People often label it a soundtrack band, but the atmospheric, mostly instrumental Tulsa Drone -- featuring the unique, metallic tones of the hammered dulcimer hasn't actually done much soundtrack work. Its members aren't opposed to the idea, though.
It's just that the main forces behind the group, Erik Grotz and Peter Neff, don't really like to pitch their music. They'd much rather be working on new material.
In addition to preparing its next full-length album, the band is at work on a five- or six-song EP tentatively titled "231," which Grotz says will feature prerecorded "found sounds" that cannot be performed live. These include recordings Grotz made of passing trains that will be used as a backing rhythm loop instead of live percussion.
"It's mostly an exercise in writing," Grotz says. "We practice right across the street from the CSX line that runs through downtown. Trains have always sort of influenced what we do."
Their basement practice space/studio is located in the old Garbers building at 22nd and Franklin streets where they also operate their own small record label, Dry County Records (besides some of their own projects, Grotz and Neff have released limited runs of two-man group Plasmodium, featuring ex-Richmond percussionist and all-around good guy Jim Thomson). The first Tulsa Drone album was released to critical acclaim in 2004, ending up on the late British DJ John Peel's list of favorites. Their follow-up, last year's "Songs From a Mean Season," added Grotz's baritone vocals to the cinematic blend of foreboding music.
You won't seem the two playing live much, however. They don't like to play clubs, preferring galleries or warehouse spaces because they say their meditative, often menacing sounds are not conducive to a bar-type environment. "We're not a bar band, or a rock band either. It's always been really hard for us to find the right environment," Grotz says, adding that they enjoy sporadically performing at Expansion Joint, an underground hole-in-the-wall office space in Manchester that's sometimes used as a music venue a choice spot for its wood floors and 15-foot-high wood ceilings. "The crowd always seems to be more appreciative in environments like that," he says.
The name Tulsa Drone has nothing to do with Oklahoma, or drone music, for that matter. "I'm not that into droning music, although I like ambient stuff," Grotz says. "[The name] has bitten us in the ass, because we get lumped in with all the post-rock bands."
So, just where did it come from?
"It's just a play on words, roughly. My wife, because of the dulcimer, suggested something with dulcet tones Pete came back with Tulsa Drone, which just stuck."