Oklahoma-raised Bartees Strange earns acclaim for genre-defying debut album 'Live Forever'
Bartees Strange - a musician and activist who was born in Britain, raised in Oklahoma and is now based in Washington, D.C. - has been garnering national interest and acclaim with his debut album, "Live Forever," released this month via Memory Music. (Fair warning: his songs contain some strong language, so listen at your own risk.)
Strange - whose real name is Bartees Cox Jr. - grew up with a mother who was an opera singer. His dad served in the military for decades. His parents' jobs meant the family moved frequently: Bartees was born in Ipswich, England, in 1989, and is family also did stints in Germany, Greenland, and a number of states across America before he hit his 12th birthday, when they settled in Mustang.
Coming of age in the predominantly white Oklahoma suburb wasn't easy, Strange told NME in a recent interview.
“That’s where I picked up that I needed to do whatever I needed to do to fit in, and it started a trend of me not letting myself shine through,” he says. “I had friends who were getting run out of town for being good at basketball. And all the while, we had to act like everything was normal.”
Bartees’s mother shepherded him through formal musical training in voice, but as teenagers, he and his friends turned their ears to the burgeoning hardcore and emo scene of the Midwest and Deep South, drawing inspiration from bands such as At the Drive In, Norma Jean, MeWithoutYou, Cap n Jazz, Bright Eyes, and American Football. Around this time Bartees started playing guitar, according to his bio.
In middle school, he began producing music for friends with a small project studio he built out of a Tascam 388, the family computer and a pirated copy of FL Studio. Through AOL instant messenger, Strange connected with old friends in the UK, who brought him up to speed on a new world of sonic influence led by Bloc Party, Burial, Robyn and Skream.
College and a stint in Brooklyn, New York, allowed him to tap into the rising indie rock scene, especially favorites like Bon Iver, TV on The Radio, Frank Ocean, James Blake, King Krule, Japanese Breakfast, Mt. Kimbie, Mitski, Thao Nguyen and The National.
"Live Forever" is the follow-up to Strange's March EP "Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy," a well-received EP of The National covers.
Strange - who lives in Washington, D.C., where he makes music and works at a nonprofit organization fighting against climate change and poverty - pays musical homage to his Oklahoma upbringing on the new album with excellent, genre-defying tracks like "Mustang" and "Boomer" (Strange appears in a University of Oklahoma shirt in the video for he latter).
As previously reported, Strange was due to play at this year's Norman Music Festival before it was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hopefully, he will be able to make a return tip to Oklahoma when live music makes a comeback.
For more information on his music, go to barteesstrange.bandcamp.com.
This post is part of Oklahoma Music Week here on BAM's Blog, a look at how Oklahoma musicians have been been handling the pandemic and some of the projects they've been working over the past few months. Please follow along and support local musicians and venues in whatever way you can.