Thursday, November 15, 2012

Okay Failures: (Re) Birth of a Legend

Due to a series of Lifetime Movie of the Week events in my personal life, I've been sorely neglecting the blog lately.  Very few things could have pulled me out of this cave of chaos that has been my milieu for the past month or so.

But there is one thing.

I'm talking about... of course... Okay Failures.
You may or may not know about the Okay Failures show this weekend at Nightlight. They would have you believe it's a one-off, art project... that they've never played before.  But don't believe the hype.  They just wanna lay low.

For those who REALLY pay attention to music, you remember Okay Failures.  If you don't, then shame on you.  Okay Failures started as the teen-angst outlet of Kyle Bravo, one summer evening down in Baton Rouge, upon being kicked out of a Better Than Ezra show for storming the stage screeching "If it's GOOOOD, a WOUW how ho-uw!" in a beer-soaked frenzy.  He vented the rejection by performing nothing but BTE songs for the better part of 1992, accompanied only by ukelele, delivering the lyrics with a biting fury, often crying at show's end.

Some time later, a young Maria Albani was on a family trip down south.  Her distant cousin, Gaston Albaneaux, took her to a coffee shop just north of LSU's campus to see some local music.  In a world that grunge had taken by storm, she was immediately intrigued by Kyle's creative use of sparse instrumentation.  THIS was different!  She grabbed some stir sticks from the creamer table, hopped up next to Kyle, and begin banging away.  Remembering that dark moment from 2 years before, Kyle invited Maria to join up as the second Failure.  There are thousands of people who claim to have been at that show, but there were only about 15 there.  I know, because I was one of them.  I also remember a kid from up in Ruston, Jeff Mangum.  He just sat in a corner all night, alone, scribbling furiously.

It wasn't long before Maria talked Kyle into enrolling at UNC, where they began working out material in unorthodox locales, infamously taking the stage (un-billed, and unwelcome), after Bad Brains' gig at the Station.  

Meanwhile, up in New York, a young artist named Annoyin' Lover (Jerstin Crosby) was trying to sell his rhymes to emerging Staten Island collective.  They tolerated this hanger-on ("college", they called him) because of a shared love for Hong Kong cinema, particularly a film called Shaolin and the Wu Tang.  Rumor has it, it was Crosby's idea for them to take their name from the film, and that they stole some of his lyrics for their breakthrough independent hit, Protect Ya Neck.  This snub was too much for him to take, so he departed form warmer climes, where he thought he could latch on to the burgeoning scene in Chapel Hill, NC.

Rejection breeds strange bedfellows, and Crosby's fomenting political awareness soon found a home as the third Failure.  Okay Failures were now whole.  Their stripped-down political rant-fests were mostly played on the street, busking up and down Franklin and Main, eschewing the vibrant club scene.  Plus, they had learned to write a damn catchy song, while completely ignoring the evolving "indie" dogma.  Local musicians grew to admire their staunch opposition to the status quo, and they were offered opening gigs weekly (which were always, summarily, turned down).  Mitch Easter begged to produce them.  Mac pleaded for them to sign to Merge.

And then, they discovered electricity.  The sudden clash of treble and buzz with the dholak, autoharp, and bouzouki to which fans had become so accustomed was groundbreaking.  It at once repelled old fans and attracted legions of new, and they finally began to play local clubs.  The coining of the word "buzz" in the musical context is widely attributed David Menconi, hearing this new sound and writing about as a young journalist in Raleigh.  The sound is also said to have caused Mangum's nervous breakdown, believing that it rendered his just-recorded-but-unreleased In the Aeroplane Over the Sea obsolete.  By 1997, Okay Failures became the subject of a major bidding war.

Then as abruptly as they flared up, they disappeared.  No one quite knows why.  Each moved away, and weren't heard from musically until Albani was spotted playing in a Portland, OR, outfit.
Bravo briefly made news in 2005, rescuing Fats Domino from Katrina floodwaters.
Crosby settled in Brooklyn, and his presence alone is thought to have sparked that burg's revitalization as the latest Austin/Athens/Seattle.
Okay Failures never recorded.  They never toured.  They never sold a single record.  But they're cited as influences by acts ranging from Animal Collective to Eminem, from Arcade Fire to Calexico,  from M.I.A. to Wye Oak.

And they'd have you believe they're just a bunch of friends pulling together for a lark, a one-time experiment.

So don't believe the hype.  BELIEVE the HYPE.

Okay Failures play a show no one ever thought would happen this Saturday, at Nightlight, in Chapel Hill.  The place only holds a few dozen, so show up early.