First, a brief explanation of how we got here.
Several years ago, when a colleague and I were covering the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles for the first time, I remember being backstage in the media room, sandwiched between journalists from outlets like CBS News, People magazine and Rolling Stone, and when we introduced ourselves as a publication from Tulsa, the response was mostly warm and friendly but also reluctant and...sympathetic.
There was a sense of confusion (and maybe some sense of patronizing) at the thought of a music outlet based in Oklahoma. It was an awkward moment and it made us feel small, because it was another reminder of how centralized the industry was in hubs like L.A. and New York—and increasingly Nashville and Austin.
Fast forward to 2022, and if there's anything the last couple of years have proven, it's that location doesn't really matter. During the darkest months of the pandemic, even superstars like Taylor Swift and Drake were back to making music from home. And as the music industry continues to shift, I'm heartened by so much great music and so many creative, provocative, inspiring and genuinely talented music-makers and artists in my home of Oklahoma.
Even though I'm proud of the fact I was born in Austin, I'm honored to call Tulsa home and be part of this community. And while Variance has always covered Oklahoma musicians on a broad scale, we want to shine a bigger spotlight on the artists we love—those who are from Oklahoma and those who call it home.
That's why we're starting this new series, "That Sounds OK!," which is a nod to the common feeling of both pause and pride of being an artist or creative from a state like Oklahoma, but it's also our stamp of approval of the artists we cover in this column. They're from Oklahoma. OK, cool! And they're also really good. That's why we think you should know about them!
The first act we're featuring is MORE&MORE, a Tulsa-based band we've covered multiple times over the last few months as the five-piece re-introduced themselves under their new moniker. But today, the band, made up of Brady Ballew, Jacob Hunter, Charles Spears, Jordan O'Dell and Liam Spears, is marking a new chapter, with the release of their new The Blue EP, their second project, which follows their debut I'm Still Getting Used to It EP, released in July.
I sat down recently with frontman Ballew to discuss the new project, the band's own pride in being from Tulsa and the surge of new music they've got in the pipeline.
"I think what's happening in Tulsa is making us more excited to grow as a band," says Ballew, chatting on a late September afternoon over a beer at Cabin Boys Brewery, a local craft brewery and taproom in Tulsa's Kendall Whittier district.
"You look at organizations like Tulsa Creative Engine and the things they're doing around the city," he says. "I think they're inspiring artists and musicians to do more and to get involved. They're trying to grow Tulsa artists and helping people do what they love."
Ballew, a retired professional soccer player who is originally from Washington state, says the sense of encouragement reminds him of the feeling when he first saw The 1975 play in Seattle.
"I think it was their first tour in the U.S.," he recalls, excitedly. "That show changed music for me. It was the moment I was like, 'I want to make music! That's what I want to do!' And even now, to me, they're the blueprint. In terms of what they're doing with pop music, I adore everything they do. And that's probably the band that keeps me churning and inspired."
He continues, pointing to artists like COIN, Frank Ocean and Turnstile as inspiration. And without sharing too much, he says the band is working on "our Turnstile song," which they hope to release early next year.
Of the newly released The Blue EP, he says: "These songs feel very natural together, and they're a little softer. But the next ones are maybe a little more electronic."
Ultimately, after eventually compiling about a dozen tracks over multiple EPs, Ballew says he hopes it will give the band "a bird's eye view" of where they feel most comfortable musically and what fans are gravitating towards, giving them a clearer sense of direction as they pursue their next move.
Speaking of COIN, Ballew says the band's seemingly non-stop release pattern has influenced his own ideas of freedom in releasing music. "You can put out music how you want, when you want, where you want," he says, pointing to COIN's wealth of music released since the beginning of 2020, including a mixtape and two full-length albums.
"People in music will tell you to release a single every six weeks and then you release your album or whatever project," says Ballew of the conventional wisdom in the industry. And with his old project Beachfriends, he admits they tried to mimic that formula, but not now. "I'd rather just put it out when the music when it's done. Life's too short. We're just putting out music, as much as we can and as fast as we can!"
Ballew says much of the band's own freedom and creative inspiration is credit to their producer, Sam Westhoff, a fellow Variance favorite and mastermind behind The Colony Recording Company, the Tulsa studio where MORE&BAND recorded their first EP as well as the newly released Blue EP.
"He is Tulsa's best-kept secret," declares the MORE&MORE singer. "Somebody else said that, but I agree with it wholeheartedly. He's like bottled magic. He's in a 500 square foot studio above an insurance agency, and he's putting out some of the most interesting music on behalf of artists, and there's no one here doing cooler, such nuanced things, more consistently than Sam. I just don't have enough good things to say."
He adds: "He pushes us in the right ways. He listens to us. And he's the best diplomat in the studio, like taking everyone's ideas and making sure everyone's heard. He's a guy I would love to make music with for the rest of my life."
Speaking as a Tulsa transplant, Ballew says Westhoff is a great example of the city's growing supportive infrastructure for creatives. "There are young creatives that are hungry," he says. "And we have so many resources here now, that it gives us a shot. And sometimes that's all you need, is for someone to give you a shot. And now it's up to us to take it. It's a great feeling."