With Rituals, Other Lives have moved into unfamiliar territory. Though the Oklahoma band’s third studio album released last month still features the distinctive songwriting and vocals of lead singer Jesse Tabish, Rituals shifts away from the rustic, folk-influenced instrumentation that defined the band’s first two records, pushing the band instead toward a denser, orchestral sound. The result is a sprawling, surprising album that conjures its own unique, lush atmosphere.
That wasn’t the plan when Other Lives set out to record the album.
“When we first started out with the record, we were going to make this very short, concise [album with] one sound,” Tabish said, speaking ahead of the band’s June 7 show at Saturn. “As we were working on it, it kept backfiring in our face. About a year in, we realized we were making a much broader, stranger record.”
Tabish says that the process of recording Rituals was the most difficult of the band’s discography, which includes their 2009 self-titled debut and 2011’s follow-up, Tamer Animals.
“We had to step back and let go of our preconceived notions of what we wanted [the album] to be and realize what was actually happening with the songs that were coming in and flowing,” Tabish said. “You start with a record, and you have your plans, [but] you quickly learn that your plans don’t mean a whole lot.”
Though Rituals was produced by Joey Waronker — a renowned session drummer, who produced both of the band’s earlier records —Tabish says that Waronker’s guidance helped to push the band’s sound forward from those earlier albums. “Some of our sounds can get a little domestic, and Joey kind of brightens what we do,” he said. “On this one, he was like the fourth member of the band.”
As the album evolved, Tabish says, the band made the decision not to retread ground they had already covered in earlier efforts. “We felt that we’d explored a certain sound, this kind of folk music hybrid,” he said. “Tamer Animals was the apex of that sound for us.”
That album, which featured a distinctly rustic, Midwestern aesthetic, had delivered the band their widest audience yet. When they toured in support of the album, they found themselves opening for acclaimed bands such as Bon Iver and Radiohead. While Tabish says that the greater attention the band received didn’t alter the way they approached Rituals, the experience of being on the road for so long certainly did.
“Because we had been living in Oklahoma our whole lives, and then traveling extensively on Tamer Animals, we really felt that the road had become our new landscape,” Tabish said. “We really wanted to capture that, instead of coming back home and trying to reproduce the same thing [we had done on previous albums]. It made sense, since we were in this new territory, that we wanted to expand our sound. Rituals is, musically, trying to capture the sound of that spontaneity on the road and that fast pace.”
The unmoored feeling of leaving home for the touring circuit also influenced Tabish’s lyrics, which on Rituals focus on the way people create meaning within their lives — and how quickly that meaning can be upended. “The string is unwinding / For us creatures of ritual,” he repeats on the album’s concluding track.
“I’m not speaking of any kind of dogmatic or religious rituals,” Tabish said. “It’s that more human side of ritual, what makes up our daily lives.”
As Other Lives kick off a new touring cycle, they face a fresh set of challenges. Cellist Jenny Hsu and drummer Colby Owens left the band after Tamer Animals, rendering the band a three-piece — which makes translating the lush soundscapes of Rituals into a live setting particularly difficult, even with the addition of touring musicians.
“We do it kind of backwards,” Tabish said. “We record a song, note by note, and then basically try to reproduce that song live through a lot of different techniques of looping. We use [music editing software] Ableton Live, which really gives us so many opportunities to program the show and to program all these loops.”
“Also, the other guys in the band are playing trumpets and vibraphones and violins, all sometimes in the matter of a minute or two because we’re trying to stay true to the record,” Tabish added. “It’s difficult but it’s also fun. It’s a challenge.”
In addition to touring behind the album, Tabish suggests that the band’s future might hold a revisit to the studio sessions for Rituals. He notes that he wrote about 60 songs for the album, around half of which the band recorded, meaning that there is an abundance of material that has yet to see the light of day.
“I really want to release a large B-side record at some point in the next year, just to give it away,” Tabish said, noting that the collection would include unreleased material from the Tamer Animals sessions as well.
“I tend not to hold onto songs too much for the next record or anything like that,” he said. “I like to start fresh for every record and capture the sound and vibe of what currently is going on.”
Other Lives will perform at Saturn on Sunday, June 7. Riothorse Royale will open. Doors will open at 7 p.m.; the show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $14. For more information, visit saturnbirmingham.com.