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Interviews, photos and video: Former Chainsaw Kittens frontman Tyson Meade returning to Norman Music Festival, which starts today

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Singer/songwriter Tyson Mead poses for a photo at his home in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 4, 2019. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman
Singer/songwriter Tyson Mead poses for a photo at his home in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 4, 2019. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman


An abbreviated version of this story appears in Thursday's The Oklahoman. 

Musical homecoming 
Former Chainsaw Kittens frontman Tyson Meade will play his old stomping grounds at Norman Music Festival

From the decorated dolls nestled in the chandelier and the painted pig’s face hanging on the wall to the gorilla mask tucked on the book shelf and the splashy abstract canvas above the gold velveteen couch, Tyson Meade’s living room boasts a punk-art aesthetic that matches his standing as “The Godfather of Alternative Rock.”

But the modest home at NW 13 and N Gatewood Avenue – he lives across the street from fellow Oklahoma music icon Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips – also is appointed with an apparent aura of peace and quiet that comes from finally feeling at home, five years after returning to his home state.

“I love Oklahoma because I absolutely would not be who I was if I hadn’t been born here. Right now, I just feel like … there’s so much going on here in a progressive, ‘let’s look to the future’ sort of way. I feel like the younger generation are helping change things. I don’t know if that’s me being too optimistic. Some things happen sometimes that are not what we like. But for the most part, I just love being here and love being back,” Meade said.


The Bartlesville native also will make a musical homecoming this weekend in Norman, the old stomping grounds of his pioneering alt-rock bands the Chainsaw Kittens and Defenestration. He will play one of the last sets of the 12th Annual Norman Music Festival at 1 a.m. Sunday inside Opolis.

“The Chainsaw Kittens played the very first one – they flew me back from China to play it,” Meade recalled. “I loved that I had the Kittens and Defenestration … but now when I play with a band, it’s always different. I have a band just learn some songs and learn ‘em the way they want to learn ‘em, and I usually let them pick Chainsaw Kittens or Defenestration or my solo stuff. And then they tell me, ‘Yeah, we really love these songs; let’s play these.’ So, I do, and it’s been really exciting to just play whatever. Usually, the band that I have playing are 20-somethings playing with me, and it’s just so much fun to be on stage with that excitement of youth. I never really would have predicted that.”

Singer/songwriter Tyson Mead poses for a photo at his home in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 4, 2019. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman
Singer/songwriter Tyson Mead poses for a photo at his home in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 4, 2019. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman

Continuing influence

Meade is one of more than 300 acts on the lineup for the free, independent festival, set for Thursday through Saturday at several indoor and outdoor venues. The Norman Music Festival annually features an array of Oklahoma, regional and national acts, and this year’s headliners include Beach Fossils, Black Milk with Nat Turner, The Garden, Mega Ran, Soccer Mommy, Night Beats, Omar Apollo and Oklahoma expatriates Skating Polly, an “ugly pop” sibling trio originally from Edmond and now based in Tacoma, Washington.

Few if any on the list can match Meade’s influence: In the 1980s, he fronted Defenestration, whom Kurt Cobain credited as an influence on Nirvana, and in 1989, he co-founded alternative glam-rockers the Chainsaw Kittens, who have counted Iggy Pop and Smashing Pumpkins as fans.


“The Nixons came up in the early ‘90s and we would sneak in – because we were broke and poor – and we would go watch The Flaming Lips and the Chainsaw Kittens. That’s what we did,” said Zac Maloy, a fellow Oklahoma native, Nashville-based songwriter and frontman of recently reunited alt-rockers The Nixons. “We would watch those bands, and then we would go off and try to do a Nixons show that sort of even remotely lived up to either one of those. That really was inspiring to us.”

Meade said he never would have predicted 30 years later that his former bands would remain so influential.

“I just set out to form a band that I would really want to hear myself and also to communicate to other people who wanted that same sort of band,” he said. “I’ve always just gone my own sort of direction – and fortunately, I found guys that would help me. … The Kittens were always very encouraging toward whatever I wanted to do.”

