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An introductory interview with the band who made my album of the year for Dazed Digital

The American pop quintet, who are supporting Radiohead on their 2012 US tour, talk to Dazed about recording their album, and their success both here and in the US

Sometimes it’s the quieter ones that you have to watch out for. Earlier this year, an American chamber pop-quintet from Oklahoma released the most beguiling record of the year- an LP full of quiet intensity and compelling instrumentation that is complex, yet simultaneously simple, with its sliding strings, hushed horns and keening vocals.

That band is Other Lives, and their album – Tamer Animals – is a widescreen musical depiction of the American Midwest and society’s relationship with the environment. Dazed spoke to lead singer Jesse Tabish just before the band announced their imminent support of Radiohead during their US tour in 2012.

Dazed Digital: You’re a fairly new band in the UK. Could you tell me the Other Lives story from the beginning? You met at high school, didn’t you?
Jesse Tabish:
We knew each other in high school, but it wasn’t until right after school that we started hanging out. We’d hang out in this local coffee shop, and just play records that we were all into. I’d been writing some instrumental music, and I was looking to form a band, and that’s when I rang Jenny and Colby. So we started this project that became a band called Kunek, but we didn’t really tour, so for the first five years we’d mostly just rehearse and write. There was a distinct lack of any ambition to get out there, which was a good thing, because we were able to figure out some things musically. We split ways with one of the members in Kunek – we thought that it was about time to just kind of start anew. So we became Other Lives.

DD: Could you tell me about writing and recording Tamer Animals? It took you 16 months to produce, didn’t it?
Jesse Tabish: Yeah. It was an interesting way that some of the songs came about. I’d grown weary of my method of writing songs, which would be primarily me and a guitar and piano, arranging music around that. I found it to be a little too linear at times, so a lot of these songs were created maybe just starting with a piano note, or a drone. And then we’d start with the arrangement and musical dimension, and then we’d go on top of that with the singing.

Lyrically, I’d come up with the melody and these natural words would come out. And then from there, me and John would form something sensible around it so that it would make sense. It freed me up in a way that I was thinking about music differently than I had previously. We really like film music, so there were discussions of trying to write music to the Oklahoma landscape and that vastness and desolation, this desert quality that’s almost meditative.

DD: So you released the album in America first of all, I was wondering what the reception was like over there?
Jesse Tabish: It’s hard to say. The States is so large geographically, it’s really hard to gauge it. We have felt a better reception in the UK. It seems that people are more receptive to the record, which is fantastic. I’d be happier to have a career in the UK. It might be that the grass is greener, but I love the UK, and it was a really great opportunity to go and tour there, I really felt a connection to it.

DD: How were the gigs themselves?
Jesse Tabish: Really good. The fans that have been coming out are very dedicated. It’s great for us to be able to see that, and to play in these small rooms where it’s really intimate.

DD: You’re coming back to England for your St Giles-in-the-Fields concert. Have you got anything special planned?
Jesse Tabish: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to playing in that venue, I’ve heard really good things about it. We were thinking about maybe bringing in a lighting guy, but it’s a funny thing – this is the first time we’ve done headlining shows. For the longest time we’ve been a support act, so we’re just so happy to be able to play for an hour rather than 20 minutes. It’s nice to be able to present our music in the way we’ve wanted to for a long time.

Other Lives play St Giles Church on Monday 21st November. Tamer Animals is out now.

To see the interview on Dazed Digital, click here.