Part 1: The Tipping Point
“No one in the U.S. or Oklahoma has a program like ACM@UCO – they all have bits and pieces of it within their schools. ACM@UCO combines teaching music skill, production and music business. This is important for Oklahoma because the Oklahoma Department of Commerce has identified the music industry as one of the areas it wants to focus on for development. ACM@UCO will be at the forefront of this development.”
-Scott Booker, ACM@UCO C.E.O., http://acm.uco.edu/sbooker-bio.aspx
The above commercial – soundtracked by Colourmusic‘s “Put in a Little Gas” and aired on MTV and Adult Swim as well as during episodes of American Idol and Glee – showcases the University of Central Oklahoma’s Academy of Contemporary Music at the end of its first academic year… and it (the school) is a hit. Enrollment increased over the school year and is unexpectantly high for next year, Oklahoma City’s surrounding businesses in Bricktown appreciate the boost the school brings them and students have a unique undergraduate music education unlike any other in the country:
Steve Kreidler, executive vice president at UCO: “We started off expecting 100 and ended up with 200. Based on applications and the quality of applicants, we could have as many as 400 in August. We anticipated growing this large over time — we have a long range plan — but this is accelerating way past our best hopes and dreams.”
Justin Thomas, owner of the Bricktown Candy Co.: “They kept us busy during the slow season. Bricktown has its good times and slow times. But the pain wasn’t there because of the students — they took it away.”
Scott Booker, ACM@UCO CEO: “The idea here is not that we’re just a school of rock. The idea behind this program is really as much about business and learning how the industry works while you’re learning to play better. Not only are you taking general ed, but you’re also taking aural skills and music theory and those things that anyone who’s getting a music degree has to take.”
The Academy – a 12,000 square-foot facility on Flaming Lips Alley in Oklahoma City’s historic Bricktown district, including a recording studio, a computer lab and classrooms set-up for drum, bass, guitar and vocal classes – opened session on August 17, 2009 with 161 students… and recently finished with its students (now 200) performing a special local event, “ACM@UCO Rocks Bricktown.” Currently the school – run by (Flaming Lips’ manager) Scott Booker – offers a two-year associates degrees in performance and music production through the University of Central Oklahoma (U.C.O., the state’s oldest university; main campus in Edmond, OK). The Flaming Lips are connected to the school in several ways, most significantly through Booker and Derek Brown, the manager of the Business Development Center and a member of The Flaming Lips in concert (since their headlining slot at the Pitchfork Festival last July… he’s also a veteran sideman of touring with several prominent musicians; is now set to finish his début album with his own band Crocodile and is the owner of concert promoter company Jupiter Crash Productions; and was formerly the head of label management, retail marketing and the street team for Booker’s past music marketing and management company, Hellfire Enterprises Ltd, founded around Scott’s success managing The Flaming Lips).
Derek Brown: “Oklahoma is home to me and I consider myself lucky to be able to work on a project like this and still live here. I want to see the music industry expand and exceed for this state and this is part of those efforts!”
Derek (pictured above with Crocodile): “The first song I ever wrote was called “Little Green Men” and I wrote it when I was 11. It was about aliens abducting me from my bedroom and stealing my brain.”
Scott to Spinner before classes started: “One of elements of the school that I find particular fun and exciting is the live performance workshop. Each year the students are put together in bands and required to perform a song each week. Some examples of the songs they’ll be working on in year one are ‘Do You Realize’ by the Flaming Lips, ‘I Feel It All’ by Feist and ‘I Can’t Explain’ by the Who.”
Scott after classes started: “At the school, there’s a Performance and a Production path, and eventually there’ll be a Music Business path. But in the Performance path, what we do at the beginning of the semester – we put ’em all in bands. And we decide what bands they’re in. And then at the beginning of the week, they’re given a song that they have to learn. And at the end of the week, their band performs it. So, for instance, last week was Feist, “I Feel it All.” The week before was “Heroes” by David Bowie. The week before that was “Someday” by The Strokes. This week, because we didn’t have classes on Monday, which is the day that we tell ’em what the song is going to be and show they how to play it, we just were like, “You guys can pick whatever song you want to play on Friday.” So, I’m curious to see what they do.”
Steven Drozd to NPR: “I wish this would have been around when I was a 17- or 18-year-old kid. I’d been playing in bands for a long time already, and I thought about going to school, because I got a couple of scholarships, but then the idea of just straight college didn’t appeal to me.”
Scott to NPR: “I’ve had several kids get their GED so they could quit high school early and come here, and their parents came to me and were like, ‘I was afraid that maybe he would have just dropped out of school.'”
