FOUR YEARS after their last album, Other Lives have a new place to call home and a new record to tell you about it.
After recording 2011's Tamer Animals, the trio felt they had written all they could about their home in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and needed a change of scenery—both physically and musically. "Through our travels, Portland kept coming up in conversation," says lead singer Jesse Tabish. "Every time we were here we'd think how great it was. There was just something to it—it seemed healthy." When the time came to relocate, Portland was an easy choice for the group, which also includes multi-instrumentalists Josh Onstott and Jonathon Mooney.
With a style that's morphed throughout the years, Other Lives can be tricky to classify. Beginning as a primarily instrumental ensemble, the band went through a folky phase and now boasts a sound best described as meticulously crafted collage. Their new album, Rituals, is no exception. Loftier than previous recordings, it has an undeniably smooth and seductive resonance that's entrancing. Tabish's brooding vocals give way to a velvety lushness that remains buoyant through bright and driving instrumentals. "The new work explores a lot of different music—everything from folk to electronic to experimental," he says.
One element that has remained consistent through Other Lives' work has been a classical, orchestral core. "We're always thinking about string and horn arrangements before anything else," says Tabish, adding that this constant originally united the band all those years ago. "We were all 18-year-old kids who were really into Stravinsky."
In addition to their eclectic style, the band's freeform spirit crops up in their recording practices. Instead of the standard method of learning a tune together and taking it to the studio, the members record without necessarily having a particular outcome in mind. Having made previous albums in a more traditional style, they felt limited by the process and allowed themselves the freedom to fiddle around a bit on Rituals.
"When we're working on a specific song, the goal is usually to take the meat out and see what we can bring in sideways," Tabish says. He breaks down a technique they often use which lends their music that ethereal quality: "If you strum a G chord, you hear the triad. But you can take that G chord and play it separately by three different instruments to make up that triad, which can give it some really interesting movement and dimension, and less of a linear sound."
They're not the only ones with this idea. Tabish explains as long as the clock's not ticking in the studio, boundaries can be pushed. "I think a lot of bands are doing things that are heavily layered and dimensional because nobody is telling them they can't."
Unfortunately, this roundabout style of recording can create challenges when it comes time to perform live. "Once the song is completed, sometimes we're staring at 100 tracks," Tabish says. Cue tireless rehearsals until the band can cohesively recreate live what they pieced together separately. This often means a band member will learn a new instrument on the fly to imitate sounds from the recorded track. On stage, the band members move around, each playing several different instruments during any given show.
"I'm the worst person in the band—I just play piano and sing," Tabish jokes. "They're amazing. I'm so lucky to have these guys in the band."
After 13 years together, it could be seen as miraculous that Other Lives have remained so tight-knit. "There are battles about how a song should be or whatever, but at the core there's still this fundamental belief in making the music we want to listen to," Tabish says. "Thankfully, we still want to listen to the same music."