Jesse Tabish of Other Lives on Music, Murder, and Cowboys

Interviews
04/24/2020
Jasmine Albertson

Releasing a record in the middle of a global pandemic is certainly less than ideal. Nevertheless, Oklahoma-raised and Oregon-based band Other Lives are releasing their fourth studio album, For Their Love, today via ATO Records. Rife with references to the turbulent times we were living in long before a virus swept through the world and changed every aspect of our lives, For Their Love is simultaneously a lush respite from those very things.

Sweeping and cinematic, the record sees the band, led by Jesse Tabish, return to the organic and instrument-packed format they left behind for their last record. 2015’s Rituals was an expansive and immaculate flirtation with electronic production, co-produced by Atoms for Peace’s Joey Waronker. For Their Love ditches the electronics as well as the producer, with the band doing all their own production to gorgeous results.

Set up in a striking A-frame house in the woods of Cooper Mountain, the band spent the past five years creating possibly their best album yet. Below, KEXP chats with Tabish about the process of making For Their Love, the realities of releasing an album during COVID-19, and the traumatic and harrowing story of his best friend’s murder.

 


KEXP: Hi Jesse! How are you doing?

Jesse Tabish: Good, I'm out here in the A-frame with Kim, my wife, and we're about 30 minutes outside of Portland.

Nice, that's where we recorded the record right? So you live there?

Yeah, it's kind of a dream. We found this big old spooky house in the woods and it's just an amazing place. We've put a lot of time into it.

Yeah, based on the album art and all the videos you've put out for the record, it seems stunning. How did you even find it?

Through a friend, who's become a really dear friend. My friend Nati introduced me to Jed. It's his childhood home and his father and mother built it with their hands and their friends. And so it was just sitting here and we kind of really cleaned it up. And it just has a lot of love in the home, you know?

 

 

Yeah. That's awesome. So you're about to release your fourth studio album, For Their Love. How are you feeling about it?

You know, I'm really...it's been five years in between records. I can't do this again, it's too much.[laughs]. It's too much in-between time. So I'm really happy for it to be out and to kind of move to the next phase. Which was going to be touring but, unfortunately, we can't. But now I'm working on another record.

For Other Lives or for another project?

For Other Lives, yeah.

Okay, awesome. That's great. Just moving along!

[laughs] Yeah you have to.

Because this is a pretty common thing for you to take a long time between records. Is that due to like a perfectionism where you want to get it absolutely right before you release an album or do you just have busy lives outside the band?

No, I mean I do nothing except for this, which, you know, I don't know what that says about my timelines. [laughs] But, you know, yeah, it does take us a really long time. It's not a matter of writing songs. The songs come, but it's about finding just the right space, the right time, the right set of songs, the right aesthetic. And unfortunately, it just always seems to take us a long time. Part of that is self-producing. When we have kind of the limitless options to do what we want, it just takes a bit of time.

Well, the record is gorgeous and it definitely sounds like you put a lot of work and time and effort and love into it. So I think it's worth it in the end.

Thank you. Thank you so much. Yeah, I mean, that's that whole thing of self-producing. You know, you can work on it until you get it right. You work on the sound until you're like, "Yeah, that's the thing that's been in my head." It's a little different when there's somebody behind the glass and telling you, "Hey, do that take again. That's too slow or something." You know, you kind of follow your own aesthetic and your own kind of intuition this way.

Absolutely. So releasing a record during a pandemic is certainly less than ideal. Did you have any hesitations or thoughts about pushing back the release?

You know, we thought about that, but we kind of came to a decision of like, "You know what? People are at home. Let's give them the record." You know, let them spend time with it. And in a kind of more of a quiet place, which I think lends itself to our music. We like the idea of people really sitting down with the record and listening to it in a quiet place. So, yeah, I didn't want this thing to stop us from getting music out to folks so we ultimately decided to release it.

Absolutely. It's almost like a gift, where you're sacrificing something to release it right now but your fans get music when they most need it. 

