Now/It's: An Interview with Okey Dokey (Aaron Martin, Johny Fisher)

Some version of “welcome back” is probably in order, considering the site has been relatively quiet up until this week, but reader-oriented pleasantries tend to be a little more patronizing than one would prefer.

So, welcome back.

Anyway, in getting back into the swing of all things Now/It’s in 2019, who better to kick off the year with than everyone’s favorite proctors of euphonious peculiarity, Okey Dokey?

If ever there was a “your favorite band’s favorite band” in Nashville, it would be Aaron Martin, Johny Fisher, and their associates in Okey Dokey. Rarely does an Okey Dokey show go by in which there isn’t a cavalcade of other notable Nashville acts - but all in service of the show as a whole - never the individual cavorting on stage. That’s certainly no small feat, (considering there’s no shortage of self-aggrandizing around town), but collaboration is uniformly one of Okey Dokey’s greatest strengths.

So much so, in fact, that their upcoming record, Tell All Your Friend (insert predictable/expected typo joke here), is nothing short of a retinue of provocateurs, collaborators, and familiar faces (Liz Cooper, Rayland Baxter, Nick Bockrath) allowing the whole to far exceed the sum of its parts. Furthermore, never the ones to adapt to the mundane, Okey Dokey intend on releasing a new single ever other week leading up to the album’s March release. In their words, it keeps things interesting and adaptable. In my own words, it’s smart.

Either way, it’s a testament to one of Nashville’s finest bands around. Sol Cat might be gone (to reference them for the 10,000th time on the site), but Okey Dokey lives on.

Now/It’s met with Aaron Martin, Johny Fisher at Fran’s East Side, on Nashville’s East Side. Drew Thomas (“Drew”; management) is also featured throughout the interview.

Johny - It’s not near as smoky as it normally is, we were just saying how quiet it is.

Aaron - We’re going to fix that….

N/I - Fair enough. What have you guys been up to lately?

Drew - Birmingham show was fun.

Johny - Oh yeah. That was.

Aaron - That was New Year’s. It was us and Lady Legs and Ian Ferguson. That was cool.

Johny - I like that city a lot.

N/I - Birmingham?

Johny - Yeah. There’s a lot of people that come out because there’s not a whole lot to do, I don’t think.

Drew - Breakfast was a weird scenario.

N/I - Why was that? Crowded?

Johny - We were the last people to get served, pretty much, but they took so long.

Drew - It was like the Pancake House of Birmingham, or something like that.

Johny - Everyone said it was the spot to go, but nothing was open on New Year’s Day, so it was that spot or maybe one other place.

N/I - Or a McDonald’s.

Johny - Right. That’s what it felt like.

N/I - Surely that wasn’t your guys’ first time in Birmingham.

Johny - No. We played there a bunch…

N/I - But passing through for just the show?

Johny - It was just the first time we headlined a show there. Maybe…. And it was the first time it was sold out there. Normally when we’ve been there, we’re opening for someone, so they’re not there to see us. So we’re the happy accident…. Or the regrettable accident, if someone shows up early and they’re like “Oh, fuck! This is not the band I came to see.” I really do want to start learning more of the headliners’ songs so we can ruin their big hit and play it before them.

Aaron - Always making sure we play it before them.

Drew - That way we’ll just never be an opener ever again.

Johny - Power moves. And then we shoot the other band a little look of “What are you going to do?”

N/I - That’s an isolationist approach to touring.

Aaron - I like that [laughs].

Johny - [Laughing] That’s how no one ever asks you to go back on tour with them.

Drew - Do y’all know who Alex Cameron is?

N/I - I love Alex Cameron.

Drew - He’s the best. Fucking amazing tweeter. He had a tweet the other day that was like “Can’t wait for tour so when the opener’s playing, I can lean against the wall and shake my head because no one knows what a banger this song is.” That’s you guys.

N/I - So your guys’ album doesn’t come out until March?

Johny - Yeah. We’re releasing a song every two weeks until March.

N/I - Right. So outside of releasing the songs, what are you guys doing? Touring some, right?

Johny - We’ll start touring some in March or April, playing some shows again. We’re writing another record, because we’re bored.

Aaron - Totally.

Drew - Constantly.

Aaron - Honestly, the album doesn’t come out until March, but that’s kind of too slow, so we may as well have a show and let people buy it early if they want.

