Oko Tygra is one of the Denver bands representing the Mile High City at this year's CMJ in New York City. The group is slated to play at Niagra on Wednesday, October 22. For a group that started in March 2014, getting selected for CMJ is certainly an achievement. For songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Joshua Novak, it's also a bit of a way for him to break with his past and establish a new musical identity as well. Recruiting a couple of old friends, bassist Tyler Rima and drummer Neil Robertson, as well as a gem of a Craigslist find in guitarist Russell Ault, Novak was able to realize a vision for starting the kind of band that had bright, hazy atmospheres and finely textured melodies.
Novak had established himself as one of the most talented and critically acclaimed songwriters in Denver over the decade prior to starting Oko Tygra. But the whole time, Novak, whose songwriting hasn't exactly been coffee shop fodder, felt somewhat trapped by the singer-songwriter perception of his work.
"After my last solo album, for which I felt like I had gone in a whole different direction, I was slightly disappointed by people's reactions to it," admits Novak. "I'd spent so much energy fighting to have people maybe accept it as I was thinking of taking this opportunity to do something new. People do that kind of stuff all the time but it was a really hard decision for me to shed the whole Josh Novak thing and give it over to something else. It's a good mix of all of those intentions. There's the band element and at the end of a day I'm a songwriter and it's a mix of all those things."
And the new band is an even bigger departure than Novak's most recent solo work. Part of the rapid trajectory of which comes from the collaborative aspect of the songwriting but also because there was a bit of a manifesto that has been driving the project.
"I just wanted to be clear about the fact that this was very serious and to be treated that way," explains Novak. "It was way for me to shed my thing to put everything into this. I wanted it to be an official, serious thing and for everyone to be on the same page with it. And if we stray from it we can look back and see what we did do and to bring things back into focus and see what we have done or meant to do. There's nothing but good that has come from having done that. I think everybody agreed that it was good to come at it from the beginning to know what the intentions were."
And playing CMJ was part of the new band's list of goals. Surprisingly, after filling out the standard questionnaire and crafting a bio and the like, Oko Tygra found out around the middle of August that it had made the cut. Which in a way confirmed for Novak and the band that it might be on the right path in a way their other bands had not been.
"Without trying to make it this monolithic event, I do think it's a defining moment for us in a lot of ways," offers Novak. "Not that CMJ is the end all be all, but I think for a band that has only been together for six or seven months, to have the opportunity to go and be one of few Denver bands representing the city, it feels special. I don't think we're questioning it too much. We're thrilled it happened and I hope we keep riding that trajectory. I feel like how I imagine Russell, who is pretty green to live shows and has never been to New York, I'm as excited about this opportunity as he would be. None of us are like, 'Oh yeah, I've done that before.'"
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.