It’s 1 am in San Antonio, Texas and Aaron Martin wants to give you a hug.
He’s the singer and co-founder of Okey Dokey and why wouldn’t he give you a squeeze? You are, after all, a part of Okey Dokey too.
“It’s everything you’d want after two years of, you know, the absence,” Martin tells BandWagon after the gig at Paper Tiger in San Antonio. During the recent string of shows, he’s been excited to finally practice Okey Dokey’s mission statement with the people who make the live music experience what it is to him: pretty much everyone who’s not in the band.
“A New Direction…” reads Okey Dokey’s website, “… started as a passion project between two friends … frustrated with the distance between themselves and their listeners … the band decided to remove the separation and become something new. One community with one pulse …”
Martin and crew have taken this idea as far as including audio from fans on their records, mixing albums with half a dozen different engineers, and using fan videos as promo.
“It’s kind of funny because that mission statement came out right before the pandemic,” Martin says. “And it’s still consistent – more important afterwards, because people are easing into shows again, being comfortable around one another. And the whole statement is kind of anti-separation. Bands aren’t just a band. It’s everyone involved from management to the people who show up to the show and bartenders who work the show.”
As a seasoned performer finally back on the road, Martin embraces this mantra and the live show experience. Literally.
“Tonight I gave hugs to like 35, 40 people,” Martin says. “and I do that – all the time. I think it’s important. I love interacting with the people who come out. I always engage with the crowd. Music is only 20% of the gig, the other 80% is giving a shit about them. That’s a total gift opportunity.”
And the tactile realness, the raw, even flawed inconsistency is sometimes what makes shows memorable – or even good. Musicians often judge a performance based on musical execution, fans base it on energy.
“I’m fully aware of the range of emotions people could go through at a show,” Martin says. “People say ‘man, I didn’t expect that,’ or ‘I’d never heard you guys before, Damn!’” Though imperfections resonate too. “‘The way you broke your guitar string was cool,’ or ‘the part when the microphone came unplugged was sick,’” Martin retells with a laugh. But it’s more important to remind people that they can start a band or do whatever they want, he says. “I think that’s kind of the point. To inspire people to that. That was the mission statement and now it’s an active reminder of just – how to kinda be.”
Okey Dokey will perform at The Coast in Fort Collins on Friday, December 17, co-headlining with Dante Elephante and support from Trash Cat. Martin is excited to return to Colorado, fondly recalling a visit to Denver’s Botanic Gardens, which feature enormous, elaborate, yet fragile glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly.
“I have a friend that has a Chihuly piece,” Martin says. “It’s not one that they bought, it’s one that was broken. If anything gets chipped, or if anything is flawed, they just smash ‘em,” he says of imperfect pieces during the installation process. “My friend was helping on an install and they [had to] smash ‘em all. And she went back to the dumpster in the middle of the night and got some Chihuly glass. She’s never been an installer since,” Martin laughed.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and for Okey Dokey, the process of breaking established expectations, or breaking the fourth wall is where the real gems can be found.
“I do kind of like the image of things being broken in some sort of ceremonial way,” Martin says, and you can hear it, subtly, in the band’s music. Currently releasing singles culminating in a covers album, Martin, co-founder Johny Fisher and keyboardist Jeremy Clark each picked songs to re-do for the album; no vetos allowed.
“Each of us picked three songs,” Martin says. “Which was really fun because we didn’t have a terrible amount of collaboration on what the record would be, we just worked it out together. ‘California Dreaming’ we kinda did because we made a joke of like, what’s one of those songs that’s been covered way too much?”
So the band finds newness in breaking apart classics. And as fun as breaking the mold, crossing boundaries and smashing originals (with love) can be, some things are too precious to shatter.
“The one [cover] that felt the most sacred to me is ‘See You Again’ by Tyler, The Creator,” Martin says, “only because I was intimidated by how much I love the song. That one is definitely the favorite.” You can hear the reverence in their version, and that Martin, Fisher and Clark clearly love music, and definitely not just their own. They want nothing more than the extended Okey Dokey family (that’s you) to go out there and embrace (literally) all the realness; broken, reinterpreted or pure.
“Please go to other shows. Not ours, but others as well,” Martin says. “Go to shows in general. Enjoy looking around at each other – the natural way. And give hugs. It’s cool. Let’s bring ‘em back.”