Scott: “It really is about a pragmatic kind of view of, let’s figure out a way for these kids to make a living doing this for the rest of their life. And, yeah, they might not become Britney Spears and make billions of dollars. But, you know what? If they went and got a job at Best Buy, they’d be making 30 grand a year. We can probably beat that, and let ’em do something that they love doing. And that to me is really the driving point in my head behind this. It’s creating a situation where these kids have a better chance than most of making a living doing this. And if that’s all I can accomplish, is the majority of my students coming out of here and falling into a job – be it being in a band, or being a producer, or working at an advertising agency or whatever, have some kind of job that they love, then we’re the biggest success ever.”
Scott: “I started working in record stores when I was 15 – I’m 44 now. So I’m quickly reaching that 30 years of working in the music industry, because I count working at the record store as working in the music industry. And, you know, that’s where I met The Flaming Lips. And saw the work ethic of bands like them, and the Sonic Youths of the world, who, even though the world wasn’t embracing them yet, they didn’t care. And they make the effort, and made the art, regardless. And then the world slowly accepted them – either by becoming stranger as a whole, or maybe they just became more familiar with this kind of art. That’s kind of how the school came about, in a way, was this same kind of thing. I mean, the idea of rock n’ roll, and music like the being accepted by the masses as a whole – and the people that could make a decision about whether a university should offer these kind of courses. Well, we’ve reached this kind of tipping point, where the people who make those decisions actually grew up with rock n’ roll. Whereas, even as little as ten years ago, there were guys who grew up with jazz and Big Band, and so the idea of doing something on an academic, collegiate, university level with something like this was pretty much impossible. But we’ve reached this point in time, where the idea of someone teaching it, at a university level – but also the idea that these students can make a living doing it, has come to fruition – to the point where it allowed a school like this to happen. I mean, even for the President of the university to trust me, the guy who manages The Flaming Lips, to do this, speaks a great deal to just the change in how people are willing to be open-minded when it comes to music and ideas and stuff.”
Part 2: ACM@UCO Rocks Bricktown
“It’s great being in Bricktown because there’s so many venues. We’re going to be performing at eight different venues down here ranging from Toby Keith’s to Nonna’s to Roosters and Bricktown has totally embraced us.”
–Scott Booker to Oklahoma City’s News 9
On May 6, from 7 p.m. to midnight The Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma celebrated the end of its first year with “ACM@UCO Rocks Bricktown.” Almost 40 groups played in several Bricktown venues (such as Bricktown Live, Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill, Red Dirt Emporium patio, the Bricktown Brewery, Tapwerks , Maker’s Straight-up Lounge, The Purple Bar at Nonna’s and Rooster’s; see pictures from the event here).
Scott Booker via the Edmond Sun: “This event helps us showcase both the great progress our students have made at the ACM@UCO during our first year and the invaluable support we’ve enjoyed from our Bricktown neighbors. We’re also excited to share with the community the tremendous talent we’ve got at Oklahoma’s ‘School of Rock’.”
For more on ACM@UCO visit
- http://www.acm-uco.com, http://www.myspace.com/acm_uco and http://www.facebook.com/ACM.UCO;
- address: Flaming Lips Alley Oklahoma City, OK;
- phone: 405-974-4700
The school posted this message yesterday on http://www.facebook.com/ACM.UCO: “Counting down the last few weeks to apply for the Fall 2010 semester! June 1, 2010 is the application deadline for all programs! If you want to come to ACM@UCO next year, don’t wait!”
Part 3: Professor Drozd?
“I’m very impressed with your college — it’s fabulous. And well done to the Lips!”
–Roger Daltrey at his ACM@UCO masterclass, October 21, 2009
“I attempted to give guitar lessons in the summer of 1988 but it didn’t work out because the two students I had just wanted to learn metal riffs and I couldn’t deal with that. I have, though, been teaching Wayne Coyne music theory for 18 years now!”
-Steven Drozd to Spinner
Photos by ADAM WISNESKI/Tulsa World: “Michelle Martin-Coyne, Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne and drummer Kliph Scurlock sit in the audience as Flaming Lips multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd speaks to ACM@UCO students during his master class presentation in downtown Oklahoma City on Wednesday.”
The Academy hosted two major masterclasses in its first academic year: The Who’s Roger Daltrey presented to the students last October and The Flaming Lips’ musical mastermind Steven Drozd was a guest lecturer on Wednesday, February 10, 2010 in the Tolbert Theater at Stage Center. According to newsok.com, Drozd’s class began with him discussing his father (saxophonist Vernon Drozd, his first musical influence… and first band leader) and playing along on the drum kit to his Vernon’s 1969 recording of “Juarez, Mexico” on his iPod.
