How Joshua Novak Fell Into OKO TYGRA

OKO TYGRA has a new album.
OKO TYGRA has a new album.
James Cromwell Holden
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Not unlike the Bible or the only real action in Humpty Dumpty, OKO TYGRA started with a fall. In frontman Joshua Novak’s case, that fall was from the top of a ladder, two stories off the ground.

“They told me that very few people walk out of the ICU from accidents like that. It sounds stupid, but I was like, ‘You know, this a sign that life is short. I have to change something,’” he says.

In the Lifetime movie version of this story, Novak saunters out of the ICU after a touch-and-go recovery and bursts into the nearest pawn shop, where he purchases a gleaming white Fender Stratocaster from the grizzled proprietor. Novak then learns to play and meets his bandmates in a wordless and inspiring montage replete with fist bumps, which inevitably culminates as the words OKO TYGRA — glimmering under the blinking bulbs of the Bluebird’s marquee — flash across the screen. An evil mustachioed manager goes after the band’s profits, leading to tension between bandmembers. A heartfelt makeup scene sees them reaffirm their initial commitment to each other — something in the vein of, “We got into this to make music. We’ve let the bullshit blind us. Let’s make some music.” Cut to the Grammy acceptance speech. Roll credits.

In the this-actually-happened version of this story, Novak already knew how to play guitar and was active within the local music scene by the time he and gravity had their most unfortunate rendezvous. He had been performing under his own name for several years, often completely solo. He booked his first proper gig at the Soiled Dove.

“I totally had long, swoopy indie-rock hair and a bunch of bracelets and a lot of feelings,” he says with a laugh. “Although I do always say in spite of all of that, I was never really an emo kid. I was on the fringes.”

Haircut aside, Novak kept at it. He opened for touring acts at the Larimer Lounge, convinced Ben DeSoto, then a buyer at Twist & Shout, to stock his first record, played all over town, and successfully raised over $7,000 using Kickstarter to fund his second solo record, Ephemeron. By 2013, he felt he was starting to plateau, though he had doubts about changing course and abandoning the project under which he had established himself. At one point, Neil Robertson, a friend and drummer in the scene, approached him and offered to collaborate.

Cut to ladder, ICU, renewed appreciation for life’s inherent brevity.

Newly inspired and reassembled, Novak decided to write a memo outlining exactly what he intended to do next. It took four pages and left no stone unturned.

“I bit the bullet and wrote about what we were going to look like and sound like and the goals we were going to have for ourselves. I took it very seriously,” he says. “Once I gave myself over to the idea, I became completely obsessed with it.”

Goals ranged from finding proper PR and management and releasing a full-length record via a label to playing The Tonight Show and landing on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Novak then enlisted his friends and, essentially, got the band together. The current lineup includes Robertson on drums, bassist Jeremiah Mora and guitarist Noah Simons — all “OG Denver people” by Novak’s metric. Per the memo, their sound echoed ’80s new wave and airy shoegaze — think Cocteau Twins, the Cure, the kind of musical flourishes and production that conjure a Kate Bush type of drama. The singles came slowly, also per the memo, but the momentum built steadily: Their first year, the four played CMJ. South by Southwest and Daytrotter followed. Last summer, they booked Film on the Rocks’ coveted opener spot and played Red Rocks — something Novak readily admits he's "wanted to do forever and ever.”

With all of those accomplishments checked off the list, other goals loomed — namely, releasing a debut full-length record. Novak emailed experimental producer and musician Jorge Elbrecht and asked if he would produce the band’s album.

“I took a total shot in the dark,” says Novak. “He replied within hours and said yes.”

Cut to Assistoma, the band’s brand-new record, caught in a careful space between aimless pleasure and quiet determination, a moody sonic universe with layered, intricate production that feels all-encompassing but never stifling. For the band, it’s an effective survey of the past four years of writing music together.

“We joke sometimes that it’s our debut and our greatest hits at the same time,” says Novak.

With yet another goal on the memo achieved, OKO TYGRA is looking ahead. And Novak is hardly holding back.

“I would like to be sipping champagne out of a Grammy in a year,” Novak jokes. “If I have the opportunity to do that, I’m doing it. It would have to be for ‘Most Popular Band You’ve Never Heard Of,’ 'Best Performance From a Singer You Don’t Know Is a Boy or a Girl.’ I want a fringe category — that way we maintain our street cred.”

Barring Dom Pérignon and Recording Academy accolades, he’ll settle for simpler pleasures of art and friendship.

“I’d like to look back in ten years and still be making music with these guys,” he says. “I’m not somebody who ever takes anything for granted. I’m just always super-grateful. I don’t want to hold on to it too tightly; I just want to be super-grateful that it’s happening.”

OKO TYGRA album-release show, 9 p.m. Friday, April 19, hi-dive, $10, 7 South Broadway.

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