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The universal family

Strumming to the rhythm of everyday life with Dane Arnold & The Soup

Dane Arnold & The Soup played TTV’s courtyard on May 15

Greg Bollinger

Dane Arnold & The Soup recently graced our courtyard with their brand of R&B and funk-tinged Southern soul. Behind Arnold’s guitar and vocals, guitarist Johnny Mullenax, bassist Jordan Hehl, drummer Matt Teegarden, trombonist Dominick Stephens, and trumpeter Austin Stunkard played grooves that met the rising heat with much the same intoxicating effect as a cool midsummer whiskey sour.    

Just before their set, I spoke with Arnold and Mullenax over sips of Tullamore D.E.W. and Mullenax’s wistful mandolin strums. If my transcribing abilities extended to writing sheet music, I’d have included the score. In my memory of the evening, the music is inextricable from the conversation.

Born in Baton Rouge and raised in Austin, Arnold mixes southern and folk styles to write soulful songs that make a person move, sway, and—likely—eventually jump up in exuberant booty-shaking delight.

Mullenax comes from a large family of musicians who revere the sacred tradition of the family jam. Those jams inspired him from an early age and shaped the musician he would become. Fittingly, once the cameras and voice recorders were packed away and another Courtyard Concert was in the books, Dane & The Soup and whoever was still around relocated to Mullenax’s uncle Eric Robb’s house to pass around bluegrass and western swing tunes. The family jam continues.

John Langdon: Johnny, what’s the first song you learned to play?

Johnny Mullenax: Dude, it was “Horse with No Name” [by America]. It’s real easy to play on guitar and an easy one to teach, and I’m pretty sure I was a shithead kid, so they were like, “Throw him something to do.”

Langdon: What about you Dane?

Dane Arnold: I would say probably “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton. I just went and learned that whole Unplugged album.

Langdon: You’re on a desert island, you have three albums for the rest of your life, what are they?

Arnold: D’Angelo – Voodoo, Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life, and probably Astral Weeks [by Van Morrison] to get me through the mornings.

Mullenax: Definitely any of the D’Angelo albums, Isaiah Sharkey—D’Angelo’s guitar player—just came out with a new album, LOVE.LIFE.LIVE. It’s the shit. And I don’t know, man, maybe that Grateful Dead album American Beauty. It’s a good listen from top to bottom.

Langdon: What’s the best show you’ve ever seen in Tulsa?

Arnold: Consistently, the best weekly residency that goes on is Tovar’s Honky Tonk Happy Hour at Colony. Then the best show that I’ve seen period here in Tulsa? I’m going to have to think about it for a second.

Mullenax: I like The Dull Drums, man. Those harmonies, and the changes, man? Fucking pristine. Every single time it’s like, “Woah! What?”

Arnold: Yeah, if you’d asked me what my favorite band in Tulsa is, it’s The Dull Drums.

Langdon: I know what you mean, I’ve played in that band for less than a year, so before that it was years of going to their shows and being like, “What the fuck is going on with this band? It’s crazy.” [Full disclosure: I play keys and guitar in The Dull Drums. They were blowing minds for more than a decade before I joined and I take no credit for all the ass that band kicks.]

Arnold: I’d say the best show I’ve seen though was when I saw Gogo Plumbay at Colony one time when I first got to Tulsa. It was crazy. Just mind blowing. I was like, “This is what the Tulsa music scene is all about?” It was swampy and it was underground and it was low-key. Great introduction for sure.

Langdon: Tell me about a memorable show with Dane & The Soup.

Mullenax: A couple months ago we were playing out at Margaritaville, and this lady comes up, and she’s like, “So and so just got married, could you guys sing them a song or whatever?,” and we’re like “Alright here’s for the married couple, will you please stand up?,” and this couple stands up, and they’re dancing and everyone’s like “Yay, congrats!,” and it was not the couple that just got married. It was just some other couple. Then these nicely dressed people come down and we said, “Oh, that’s them.”

Langdon: But some people just stole the spotlight?

Arnold: And they were cracking up about it too, they just sat down looking smug. It was hilarious.

Langdon: Do you have a dream venue?

Mullenax: I can’t think of a specific venue, but anybody that’s a musician has that vision of a big-ass stage with tons and tons of people, arena-style. That’s a dream right there. Jesus.

Arnold: Some sort of international stage, I guess. A way to be heard by as many people as possible. For a specific venue that I think is cool: NPR’s office [the setting of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts]. It’s intimate. I love the aesthetic of that place.

Langdon: Outside of other music, what influences the way you write and play?

Mullenax: People live their everyday lives in patterns and rhythms and they want to hear those patterns reflected in music.

Arnold: Film really helps me put together ideas. Videos and visual arts in general can capture a lot of the same emotions as music.

Langdon: When you write a song do you find yourself visualizing its setting? Does that cinematic influence work both ways?

Arnold: Yeah, songs take form in imagination. There are songs I’ve written about love stories I’ve never experienced. It’s all some sort of dream or some sort of lie. And there are real experiences behind it, but you start there and build on it.

Langdon: Was there a moment when you were younger, whether it was at a concert or otherwise, that made you think, “I want to play music forever”?

Mullenax: I remember it like it was yesterday. I was at a family reunion. Conor [Robb, singer/guitarist for The Dull Drums and Johnny’s cousin] was there I’m sure and the whole family would plug in amplifiers and my uncle had a drum set, and we’d jam for hours. I had my mom’s Gibson Marauder—I must have been six years old and that guitar weighs 14 lbs.—and I was pissed off and went up and said, “I want to jam. It’s my turn to play a song.” My mom and uncle said, “No, you can’t play with us. Get outta here.” I went a laid on the couch and cried my fucking eyes out, man, and I was like, “I’m going to do this and I’m gonna be better than those motherfuckers.” And ever since then I’ve been completely obsessed. Now it’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

Langdon: You showed them.

Arnold: Yeah, this is one of the best musicians I’ve ever met right here. For me it was when I was seven or eight, and my mom sang a solo in the church choir. She was uncertain about it, but for me it was awe-inspiring. I couldn’t believe that my mom was up there singing in front of all these people and everybody loved it. She killed it. Whatever it was she was evoking, I wanted to be a part of it.

Langdon: Finish this sentence: “Music is ______.”

Arnold: Music is universal.

Upcoming Soup servings:

  • Mercury Lounge opening for The Greyhounds on 6/8
  • The Colony on 6/14
  • Yeti on 6/15
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