Spotlight On: Cale Lester
Stillwater, Okla.- Our Oklahoma music scene is full of talented and fantastic artists. Truth be told, we have so many of them that sometimes it can be hard to keep up with. That’s why we here at LittleOkieLand like to help make it easy for you to find information on all of the artists and shows that we can. Our music scene only thrives if people go out and support the musicians, venues, shows and music. Without the support of fans and music lovers, the entire scene would collapse. That’s why you guys, the readers and fans of music, are so important. Without you nothing works, so it’s good to give a shout out of appreciation to the music fans and supporters every now and again. Thank you.
In an attempt to help spread the word for our local troubadours in the scene, this will be the first in a series of features on local talent. It’s a chance to shine a spotlight on an Oklahoma musician, some of them may be well known to you and others you may have never heard of. That’s the point; introducing music fans to the plethora of talent that we have in Oklahoma. LittleOkieLand strives to fully support and help spread the word for the music makers in our scene.
Our first Spotlight shines on Cale Lester of Stillwater. Lester has been making music in some way shape or form for the last decade, picking up a guitar at the age of sixteen and playing his first paid gig at the age of seventeen. He’s no stranger to the Red Dirt scene, you may have heard of his dad, Scott Lester of The Great Divide. Which means he has gotten to see first-hand the life of a traveling musician before deciding to jump into that path himself. Not to mention he had a great guitar teacher.
I sat down to talk to Lester about growing up in the Red Dirt scene, his own music path and what he’s up to now.
“Obviously I grew up around it, but you know it took me until I was really about 16 to realize it how cool it was though,” explained Lester. “I think until that point I was just numb to it really. It was just something that was around. It started when I was so young, I remember I think I was in kindergarten or first grade and my parents sat me and my sister down and they told us that dad was going quit his job at the fire department and play music full time for a living. They told us but we were like whatever, doesn't matter to us. But you know as we got a little older it did matter because he couldn't always be there for birthdays or different holidays and I know that he to this day will still apologize about some of that stuff. But I've talked to my sister about it and neither one of us ever felt like we were shorted or slighted, he was always able to spend ample time with us when he was around. Not just being together but doing things, lots of time in the yard learning how to take a football handoff and different things like that.”
To Lester, The Great Divide was just his dad and his friends who were always around. The band members were like extended family members that he grew up with, so he didn’t always know what a big deal they were to other people.
“Like I said I was just numb to it for the longest time you know, I didn't realize what a special thing it was until about I was 16 I'd say and that's when I started appreciating it. At that point I wanted to learn how to play the guitar after countless offers,” he said. “Slightly before I was 16 I started noticing more, people would just say stuff to me about The Great Divide, and I was like okay whatever, but I remember one time specifically. We were in Walmart I think and some guy walks up and it's just me and dad and my sister walking through Walmart and this guy comes up and stops us and asks for an autograph and I was looking at my dad like, What? This guy?” Lester said with a chuckle. “It was probably the most apparent to me after they split with McClure. I was old enough at that point, by the time they started with Micah to realize there was all this tension between the old Great Divide fans and what the new thing was.”
Lester has many great memories of all the guys from the band.
“The guys were around all the time. We would go out to shoot skeets, we used to hunt with Kelly Green all the time when I was a kid. The first time I shot my first duck Kelly Green was there. We had lots of fishing trips. I remember one time The Great Divide played at the Colorado state fair, trying to remember what age I would've been for that, I was pretty young. But after the gig we were going to go on this little short family vacation to see some different places around Colorado. McClure went with us and we were all in The Great Divide suburban that they rode around with at the time. So it was my family and McClure, and guess who had the bunk with McClure?” Lester said with a laugh. “I did then, and still do now, think the world of Mike. When I was a kid I collected baseball cards and Mike knew and he had a bunch from when he was younger. He gave me a bunch from when he was he was younger and I was like, oh my God this is the coolest thing. I was pretty young I was probably 10 maybe 12. I still have a bunch of them.”
Having grown up in the thick of the Red Dirt scene, Lester got a unique view into that world that many of us didn’t have. However even with that added insight, when asked what he thought Red Dirt music really is, he also has a hard time describing and explaining it.
“I'm not even sure I have a good answer. To me it's almost like a snapshot of that place and time, when all those guys were doing that there,” he said. “I don't know, I feel like the terms not really relevant to what's coming up. I do feel like it gets thrown at things that have nothing to do with it. People would say that about All in Gents and I would be like I don't think it is, not intentionally. I think a lot of it had to do with that community aspect, those guys all hanging out together and writing together. There's just not a lot of that happening anymore. There's people that collaborate and stuff but not it's not to the same degree.”
Speaking of All in Gents, that is the name of Lester’s band. They put out the album The Sauce(D) in 2013 and it is a great collection of songs. At the time co-frontman Tim Cowan and Lester alternated singing the songs on the album and during live shows, both of them writing their own songs, a set up and arrangement very similar to that of The Damn Quails. The album has a definite alternative rock feel to it, strongly reminiscent of some of the great 90’s alternative bands, but also retaining a unique sound all of its own. It has ten songs, all of which offer something interesting and enjoyable including meaningful lyrics, fantastic instrumentals and soulful vocals. It includes vocals by McClure and instrumentals by Jon Knudson, and was recorded, produced and engineered at The Boohatch with Mcclure and mixed and mastered by Joe Hardy. It’s definitely worth checking out and adding to your music collection. At the time the band consisted of Lester and Cowan on guitar and vocals, Steven Reed on bass and Rocky Marble on drums. Since then Cowan and Marble have left the project, and they have added Michael Magnum on drums. They are currently still looking for a lead guitarist.