Johny - It is available. If you come to our shows, you can buy them at any time. We sold one in Louisville - when was that? November?

Drew - I think it was early December.

Johny - Oh yeah! You’re right. It was like the first three days or something… Anyway, we’ve sold some records at live shows just because who cares or whatever? But they can’t really leak it online with a big record player.

Aaron - They could, but it would be super complicated.

Johny - And if they did, good on them. If they can figure it out, leak it! I don’t care.

Aaron - But I don’t think anyone’s going to do it…..

Johny - But our cute, adorable eighteen year old girl fans or our fifty year old man fans are not like “This is going straight to Napster as soon as I get home!” [laughs]

N/I - Is that the spread of what you guys see - eighteen year old girls and fifty year old men?

Johny - Not necessarily, but I do feel that in the merch game - I do most of the merch table stuff - and I feel like it’s most of the older dudes that have disposable income that are like “I just want to support the band. I probably won’t unwrap this record, but I don’t care because I want to support you.” And then the kids have disposable income through their parents giving them money before they go to the shows. But the kids our age are like whatever little money they have, they’re at the bar….

Aaron - They’re getting drunk. Wooo!

Drew - Drunk people buy merch too.

Johny - That’s definitely true.

Aaron - But I think also, we haven’t really been on a tour with people just in their twenties. We haven’t been on that type of tour yet. Touring with Rayland was people from eighteen sprinkled up to fifty - that’s a ton of them. But then….

Johny - Blitzen Trapper was a lot of older people.

Aaron - Yeah. A lot of older people with Blitzen. I think the tour we go on in May with No Vacation will be the one that makes the most sense for us, probably.

Johny - There will be a lot of youngins on that one.

Aaron - I don’t think Strumbellas was our crowd [laughs]...

N/I - When did you guys go on tour with Strumbellas?

Aaron - We did like six dates….

Johny - October a year ago. Or a year and a half ago.

Aaron - It was actually really fun, though.

Johny - Wait… It was October of 2017….

Aaron - But we started in Boston, didn’t we? A lot of tours start in Boston when it’s just cold as shit… You’re like “Man, this is going to be a good one! But it’s freezing. Fuck.”

Johny - And that band I don’t think they really wanted us to be on the tour because the opener got sick, so we got to fill in for the rest of it [laughs], and they didn’t even know who we were. So the first show we showed up for they were like “Hey!” and we were like “Hey! Happy to be here!” But they had huge crowds, which was nice.

N/I - Well I suppose the exposure is nice even if it’s with each subsequent show [The Strumbellas] become less and less enthused with having you guys around?

Aaron - Maybe. I don’t know, it was funny.

Johny - They definitely warmed up to us, but by then - I think there was one guy that was really friendly, like the bass player - but they were all in their mid-forties.

N/I - I know they’re a little older….

Johny - So most all of them had wives - same with Blitzen Trapper - so they were all facetiming their kids while they were in the Green Room. We were all pounding beers going “Let’s do it!” and they’re facetiming children so there was some dischord there. But the bass player was cool.

Aaron - “Daddy’s got to go to work!”

Johny - That’s true. “Got to go son! Daddy’s got to go to work.” [laughs]

Aaron - They were super cool, though. That was one of my favorite tours. Those guys wound up being really cool.

Johny - The Blitzen Trapper guys? They were in their older forties, too…. Rayland [Baxter]’s the youngest guy that’s ever taken us out [laughs].

Aaron - He’s almost there.

Johny - Yeah, he’s close. He’s like thirty-four. So mostly forty year old men take us out [laughs].... It’s sounds bad when you say it like that….

Aaron - [Laughs] But it’s true.

Johny - But they’ve gotten in trouble with paraphernalia before in the past when they were younger, so now they just travel with a big bag of apples in their sprinter, and carve out pipes with the apple and as soon as they’re done they just chuck the apple. So they never have papers or bowls or anything.

N/I - This is Blitzen Trapper?

Aaron - So when you roll a spliff or something it’s a big deal.

Johny - They would out of nowhere just hand you an apple, and then you realize it’s got weed in it.

Aaron - They only had to eat one once.

Johny - One time they got pulled over and had been smoking on it for like a day, so it was just this dirty gross resin apple and it was like “Okay! Down it goes.” and it’s just this dirty old nasty apple.

