From another realm: Option 22
Based in Princeton, West Virginia, Lori McKinney (vocals, drums, djembe, spoken word), Robert Blankenship (guitar, banjo, shamisen, hand-drums, didgeridoo), Brandon Dunn (bass) and Jordan Furrow (lead guitar, percussion) make up the eclectic Option 22.
Graffiti: What is the background on Option 22, how did the band come together?
Lori: Robert and I came together in 2004; we met at an open mic we were involved with and we have been writing together ever since. We searched for musical collaborators and played with lots of musicians over the years. When Brandon came into the picture in 2011, we knew we’d found someone we really wanted to make music with. A year later, in 2012, Jordan Furrow seems to have fallen from the sky; the timing was absolute perfection. Our long-time band mate Albert had to step aside for family reasons, and I remembered this magical guitar player who had come to the open mic – he had also been very moved by Culturefest and had written a beautiful message to us about it. It only clicked at that moment that it had been the same person. I knew he was the one that would complete the puzzle. When the four of us came together for the first music session, some kind of new magic filled the air, and tons of music poured out of us that night. We refer to that night as “magic pizza night” because we had eaten the most delicious pizza earlier, and it seemed to nourish us with something special.
Brandon: We were all searching for musical sustenance. I personally was searching for an outlet for new age musical styles.
Robert: I was always interested in music, but I wasn’t surrounded by it, so when I found the open mic, it was like, yes, this is what I want. When Lori and I started playing together, something just clicked.
Jordan: It was really exciting to come and be a part of a band that was more developed, more organized than I had experienced before.
Graffiti: What does ‘Option 22’ mean?
Lori: Option 22 is ‘Choose the Music,’ meaning choosing to live your life centered around what you love. As artists, we are not creating music to get rich and famous, we are creating [it] in order to live a life surrounded by music, creativity, and passionate people, and share that with the world. Option 22 is choosing to create the life you want, and choosing the harmony in any situation when possible. Choose the music.
Graffiti: It’s evident in the music and lyrics that Option 22 is, at least in large part, very conscious of the earth, the environment, preservation, even rescue. It would be cool to get an idea of exactly what your lyrics are all about.
Lori: The guys are so beautiful in the way that they express a thousand thoughts in a way that words simply cannot. They have oceans of emotion pouring through them in melody and rhythm, and even if I was speaking in a different language, they would convey universal truths, and joy, and something soul stirring, life affirming.. and booty shaking! A lot of my lyrics are like an inward journey, like I am delivering messages to myself and also to the audience. That’s evident in songs like “What We Came Here For” and “Looking Out the Window.” Those songs assure you that you are not alone, and please don’t give up, because there is light out there, and there are many, many across the planet that are shining it.
“Some Say” allows me to speak things that have been on my mind for quite some time. I am speaking to those with close minds and narrow perspective on religion and society. It calls them out on some folly and asks them to take a closer look and try to imagine a better way we can all live here together.
“She Called Me Home” talks about my journey in coming home to West Virginia. I think a lot of people can relate to feeling like something pulled them back here. And then, we like to just have fun too. “Earth Plane Defector” is just a funky fun dance song, “Hop on, super connector, I’ll be your space cruise director, You’ll be an Earth Plane Defector.” Haha! There’s always undertones, too, of our space flight longings…
Jordan: The music and lyrics express both the dark and the light side of issues at hand, like the music can take a turn, and break, and maybe go into a dark place where you don’t know what is going to happen next… then it builds and builds and finally explodes; that being representative of the way things happen with the Earth, like tension building and finally resolving, as things tend to do with the Earth. Music itself is always cyclical in the building of tension and resolution.
Graffiti: What or who would you guys cite as being influential or inspirational on how the band has been shaped and developed?
Lori: I would cite the process of improvisation as the main shaping force for our music. Being in the flow, and meeting up with others who had that drive, that sense for calling forth the river of sound and being a vessel for it… all the music we have written together has been born that way. And feeding into that river of inspiration is everything we’ve ever heard or seen or experienced.
