Bands We Like: Other Lives

By Zachary Swickey

Other Lives have long been destined for greatness, or at the very least, critical success. It seemed like the band’s big break was fast approaching when John Mayer added their song to his Myspace player and tried to track the band down to give them kudos for their stellar track “Section 2.” Only one problem: this happened to Kunek, the first iteration of Other Lives. The band decided to re-establish themselves for their debut’s release, changing their moniker and sound. With the recent release of their sophomore album, Tamer Animals, on TBD Records (label buddies Radiohead are fans too), Other Lives seem fully prepared to take on the music-loving masses.

Other Lives was founded by a group of friends living in the small, Midwestern college town of Stillwater, Oklahoma. The band includes main musical composer Jesse Tabish (piano, guitar, lead vocals), the charming-but-reserved Jenny Hsu (cello, piano, castanets, backing vocals), and the fun-loving Colby Owens (drums). Later, Josh Onstott (bass, organ, backing vocals) and Jonathon Mooney (piano, violin, guitar) joined to help expand the group’s sound. It’s hard not to notice the band is full of multi-instrumentalists and the members are known to occasionally swap instruments in live settings (or play two simultaneously!).

After the name change, Other Lives released their debut in March 2009, which was recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Joey Waronker (drummer for Atoms for Peace, Thom Yorke’s solo band). The disc was a solid effort and the lead single, “Black Tables,” was all over primetime television, from “Ugly Betty” to “One Tree Hill” and “Grey’s Anatomy” (remember how The Fray hit it big?). In early 2010, the group reconvened in their studio in their hometown to begin work on their follow-up record.

Other Lives meticulously crafted their sophomore release over a grueling 14-month period. No fancy studio or producer, just the band wanting to present itself exactly how they wanted to be heard. The outcome is Tamer Animals, an incredible breakthrough album that takes you on an audible cinematic journey.

The old adage, “A place for everything, and everything in its place” can be appropriately applied to the band’s sweeping sound. It would be easy for a group like this to be overindulgent; instead Other Lives will have you appreciating each subtle musical nuance. You might even feel guilty listening to “As I Lay My Head Down” or “Dust Bowl III,” as Tabish’s lyrics can sound like musings from a diary that help make you feel like you’re not alone. The album is not entirely melancholic – “Landforms” is bouncy in nature with angelic backing vocals, while “Dark Horse” features piping trumpets.

The band has been getting some attention for their notable effort as well. They’ll soon be the opening act for the West Coast portion of Bon Iver’s much-anticipated tour after opening for the drummer’s solo act, S. Ward, this summer. Even Local Natives voiced their praise for the album via Twitter.

Tamer Animals is a record full of layers and rich atmosphere, a beautiful partnership between folk and classical music. Everyone has gone through something dramatic in their lives for which this album could be the appropriate soundtrack. If you’re lucky enough to catch Other Lives in person, you just might have an out-of-body experience.

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