N/I - Tricks of the road.

Johny - It’s true. I was talking about it the other day with Jordan - because we all played Laredo together a while back.

Aaron - That was a long time ago. Old number two.

Johny - The Weeks thought that you pass through a checkpoint into Laredo, but actually pass through on the way out, so they got a hotel thirty miles north of Laredo just to put their weed and Turbo Fruits’ weed in a hotel room and drove to Laredo and played the show realizing they didn’t have to go through a checkpoint at all, but then had to go through a checkpoint to get to their hotel to pick up the weed and continue the tour. They spent like a hundred dollars to make sure a little weed didn’t get confiscated.

N/I - The hotel was their trap house.

Johny - Basically. I did that recently. We were at a fruit checkpoint - they have a lot of those - it’s hard to tell from a distance whether it’s a real one or a fruit one, so we just pulled this corner right when I’m in the middle of rolling a joint and we’re all like “Checkpoint!” and you can’t slam on the brakes because that looks terrible….

N/I - Just a little suspicious.

Johny - So I just start putting into my mouth - and it was a spliff, so there was tobacco - so I’m just eating tobacco and weed, and my whole mouth is full of it, and they come up to the window and ask “Is there any fruit or vegetables in here” and we go “Nope!” so then it’s “Okay! Have a great day!” and I start spitting it all out….

Aaron - The best part was that we were already in California.

Johny - We were already in the state, so we couldn’t have gotten in trouble anyway. It was awful.

Aaron - They had a dog, though, so it did look fucked up.

Johny - But we got to San Diego that day.

N/I - Definitely some harrowing experiences on the road.

Johny - I prefer not to have those. Any time we get pulled over or anything. We haven’t really as this band, but our old band got pulled over all the time. Our van looked horrible, we all had long hair at the time, so if a cop even just saw us, a cop would be like “Let’s pull them over! See what happens.”

Aaron - We got pulled over one time in Alabama, and vapes were brand new. Like no one had any idea what they were, and the cop pulled us over for no reason in Alabama.

Johny - He asked us if we were going to Spring Break [laughs].

Aaron - Yeah. I’m smoking a vape pen right in front of him and I’m like “No, we’re just passing through. Why you stopping us? That’s illegal. That’s illegal. You got to let us go.”

Johny - And he said “We’ve got a lot of Spring Breakers that pass through here.”

Aaron - No fucking reason.

Johny - We were in the middle of nowhere. Like farmland only.

N/I - Would people be going to Gulf Shores?

Aaron - Who knows man? I think we were driving back from Mobile.

Johny - We were coming from coastal areas in, and he thought we were… I don’t know.

Aaron - The funniest part was that I think we were touring with Roots of a Rebellion at the time.

Johny - Did you ever know that reggae band?

N/I - Of course! I was about to say, they get pulled over, that doesn’t bode well for anybody.

Johny - If they get pulled over first, it’s great [laughs]. You just pass by…. That tour was hilarious man, they just had so much weed all the time. We went out to the beach - what was the funny beach we went to?.... Panama City Beach. During Spring Break.

Aaron - It was the first week of it.

N/I - Oh my god.

Johny - Dude. We were all in leather jackets or pea coats and jeans, because we didn’t even think “Oh, it’s Spring Break in Panama City Beach.” We just went “There’s a beach over here, woo!” and then we show up and it’s like “Oh shit!”

Aaron - “It’s super hot.”

Johny - But we went out to the beach in jeans and boots, just trudging around, and we had camera guy with us, so we told everyone we were with Rolling Stone [laughs]. “We’re here shooting stuff for Rolling Stone. Spring Break. We’re here with our band.”

Aaron - Telling them “If you take your picture with us, you’ll be on the blog in two weeks. We’re here representing the blog.”

N/I - I’m sure that was received very well.

Johny - Oh, we had so many pictures.

Aaron - Just free drinks and photos with people.

Johny - There was this one that we found out as our favorite photo weeks later when it was uploaded to dropbox… If you zoom in on this one girl in this huge group photo with all of us, she has like three Slim Jims just in….

Aaron - Tucked in her bikini waistband….

Johny - And she’s trying to look super sexy but just has a bunch of beef jerky chilling on the side. It’s just the subtle flair they rock in Florida.

