Live! Other Lives in Chicago

by Angie Jaime and Dan Harpaz

Angie and I caught the Other Lives & Gomez show at the Vic Theatre in Chicago on October 2, 2008.  We interviewed Jesse and met the rest of the band after the set.  This is our story.

I was supposed to wait for the 5:30 train. I get there, it’s 5:28, I figure what the hell, Dan should be on this one, right? No Dan. Better text him…buzzzbuzzbuzz, “Errr… I forgot the voice recorder for our interview. I might want to going back to get it,” he says.  Great.  Buzzbuzzbuzz… “No, we’ve gone too far… we have to go on an adventure!” This is going well already. Can’t wait to see how this one’s going to turn out. Two cell phone stores, a sex shop on Belmont, and finally a CVS later, we figure the best route is the oldest. Pen and paper, man. Just like Almost Famous. Lucky for Dan, who claims that he’s directionally impaired, I know my way around the city; we even had time to spare before heading to the Vic to catch Other Lives, an indie outfit from Stillwater, Oklahoma.

The show started off very gradually, soft cello bass lines floating out from the stage rising into a sort of rhythmic rocking. Jesse Tabish (lead vocals) moved like a metronome, keeping time with his whole body, feet never losing a beat as he played. Maybe it was just my feeling the intensity of the music, but the security guard must have been used for acts like Henry Rollins, because he fell right asleep.

The second song, “End of the Year,” proved a sort of culmination of the last— a seamless flow, despite the ongoing game of musical chairs on stage. Tabish and fellow member Jonathan Mooney seemed to constantly be trading instruments, from piano to guitar to violin— a band of multi-instrumentalists not unlike TBD labelmates the White Rabbits. Similarly effortless was Other Lives’ navigation between the dissonant and harmonious— the tense and serene.

“We have to tune between songs. Sorry; it’s a little awkward, isn’t it?” Jesse modestly joked between songs.  “Oh yeah, I think they’re selling our EP out front. We kind of have to say that.”

With each subsequent song came a bigger dose of Other Lives’ guitar-driven folk sound. By the time they played the politically charged “Paper Cities,” an appropriately fearless Beatles-esque progression rounded out the rest of the set; before we knew it, it was over.

I was left wanting more; an encore lasting an hour or two would have passed in a flash.  To our surprise, we later found out from Jesse that this was only their second show as Other Lives. Formerly known as Kunek, this band is evidently composed of seasoned musicians.

“We had a band member leave in the first week of recording the new EP. It was a mutual agreement, and he was a big part of the first band, but we just naturally drifted apart,” he explained through the puffs of a Marlboro in a dark alley behind the venue, under the El tracks.  “Doors closing,” the train responded.

The lineup change was just the start of things. “We were on a small label with our first album, and then Phil [Costello] came and wanted to manage the band. We thought it’d be best to go with his label,” Tabish said.

With lineup changes and a new album on a new label, we wondered, had their roots stayed the same?

“We all love the Beatles,” Tabish commented. “Personally, I like Max Richter, and this Icelandic guy Johan Johansson. Pretty much modern classical stuff, Phillip Glass is a big influence. Oh yeah, and don’t forget Neil Young!”

Forget Neil Young? Hardly.

As far as influences are concerned one name stood out in his mind. “Godspeed. They’re probably hands down the best post-rock band of all time,” he gushed. “Yeah, I draw influence from them— there’s no doubt about that. You should go home and listen to them right now.”

Considering Other Lives’ influences, it’s no wonder why songs like Paper Cities, a Dylanesque tribute to the uncertainty of the war in Iraq, appeared on their EP.  Or as Dan put it in a question: “Countless critics agree that your EP predicted the economic meltdown we’re experiencing right now.  How did you prophesize this disaster?” We all shared a good laugh.

“Paper Cities is very political,” Tabish replied. “I mean, it’s right out there and says what it needs to. There’s a lot wrong with this country. I almost hope the economy goes to shit and we really have to change our ways. I hope this election really changes things. The other side has managed to win for so long because of ideology, and it’s only now that people are really starting to care about real things.”

It’s no surprise that recording artists are some of the most outspoken individuals when it comes to politics, but for anyone who isn’t Bono, sometimes a song is all you need. “We’re in the middle of America in Oklahoma, and I think a lot of people feel very helpless. We really feel a disconnect, and maybe this song is just part of us wanting to be involved,” Tabish said.

The band prefers a songwriting process as simple as the themes they address in their lyrics. “I come up with a song idea,” Tabish explained, “and then the other guys make a mediocre song great.”

Even the much debated question of what defines a band as “indie” doesn’t seem to faze Tabish. “Indie gets thrown around so much, I’m sure people think [our music] is ‘indie,’ and that’s fine if they need to categorize it,” he said.

“The thing about ‘indie’ is that way back when, it used to only mean being an independent band. Nowadays, I think it just means being a band with a little more freedom, so that’s cool.”

With their debut EP to be released to the public October 21st and a tour underway, we wondered if plans for a full-length album were in the works. “When we get to that point, we’ll just take it as it comes.”


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