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, they've already waited five years so the least we can do is to release it on time, you know.

Well and especially for this particular record because you really hone in on that idea of finding peace in a chaotic world. So I feel like it's...you didn't know that a pandemic was going to happen. There already was and is other chaos in the world to talk about. But I mean, how are you feeling how that has kind of synergized together? You know what I mean?

Yeah. You know, it's a strange thing, because this was kind of written in response to the previous craziness that was going on. And there is this slight hope of, you know, not returning back to the same old ideas, not the same old reality. In some ways, it does give me hope for some sort of change in some sort of consciousness that can come from this. So, yeah, it's so bizarre because it was already bizarre before. But you'd like to think that something positive comes out of this.

Absolutely. How are you handling everything? What have you been doing with your time?

You know, things haven't really changed that much. We stay at home a lot, especially being out here. So, other than feeling a little lazier and kind of really trying to sometimes get out of bed at a decent time, you know. [laughs] But this new record has kind of given us some gusto. Something to wake up for in the morning. So, yeah, it's just trying to keep busy and to kind of keep my head down and work, you know?

Yeah, absolutely. Are you feeling creative at all? Or is it kind of just you like, "OK, I'll just be on the grind of putting out the album and doing like the press and all that." But not really focusing on music so much.

No, I mean, we keep on saying it's like 50/50. We'll have a really good day and be really motivated and then the next day I'm like pacing around the house, smoking cigarettes, or wondering what to do with myself.

I completely feel that.

I mean, I wish I could be like, "Oh, yeah, I'm killing it right now." But it is kind of dealing with this...you feel this like collective consciousness of like, "Oh, my God, what's going on?" So I'm just trying to be natural with it.

Right, no I feel that. On the first day of quarantine I was like, "Okay, I'm gonna make a to-do list of all these things. I'm gonna get so much shit done." And I have gotten very little done.

[laughs] Totally. I was like, "Okay, all right. I'm going to do like 200 sit-ups and push-ups every day." And, you know...

Oh yeah, come out of quarantine completely jacked.

Yeah, totally. I'll have read like forty books. [laughs].

Yeah, nope. But you know, it's nice to hear that everyone else seems to be in that same space.

I mean in some ways this is like a spooky snow day for adults, you know. But yeah I think everybody's kind of feeling that and you know, it's okay to rest and just kind of go with the natural way of how things are. But, eventually, I'll do some push-ups.

You'll get there. Don't push yourself.

Yeah, exactly, don't push yourself! Thank you.

Oh yeah, no problem. You can come to me anytime you're looking for any reason to be lazy. But also you are in this amazing house so that's probably helpful as well.

Yeah. It's one of those things where being back in nature and waking up with these surroundings really helps. Yeah, I love it.

Going back to the record, recording For Their Love in that kind of scenic, woodsy setting, does it have an effect on the sound of the music that came up? Because it does definitely sound more organic than Rituals.

Yeah, so much. I mean, you can't help it. Your surrounding influences the sound. It wasn't necessarily a conscious decision but it seeps in. When you're in this kind of big sky and trees, it slowly kind of seeps into the record. And plus, we did want a very natural human record. So the combination of those two really fed each other. Our last record was done in the city and I always felt a disconnection of just time and work. I need this kind of space and patience so, yeah, it really works for this aesthetic absolutely.

 

For the process of making the record compared to Rituals, which you spent 18 months on and came up with, what, like 60 songs that you whittled down? Did you go that route again for this one or was it a little less dense?

This was a little bit more focused. Actually, me and my wife went down to Sicily for three months and I really kind of just had to get rid of the computer and I just wanted to get the guitar in my hands and write the songs. And so after that, I kind of knew the record, in a way. I knew what I was going for. So this was a little bit more focused. There was more about 20, 25 songs that I really just kind of knew the arrangements already. I wish it could be like that all the time, but it's not.

