A version of this story appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
‘The Real Thing’ Audra Mae returns to Oklahoma for hometown show
The up-and-coming Oklahoma-born and bred singer-songwriter, who is touring in support of her sophomore album ‘Audra Mae and the Almighty Sound,’ will play Sunday night at the Blue Door, marking her first performance in her native state since the 2011 Norman Music Festival.
Better ready yourself, Oklahoma City. “The Real Thing” is a-coming.
Actually, Audra Mae is coming back.
The up-and-coming Oklahoma-born and bred singer-songwriter will play Sunday night at the Blue Door, marking her first hometown show since the 2011 Norman Music Festival.
“I didn’t come home for Christmas, so I’m due,” Mae said in a phone interview this week from Baton Rouge, La. “It’s really fun ‘cause my entire family shows up. And then every time I do it, the crowd gets bigger, and I get to see people that I don’t know, that I’ve never met, but that are just Okies and they know I’m from Oklahoma and they like my stuff and they want to come and see it and sing along. And that always is so heartwarming.”
The Putnam City High School graduate, 28, has been keeping busy since she relocated to Los Angeles eight years ago. After inking a publishing agreement, with Warner/Chappell, she has penned songs for several other artists, even sharing a co-writing credit on the anthem “Who I Was Born to Be,” the lone original on Susan Boyle’s 2009 debut album “I Dreamed a Dream,” which sold 9 million copies.
Signed to L.A.-based indie SideOneDummy Records, the Edmond-grown chanteuse released her first EP, “The Haunt,” that same year, then channeled her gypsy cowgirl soul into her 2010 full-length debut “The Happiest Lamb.”
The sassy redhead adopted a full band and a boot-stomping rock sound on her sophomore LP, “Audra Mae and the Almighty Sound.” Released on Valentine’s Day, the album opens with the rollicking anthem “The Real Thing,” with the sultry-voiced songstress declaring “Baby I’m coming/better ready yourself/be looking for me ‘cause I’m the real thing.”
Mae boasts more than enough vocal power and electric attitude to make listeners unquestioningly believe it, plus her backing band — stand-up bassist Joe Ginsberg, guitarist Jarrad Kritzstein, pianist Frank Pedano, drummer Kiel Feher, backup vocalist Brent Kyle and her sister/harmony singer Chelsea Butts — more than lives up to its almighty billing.
“It just happened really naturally. I didn’t like set out to build a band, but then once they were there, it just felt really good. And I really wanted it to last and be real, but they all have their own bands. So it was just sort of a fleeting moment, but thank goodness we captured it,” Mae said.
“It basically just happened really organically. “It’s all my friends, they were coming and playing with me at this residency that I was doing (at Barre Vermont in L.A.). We’d been playing together and really liking it, and since we’re all friends and all songwriters, we started writing together. And before you knew it, we had enough to make a whole record.
“The label wasn’t really ready for a record, but I always say it’s like trying to stop a baby from being born. You know, if it’s ready to happen, it’s ready to happen.”
While the inspiration for the album developed rather spontaneously, Once she decided to make it happen, Mae put considerable planning into making her “Almighty Sound.” Along with co-writing all 11 tracks, she spent weeks in preproduction with guitarist Jarrad Kritzstein. Once she and her pals entered the studio, they recorded the album live in just a week.
“Basically, I was ready to make a record, the label wasn’t ready for a record, so I had to be really smart about how I did it,” Mae said. “He reserved his back (room) studio for an entire like month and a half before we put out the record so that he and I could go through and blueprint how we wanted each song to go so that it felt like the lyrics were telling a story with the music and so that the song felt like what it was about and so that each one was like a cohesive story.” By using all the same players and the same harmonies switched out here and there, we were able to make a record that sounds like it goes together, but it each song stands out on its own.”
When the producer her label wanted had a scheduling conflict, Mae recruited country singer-songwriter Deana Carter, with whom she penned the racy rocker “Smokin’ the Boys.” Best known for her multiplatinum 1996 country record, “Did I Shave My Legs for This?,” Carter insisted that she and Mae co-produce the new album and schooled the up-and-comer on how to do it.
“It’s rare that as a singer-songwriter that on your sophomore attempt that anyone would let you have a co-producing credit. But that credit goes to Deana. … She didn’t get a lot of credit for a lot of the work she did earlier in her career, so she was very sensitive to that,” Mae said.
“It’s weird how the artist in the studio tries to have a lot of say about what’s going and everyone’s like ‘Ha ha, that’s cute, shut up.’ So this is the first time I didn’t have to fight so hard. … On the first record, I was trying to get my voice heard, and I was able to get my voice heard in a lot of ways. But I wasn’t able to get the credit for it.”
Mae said her co-producer also pushed her to keep making the album’s sound bigger and bolder.
“Jarrad and I planned out how we wanted the songs to go, and Deana would come in and bring us like cake pops and some Starbucks and like say ‘Ah, this is good. This is a really good direction; maybe try doing this this way,” Mae said.
“We wanted it to be like really broken down and way more simplified than it was, and she was like, ‘Why don’t you guys just go for it? You know, put drums with it. Just try it. If you try it and don’t like it, then you don’t have to do it. … Just like have some guts. You can do it. You can really do it. It doesn’t have to be this like little bitty niche indie thing that’s gonna sound good for a year.’ “She was like, ‘You can make something that’s timeless and classic and can sound good 10 years from now.’ And we really pushed to do it.”
Her sophomore effort has earned strong reviews, from the likes of AllMusic.com and Alternative Press, but Mae is hardly resting on her laurels. Along with touring, she recently provided backing vocals for “Kids in the Street,” the latest album from fellow Oklahoma-grown musicians the All-American Rejects,” and “Wild Ones,” the new release from rapper Flo Rida.
She also has earned a reputation for turning out impressive covers of iconic songs, including Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” which was used in 2009 on the FX biker series “Sons of Anarchy”; Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again,” featured this year on the CBS legal drama “The Good Wife”; and Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” included in April’s Jason Segel-Emily Blunt comedy “The Five-Year Engagement.”
“I’m a huge fan of music, so getting to interpret songs I love, that’s the singer part of me,” she said.
“There will never be a time where someone picks a song of mine and puts in something and I’m like ‘eh,’” she said. “I will probably have a strong reaction one way or the other. I’ll probably either be like ‘Why did they use it like that? That was horrible!’ Or ‘wow that’s like the coolest thing ever!’ … But either way I’ll be grateful for the chance to do my job and that more people are hearing my voice.”
Sunday night’s set list will include covers and originals running the gamut of her career, but other than that, “it’s just me and my guitar,” which may be how she approaches her third album.
“It’ll be a challenge to see where I go (after ‘The Almighty Sound’), what the next step is, and I have a feeling it’s gonna the exact opposite, it’s gonna be sort of be just me,” Mae said.
“I feel like I want to dig into really crafting a record instead of doing it live with a whole band. Because I just did that, so rather than trying to recreate that experience, I’d like to go in and really just make a record and use the recording process in all the ways that it’s evolved.”
When: 8 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Blue Door, 2805 N McKinley.
Information: 524-0738 or www.bluedoorokc.com.