‘Wake up and shine bright’
Preston Simmons fights for local creatives
Preston Simmons, styled by his muse and business partner, Lisa J
Preston Simmons is a lot of things: a singer, dancer, rapper, and a generally versatile creator. He’s also in a constant state of reflection. The North Tulsa native makes himself vulnerable in a way that is personal yet relatable—a vulnerability that glows through his music and his demeanor. When Simmons speaks, it’s as though he has thought through each word on a constant quest for growth and self-improvement.
Music is an extension of who Simmons is, and he began nurturing his creativity at a young age. “Music was always my getaway,” he said. “I could come home and cut on Outkast and totally escape from what I was dealing with around me. I was always drawn to [music] from very young.”
Simmons got his start dancing and would later begin singing, rapping, and competing in local talent shows. He recalled a time when his favorite music teacher, Mr. Fincher, pulled him aside to encourage him to continue performing. “[He] said, ‘I’ve taught a lot of students. I’ve coached a lot of students. You have something very special. Whatever you do, it has to do with music. You light up when you perform. You’re very quiet and reserved … but when it comes to music, you turn alive. You wake up and shine bright.’ That stuck with me,” Simmons said.
Simmons was 16 when he recorded his first song in the studio. He continued producing music into his 30s, when he was offered a record deal with Sony. The deal afforded Simmons the ability to tour and see the country. “I got to see a lot of the other local scenes. That made me realize how special Tulsa was,” he said. “A lot of major markets have similar sounds but in Tulsa everyone has got their unique style.”
But the deal ended in disappointment. “A record deal is not what you think it is,” Simmons said. “There’ll be a lot of promises made, and some of that can happen to some people, but labels don’t take you serious unless you have a million followers. I [realized I] don’t need them and can do this on my own. Especially with so many talented people around me.”
Simmons went through an emotionally turbulent time after the deal ended. He suffered from debilitating self-doubt and depression. “I slipped into a real dark place after that record deal,” he said. Simmons then took a two-year hiatus from creating music and it wasn’t until his artistic energy was renewed that he began creating again.
Simmons attributes much of this reawakening to his best friend and business partner, Lisa J, whom he calls his muse. He credits her with inspiring him to think beyond music when it comes to his creativity, encouraging him to explore other avenues such as clothing design. “She inspires me so much that if I haven’t seen her in a minute it’s hard for me to work,” Simmons said. “We inspire each other.”
Simmons now serves as Lisa’s brand ambassador for her fashion consulting and design business, Style by Lisa J, and has worked as creative director with Lisa on a number of projects.
For Lisa J, the inspiration is mutual. “Being in a creative space with Prez is like being in a room of flying stardust. It doesn’t matter which particle you catch, it will absolutely ignite into something,” she said. “Catching it is actually what makes our collaboration so powerful. We don’t take any ideas for granted. His passion for the arts exudes and my love for creative expression interlock perfectly.”
Simmons began writing and producing music again this year with Tha Vets, the band he started with four close friends. Simmons’ bandmates include Joseph Bruner (MD/synth bass), Vashon Mays (drums), DJ Gator (DJ/synth/artist) and Jerome Oates (keys). The name of the group speaks to its’ members longevity in the music industry. Simmons estimates that there’s over 100 years of musical experience between them.
While Simmons is the frontman of the group, he often plays a role behind the scenes as creative director when the band backs other local artists such as Steph Simon, Keezy Kuts, and Ayilla. Together the band brings artist’s music to life by taking their beats and reproducing them as live instrumentals. “I try to do my best to reach out to any creatives or any artists I know and get with them [and ask] ‘How can we help? How can we build and make this better?”
While this process requires a lot of hours and hard work, Simmons believes it’s what is necessary to take local artists to the next level. “It’s important to be able to perform your song at a high level, and that’s always something I’ve been doing no matter what,” he said.
High-quality performances are an integral part of Simmons’ vision of moving towards a Tulsa that better supports its creatives. “I know a lot of talented artists around here that are really affecting the city in a positive way—and I know people are making money off them, and [the artists] can’t even survive,” he said.
Simmons is overflowing with ideas to improve the lives of local artists. One of them is more collaboration with local businesses and increased advocacy for the artists themselves. Simmons acknowledged that any positive change is welcome, no matter how incremental. To illustrate this, he points to an all-too-recent time in downtown Tulsa when local venues wouldn’t even allow hip-hop performances on their stages.
“I’m just a voice,” Simmons said. “I fight for the creatives. If you are a creative in Tulsa, what I’m doing is fighting for you—and I’m trying to push it to the limit, and hopefully it kicks down some doors to where I can get in and you can get in and we can all help each other.”
Simmons is currently recording for his latest solo project, Layers, a seven-track EP that tells the story of his personal struggles with mental health, his journey as an artist, and his vision for next generation of creatives in the community. He has plans to release the project in the spring and is in the planning stages of a release show that will be unlike any Tulsa has seen.
“I’m going to perform it and deliver it in a very unique way. Each song is going to be themed out and we are going to present it in a big cinematic way,” Simmons said. In addition to performing his new music live, there will be a fashion show with work from Lisa J and collaboration with local boutique Sobo Co. The event will also include a short film shot by Stressed Denim Film, and live art by Devon Jones a.k.a. Monarch Jones, a prominent local artist from the Black Moon Collective. Jones is expected to create seven paintings inspired by each track of the album.
Tha Vets are taking a short break from performing to work on Simmon’s upcoming project, but fans can expect Simmons’ new single, “Yellow Roses,” to be released in February. In the meantime, local creatives can rest easy knowing that Simmons is fighting on their side.