their new album, For Their Love, Other Lives have continued to grow: it’s their most evocative, awestruck and intimate record yet, invested with a new vein of poetic thought addressing the individual and society in these turbulent times.

The album takes its name from one of the earlier tracks written for the album. “Something about the title feels both inclusive and also of a larger scene,” explains Other Lives’ creative lynchpin and frontman, Jesse Tabish. “The song also embodied the direction we wanted to take.”

In terms of Other Lives’ narrative, the direction For Their Love followed is partly a return while embodying a new chapter.  The story began in the town of Stillwater in 2009, with Other Lives’ self-titled debut, produced by Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M, Atoms For Peace), followed by Tamer Animals, broadening their horizons with dazzling orchestration and instrumentation that reflected Tabish’s love of minimalism, neo-classical music and soundtrack genius, Ennio Morricone.

The band’s core trio of Jesse Tabish (piano, guitar, lead vocals), Jonathon Mooney (piano, violin, guitar, percussion, trumpet) and Josh Onstott (bass, keys, percussion, guitar, backing vocals) then moved out west to Portland. “Stillwater is a college town and being perpetually surrounded by 21-year-olds eventually got to me,” Tabish recalls. “And we’d always liked Portland and its politics.” 

In their new north-western base, the band made their third album, Rituals, released in 2015. The exquisitely ornate 54-minute, 14-track opus further pushed the boundaries of the band’s compositional ambitions, infusing a subtle use of electronics. At the same time, “working with a computer means you can layer parts forever,” Tabish reflects. “I’d forgotten how to pick up a guitar and sing a song, to be more physical and primal with the music. On For Their Love, we’re playing again as a band, with a clear definition of parts.”

It helped that the band had reconnected again with rural life when Tabish left Portland, renting a friend’s beautiful A-frame house in Oregon’s Cooper Mountain region, surrounded by towering trees and no neighbours in sight. In this bucolic setting, the trio set about making For Their Love.

“My wife, Kim, and I moving to this house and making a new life and music together was a huge part of this record,” Tabish says. “I found there was too much distraction in Portland, but here we could dedicate ourselves to work. I found that I returned to my music vocabulary in a natural way, using certain types of chords or keys, and also the way I sing. Living with roommates in Portland, I was too shy to sing in front of them. But here, I felt free.”

The sense of freedom and togetherness carried over to the way For Their Love was made: from start to finish, it’s Other Lives’ most collaborative album. This includes the contributions of Rituals drummer, Danny Reisch and of Kim Tabish, whose layered backing vocals amplify the album’s cinematic aura. “We really set out to make a band record,” Tabish says. This extended to self-producing for the first time since 2006 - Mooney also engineered the album.

As For Their Love came together, the band avoided re-working and refining tracks (as they had on Rituals), choosing instead to record different arrangements of songs, “to capture the vibe of something more instant,” Tabish explains. “We were adamant that For Their Love would have no tricks, and nothing to hide behind, which we’d been doing psychologically as well as musically. We wanted ten songs that held up by themselves."

Part of Tabish’s personal efforts to emerge from ‘hiding’ was re-engaging with the outside world, “getting real with myself,” as he puts it. A tight band of friends, the band had many conversations about the current state of affairs; to that end, For Their  Love’s lyrics “question, observe, lament and hopefully find the slightest hope in the individual and in ourselves. Characters sometimes venture into spiritual, religious or institutionalised endeavours - though I’ve personally found that self-worth is more important than any teachings or preaching.”

‘Sound Of Violence’, the opening track, is one of the album’s most vivid laments, recalling the awestruck Wild West aura of Tamer Animals highlight ‘For 12’ but with a more sobering lyric: “There is no room for an individual outcry in order to exist in the current way of life,” Tabish says. The exquisitely desolate ‘Dead Language’ makes Tabish’s resignation even more palpable. “I feel like I’m an outsider these days,” he admits. “Though that’s not always bad, because you can observe and judge by your own morals.”

But by the band’s own morals, the current world feels bereft. ‘Hey Hey I’ is the sound of Other Lives at their most upbeat and liberated but the lyric addresses, “the paradigm of the downtrodden working class. The American Dream is dead. You bought into the system but it does not pan out.”  The emotion driving ‘Who’s Gonna Love Us’ is one of seeking community and security in this increasingly unstable world. ‘Lost Day’ is similarly unmoored, written on tour, “when we were on the road forever, and we didn’t feel human anymore.” As Tabish developed the lyric, more feelings of dislocation merged: “My fear that the intellectual is dying out, and religion is rising.”

Yet the album’s darkest hour is the penultimate track. ‘We Wait’ is inspired by a real incident, when 17-year old Jesse was a founder member of emo rockers All-American Rejects, and his best friend was murdered by someone within the band’s inner circle. “It’s been haunting me for the last decade,” Tabish admits. “It’s part of my larger narrative of dealing with troubling stuff in my life.”

With Tabish and Other Lives as a whole re-centring their lives and music, For Their Love suitably ends on a note of hope. A serene ballad, ’Sideways’ is an acknowledgement that the world is dark but light exists. “It was the first song we wrote at this house, for Kim, when she was abroad,” says Tabish. “It’s good to leave on something more positive, less cynical.”

Out of personal and creative uncertainty and recalibration, Other Lives have re-emerged, a must-have pastoral sensation reborn.