Musician and songwriter Tyson Meade files to run for District 5 in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat during candidate filing at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 12, 2018. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman Archives
Musician and songwriter Tyson Meade files to run for District 5 in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat during candidate filing at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 12, 2018. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman Archives

 Returning expatriate

After the Kittens went on hiatus in 2001, Meade’s direction eventually took him abroad. He spent a few months in Saudi Arabia before relocating for about seven years to China, eventually running a boarding school in Shanghai.

While his 2014 solo album “Tomorrow in Progress” was inspired by his expatriate existence, his new release, March’s “Robbing the Nuclear Family,” delves into his move back to Oklahoma, as well as his thoughts on the meaning of home and family.

“The last album was more about my Chinese life and how it’s always tomorrow there because they’re 12 hours ahead of us. So, it was always tomorrow when I was in China, but with ‘Robbing the Nuclear Family,’ part of it’s about finding home and deciding what home is,” he said.

“I think the teacher strike was the thing that really made me go … ‘I feel like here I can really make in a way - even if it’s small - a difference. But at least a difference, whereas other places I’m gonna just be another person there.’”


Inspired by last year’s teacher walkout, Meade indeed challenged Republican Rep. Steve Russell for Congress, although he wasn’t unhappy to lose to the eventual victor, Kendra Horn, in the Democratic primary. Since moving back to Oklahoma, Meade also has been learning the piano and written his first children’s songs.

“I feel like I’m at this age where I thought my life would be so much different. I’m in my 50s … but I feel like this is like my creative zenith,” he said. “I think China had a lot to do with it, and I just sort of dive into whatever happens. I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll just run for Congress or whatever.’ I’ve had this bizarre life that’s been really amazing.”

Singer/songwriter and former lead singer for the Chainsaw Kittens Tyson Meade poses for a photo in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 5, 2018. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman Archives POY 2018
Singer/songwriter and former lead singer for the Chainsaw Kittens Tyson Meade poses for a photo in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 5, 2018. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman Archives POY 2018


GOING ON

12th Annual Norman Music Festival

When: Thursday-Saturday.

Where: Various venues in downtown Norman.

Admission: Free.

Information: normanmusicfestival.com.

MORE TO COME

This is the first of a series of feature stories about Oklahoma artists bringing new music to Norman Music Festival. To read my feature on Dylan Stewart, click here. Look for more here on BAM's Blog, on NewsOK and in The Oklahoman.

-BAM

Related Photos
Singer/songwriter Tyson Mead poses for a photo at his home in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 4, 2019. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman

Singer/songwriter Tyson Mead poses for a photo at his home in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 4, 2019. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-fd930bf2a2cbc58c45d14e3308123c3e.jpg" alt="Photo - Singer/songwriter Tyson Mead poses for a photo at his home in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 4, 2019. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman" title="Singer/songwriter Tyson Mead poses for a photo at his home in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 4, 2019. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Singer/songwriter Tyson Mead poses for a photo at his home in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 4, 2019. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e41d9ad04d07000ab4ad11aec650aef7.jpg" alt="Photo - Singer/songwriter Tyson Mead poses for a photo at his home in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 4, 2019. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman" title="Singer/songwriter Tyson Mead poses for a photo at his home in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 4, 2019. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Singer/songwriter Tyson Mead poses for a photo at his home in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 4, 2019. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-f889bcab8140a4cb6e0be91261163be4.jpg" alt="Photo - Musician and songwriter Tyson Meade files to run for District 5 in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat during candidate filing at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 12, 2018. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman Archives" title="Musician and songwriter Tyson Meade files to run for District 5 in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat during candidate filing at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 12, 2018. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman Archives"><figcaption>Musician and songwriter Tyson Meade files to run for District 5 in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat during candidate filing at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 12, 2018. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman Archives</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-ddff864626e4db61ca0ec1b70d16a97e.jpg" alt="Photo - Singer/songwriter and former lead singer for the Chainsaw Kittens Tyson Meade poses for a photo in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 5, 2018. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman Archives POY 2018" title="Singer/songwriter and former lead singer for the Chainsaw Kittens Tyson Meade poses for a photo in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 5, 2018. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman Archives POY 2018"><figcaption>Singer/songwriter and former lead singer for the Chainsaw Kittens Tyson Meade poses for a photo in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Thursday, April 5, 2018. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman Archives POY 2018</figcaption></figure>
Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1... Read more ›

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