N/I - Almost certainly unique just to Spring Break in Florida.

Aaron - I had so many vodka gummy worms and weird things like that.

Johny - We also got this woman who only had one tooth - we played this bar on the ocean right there in Panama City or Destin or something - but so she only had one tooth and we were like “Hey, we have a lot of weed, we’ll trade you if you we can film you saying ‘Thanks for tuning in, this is Sol Cat. You’re now watching Sol Cat.’” Because we were going to put her in as the intro to the tour video, and she could not get our name right. She was like “This is Lost Cat. This is Sun Gall.” And we were like “Sun Gall!?” I loved that.

Aaron - But yeah, so that was like eight years ago.

N/I - That’s obviously a time gone by. A wistful memory at this point. Different era.

Drew - There’s shit coming up, though. There’s that new video for a new song. Aaron does all the art and stuff for it.

Aaron - I just did an animated video. I’m trying to do that stuff a lot more. Just kind of next steps for me - video stuff and framework animation. It’s really fun, because I can just draw weird shit.

N/I - How long does that take to do the frame by frame stuff?

Aaron - I’d say a minute takes like four or five days, just because it’s drawing like seven hundred images. But I’m getting better at it every day, because I’m just learning how to position and set up placeholders. I’m watching tons of King of The Hill and Cowboy Bebop just to see what they do. It’s not that complicated, but it’s becoming less complicated the more I draw that shit.

Drew - And the iPad Pro is a game changer.

Aaron - Oh yeah. That thing’s amazing.

N/I - So when you do that for this video, is everyone else just like “Yeah. Do you thing, Aaron?” or is it more democratic?

Johny - Yeah, I don’t help [laughs].

Aaron - Yeah, but it’s just kind of easier that way. I do art, so….

Drew - And you’re writing the lyrics and stuff, so you know how it should be. It’s all your art and your words.

N/I - You probably have the soundest image of what’s being said in the song.

Aaron - It just makes everything feel more unified. Especially with the singles approach. I’ve just been doing a different piece for every song and animating most of the video content. I think it’s one song just leading into the next. Art is cool in that way in terms of its relation to the song. It’s more fun for me, I think. You can just get bored just writing songs. So it’s breaks it up a little bit. We need a song, we need artwork, we need a video. It’s sort of an escape from all the normal band stuff.

N/I - That makes sense.

Aaron - And then the singles approach is kind of another escape from the album cycles and things like that. Now that we’ve bought ourselves some time we’re just writing a ton and recording all the time and sending songs out to mix, if a label comes along in the next year, they’ll just be paying us to consolidate our stuff.

Drew - From the management side of it - when you’re talking about the album cycle. There’s all this build up, but with the slow build up - it’s more relaxing. It’s more enjoyable. Less stressful, and then people spend time with the songs too. Whereas with an album….

N/I - Sixty percent of it is going to get overlooked one way or another.

Johny - Yeah. It’s really hard to get someone to listen to a whole record.

Aaron - Hopefully every song gets its own opportunity.

Johny - I also think that if you don’t have a big machine pushing all your shit in a big way…. As an independent artist, you’re kicking yourself in the foot if you’re trying to drop some big thing to nobody. Who are you releasing your album to? I wonder that when people say “I have this new album I want to put out. Can you give me some tips? What do y’all do?” Well, we never release a whole album to no one. I think that’s been why the song every two weeks thing has worked for us.

N/I - Gives some more breathing room, like Drew was saying.

Johny - And you can pitch to Spotify more. I just think it’s a lot easier than people make it out to be. It’s like homework. If you get a bunch of homework, it’s hectic and you don’t know where to start, whereas if you do a piece of it, it’s easy to just roll through it if you do it piece by piece. But most people get so stressed by the idea that they just spin their wheels.

Drew - Drop these songs one by one and it’s a new song every time, instead of….

N/I - Re-discovery if they’re returning to the record.

Aaron - I’ve also noticed….. We’ve been on Rolling Stone Country this year. Billboard for random stuff, and playlisting like All New Indie, and Office Playlist, and other random stuff that I never would have guessed….

N/I - This is because of the singles approach?