Drozd at the masterclass: “I remember my dad bought me a little toy drum set when I was about 5, and I tore it up in just a couple of days. But I loved it, and I think my dad saw that and thought, ‘Maybe there’s something here.’”
Within two years Steven had real drums and a promise from his dad: Steven, “He said, ‘If you practice and get better at this and you stick with it, I’ll get you a drum every couple of months, and you can just keep adding to your drum kit. So a couple of years later, I had a full drum set.”
Then when Steven was 11, the drummer in Vernon’s band (Soft Touche) quit and Steven got called to fill the slot at the last minute: “My dad called from the VFW hall or wherever they were playing that night in a panic. He told my stepmother to tell me to pack up my drums and get my butt down there. And that was it — I played with the band that night.”
Steven spoke at length about his professional experiences, from his years in his father’s bands to antidotes on playing in The Flaming Lips for almost twenty years (“boombox experiments” included). Tulsa World reported numerous tidbits from Steven’s presentation, among them:
- his favorite instrument: his 1967 Fender Jazzmaster (pictured above)
- if he had to choose just one kind of instrument to play for now on: piano
- the instrument he wishes he could play: trumpet
- he’s a self-taught musician without one proper lesson
- his unfulfilled music goal: write for and record with a full orchestra
- his dream band is most of Led Zeppelin with a bit of Yes and Pink Floyd: John Bonham, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Jon Anderson and Rick Wright
- his first album was “probably the first Kiss album,” which he stole from his brother, and the first album he bought was Kiss’ “Dressed to Kill”
- on playing Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”: “The silence is as difficult as the playing. … Be ready to count and keep your cool.”
- on “Convinced of the Hex”, one of his favorite Lips’ songs to play: “It’s more about power than precision.”
According to oklahomarock.com, Steven also spoke about moving to Norman with his pre-Lips band, Janis 18, and trying out for the Flaming Lips… at which point Booker interjected the first time he saw Steven play he feared for his life a drumstick would fling at him without notice. Steven touched on local gigs with Syringe and Glue, and larger shows with Lush, Throwing Muses, Stone Temple Pilots, Butthole Surfers, Candlebox (which he said provoked him to question whether he really wanted to be a professional musician) and Tool, as well as noting he was delighted when alt-rock burned out in the ’90s.
oklahomarock.com: “He described feeling a “visceral hate” from fans as they opened for Tool in 1994. Booker said it probably didn’t help that they opened shows with a cover of A Flock of Seagulls’ “Space Age Love Song”.
More tidbits, from oklahomarock.com:
- hearing Aphex Twin for the first time blew Steven’s mind
- he misses playing drums
- Jerry Goldsmith (Twilight Zone, Planet of the Apes) influenced his score for Christmas on Mars
- work with Steve Burns are his best experiences collaborating: Burns is ”really curious with a wicked sense of humor”
- …so is his work with Elliott Smith: “complete sweetheart”
- his involvement with the notorious Breeders 1996 sessions is his worst experience collaborating
- towards the end of the class he revealed how he gets ready for shows: 15 minutes of yoga, a shot of bourbon and a cigarette
Part 4: Professor Coyne??
“Most of his art he’s given away, actually. I don’t know who has most of it. I’ve got the cover – the front and back cover — to the Yoshimi album. I know Steven has the Mystics record. But some of the EPs and things like that he’s given to people at Warner Brothers or just friends or road crew. You know, he’ll just give it away.”
-Scott Booker to furious.com
According to a press release from the beginning of the school year (via http://www.livedaily.com/news/19899.html) Wayne Coyne was also scheduled to give a masterclass – but that will apparently have to wait for next year…
Scott Booker has talked about his ideas for Wayne’s masterclass however: “What I was thinking of with Wayne might be very interesting, is how something that artists, you know, young bands or whatever, don’t think about is how much the visual aspect of the band is key to the success of it. And, one of the great things about Wayne that people know in the back of their heads, but they don’t really think about too much, is how Wayne has visually guided this band from moment one. And, I think that would be a great thing to talk to him about in front of the students, instead of “How do you feel singing in front of 50,000 people?” Or, “How did you write that song?” I mean, you can hear those stories over and over. But I guarantee you, no one’s ever sat down with Wayne and said, “Let’s talk about the art you’ve done.” And why you’ve made specific album covers and designed videos or whatever for songs, and what process goes through your mind doing that? I think that’d be a great thing for the kids to do.”
Psych Explorations of the Future Heart is a forthcoming publication expressing enthusiasm for life, rock n’ roll and The Flaming Lips. Follow at http://twitter.com/FutureHeartDay and http://www.myspace.com/psychexfutureheart.