To go five years without any major release to show off, must be a tough spot to be in, even more so for an established act like Other Lives. Even so, Jesse Tabish, lead singer and guitarist of the Oklahoma-bred rock outfit, is not afraid to address the issues that led to the extended radio silence of the quintet after Rituals, their last achievement in 2015. ‘It’s a lot of pressure’, he says in the beginning of our talk, ‘and currently I just feel so relieved to put this out’. Released just a few weeks back, For Their Love is their newest work. And it shines bright with cinematic intensity and mindful insight.
‘I really didn’t know which way to turn after the last record’, he continues, opening up on personal issues of self-doubt and the feeling of not achieving enough. From what Jesse tells me, you get the impression of someone whose fire has been burning low for some time and who was in urgent need of a space to provide him with newborn energy and restfulness for the creative forces to come back. Luckily, they did. And the space here is not just metaphorical. It came in the shape of an A-framed house in the woods up in the American north, where the album was conceived, recorded and produced.
‘This record is a lot about coming back to a center. And for me, that was getting back to a simplicity of music.’
Retreat and create
Set just 30 minutes away from Portland, the band’s most recent base, the five-piece retreated to a house in Oregon’s Cooper Mountain region in the summer of 2018, to work on the new record. This should be ‘bigger, more warm-hearted and more open. With our last record, Rituals, I felt like being squeezed’, Jesse reflects. ‘I wanted to have a sort of simplicity, a rustic quality. I thought the last record was overly intellectualised. I wanted to get back to a more simple way of things’.
A soundscape that is in itself broad and majestic, featuring a full front of guitars, strings and horns, For Their Love is also a dedication to the consuming experience of fully immersing yourself in the act of creating music.
‘Up here I could come closer to my ideal of working on music twelve hours a day and being completely focussed and not going out to bars with friends, not going to restaurants. Really focussed work. You kind of see what you’re made of and you let your own intuition take over. That was really important to me.‘
Also, the communal aspect of the band as a whole being together at one place at a time, developing the different songs and really committing to the sound was vital to the progress of the record, Jesse is keen to emphasise: ‘Getting back to the band and becoming a band again was crucial. Looking at four people in a room and connecting.’ These are the building blocks on which For Their Love also stands on.
An air of enchantment
Although the frameworks for the songs originated in Sicily, where Jesse and his wife (who joined the band recently) went down for some months, it was the setting in Oregon itself that contributed greatly to the imaginative and lush palette of For Their Love. And Jesse still gets quite taken away when talking about how the space around affects him:
‘In the North West, nine months of the year, it’s really rainy, and really gloomy. Around us is nothing but trees, giant trees. And it’s all green, the air is so big, so fresh. It’s cloudy outside but it doesn’t get me down, it’s so beautiful and is mainly surrounded by all these thousands of trees everywhere. It’s not like we wrote a record about nature, but it’s that kind of space, it seeps in. It puts you in a place.’
As I “seep into” the songs myself, I can really begin to feel the airiness that surrounds the record. Not in a minimalistic manner, quite contrary. There are vivacious orchestrations that at times wake the memory of Ennio Morricone, building up vast soundscapes dripping of dramatic potential. And yet, there is room to breathe on For Their Love. Jesse’s enthusiastic vocal performances, mostly rooted in sombre and melancholic timbres, lock up spaces of compassion and a deep-seated contemplation of the world at large.
Hold on to hope
While the overall tone of the record may be one of addressing darker themes, there is a silver lining that runs through it all. Jesse describes it as a kind of duality, which he also applies to the condition of the world as such:
‘There is more darkness, but the light that is there is so powerful, that it battles it in unequal terms.’
The tension between melancholic vibes in songs such as Lost Day, Dead Language or the heart-wrenching We Wait to the more upbeat tunes Hey Hey I or Sideways could hardly have been arranged any more skillful. And so, out of the gloomy dark, shimmers of hope glance through For Their Love, putting Other Lives in a comfortable position on their fourth record. Sounding more refined than ever, they are sending gleams of hope into the obscure reality of the here and now.
‘In some ways there is the over-reaching theme of fear and control. And how the individual deals with these kind of issues. Do you give in to some sort of fundamentalism that gives you the right answer? Or do you set out on your own path to find your own kind of truth? That’s the essence of what I want to do.’
Other Lives‘ wonderful new album For Their Love is out now via Play It Again Sam.