“We are working on getting all of the band's ducks in a row. We've had so much trouble with finding a solid lead guitar player. I talked to Steven and Michael, our drummer now, and said let's try the 3-piece and see what happens.,” explained Lester. “It's weird to me because it puts me completely out of my comfort zone for sure. Tim was a safety blanket for me because he was extremely talented. I could get away with doing very little because Tim was doing a lot. It's been through so many different drummers I honestly don't even remember everybody that' s played for us now but we just set out and we were a different band name, we wanted to get a really good batch of songs together and go make an album. So finally we just said you know what we’ve got to pull the trigger on this we’ve got to record something. so we went and we recorded that with Mike. We changed the band name right before, we were A Hot Mess but we got a cease and desist order from this pop duo of these two girls in California.”
Even through all the ups and downs and changes that have gone on since the beginning, Lester keeps plugging away at making it work and fine tuning what they have.
“We will eventually have harmonies again. Everybody is getting used to the three piece, it’s just so different. It’s just one more quarter of the space to fill so I've been trying to learn how to play what I was playing, like incorporate Tim's parts too. It is challenging but I appreciate a challenge. I got way too complacent for a long time, I'm kind of embarrassed of that honestly. I didn't even realize I was just entirely too comfortable doing what I was doing let Tim bear the burden,” Lester reflected. “Now I mostly do solo stuff at the moment. We did one gig recently and now are supposed to do another one in June but with the three piece it's a lot harder to pack the same kind of material. It's a lot harder to build a set. You can bang through the songs the same as you can with four people, but it doesn’t do it justice or sound right and I don't think any of us are willing to settle. We can do it but it's just okay. It needs to be good, no one wants to go and bang out a garage band set. I'm not willing to just go and stumble through it. It's frustrating not being able to just go and do it like we want to but I think we'll all be happy that we didn't, and that we put in the time and the effort to making it right first.”
Lester also talked about what it’s like to have a talented and influential dad in the music scene when you are trying to make a name for yourself in that scene as well.
“It doesn't come up as much now but when I first started playing out I would get introduced as Scott Lester’s son a lot, just in meeting people or even on stage at a show and I didn't care for that because I didn't want anybody ever to think that I was only getting to play the show or my music because of that,” explained Lester. “I just didn't want anybody to think that I was trying to get shows based on that. I think that was most important to me; I didn't want people to say or to think that oh I can go do this just because of who my dad is. I want to forge my own way but I'll turn around and play a Great Divide song but not because of that, but because it's a great song. It's not as big of a deal as it used to be.”
Lester also talked about some of his musical influences, both growing up and now.
“Definitely The Great Divide because it was almost always constantly in the back of my mind. I've heard it so much. Right about the time I turned 16 I got really into Pearl Jam so that played a big part into my musical influences,” he said. “There's a lot of different people. I've since adopted Kings of Leon as my favorite band and I know I'm jumping on that bandwagon but I really like it. There's a lot of space in the sound. I got to be a part in their video, Rick (Owens) and I were extras in The Beautiful War video and I got to meet Caleb (Followill). I just happened to meet him standing at the right place at the right time. Chad (Sullins) happened to be just getting back from a tour and he asked Caleb if he could take a picture of us because I was too scared to. I've never nerded out so hard in all my life and Chad asked them and he took a picture with me and I was freaking out. Afterwards after he went away I was like Chad thank you so much. He was like no big deal, but the deal is if we ever meet Willie Nelson you got to do the same thing for me,” Lester said with a laugh. “That was definitely the worst it's ever been for me and like a lot of the other people that I respect as musicians I've known since I was younger and just they talk to me like they’ve known me forever.”
Lester has also gotten to meet many musicians opening shows for them.
“We've gotten to open for a lot of people that I respect. We got to open for The Damn Quails, we got to open for Uncle Lucius a couple times. They’re a big favorite of mine,” said Lester. “We went and opened for The Great Divide in Nebraska one time and that was a really great show. The crowd was great, probably the most people we’ve ever played in front of. We also opened for them here one time too, that was a really good crowd. And that was a lot of people that I knew and everybody was very receptive, that was cool except for Kelly always wants to wrestle after the show. He did take me off of a road case one time one night. I was hanging upside down and not know what was happening.”
Lester has been making his way through the music scene these days as a solo acoustic musician and has been doing really well for himself in that regards. He’s gotten to be a part of some bigger things like Gypsy Café, playing on stage with Travis Linville and Brad Piccolo. But he still has plans of getting the full band figured out and fine tuned as well.
“I'd like to get into the more venue type places in Tulsa instead of just doing all the bars. Really we just want to get out of Oklahoma too,” he said. “I love Oklahoma but there's just not a huge scene for our style of music. We knew that when we got into it but we’re all of the mindset that if you're not happy with what you're playing then why are you playing it? That's what we all started for anyway was because we liked it, not because we thought we were going to make a million dollars. We knew better than that, we've seen the scene firsthand and been around long enough.”
You can catch one of Lester’s upcoming acoustic shows pretty much all around Oklahoma though:
5/29 The Barn in Enid
6/3 The Hideaway in Tonkawa
6/9 Woody’s in Tulsa
6/10 Max’s Garage in Muskogee
6/16 Elwood’s in Tulsa
6/17 Max’s Garage in Muskogee for the Songwriter’s Showcase during G Fest
6/25 Willie’s in Stillwater.
You can also look him up on Facebook and Twitter for more information and updates. Stay tuned next month for our next Spotlight artist.