Other Lives is here to prove that you can keep your integrity and still make great music. Is there a greater sign of credibility than being pegged for the supporting slot on a tour with Radiohead? In this world of PR-driven music, how do we trust anything that is foisted upon us by the indie music machine? The nifty, little band from New York City that’s battling the machine to get heard? Yeah, their music is in Tommy Hilfiger ads now. But when a band like Radiohead, who don’t have major label support, ask you to open for them on their U.S. tour, it’s because they like you. Not because they’re bowing to the wishes of their label, promoter, bottled water sponsor. Other Lives lead singer Jesse Tabish talked to Todd from The Dumbing of America about the path they’ve traveled and the challenges of writing, post-Radiohead.
Todd: At the time that Tamer Animals came out, you said that upon hearing it, there were things that you wanted to do differently. What did you mean by that? Musically, production-wise…..?
Jesse: Tamer Animals was fairly idealistic and I think in some ways it came off a little short in certain areas. We kind of created a new musical language for ourselves. As a whole I think it works really well as a record, but there could have been more tonal dimensions. Tamer Animals is such a warm, big record, but on the next one I want a little more space and more detail. Less folk and less song-based.
Todd: Did you have those same kind of feelings after the first record? Is this a common theme for you?
Jesse: After our first record I was kind of bummed out. I was ready to start record number two right away. But that’s not how it works!
Todd: It took you fourteen months to make a second record!
Jesse: I know! That’s just how it was and I had to live with that.
Todd: When you talk about tonal changes, are you talking instrumentation?
Jesse: Not necessarily. As I said, we created a new language for ourselves on the last record and I really enjoyed it. The instrumentation will be about the same, but it’ll be more about how it’s written and arranged and recorded. I think it’ll be a lot more with instruments close to the mic, less reverb and a little cleaner. Not as big.
Todd: One of the Pitchfork reviews criticized the vocals on Tamer Animals. Did you agree with that analysis?
Jesse: I really disagreed with that. It’s something that’s been criticized and I think it’s a fair comment because they’re underplayed and understated, but that was intentional. I wanted to let the vocals sit and co-exist with the music. I wanted less of a personality in the vocals, less of a “front-man” mentality. I really want to push that even farther on the next record, where the vocals are really just “another one of the boys”, like another instrument.
Todd: One of the things that is frequently mentioned is your fondness for Philip Glass and his influence on your music. First, do you think it’s fair for writer to put such an emphasis on this influence and do you see it impacting your writing in the future?
Jesse: He’s been a huge influence and is one of my favorite composers. It is an element and one of the things I’ve always heard in our music. I find that some of his techniques have influenced me, but it’s not like I’m trying to write a Philip Glass record! I think he’s influenced a lot of modern music. But I don’t think his influence on me has been overplayed.
Todd: You’ve talked about your fondness for playing small venues. As you prepare to embark on an arena tour with Radiohead and a date at Coachella, what challenges and feelings to you have perceive? How do you approach it musically?
Jesse: We’ve played on the West Coast at some larger venues and one thing we noticed is that there’s a different connection with the audience. Maybe you can’t see anybody, but you focus inwards as a band. I find myself in my own head more. The challenge is to take that and focus on us as a group and yet still let loose and have fun, expressing it to the audience. One of the challenges that awaits us is to express that emotion to an audience. I don’t think we’ve fully grasped that yet.
Todd: For several years, you’ve talked about your love of Radiohead. Now that you’re getting an opportunity to tour with them, do you have an incredible sense of jubilation or is it a bit nerve-wracking because of this prospect of playing a large venue.
Jesse: It’s definitely nerve-wracking, but it’s more excitement than anything. The nerve-wracking thing isn’t necessarily bad. I’ve found that sometimes a stressful environment can make for some great live shows. Sometimes you play some shows and you feel great and not stressed and you get on stage and it just isn’t there. Whatever comes with all of this, I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to shape the band because it’s a life-changing experience.
Todd: Will you have the same lineup?
Jesse: We’ve added a violinist Daniel Hart. He gives it just a little bit larger touch to the sound.
Todd: You had a long break between the first two records and now you’re heading back out on tour. Have you done any work on a new album?
Jesse: Very much so. I’m a good deal in as far as writing song ideas. We haven’t done any serious recording. It’s all in the songwriting stage, but I always love this place. You’re not trying to get anything done but write. There’s no editing and you’re just alone. I’ve always enjoyed that part. There’s no sending off mp3′s to anybody. It’s a fun place to be. For the next year, I’ll be writing in the van. I
Todd: So 2013 is the earliest we’ll see a new album?
Jesse: Yea, for sure. We’re hoping to put out an EP by the end of this year. Maybe in the fall. We have five weeks off in April, so maybe we’ll record something then.
Todd: You’ve said that lyrics is one of the last things you do, is it fair to assume you haven’t written any lyrics for the new music you’ve done?
Jesse: (laughs)No no no. It’s one of those things that kind of escapes me. It’s mostly intentional, but I think I’m just busy on technique. The lyric comes with the vocal and the vocal is generally just nonsense at first. Lyrics are mostly a painful process, something that shouldn’t be a careless thing. It just seems to come a little farther along in the process.
Todd: I assume you’re in an certain emotional place when you write your music. You’ve already done a lot of writing, but you’re getting ready to go on what you’ve described as a potentially, life-changing tour with Radiohead and Coachella. Do you worry that this music that you’ve been writing the past few months is coming from a place that you won’t be able to relate to, once you get through the tour? When you sit down to write lyrics six months from now, do you worry that the music you’ve already written won’t mesh with the lyrics and the state of mind that you’re feeling?
Jesse: It wasn’t a concern before, but now it is (laughing). Thanks for that! I know what you’re saying. I think the thing that I try and keep in my head every day, no matter where I am, at home alone or on a stressful tour across the sea, every moment is part of the experience of life. Whether I was in a certain place, a different dynamic might change that. I just try and stay positive and just be open to it, recognizing that it can come any moment.