Aaron - Yeah. We’ve been able to spread the wealth, whereas when we release the album, all those songs get consolidated away from being themselves. They’re unified into an order, but it might not make sense to everyone that listens in that order. Whereas if we release the singles the songs will make sense because there is no order. It’s just a song. That makes things way more exciting.

N/I - I’m curious… In reading things that other publications have written about you - Rolling Stone Country, American Songwriter - do you see people trying to funnel you one way or another?

Aaron - Not yet.

Johny - I think that’s been our biggest problem. It’s cool for us, we don’t care….

Aaron - But it’s also a little problematic….

Johny - But it’s an issue, because they’re like “We don’t always know who to pair you with on tour. Do you go out with americana and folk bands or do you go out with indie hipster bands or do you go out with alt-rock groups?” It’s just like all of them.

Aaron - But it comes down to if they’re good songwriters.

Johny - For real. If you have good songs, we’d love to tour with you….

Aaron - I don’t really know what to call our band - which is probably the typical bullshit thing to say - but I also think that we live in a time where if you’re not eclectic, you’re kind of fucking up. Everyone is. Everyone’s so eclectic…. One of the songs off the album is called “One By One” and that song, I wrote it about my goth cousins in the Nineties, because they showed me everything I got into later, they let me hang with them, but as far as outside of my house or at their high school, they were weird. But looking back on it, they were the first iteration…. Or not even the first, the fourth or fifth iteration of being an unlabel-able modern mystery. But if you look back on it they didn’t do anything. They wore black and painted their fingernails.

N/I - Had bangs.

Aaron - Nothing very shocking. So I kind of thought a lot about that in relation to the band and how we’re not really keeping up with the current music trends. All of my favorite artists are doing something totally separate to what was happening around them. Like Tyler, the Creator and Gorillaz, this guy Benjamin Clementine….

N/I - The sometimes pianist?

Aaron - Yeah. He’s incredible. I’d say even the bands like Parquet Courts. They do a wonderful job of collaging music. I think that’s sort of where things are going, like watching an imaginative person like Childish Gambino perform, or Perfume Genius. So for me releasing singles is a way to just write whatever song we want and it leaves us at an eclectic point, which I think makes sense. But on the other end of it, it is a little tormented. A lot of times, that’s a hard thing to answer, but I think you write songs that mostly versions of what you’re feeling, which always blends into a lot of stuff.

N/I - Sure. It’s subject to change via the environment around you.

Aaron - Right. I think that attracts a lot of different people our way. Every [subsequent] tour we wind up making friends.

N/I - And that’s a big point of emphasis for this second batch of songs, and just the band in general, is that it’s a lot of different people and what I would imagine is a lot of different collaborative styles.

Aaron - I’d say it’s more so collaborating with the songwriter. This one is collaborating with Erin Rae, Rayland, Liz Cooper…. People who are songwriters. Which I think is really cool because it sounds more like us and it’s more dynamic. I think the first album was a lot of me going “I feel this way right now, today.” I’d do me for me.

N/I - So you’d have a better footing of who you were writing for on that first album?

Aaron - I think sort of. But with this one we’re switching it up even further through collaborating with members of bands we really respect in the producer realm. We’re almost hoping to create a supergroup, sort of, but a supergroup of producers who are never in the room together. They’re effectively sculpting an album with us.

N/I - You’re the vessel that allows them to do so.

Aaron - Right. Like if we want this song to be really “big” so we’d start working with Yuuki Matthews from The Shins and those songs become really fun. But then I have ones that are more guitar, so Nick Bockrath is helping us right now. Sam Williams from The Weeks is helping us a lot with most of the stuff. But I guess a really roundabout way to talk about it [laughs].

N/I - That’s fair.

Aaron - To answer that original question, I guess always been a part of the set up for us. Just staying in our lane. When you look at a lot of modern music, it’s female, African American artists are getting a lot of coverage, but the common denominator is that what they’re doing and how they’re approaching things is how modern they are. It’s what things are like today. So if we’re going to keep up with all those modern changes, we have to press our personalities forward - because people just see Johny and me - and collaborate with as many people as possible. If bands stay insular, they’re just going to go nowhere. Some of my favorite bands are like that, but they’re going nowhere outside of where they already are.

N/I - I totally understand. Timber Timbre is my favorite band, but they’re not about to blow up any time soon. They’re a solid decade, almost decade and a half into their run and they’ve already peaked.