There's a number of interesting stories being told on the record, but none more fascinating than the one behind "We Wait." Apparently, it's inspired by a true story in which your best friend was murdered by someone within the inner circle of the band you helped found – All-American Rejects. Which, the fact that you were in All-American Rejects is something I was not aware of and I find that to be an interesting enough story on its own. Oher Lives and All-American Rejects could not be more different. I want to know how someone goes from that to this. [laughs]

[laughs] It's so strange. It's such a bizarre...but yeah, it was my high school band. I started the band and, you know, I was really into the pop-punk music. Tommy was kind of our mentor. He was like the brother I never had. And it was a member's brother in law, and his sister hired his murder.

What?!

Yeah, she was having an affair with the younger man and she hired him to murder him [Tommy]. And it completely shook my whole world. I was completely devastated. And then, life hit me really quick and the idea of singing these lighthearted songs about girls in high school and all that just...it just killed it for me and it really kind of started my trajectory into doing a different a very different kind of music.

So over all of these years, it's kind of been something that's there, but also something I've really avoided because it was such a trauma. And over the last years, it's really been kind of creeping on me and really haunting me. So writing this tune is kind of a cathartic way to deal with this trauma and also to remember my friend. There were years that went by that I didn't even consciously think of it, but it was always there, you know. So the tune is an attempt to really heal from it.

 

 

Wow. Yeah no, I can't imagine. So everyone knew about this and knew who did it? And I assume they're in jail?

Yeah, she went to jail for 10 years. And then the guy who did it, he actually just got out of prison last year.

Was that maybe a reason that these feelings started to come back? Knowing he's out there?

No, no. You know, the kid was 19 and he served his time. I think it was just that I'd been struggling with, and I had been for a long time, with some heavy OCD and anxiety. And it's just one of these things that I probably should have gone to therapy for this incident. But it's just it was one of these kinds of things that were just constantly kind of creeping up on me over the years. I think I always knew the reason why, but I wasn't dealing with it, you know?

So during these strange and stressful times, what or who have you been listening to kind of give you solace?

You know what, I found this playlist. I'm not a big playlists guy, but there's this playlist called Cowboys from Sweden. It is the shit. It's so great. It's like 60s, 70s, French, Italian, and then some psych rock in there. But it's just fantastic. There's like 250 songs. Every tune is just like, "Where did this come from?" So I've been listening to that a lot, actually. Just putting that on and pacing around.

That sounds amazing. Is it just on Spotify? Can I just look it up?

Yeah. Cowboys from Sweden. It's like...it's so good. And then there'll be like some Henry Mancini on there and Burt Bacharach. But it's fantastic. I love that name too, Cowboys from Sweden.

 

 

Yeah that's the last place I imagine cowboys. Do cowboys exist in Sweden?

I think cowboys exist everywhere.

I guess they do in their own special way.

Yeah, maybe they like heard reindeer or something.

Right, exactly. Yeah. So KEXP is the station where the music matters. Why does music matter to you?

Well, that's a strange but easy question. It's something that's so integrated in my life. I can't exist without it, you know. But that's the selfish reason, right? This is like what gets me going and makes me feel worthy. But then the other side of like, "Oh my God, that song that I do could actually help somebody." Or, you know, they are touched by it. That's a whole other magic that I'm honored if that happens, you know what I mean? It gives me purpose. It gives this whole crazy world context. And I can't imagine my life without it.

That's beautiful. So are you going to be a rescheduling shows or are you just kind of waiting to see what's going to happen?

So, yeah, it looks like we're gonna try to reschedule in the late fall, but we'll see what happens. I think everybody's kind of on that line. If things get better, hopefully this summer, maybe. But, yeah, I'm hopeful that sometime in the fall we'll be at it and the whole world will be at it again.

Fingers crossed.


Other Lives' fourth studio album, For Their Love, is out Friday, April 24th. Below, watch their KEXP in-studio performance from 2015.

 

 

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