Rising York-based indie rock outfit plays Beer Mongers in Dallastown Saturday night
For The Ok-Ok’s, Christmas time is anything but “merry.” It’s more “hectic.” Between cramming for school finals and putting in hours at work during the holidays, the York-based quartet is striving to become one of the premier indie acts in Central PA.
I caught up with the four bandmates after they finished up one of the final studio sessions for their upcoming debut album.
“It’s certainly a lot to handle,” says vocalist Sadie Swartz. “But we all care about what we’re playing, so it’s good to be working toward the same goal.”
Swartz currently works as a tattoo artist at Marked 4 Life, and a glance at her work via her Instagram account shows the artistic sensibility that is the driving force behind the band. Her bandmate and younger brother, Isaac, is currently home-schooled, while bassist Lauren Briggs is off at college. Drummer Christopher Ridolfi, who also lives with the Swartz family, has an unconventional job he found through a CraigsList ad – repairing pipe organs.
“The job just kind of fell into my lap, but I love it,” Ridolfi says. “I’ve been able to travel all over, and I’m actually going to be in Cincinnati for a week working on organs.”
So far, the quartet has managed to balance all of this while producing music that’s been stirring up excitement in York County.
“It’s tough getting everybody together, but we all know how much it means to us,” Isaac says.
Describing the sound of The Ok-Ok’s is tough (even for them) but Swartz says it’s somewhere between the Alabama Shakes and The Black Keys. With riffs similar to those of Jack White and Dan Auerbach, Isaac shows musical maturity beyond his 16 years.
Isaac’s blend of folk and blues pairs well with his sister’s strong vocals. A mix of Regina Spektor and Alison Krauss, Swartz rides a wave of soft melodies and powerful choruses, blending elements from indie rock and blues. Ridolfi and Briggs provide a rhythmic glue that binds these four together on stage.
But what’s it like actually living with two of your bandmates?
“I love them to death, but brothers always get on your nerves,” says Swartz with a smile. “I think with three of us living together, it makes us truly like a family. There’s such a strong dynamic and tension that comes with it that makes us stronger as a whole.”
As the main songwriter, Swartz’s heart fuels her creative fire.
“I believe when I feel something strong, that’s the right time to put all my energy into writing,” she says.
The Ok-Ok’s is a band that takes pride in its DIY attitude. Whether it’s making funny Facebook and Vine videos to promote a future show or hand-knitting band sweaters for the merch tables, the quartet is intent on making a personal connection with its fans.
Plus, they’ll occasionally host shows in their parents’ basement.
“We really have some of the most supportive parents ever,” Swartz says. “My mom is the one who got us into choir and really taught us to sing.”
But even with those strong family ties, The Ok-Ok’s were happy to find an extended family of sorts in other York-based bands.
“I think that’s what’s so great about York,” Ridolfi says. “All the bands are so supportive of each other and are always pushing each other to be the best they can be. Local bands like Buzzchopper and Kindred really welcomed us with open arms into the music community.”
That’s not saying the band hasn’t had its fair share of obstacles – mainly the member’s ages. Since not everyone is over 21, playing bar venues is not feasible, so the quartet has been forced to play in some unconventional spots.
“We’ve played at all kinds of places,” Swartz says. “Anywhere from a frozen yogurt bar to a coffeehouse to the middle of a town square – basically wherever they’ll let us.”
Some of the band’s favorite venues include the live music/art gallery Sign of the Wagon and New Grounds Roasting Company. Venues like these might be the key to bridging the gap between younger bands and audiences. Not only have these venues allowed for a new group of artists to be showcased, they’ve really put a stamp on the term “all ages,” attracting fans both young and old.
“These guys are one of the best bands in the area,” New Grounds stage manager John Beck says of The Ok-Ok’s. “They have a powerful lead singer and a unique sound that translates will to a live audience.”
Beck has been in charge of booking acts for almost two years now, and he sees a huge tide of young new artists emerging from Central PA.
“I think these types of venues really let small bands grow and experience what it’s like to be on a big stage,” he says. “The Ok-Ok’s played their first show here, so it’s been an awesome experience to watch them grow.”
The Ok-Ok’s certainly had no shortage of helping hands when it came to producing that debut record.
“We’re actually on our third producer, and while each one has been really helpful, we finally found one that captures our sound,” Swartz says. Harrisburg producer Daniel Braun has managed to pin down The Ok-Ok’s sound in the studio – something that’s not as easy as you might think.
“It’s all about putting out our sound while still having that homey feel,” says Swartz. “It’s all about finding people who care about our sound.”
The Ok-Ok’s play Beer Mongers (3000 S. Queen St., Dallastown) with Lancaster’s Mean Reds on Saturday, December 20. 9pm. 21+.