Thursday, July 27, 2017 This Week's Paper


// New band debuts their 'living room' jams at the Tempest

Having already made a name for herself playing solo acoustic gigs at area coffeehouses and taverns, as well as through her impressive first CD “hi.i’m.heidi” (2010), Maurice the Fish recording artist Heidi Vladyka has put together a four-piece band that will make its debut with her on May 18 at The Tempest Lounge.

Collectively known as the.north.oakes.project (after the street Vladyka’s house/practice pad is on), these five friends and multi-talented musicians will bring their own brand of pure and natural acoustic music to the Tempest stage and no doubt to many more to come as word spreads of the considerable talent and heart of this fresh, new performance group.

The musicians who make up the.north.oakes.project are: Vladyka on vocals, banjo, guitar and whistles; Jordon Fletcher (also of the band Stripe Valley Sway) on accordion, banjo, harmonica, squeeze box and flute-whistle (and more); Chris Pancho on lead guitar, and background harmonies; Justin Crandall on acoustic resonator bass, guitar and foot taps; and Colin Willard on percussion of any variety, hand-bells and background harmonies. This is just a sampling of each of these players’ personal musical repertoire, and it is their individual experiences and abilities that make the rich north.oakes.project vibe all about bringing people together through music.

The bandmates generally use one word to describe their sound: “raw.” Raw as in unadulterated and in the moment. “The raw sound comes out of your heart and soul,” Vladyka said. “When a group of people get together and just play, it creates this feeling and a story. ‘Raw’ is the only way I can describe what we play.”

“We don’t want to do a lot of editing; we want to keep that raw sound and everything acoustic,” Fletcher said. “When you play acoustic music, the ‘flaws’ come out in the music too, and that’s part of it. For me, I enjoy having that real aspect.”

Perhaps it’s because not all the band members are professionally trained that their sound comes from the heart rather than from notes on sheet music. the.north.oakes.project sound is at once new and yet familiar, rooted in the tapestry of the American music genre where sometimes technical proficiency takes a back seat to refreshing expression and feeling. For example, to record their first song “The Doodle Dig,” the band set a microphone in the middle of Vladyka’s living room and gathered around it to play the song in one take. Given today’s era of studio tricks, computer generated sounds and autotune, the.north.oakes.project stands out for keeping the human touch in music alive and well.

Vladyka said that during their live shows, the band is excited to establish an atmosphere of family and friends gathered around a camp fire or at home jamming together and having fun with it – singing songs that are alive and organic, not played to be a perfect reproduction every time but rather a living and growing thing that has a life force of its own. The band will even hand out small maraca-like shakers to bring the audience in even more.

“For me, if you think back to your favorite times playing music – the best time you’ve had sitting around with your friends and everyone’s just playing and singing – that’s what I want it to feel like when we perform. That’s why we made the maracas for everyone because we want them to feel like they’re a part of it,” Vladyka said.

Playing music in one form or another around Tacoma for about 18 years, as the band’s drummer Willard said, he sees his role as “the bread and condiments of a delicious sandwich. The beat holds the song together and all the other bells and whistles (sometimes literally) are the spices and flavors that enhance the meat of the song. It’s my job to seek out those sounds that enhance the heart of our music.

“Music to me is a gateway into one’s thoughts, soul and emotions. I love being on the giving and receiving end of the process.”

Add in Pancho and Crandall, and the magic happens. “It’s so rare to find that real musical chemistry,” Fletcher said. “You all have to be on the same page. We’re really appreciative of that.”

There is no designated songwriter or “star” of the band – everyone contributes. “Our band couldn’t function without all of us. Every song we play is a collaboration of all of us,” Vladyka said. “If someone was missing, we couldn’t do it.”

the.north.oakes.project takes the stage for the first time at 7:30 p.m. May 18 at the Tempest (913 Martin Luther King Jr. Way). Also performing will be Stripe Valley Sway, singer/songwriter Travis Barker (back from SXSW) and The Vaudeville Gallows.

the.north.oakes.project plays again June 1 at The Mandolin Café (3923 S. 12th St.). To keep up with the band and hear their music, “like” them on Facebook.