Tulsa, Oklahoma is in the early stages of a music and arts renaissance. Fueled by an influx of new talent, various funding pipelines, and, especially, a DIY spirit that supports local weirdos while still trying to find a place in the larger art world, it’s the most exciting period I’ve seen in the 42 years I’ve lived here. Looking behind the scenes of so much of what’s good and exciting, there’s a small group of artists driving a lot of it forward.
Cult Love Sound has been around for seven years, and yet this three-person collective’s creative energy and general enthusiasm are timeless. Their skillsets and excitement complement each other and Cult Love couldn’t exist in any other form. I met George Christ, Lodrum, and Natty Gray at the Cult House in the Swan Lake neighborhood of Tulsa. The trio, along with various friends and other Tulsa artists, has turned the two-story house that was owned by Gray’s grandmother before she passed, into an art installation. Each room is covered in murals and graffiti and the entire vibe reminds me of old punk houses I hung out at in my youth, but far more elevated and interesting. It’s a microcosm of the scope and grand vision behind Cult Love’s vast array of creative pursuits and a showcase of the kinds of innovative, inspiring ideas they’re capable of growing.
All three met at Booker T. Washington High School, where they graduated in 2013. “We’re just some Tulsa kids and we all had creative interests that kind of intersected,” explains Gray, who does a lot of the footwork for Cult Love and describes himself as “kind of the middle man for everything.” Before forming Cult Love, the trio spent a lot of time going to shows, volunteering for events, and finding ways to be involved with the local arts scene, but once they got a little older they realized it was time to do something more.
“We wanted to contribute. We didn’t just want to start a band, but wanted to create something that could operate as a flagship for Tulsa creatively,” says Gray. Christ, who handles a lot of the design work among many other duties, explains that they started out by putting on shows and releasing tapes for the underground DIY scene in town and were able to form strong relationships with different bands and artists that way. “Then from there,” he goes on, “we diversified and branched out.” They have released countless cassettes by the likes of Pisha, Scatter Girls, Kalup Linzy, Bonemagic, The Lukewarm, including two compilations featuring only Oklahoma artists, and so many more.
One consistent way they have spread the word and made people aware of Cult Love is through an ongoing, extensive stickering campaign. They put stickers with the Cult Love logo everywhere and hand them out to anyone and everyone at events they’re part of and attend. Gray estimates they’ve gone through 15,000 stickers, not including the 2,000 they put on a car as part of the God’s Plan #1,947 secret public art installation. Walk around Tulsa and Cult Love stickers can be found everywhere.
While they continue releasing a diverse slate of cassettes, they’ve also expanded into fashion, merch, art and sound installations, and more. They’ve even collaborated with a local kombucha maker they share a name with and a Tulsa food truck for their signature wood-fired pizza (marinated eggplant, basil, spinach, feta, mozzarella, and garlic oil FYI). Their short runs of sweatshirts, Soffe shorts, and other clothing usually sell out within days of being announced. Lodrum, the legal team, accounting team, marketing manager, and head of generally-keeping-shit-on-track, explains, “No represses! No represses. If something’s going to be re-released, it’s going to be different. Everything Cult Love does is once in a lifetime.”
If someone does miss out, though, they’re always happy to screen print their logo on anything if you stop by. “Yeah, you can’t get that Cult Love hoodie cuz it’s been sold out for years, but if you’ve got a hoodie and come by, we’ll screen print the logo on it for you,” Gray insists. I still need to stop by with something to get tagged.
Collaboration is a common theme with everything Cult Love does. All of their music releases are done in different styles with a custom approach based on conversations with the artists. A recent release by Tulsa’s djnoname, Water is Wet, came out as a “VHS Capsule” that included a gold cassette, stickers, buttons, patches, and rolling papers. “Each capsule has two cassette spaces in it, so the idea is that you buy this and get the first tape, and everything else, and then down the line, you get the second tape to finish the capsule,” Christ explains.
This anything-goes approach leads to unique projects like Water is Wet that reflect their innovative take on DIY. “It’s more fun to approach everything as an actual piece of artwork, rather than just like, ‘We’re a label, here’s a release’ type thing,” Gray adds. Lodrum dubs these releases shelf-worthy and says, “You’re not going to just put that in a stack. It’s more of a collectible.”
Currently, they are doing a series of clothing collaborations – one-off items with Tulsa-based artists and designers. Not only do these projects expand awareness of Cult Love and everything they’re doing, but it also helps spread the word about other local heads in a symbiotic way. “It’s kind of a community involvement style project,” Christ explains, “where we do something to an article of clothing and give it to them, and they remix it. So you’ve got people cutting up garments and doing things like sewing together two different color hoodies or doing embroidery on the pieces. They’re just really cool collaborative efforts.”
So much of the Cult Love approach revolves around promoting and supporting the community. Their compilations and tape releases generally are all over the map genre-wise, but that’s by design. “That just comes back to the community aspect of it where it’s about promoting the community as a whole rather than just one type of music,” Gray says when talking about their release strategies. “There are some people we’ve worked with where we didn’t know them or their music really well, but they were good people and involved in this community and we want to support that.”
In a city where limited opportunities have spurred a competitive undercurrent to so much of the local music scene, it’s refreshing to hear these three thrive while going in the opposite direction. Cooperation often breeds far more interesting music and art in these instances and Cult Love continues to prove that. Their purposeful building up of those in the trenches, putting on tiny shows, and inviting anyone who’s interested in creating a racket to take part, has broadened the scope of the type and quality of music happening across Tulsa. “I think it’s important if you have a platform in the community, you have to pay attention to what’s going on within the community,” Gray says, “If someone’s doing things they shouldn’t be doing, doing things that I think, across the board, would be deemed as toxic, you’ve got to be aware of that.” They bring that purposeful approach to all the things they do.
They’ve talked about moving elsewhere at some point to find more opportunities, but Christ puts it succinctly when he says, “I have to say, there’s something rad about making it in your city, and not having to move somewhere else to be able to do it.” It’s a belief and motivation that’s driven me for decades and Cult Love’s embrace of the idea and the way they are pushing as hard as they can to achieve it is inspiring. Their energy is infectious.
Nothing is guaranteed, though, and the three of them know that. Gray explains that push-pull dichotomy well. “Seven years is a long time, and every year that goes by, we get more passionate about this.” He paused. “But at the same time, it simultaneously becomes harder to justify the amount of time and effort and energy and emotions we’re putting into it. So if those opportunities to grow and whatever aren’t here, you’re kind of forced to move. We’ll see.”
In the meantime, the projects and ideas continue to flow. They’re finishing work on the Cult Love house documentary and hope to show it at film festivals next year. Natty’s been doing several solo shows recently and is releasing a recording he made recently by micing up a highway overpass in Greenwood as a split with Mina Kim on Unheard Records . Lodrum and George Christ continue cranking out ideas and designs as the fashion side of things grows and they expand the breadth of the Cult Love imprint. Forever and onward, the grind continues.
Cult Love House 2.0
All photos by Brad Rose
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