Odawas has been like a good Scotch for me. The longer it sits, the better it gets. I remember hearing their first album about three or so years ago and I liked it, but didn't listen to it obsessively. The next one, "Raven & the White Night," pushed that further. And then came their latest effort, "The Blue Depths," and that was it. Talk about a band just taking a huge, unexpected leap into another realm entirely. It's a stunning album of synthesizer excess and hypnosis galore. By the time 2009 comes to a close, it will no doubt be a contender for best of the year. One half of the duo chatted it up about Odawas, Luc Besson, the West Coast, and more.
Well, Isaac and I go back a few years now. We met each other at Indiana University where we both wrote for the student newspaper, I was his editor and he the star writer, and our relationship has been essentially the same since, though the roles flip-flop from time to time. The first night we hung out socially, I played him some recordings and we ended up getting smashed and throwing up together. He asked me to make some songs for a movie he was making. He was a film major at the time. I did and those songs eventually became Vitamin City, our self-released first album from 2004. I remember the songs were vaguely connected to this film idea, but I can’t really recollect what the movie was about – oh yeah, cause that film never got made.
Isaac’s father is a Nazarene minister from rural Indiana, so his beginnings are classical and secular. So hearing this new music is a constant awakening for him – though he is becoming ever so slightly more cynical as we go. I come from a middle-class suburban Chicago home. My favorite music was musicals as a kid, so it is no wonder my influences are movie music and Scott Walker. I tried out for the choir in the 4th grade and got cut for singing in the same falsetto I am still singing with today – take that Mrs. Kirby!
Well, by nature of being in Bloomington, Indiana for school and being in a band, we got to know the Jagjaguwar/Secretly Canadian crew. It was all a pure stroke of luck, we are the only local band Jagjaguwar ever signed and we had only played like 3 or 4 shows when we signed our first record contract with them. They signed us after our first record “The Aether Eater” was completed. This is a stoner’s mess of a record, and I don’t really know what they saw in it, but they wanted to put it out. I can only imagine they only saw potential, but I am very grateful for the whole thing.
Well, it means a lot that you like the record so much. Thanks so much for the kind words. I mean, I’m a pretty big North Sea fan, but enough of the circle jerk fest…
The title and sound come as a nod to Luc Besson’s “The Big Blue” and especially Eric Serra’s soundtrack. A friend named Justin Vollmar, the great singer-songwriter from Bloomington, wrote me one of his mysterious emails and said our last album reminded him of this movie. I’d never heard of it before, so I checked it out and was just blown away by the sound of this movie. The story is kind of epically cheesy, which is great in its own way, but the music really takes it over the top. "The Blue Depths" is really our desire to make a record that sounds like this, listless and endless, magical and muffled at the same time.
I think the other inspiration was just a wanting to cut the bullshit and not try to turn studio tricks and found sound into a song, but write a great song and let the studio enhance it. It seems logical but it wasn’t to us before. This is what we needed to do then, now all we want to do is make instrumental records!
Ah yes, the photos are unbelievable. Helen Maurene Cooper (hmcooper.com) did these photos. They are part of a larger body of work she did. I first saw the album’s back cover in an edition of the Chicago Reader online. I was completely captivated by this image and had to have it as the artwork for this album. I contacted her and invited her out to a show, which she thankfully liked and she agreed to let us use the artwork. I really can’t speak for her about what these photos mean, but to me I see a blending of surreal synthetics and hyper-actual nature in them, which is also the way I see the music – how is that?!!!
Ok, so this is where maybe we get embarrassed, or maybe this is cool points these days. 90% of the synths used on this record come from a Radio Shack MD-1121 keyboard I stole/inherited from my brother-in-law. Matt Christensen, from Zelienople who played with us for a bit in Chicago, assures me that the tone bank is kind of a classic Casio sound bank, with the atmosphere, warm pad, soundtrack and goblin settings all being favorites. I don’t know a whole lot about this stuff. Isaac now also augments that keyboard with a Korg MS2000 for live shows. But I’ve got to say, this Radio Shack keyboard seems to have a whole lot more movement and soul in it than that Korg or the Mini-Moog I briefly had, both of which seem impossibly stiff to me.
Yeah, and I would like to push myself vocally even more. Again, Matt Christiansen (make sure I'm spelling his name right!!), this guy was kind of a guru to us, told that there is even more there and I'm not trying. I also credit quitting smoking - but you know that goes up and down.
We'd love to do more - but there is one so far as a matter of fact: (click here to see it
Since there are electronic tinges now we've moved on to Grandaddy and Mercury Rev references - but the Neil Young references are still there. I mean, it's a fair reference I can't argue with that - all three are really. It's all good...there are a lot of reference points that wouldn't be wrong at all especially one that lets more people in.
I've always wanted to be out here, and had twice before made up my mind to go to the West Coast. Once, I was interupted by meeting Isaac, and I decided to stick around and see where this music thing lead. Then a couple years later I made up my mind to move to San Francisco, but started dating this girl that became my wife. That bought me three more years in the Midwest. This was just finally the time to go, it was time to go as they say.
I grew up in the Southside of Chicago, so it's home - but home should be a distant object I think, obscure and foggy - seeing it up close again was awkward. I mainly miss people - the Zelienople crew, being able to see them play, having them support us. At our first show in San Francisco the other day I mentioned to Isaac how strange playing a show that Mike, Matt or Brian weren't in attendance at - it's been a couple years since I couldn't look out in the audience and see one of those dudes. That was a nice feeling.
I think it's to early to tell yet - I'm hoping for the David Crosby/Dino Valente stoned on a houseboat vibe to kick in anytime!
This was a "solo" album - mainly me working with Isaac - but Isaac merely mixed the record and replayed a few parts that I had insufficiently played. It was made during the one year Isaac and I lived in different towns.
I'd like to make more stuff, I'm always planning more and then deciding it's not a good idea. I always want to be like an R. Stevie Moore type - making 5 records a year - but I just have a hard time letting go of anything I have the slightest reservations about in quality.
Isaac and I worked on a soundtrack when we first moved out to Berkeley for a friend's movie, and we'd love to do more stuff like this. Also, this year Isaac has his own "solo" record coming out with BlueSanct. It's a killer!
It plays a huge role - it's been hard bringing other people into our world because Isaac and I are so close and have something more of a secret language - it's a secret way of treating each other. Most everybody perceives this as us being mean to each other - but it's nothing but love and expecting a lot out of each other. Isaac is the most passionate person I've met and I have to fight his passion with equal resolve everyday.
The Tuma/Weis LP is the best record I've heard thus far. Seeing Darwin's Bitch and Elm in Oakland caused a rearrangement in my brain, as did seeing Dominique Leone in San Francisco. Svarte Greiner's "Kappe", Last Days' "The Safety of the North" - both very good.
-- Brad Rose (1 May, 2009)