Entertainment & Arts

Radiohead support slot for Oklahoma's Other Lives

Other Lives (Jessie Tabish, right)
Image caption Tamer Animals is the band's second album in two years

Lauded by the critics but, as yet, very much a mystery to the UK's music-buying public, Oklahoma band Other Lives have been handpicked by Radiohead to support them on their forthcoming US tour.

About 300 people are in St Giles in the Fields church in Holborn, central London, to hear a performance by Other Lives. It is a small audience, tiny in comparison with the 20,000 capacity of the American Airlines Arena in Miami.

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Media captionWatch an excerpt from a live performance of Other Lives' For 12

Radiohead are playing there next year. And it's sold out. And Other Lives are supporting them.

"It's really hard to describe," says diminutive frontman Jesse Tabish, smiling. "I remember having conversations nine years ago when we started the band saying: 'Wouldn't it be cool opening for Radiohead?' We were just talking pipe dreams."

However, earlier this year the US band found themselves playing in front of Oxford's finest in their hometown and were ushered into a backstage meeting with singer Thom Yorke and guitarist Ed O'Brien.

Tabish recalls: "They were such sweet people and down to earth. I said to them, 'You're just like...,' and they interrupted, '...normal people?'

"I don't think I've been that nervous before a gig," he adds. "It was surreal."

Hailing from Stillwater, Oklahoma, Tabish describes the town as "middle American Bible belt, very religious, very conservative".

A piano teacher's son exposed to a "a lot of classical music", Tabish's typically angry "punk rock" teenage years soon gave way to an appreciation of his home state's natural beauty, the wide open prairies and lush forests.

A stint as a music teacher at 19 also gave him more time and freedom to compose music that reflected his surroundings.

"I thought it was boring and flat but growing into it, you realise the beauty and simplicity of the way of life and the landscape."

That inspiration resulted in the band's second album, Tamer Animals, released in August this year.

The record was a huge critical success, if not much of commercial hit. In its review, influential music site Pitchfork called it "organic and lovingly crafted, a record whose lushness often invites you to simply collapse into it".

The BBC's own review called Tamer Animals "the most uniquely sublime, meticulous and heroic 40 minutes of 2011".

"I don't do records for any other reason than because I love making music," insists Tabish. "Financially, as long as we're able to live on this, that's it. I'm fine with that."

Tabish echoes the workmanlike quality of bands like Elbow, who before their huge breakout album The Seldom Seen Kid had recorded three critically acclaimed yet modestly selling albums.

"I feel lucky that even though we don't have monetary success, I still feel like we have that drive and hunger. But we want to play for more people, we want to sell more records, of course we do."

One of the band's big selling points is their live set, which washes through the central London church like a lush, orchestral wave.

The five-piece band average at least three instruments each, all of which make an appearance on stage.

Cellist Jenny Hsu shakes what appear to be a pair of sleigh bell-laden deer antlers. Drummer Colby Owens plays the clarinet. It results in a somewhat crowded stage.

"I'm so lazy when it comes to learning new instruments," says Tabish. "It was more out of necessity for the record than saying, 'Hey, let's learn all these instruments.' It was a case of, 'Well, we need this - you have to learn to play it.'"

Other Lives have toured the album constantly since its release in the summer - recently in another US and Canada support slot with folk rock band Bon Iver in September.

But touring brings its own costs - if their acclaimed album was inspired by the vast landscapes of Oklahoma, it's a place they haven't visited for several months, bringing about the very real possibility of their sound changing completely.

"I think it's going to affect it greatly," agrees Tabish. "I've been writing on the road and there's something more rapid about the new material, something very transient and I would say even more removed emotionally.

"I think that's what travel does to you - you're always the outsider, you do a lot of people watching."

From the audience's rapturous response as they leave the stage following their sellout set at St Giles's Church, they shouldn't bother getting comfortable on the outside for much longer.

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