BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Scene One: Bailey's Bar and Grill, Round three of the
It's good to be out of the Oklahoma wind, though the
club isn't exactly warm. A smattering of people — mostly
band members who will play later — mill around the long
room, Korn blaring from the sound system. The bright flash
of the video trivia game is distracting. The refrigerator
behind the bar has about seven Shiner Bocks in it. Long
First band up: Ester Drang. They're kids, or they look
it. Greasy hair, ratty T-shirts, lots of grey and black.
They set up — a xylophone? — take their places and begin
playing without so much as a glance at the crowd. Great,
more sad, shoe-gazing geeks.
The set starts with a sample, someone talking, spitting
out something and getting excited, though the sound is
distorted, muffled. The sheepish red-head starts playing a
light, dreamy melody on a Fender Rhodes piano. Drums burst
in with a whack and a skitter. The shyest-looking kid in
the world — black hair too short to hide his eyes, but still
he tries — starts moaning into the microphone. A song has
begun. Hasn't it? The drummer plays complex structure, the
bass player, too, though the guitars, keyboards, eerie
sounds flood the room, filling it instead of demanding
their own space. It rocks, carefully.
When the song seems to end, tinkling piano and more
subtle samples keep the sound alive. A few people clap,
then feel embarrassed.
It's not that people don't want to applaud, it's just
difficult to tell where one song ends and the next begins.
It's thrilling confusion, and no one in the typically
hard-rock bar knows what to make of it. Even the ones in
back who started out giggling are now mesmerized.
Several bands follow, great ones — grinding guitars,
roaring vocals, good ol' modern rock. But when the last
band folds and the four judges lean into the default
contest director, the verdicts are swift.
"No brainer. Ester Drang."
"Yeah, me, too."
"Who was the first band?"
Scene Two: Bryce's room, one week later
All five of Ester Drang are hanging out at the rehearsal
pad, the bedroom of Bryce Chambers — the shy singer. It's an
add-on to the front of a cookie-cutter shack in Broken
Arrow, and it looks like an aging, decrepit set from a "VH-1
Storytellers" episode: orange carpet underneath the
traditional, crumb-laden Oriental rug; gear stacked and
piled everywhere, with cords underfoot; dusty toys on
shelves; a couch standing on its end and leaning against a
wall; a Teletubby doll, Po, perched on top of it; a box of
Vivarin; the sole source of light a honey-pot lamp with no
shade; and on the walls, other than peeling wallpaper — a
bull-fighter on black velvet, a poster for "The Princess
Bride" and a painting of Jesus with his arm around a young
man, his head hung sad and low.
The band, slumped in various seats, is talking about the
reasons behind the mesmerized crowds at local bars. It's
nothing, they say.
"Around here, nobody's doing what we're doing. It's been
done other places. We're just not copying what's going on
around here," says David Motter. He says he plays keyboards,
but he's the one who kept ducking under the decks at the
Bailey's show, changing cords, twiddling knobs and plugging
in new samples.
"It's not that we're that good, we're just different
here," says piano player James McAlister.
They begin the requisite citing of influences, which is
actually pertinent, for a change. They list a lot of bands
from a wide variety of styles, the common threads being
moody and ambient: Massive Attack, My Bloody Valentine,
Slowdive and "emo" bands like Sunny Day Real Estate
("Although, it's getting cliche to say you're influenced by
them," Motter says). McAlister even admits an admiration for
the Beach Boys. (In the past, when he still went by J.J.,
he confessed to liking Toto.) Somehow, all these influences
gel into Ester Drang's melancholy, down-tempo dreamscapes.
"I don't think anything we've done to date is all that
innovative," says McAlister, shamelessly modest. "We still
have a lot more maturity to go through before we've created
something truly unique. I'm just a product of what I think
is cool. Any band is. Nothing you create is solely of
Then bassist Kyle Winner nails it: "But it's not as much
about creating a sound, it's more of a feel."
Ester Drang is all about feeling. McAlister's right --
they're young and have a lot of growth ahead, and the
band's current phase is very child-like. The music is
purely emotional, concerned with sensory communication more
than intellectual declaration. The band, in fact, is still
learning how to control this subconscious exploration.
The band's first gigs were on the local Christian rock
circuit. With averted eyes, mumbled lyrics and no W.W.J.D.
lanyards, Ester Drang was the Christian fish out of water.
The members still consider Ester Drang a Christian band,
but they try not to limit their expression. And they'll
play absolutely anywhere, not just churches and sanctioned
"Anywhere where the door's open and the electricity
works," Williams says.
Scene Three: Bryce's room, a knock at the door
Bryce Chambers hops up, steps outside. Moments later he
trudges back into the room.
"That was a cop," he says. "Somebody complained about the
noise." Everyone chuckles.
"Man, we stopped playing an hour ago," Winner says.
"Yeah, but you guys were playing metal. I could hear it.
It was ungodly loud," Motter says, laughing.
McAlister, typically stoic, seems vaguely perplexed.
"We've been practicing here for five years, and that's our
first noise complaint.
Then someone adds, "People are taking notice."
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.