Photo: Michael Cooper
Artists find their truth in all sorts of places.
For Tulsa alt-shoegaze rockers Native Lights, it was an abandoned and forgotten mid-century-style cattle auction house in the sleepy farm community of Hominy, Oklahoma.
Seeking a special space to record its debut album, the four-piece – featuring Johnathon Ford (bass), Nathan Price (drums), Bryce Chambers (guitar/vocals) and Philip Phillips (guitar) – came across the auction house by means of a friend. Its worn façade, crumbling walls and caving ceiling felt like the perfect place to track the group's vast, cinematic brand of shoegaze-bent discordant dream pop.
"We liked the vibe of it, the coldness and guerrilla style of going into a dilapidated building and recording for a week," Ford said. "It held all these options for crazy sounds and a super-adventurous recording process."
The group brought along a minimal recording setup, rigged up some electricity and adapted the old theater into a makeshift tracking room.
For a long week in December 2010, the crew recorded by day and slept in the freezing compound at night, taking solace in the warmth of a bonfire on the front steps.
"Honestly, it was a pretty depressing experience," Ford said. "But it's also one of those experiences where you are giving 110 percent of yourself to your art and recording."
Now, over three years later, the album is finally nearing release. The collective's various other projects and offshoots (BRONCHO, Unwed Sailor, Ester Drang and more) took focus away from Native Lights, and two years passed with little more than a handful of performances.
That changed in the latter half of 2013, when the four-piece was finally afforded some due time to properly release its debut album, playing a comeback show in December and playing regionally ever since.
Recently, the band travelled to Louisville, Kentucky to mix the album with Kevin Ratterman (My Morning Jacket, Andrew Bird, Shannon Wright, Young Widows, Maserati) at his La La Land Studio.
It didn't take long to shake off the rust.
"We had progressed together without playing, which is a strange concept," Ford said. "Usually, that's a recipe for disaster, but there's this musical connection, this trust. That's a beautiful thing. When you can find that, it's gold."
There's a mix of excitement and restlessness Native Lights are carrying into the coming months, an anxiousness to put out the album and tour behind it. Yet they're also eager to creatively engage with each other again after all this time. Mostly, though, the players are just excited to be busy with Native Lights again.
"It feels good to be super-productive," Ford said. "We're getting our past finally presented and working in the future at the same time."