Not everyone’s comfortable sending out a photo of themselves in a Donald Duck onesie or that Halloween Catwoman costume as a 8-year-old. But this is the situation The Samurai Conquistadors found themselves when they returned from a yearlong hiatus.
The jazzy, atmospheric rock quintet from Norman formed nearly four years ago when most of its members were finishing up high school at Norman North. It began as a project between bassist Kevin Fries and guitarist Dane Heins. Zach Nedbalek, who’d played guitar in another band with the two, offered to play drums. Planning to recruit some other players to fill out the sound, they just decided to go with it.
“We realized, ‘If we’re going to be doing this together, we might as well start writing our own music and make it a team effort.’ That’s when we really started working on stuff,” said Nedbalek, who is studying music production along with guitarist Josh Praizner, at the Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Thus, The Samurai Conquistadors were born; a debut album and several gigs followed quickly. As things continued to progress, the crowds grew larger throughout 2007 and 2008.
But things came to a screeching halt when Praizner moved to Hawaii “for a year just to do it,” he said. During the break, the members went their separate ways. Nobody touched the Conquistadors’ stuff until Praizner got back.
When he returned, they were faced with a dilemma, in the form of a half-finished record whose material was a couple years old. They’d gotten a lot better and smarter in that time. The question was, try to rework the material or play it as is, trying to retain the spirit of the time when it was written? The result can be found in “Taosyneche,” which they released last August.
“We pretty much consciously didn’t write any new stuff, because we wanted to save that for what we’re doing now,” Nedbalek said. “Where we are now is so radically different. We want it to be a big step forward from our first album to our second. It wouldn’t sound like that if we’d redone it all and reworked it.”
Unfortunately, “Taosyneche” is something of a stillbirth. They play very little from it live, and are more excited to play the new music. That’s the problem with old snapshots: the tendency to stick you in a look you’ve already outgrown. Any disappointment is easily leavened by the enthusiasm they have for the new material, which audiences can experience Friday at Opolis in Norman.
“A lot of people would call it jazzier or lounge-ier. It’s not really easy listening; it’s kind of demanding music, I think, if still in that vein,” Nedbalek said. “There are a lot more straightforward songs that, by normal standards, probably aren’t that straightforward, but are for us. We’ve got a much greater idea of what we want to accomplish now, instead of just being out there doing it.”