A Sunday Conversation with Oak is Keeping

I fell and I fell hard for the psychedelic, stoner, grunge, pop hybrid that came from Austin rockers, Oak is Keeping, and their debut album, Animal Style.  So it was without a moment's hesitation that we invited singer, Shay Isdale, to pop on down to the Ripple office, take a seat on the trusty red leather interview couch talk about what makes this Oak grow.

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkle, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.

What have been your musical epiphany moments?

Well, like you said, there have been minor epiphany's and then some music that literally hit me so hard I felt like my heart might explode because I couldn't believe my ears. I grew up in a house full of vinyl's and my parents had a lot of rock and pop music, from Zeppelin to Jackson 5. Obviously, I was quite aware of that music, but it was in high school in the mid to late nineties when I came to my first major musical epiphany. O.K. Computer, Radiohead's 1997 release was an album that blew me away. I can still listen to that album like it was cut yesterday and everything sounds new..It is truly amazing. The second album that completely changed my idea of music was Queens of the Stone Age, Songs for the Deaf. If I recall correctly, it was some time around 2001-2002 and I was almost done with college. That album is absolutely everything I love about music, and really shaped the way I thought about guitar playing and song arrangement. It is the quintessential bible for guitar tone and playing for me. I think Josh Homme really cracked the code on that one.

Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?

Oddly enough, since the invention of the iphone, songwriting has become a lot easier. In my mind I think in guitar riffs instead of melodies. So I have tons of sound bytes of me humming riffs into my phone to save for later. I come to the band with the riff, and from that point on, it is a very organic process. Basically the song reveals itself in time by repeatedly playing it and making revisions as we go. We have the luxury of taking our time, so nothing is forced. It is literally like fishing, sometimes you have to throw them back in the pond and let them mature over time.

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?

This is actually a fantastic question, and one I have thought about quite often. I am still fairly new at writing and the whole process. I still think just having time to sit down with a guitar and a few hours I can still hash out ideas. I have not had to go searching for inspiration.....yet, (haha)

Genre's are so misleading and such a way to pigeonhole bands. Without resorting to labels, how would you describe your music?

'm glad you feel that way as well. One of the hardest, and the most frequent questions I get is, "So, what type of music do you play". With Oak Is Keeping, it has been somewhat of a challenge to fit into a genre. This is due to the fact that we play pretty heavy, but my voice is not anywhere near where most metal or hard rock bands would normally be. Sometimes we sound slightly atmospheric, and other times we have a tinge of pop. Maybe you can help us with this!

What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

Whatever emotions someone takes away from our music is better than feeling nothing at all. I think that everyone see's our music in such different ways. It goes back to that weird genre question and the way that it is so hard to pigeon hole us. Ultimately, if someone can rock out on air guitar and drums then our job is done.

In songwriting, how do you bring the song together? What do you look for in terms of complexity? Simplicity? Time changes?

The big joke in our band is how long our songs are initially. The first iteration of most new songs are always 6 minutes plus. Obviously we are not a prog rock band, but at the same time, we don't write for radio necessarily. Another thing we try to watch is how complex our songs are. When writing, we try and throw in all these weird time signatures and chord changes. But we always end up simplifying it for the finished product. Maybe one of these days we will indulge ourselves, but for the time being it has worked in our favor to self edit.

The business of music is a brutal place. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?

Music is so available thanks to file sharing and sources like iTunes. With that said, people have such short attention spans for new music, compared to 20 years ago when kids were hungry to hear new things. It is all so available now, no waiting. One of our biggest challenges is to prove that we are the real thing. Being from Austin, Texas also has kind of hurt our progression in some regards. The scene here is saturated with bands, most them are done just as fast as they start, its just another hurdle in trying to establish ourselves. We can only do so much as four individuals with no financial help or label support. But in the light of all the obstacles, we all remain very positive, and are very thankful for every single person that supports us, and continue to make it the old fashion way. Getting out and playing and producing new material.

Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments.

Man, I would really like to tell you we have acquired some fantastic stories, but the truth is my mom may read this, so I plead the 5th. Hi Mom!!

What makes a great song?

The riff baby. That gets my blood shaking for sure.

Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?

It was a god awful song called "Movies". I still have the recording we did in a friends basement. It pretty much sounds like any terrible demo tape someone would self make in a friends garage. At the time, it was a crowning achievement. But now it is more like an embarrassing high school portrait.

What piece of your music are particularly proud of?

Off Animal Style, probably "Devil in the Truth". It was the last track written for the album, and I feel its my best effort on guitar and lyric/melody writing at that time. We have a new song we have played live a few times called "Theva Giant," it has some of the best dynamics Oak Is Keeping has produced to date. That track should make the new album.

Who today, writes great songs? Why?

Kings of Leon consistently kill it. Those guys only get better. Some people rag on them for commercial success, but that is what everyone truly wants in the end. If you listen to every album in sequential order they have taken that raw energy and focused it into stadium ready anthems. It is really good stuff, and they are epic tight live.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

I grew up at the tail end of Vinyl, saw tapes come and go, and now of course am right in the midst of digital. Honestly, I am not some vinyl snob and digital sounds just as good to my ears. However, if you want to talk amps, that is a completely different story!

We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. When we come to your town, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?

Waterloo Records, hands down...plus you can get Animal Style there!

Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?

We are right in the thick of writing a new album, even though Animal Style is not even a year old now. I feel like Oak Is Keeping has so much potential, not only in our little micro universe of Austin, but potential to become a national act with staying power. We are really excited to see what the future holds and hope we have the luxury of making music for a long time, and most importantly thank you for taking time to shine a light on our little rock n roll band. cheers



Unknown said…
Great interview about Oak Is Keeping! Yes Shay, you Mom did read this - so proud of you guys!