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Have you heard the hypnotizing sounds of Oak House? If you haven’t yet, you will soon. Hailing from Athens, Georgia, Oak House have made their mark and become hometown favorites—and are poised to become beloved by cities far and wide, too.
When I first escaped into my headphones to take a listen to their music, it was immediately hard to categorize—which made it all the more interesting. Being a genre outcast works well for Oak House, keeping listeners on their toes with each passing chord. For inspiration on their newest record, Hot or Mood, lead vocalist and guitarist Gresham Cash turned to literature: “I spend a lot of time reading—a lot more than I do listening to music—and this probably molds my most prevalent inspirations for my songwriting. For example, in Dante’s Purgatorio, there is a moment where someone is begging to be admitted to heaven from purgatory. He basically says, ‘I was faithful. Let me in.’ Despite, being ‘faithful,’ the character is not admitted. This is a terrifying thought to me. This notion spilled into some musical ideas I was working on for the album.”
This idea stuck with him to the point where the story needed to be told through the music of Oak House. “Suddenly, I have a decent musical idea, a devastating cosmic idea and combined them to create what I would hope is a moving, dynamic piece that provides an example of what that might feel like when reaching the door and being turned aside,” Cash states.
The newest album was recorded with Drew Vandenberg, the sonic genius who has worked on albums by Toro Y Moi, Of Montreal, Mothers, and more. Dubbed “Lord Vandenberg” by Cash, the experience was heralded as “transformative.” And the best part? Throwing the rule book out the window completely. “We definitely did a bit of exploring throughout the recording process. Some ideas were as spontaneous as hearing a harmonic overtone that was hiding in a track and we would try to pull it out and experiment with it. Other ideas were very planned. But hey, that’s the magic of studio time: come in with a plan, destroy the plan,” Cash muses.
As far as songwriting goes, it’s a blend of collaboration and innovative ideas brought to the table by one band member. Their influences aren’t shared; rather, Wes prefers metal music, Connor listens to jazz, and Gresham enjoys classical (think Dmitri Shostakovich). Sometimes Cash will write a song and suggest the instrumentation, or they’ll work together, composing in a lab-style format. The process is atypical—it varies from song to song, which is one facet of Oak House’s sound that is so thrilling. What’s more is that their music is experienced in an entirely different way in a live setting.
Translated, the music of Oak House becomes much more than notes on a page and lyrics molded to a verse, explains Cash: “Our live music sometimes feels like we are trapped between a banjo and a hard place. As in, people who like indie folk might think we are too loud, too dark, too intense. Or on the other hand, metal fans might think we are too quiet, too happy, too melodic. Without pulling from what other people might think, I think that, as a three-piece, we have a lot of air to fill. Our drum and bass parts are super important, the textures and pads are super important, the guitar work is occasionally important, and the delivery is most important. Sometimes we mess up, but did the emotion of the song get across? If we wanted to perform perfect music, we would all stand completely still and nail our parts. But I think it’s good to have a live energy. Our recorded energy has been captured, but live, it has the ability to become something completely different and more terrifying. And hopefully, people enjoy diving into that with us.”
Their newest work is gripping, with a hold that doesn’t let go and a power that mesmerizes. With the blend of influences they present, it’s hard for Oak House to make music that isn’t unique. “We hoped to tell a story that is indubitably emotional. To me, music is a form of storytelling, and if music feels vapid or uninspiring, sometimes that means that it isn’t telling you anything more than that very regular background noise that you are used to hearing in restaurants or bars. It doesn’t beg you to listen. I hope that our album doesn’t fit well in an ambient space. I love ambient music and peaceful instrumental music: However, the mood or general sentiment is probably more important than the cause or message. Think of: most Phillip Glass equals mood, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony demands you must listen,” Cash says.
“Cut That Out” and “Esque” are two songs on this album that certainly demand you to listen. Both so different, yet linked in their eccentricity, each song finds Oak House at their most innovative yet. “Cut That Out” is the starting point, while “Esque” propels the vision forward, says Cash. “‘Cut That Out’ is the dream that never ends, the earworm that won’t go away, the anxiety that permeates all your actions. From the pushing of the drums, to the wandering bass, to the bending guitar notes, the song tries to draw a fine line between reality and dreams. Once your eyes close, what is real? ‘Esque’ is the continuation of the dream. We tried to utilize the droning concept from the beginning of the album to the end. So once the friction of ‘Cut That Out’ is ended, the eerie feeling comes right back…I wanted to try and create the fragmented, shifting world of our dreams. One idea moves quickly to the next, then to the next with almost no transition—no grace. However, when you get to the end of the dream, it doesn’t matter how shifty and convoluted the rest of the experience was; you remember the end.”
Where is Oak House going next, with their dreamy, eerie, juxtaposing music? “I think we have grown from wanting to be a band and musicians to being a band and musicians…To me, it’s that I want to write objectively good music, perform it well, and connect with people while doing that. I think music and art is very important to all of us, and for me, particularly, it is what I intend to do for the rest of my life,” notes Cash. And indeed, I hope that Oak House does.
Standout Track: “Cut That Out”
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