Erin Austin, the lead singer and chief songwriter of OK Sweetheart, said Denton has had a major influence on the band, which opens 35 Conferette today on one of three outdoor main stages.
The conferette is one part music festival and one part brainstorm, a miniature mushroom cloud of bands and discussions about what art and music mean to the city and the region.
OK Sweetheart keeps a foot in Denton, the other foot in New York and its heart in Tulsa.
Consequently, the band's music revels in wised-up lyrics direct from the big city and marinates in a Southwestern spaciousness.
Austin's wistful voice is the soul of OK Sweetheart, and guitarist Rob Gungor fleshes out her compositions with strings, winds and a whole lot of feeling.
When they perform live, the duo is often joined by McKenzie Smith, the drummer of Denton's Midlake; Jeremy Buller, a versatile Denton guitarist; and others. Together, they make the kind of music a movie producer would snap up for a low-budget independent movie about first love or first heartbreak.
Austin's melodies are easy to remember and sweet to the ear. It has just enough emotional depth to keep you interested, but Austin and Gungor know when to exercise restraint.
The band performs at 4:15 p.m. on Main Stage 1.
The Denton Record-Chronicle caught up with Austin to talk about the band, its music and the festival.
Q: Tell me about your songwriting process.
A: I first started writing as a kid. I would walk around the house as a kid writing songs and singing. The first time I put anything on paper, I was 9. It was just sort of automatic. I started playing piano and studied classical music and opera at college. I never dreamed that I would be able to marry the two and make a living at it. We had a small studio in San Francisco. I would basically lock myself into the studio for four hours. It was awful and it was great. Some days I would write five songs. Other days I would write two lines.
• Denton Time PDF• 35 Conferette Daily Schedule (.pdf)• Little D's big, big weekend• Love, in the blood• Local Spin blog
Q: When you write a song, do you have an idea of how you want it to sound? Or do you give it to Rob and let him do his thing?
A: I'll write the melody and chord progressions and all that. Sometimes, I'll be like, "I want the bass line to go like this," but really, that's what Rob is really, really good at. Rob studied jazz at [the University of North Texas] and he learned how to arrange music while he was there. He's really an amazing arranger.
Q: Do you set out to do your shows differently than you do them in the studio?
A: Yeah, it does end up being different. It all depends on the arrangement we have. Sometimes, we might have an opportunity to have a string section. Sometimes, it's just me, Rob and a drummer. We want the experience to be unique; we want it to be just for them [the audience]. We want it to be different. We feel like it's important that people deserve to get something special.
Q: You studied opera, but how do you keep from defaulting to that style instead of a more natural pop sound when you sing?
A: Yeah, that's a really funny thing. When you stay with something for so long, you get stuck. The guys in Midlake talk about this, too. You're so used to playing like you did in music school. But at some point, you have to scrap it and start over. You can't worry. You have to go on and know that that isn't the only way to play.
Q: You have an album coming out pretty soon?
A: Yes, finally! It's taken a long time, I know. For a while, I figured we could tour and get the album done whenever, but McKenzie said "you really should have a record." I'd just won the John Lennon Songwriting award, so I knew I had something to put on a record. People have been waiting for me to get my crap together, and now we have a full-length record that comes out April 5. I'm really excited. It's exciting that people like what they've heard of it. You get a little insecure sometimes, though, and you're like, "I hope people like it."
Q: What's next for OK Sweetheart?
A: I've already got a ton of songs written and am ready to record a new album. I hope the day doesn't come where I don't have anything else to give musically. I love being able to do what I do.
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is email@example.com . 35 CONFERETTE
• When: Thursday through Sunday. Outdoor stages offer music in the afternoons and evenings until 10 p.m. Music starts at indoor locations as early as 8:30 p.m., ending at closing time.
• How to get in: A four-day wristband costs $85. A single-day wristband for today or Friday is $50; a single-day wristband for Saturday or Sunday is $65. To purchase wristbands, visit www.prekindle.com/35conferette . Pick up wristbands starting at noon today at the registration tent on the lawn of the Courthouse on the Square, at Locust and Oak streets.
• The stage on the Square is free and open to the public.
• Admission to the two outdoor main stages is by wristband only; children 6 and younger do not need wristbands.
• Certain venues will offer admission at the door if they do not reach capacity, but wristband-holders receive precedence. Many venues are open to ages 18 and older only.
• On the Web: www.35conferette.com
MUSIC SCHEDULE FOR THURSDAY
Times subject to change.
Main Stage 1
Corner of East Mulberry and Industrial streets in the Williams Square parking lot
• 4:15 p.m.: OK Sweetheart
• 5:15 p.m.: Sarah Jaffe
• 6:30 p.m.: Secret Sisters
• 8 p.m.: Mavis Staples
Main Stage 2
Corner of East Hickory and Russell streets near the Denton Record-Chronicle building
• 3:45 p.m.: Sundress
• 4:45 p.m.: Ethereal and the Queer Show
• 5:45 p.m.: White Denim
• 7:15 p.m.: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Corner of West Oak and North Elm streets on the downtown Square
• 5 p.m.: The Boxcar Bandits
• 5:45 p.m.: BrownChicken BrownCow StringBand
• 6:30 p.m.: El Cento
• 7:15 p.m.: Violent Squid
122 N. Locust St.
• 10 p.m.: Orange Peel Sunshine
• 10:50 p.m.: Bravo, Max!
• 11:40 p.m.: J. Charles & the Trainrobbers
• 1 a.m.: Dead Twins
219 W. Oak St.
• 8:30 p.m.: Wesley Allen Hartley and the Traveling Trees
• 9:15 p.m.: Curvette
• 10 p.m.: Dim Locator
• 11 p.m.: Delmore Pilcrow
103 Industrial St.
• 10 p.m.: The Cush (patio stage)
• 10:30 p.m.: Monahans
• 11 p.m.: Birds & Batteries (patio)
• 11:30 p.m.: Doug Burr
• Midnight: Glen Farris (patio)
• 12:30 a.m.: Seryn
122 W. Mulberry St.
• 10 p.m.: 4th & Inchez
• 10:50 p.m.: AnonymousCulture
• 11:40 p.m.: Dem Southerfolkz
• 1 a.m.: Cut Chemist
Hickory Street Lounge
212 E. Hickory St.
• 10 p.m.: Summer Ames
• 10:50 p.m.: Sarah Renfro
• 11:40: Nicolas Altobelli
• 1 a.m.: Clint Niosi
118 W. Oak St.
• 8:30 p.m.: Magnum Octopus
• 9:15 p.m.: A Smile Full of Ale
• 10 p.m.: Kaboom
• 11 p.m.: Geistheistler
411 E. Sycamore St.
• 10 p.m.: Lucretia Borgia
• 10:45 p.m.: Jacob Metcalf
• 11:40 p.m.: The Holler Time
• 1 a.m.: Mansions
Sweetwater Grill & Tavern
115 S. Elm St.
• 10 p.m.: Pinebox Serenade
• 10:50 p.m.: The Jakeys
• 11:40 p.m.: Whiskey Folk Ramblers
• 1 a.m.: David Mayfield Parade
208 W. Oak St.
• 10 p.m.: Heartstring Stranglers (live from Budapest)
• 10:30 p.m.: Summer of Glaciers
• 11:15 p.m.: The Angelus
• Midnight: New Science Projects
• 12:45 p.m.: Nervous Curtains
218 W. Oak St.
• 10 p.m.: Eaton Lake Tonics
• 10:50 p.m.: The Hope Trust
• 11:40 p.m.: Possessed By Paul James
• 1 a.m.: Slobberbone