Brandon: New age and funk are probably my two biggest influential genres, particularly Yanni’s early work from the 80s before he became a new age superstar – it changed my life, man. All of the different world instrument sounds he used, especially synthesizers, and it was very adventurous and thought provoking. I would lay there for hours with my headphones on, being swept away by the sounds and visuals to the point of euphoria. It made me feel exhilarated and hopeful. It was the first music that made me really feel the power of music. Also, Parliament, but I didn’t listen to them until after I had been playing for years.
Robert: I grew up getting to change the records at my parents’ barbecues and pig roasts on our farm. I was the kid behind the turntable playing all kinds of 60s and 70s records. I remember liking Queen, Creedence, Led Zeppelin and Foreigner, but really I liked everything I heard. When I got older, Pink Floyd and Nirvana were my favorites, and I really listened to Stevie Ray Vaughn and how he conveyed so much emotion with his leads. I really wanted to do that.
Jordan: Lately it’s been music festivals, musicians we’ve seen and played with and talked to. When we played with Pigeons Playing Ping Pong at Nelson Ledges, that was great, and now people we surround ourselves with here in the neighborhood and our creative circle.
Graffiti: How has the response to the new CD, “The Change,” been so far?
Lori: It’s been really inspiring. One radio station from California, World One Radio, called and was overflowing with compliments. It was so exciting for us to know that our music has preceded our travel to California. The west is really calling us now…
Graffiti: What have you put into the writing, preparations for release, plans for it’s promotion?
Lori: The majority of the songs on the album were born from our improv sessions. An idea flowed out that we were drawn to, and then we developed the songs from those ideas. A few lyrics would tune in during those sessions that would begin to shape the content, and then I would go back and craft the lyrics like a puzzle. The guys always seem to have the missing lyric when I get stuck, and I love that.
One of the tracks, “No Fences,” was a more collaborative poetic process with Brandon and me. We really shaped those lines, spinning off of each others’ ideas. That was a first for me. One of the songs on the album, the title track in fact, Robert and I have been playing together for a few years now, even before we met Brandon and Jordan. “The Change,” in retrospect, seems a bit prophetic for our lives. We recorded the songs live in our studio theatre, The Room Upstairs. It’s our home stage. Then, Robert mixed and mixed for hundreds of hours, and mastered it right there in our studio. All the rest of us could do was give him moral support during that incredibly tedious time. He also designed the cover, and when it finally came back from print, we were pretty blissful.
All along, we have hoped to tour nationally and internationally – that is our main goal – so we are always looking for ways to promote and share the music.
Graffiti: What is a typical Option 22 live event like for the people watching the show?
Lori: People say it is uplifting for them. We love to soothe souls and also make people close their eyes and feel like they’re just soaring. Also, we love to make people jump up and dance, to fling their arms out and just let go. Lots of people say something about the music just makes them move, and not care about their inhibition. We love that. We also like for the audience to create with us, and when it’s possible, we have paints and canvas for people to create with, hula hoops and such. We love a co-creative experience.
Graffiti: Does Option 22 have a following, a ‘core’ audience?
Lori: People who love festivals tend to be drawn to us. People who have a passion for humanity and the planet, free-thinking creative people, and those who would like to be like that … I think we open that door for some people. I’ve had some listeners say that the music allowed them to express something they had been keeping inside and dying to let out. That’s success to us.
Graffiti: Have you guys started preparing for what comes after “The Change”?
Lori: We hope to travel far and wide, share our music and have lots of human experience, harvest all kinds of energy and bring it back home to our creative community here. Then, repeat the process indefinitely.
Jordan: We are working on “Turnin’ It Up,” our next album, and we’re in the process of writing new material all the time. I’m excited to play Three Days of Light in Black Mountain and get more into the Asheville scene.
Graffiti: For now, what does Option 22 have coming up in terms of live events, shows and festivals?
Lori: We are really gearing up for our festival, the 10th anniversary Culturefest World Music & Arts Festival. It’s the peak of the year for us, and extremely special. Also we’re getting ready to play the first concert in a new theater in our downtown that is getting ready to be restored. That’s all a part of The Princeton Renaissance Project, which we are very involved with. We’re playing The Southland Ballroom in Raleigh, North Carolina this summer too at a showcase that we hope will lead to lots more festivals and traveling. There are a few other nice regional festivals we’re playing in the fall, and we’ll be back at Tamarack soon, too. We love that place.