If you’ve ever glanced at your living room and thought it felt a little cramped, you should watch what 11 musicians squeeze out of a hundred square feet inside Tamir Kalifa’s East Austin bungalow.
This is the main rehearsal space for Mother Falcon, and the orchestra-pop group has somehow made room for their instruments: a double bass, two cellos, violins, a trumpet, drum kit, saxophone, guitars and an accordion.
"We’re very used to being in confined spaces," says trumpet player Matt Krolick. "Packed like sardines in a tin box," someone adds.
The young Austin group is rehearsing for their upcoming show at Scottish Rite Theater, which will premiere work from an upcoming album, and, in a new move for the band, have them covering Radiohead’s "OK Computer" from start to finish (the two groups share a publishing administrator, and those folks commissioned Mother Falcon to create the orchestral arrangement).
Nick Gregg’s cello is pulling out the first lines of "Airbag," the Radiohead album’s opening track. "I am born agaaain," he sings, bringing a touch more sincerity to the original lyric.
If you’ve listened to rock music in the previous two decades you’ve listened to Radiohead, the British band who moved beyond the norms of ’90s Brit-rock by making something altogether different, with two of the most acclaimed records ever made: the enigmatic, electronic "Kid A," and the record that paved the way to the electronic future, "OK Computer."
"I like, worshiped that album," says Kalifa, Mother Falcon’s accordionist and co-lead singer. "That album helped me get through high school."
This is a commonly held feeling among those of us who became slightly obsessed with the album when it was released in the summer of 1997. So, hearing one of your favorite rock records being overtaken by a group that has little in common with the sound of ’90s rock is both strange and compelling.
To put it plainly: Radiohead has three electric guitars; Mother Falcon has two cellists and an accordion.
There is no mistaking Mother Falcon’s sound. The accordion gives it a klezmer-band feel, and the sheer number of instruments brings out more textures, asides and invented riffs that a rock band can’t do.
"We want to be true to the music, but also bring our own creativity to it," Kalifa says. That means each section of Mother Falcon split off from the mothership to create its own take on the album. As they take a brief recess from the first song, a series of saxophone scales is spiralling out from the hallway.
This rehearsal is bringing those little parts back into the fold. Melodies are augmented, drum parts refined, a harmony is reconsidered.
One group decision the band would not divulge is how they’re planning to perform "Fitter Happier," in which a computer voice narrates a long, freaky list of self-help cliches.
Mother Falcon’s take on it will be worth watching and hearing. And, as singer Nick Gregg says, "It’s cheaper than seeing Radiohead."
In the last decade, Radiohead became a favorite of highbrow musicians, with cover albums from pianists like Christopher O’Riley and bluegrass phenom Chris Thile.
One thing that sets Mother Falcon apart from these players is the staggering fact that when "OK Computer" came out, the band’s youngest member was 4 years old.
The group’s members range from 19 to 25, and when many of them heard Radiohead for the first time, it was years later, and years out of context; the computer future that seemed darkly inevitable in ‘97 was their native environment. Some in the band admit that the record wasn’t that appealing to them.
But they’ve come around. "I just found (Radiohead’s lead singer) Tom Yorke inside of me," jokes Gregg.