Aaron - Love that band. They’re so good. But they’re never going to press their bounds.

N/I - Agreed. Whether or not they’ve achieved what they set out to achieve, they’ve already seen what the mountain peak looks like, and the only way off it is down, in a sense.

Aaron - I feel the same way currently about Grizzly Bear. That’s one of my favorite bands ever. But I feel like they’re trying something different, but they’re not spreading out quite far enough. Whereas other bands that I love, like Little Dragon…. They’re on everything. They’re everywhere.

N/I - Toplining electronic songs and solo stuff.

Aaron - Everywhere. But I just think that’s the way you need to be now. We start flirting with a lot of R&B to try and mix it up….

Johny - Another one of those bands that does the same thing over and over again is Death Cab for Cutie. Their new album that just came out… I only heard one song off of it…. But holy shit. It just sounds like everything they’ve ever done. And everyone you hear on the record are the exact same people you heard on the last one, and probably in the same studio mixed by the same guy on the same instruments.

Aaron - I feel the same way on the other end, though, about Fall Out Boy. I was listening to the radio recently….

Johny - Oh yeah, their new stuff?

Aaron - They were scene pop punk, straight edge crap, then pop composite, and now they’re dubstep. They gave up too much of their personality in the name of change. They’re not even a band anymore.

N/I - They’re a safe headliner if Maroon 5 were to drop out of the Super Bowl or something.

Aaron - It’s just weird to see how you can go in the wrong direction in both directions.

N/I - For better or for worse.

Aaron - Right. It just goes back to the whole songwriter mentality - Okey Dokey records sound a certain way but you can still play the songs on guitar with your friends.

Johny - We did a co-write with our friend Winston from Night Beds; it was maybe two years ago when we put it out? It sounds nothing like anything we’ve do. Me and Aaron are just singing background vocals. We’re not even singing on it really and we were recording it with our friends Gavin and Chris, and we’ve never recorded anything over there other than a Christmas song.

N/I - Is that Gavin Shea?

Johny - Yeah, yeah, yeah! I think having more stuff like that coming out in this next year is important too. Just random singles that don’t sound anything like our normal records. That way you just kind of train people to not expect one thing, because that’s the easiest way to lose your existing crowd….

N/I - When you’re Death Cab for Cutie and you sound exactly the same for twenty years….

Johny - Or like when you’re Death Cab for Cutie and one year you randomly decide you’re Iron Maiden. Your fans will leave you because “You’re not doing your Death Cab for Cutie stuff!” and I think that if you just train your audience early that “Hey, I think we’re going to release four different genres of tunes, this is what we like.” People can’t possibly be like “I absolutely hate everything that they’re doing.” All they can say is “I wasn’t a fan of that, we’ll see what the next one is like.”

N/I - That way the anticipation of something different is normalized, versus waiting for more of the same and being let down. I see.

Aaron - I always get a kick out of it when we play and someone says “Play “Always Never!”” and I’m like “No! Never!....”

Johny - “We don’t even know the words!”

Aaron - No one can remember that song.

Johny - Is it in A? C? We would ruin that song if we tried to play it live. We’re just all on synths, there are seven synths to play it [laughs]. That’s basically what it would have to be…. But I would love to do more of those, because again, who cares. I also think that goes back to being independent and not answering to someone to sign off on your music, why not just get it out early? That’s why I want to cram and move really fast right now - if someone really does want to work with us in six months, then let’s release all the shit we can in six months and overload it, and then we’ve done as much as we can to boost our own numbers and keep all the money from those songs one hundred percent. Because as soon as we sign and we have a song that’s like “We have to get this out!” we have to be like “Here Jeff! Can we release this?” and he’ll go “No! It’s garbage! It doesn’t sound like you guys!” and we’ll be like “Fuck!” That’s when I feel like you get stuck. So I want us to vomit music for the next six months to try to own our identity as much as possible.

N/I - You’re the masters of your own fate, at least for the next month to year.

Johny - Sure. But then, if we release a song that someone doesn’t like, whatever. That’s just the way it works anyway, because you don’t always write a great song. There are a bunch of Dave Bowie songs that you don’t know…. but he put them out because he loved them at the time [laughs]. That’s kind of where we are right now - we’re into all of these songs.

This interview took place January of 2019