Om - Interviews - Soundblab

Om

by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date:

With the exception of cornering Yan Tiersen in the car park of the Brudenell after a gig once armed with a small notepad and pen, this interview was actually my first face-to-face 'proper' interview with a band. Al Cisneros and Emil Amos represent the core of eastern rock mystics Om and have made two fantastic albums together so far, 2009s God is Good and this year's gobsmackingly brilliant Advaitic Songs (the fourth and fifth Om albums overall). Cisneros is wearing a Rush t-shirt and smoking a 'herbal cigarette' while Amos sits behind a laptop. Here's what happened…

The first track on the new album, 'Addis', has some incredible female vocals. Can you tell me a little bit about the singer and what some of the lyrics translate as?

Al: It's a friend of mine in San Francisco, Kate, and when we came to working on the song it was an idea to see how it would sound if she sang a prayer and we could in some way could fit it to the music… That's how it came about.

The new album and God is Good seem to have a lot more varied instrumentation on them, is that a direct influence of Emil joining the band? (NB: Amos also plays in Grails; an instrumental outfit who take in Pink Floyd influences as well as a love of cinematic, Morricone-indebted soundscapes)

Emil: It's funny, nobody's ever asked that…

Al: I think in some degree it would have to be in the sense that he's in both bands but there was always, even on the first three albums, this huge, huge push to expand and articulate in a more detailed way, the sound. And it wasn't happening at the time of Pilgrimage. .. The need for the music to progress on its own, more in an evolution… Right around the time of Pilgrimage, it had run into, essentially, a box. The way the course of events went, in retrospect, it's really beautiful. The progression, the music and the communication of us as a band, in the statement of an album, became more.

Emil: Just because I can play guitar and piano and stuff that's obviously different from Chris (Chris Hakius) but…

Al: The approach to drums is as a songwriter too… (Emil has a great solo project called Holy Sons)

Emil: That helps Al, because if he wants to expand we can both pick up instruments around the studio and just try things. At no point did I ever say, or ever would or even cared to say, "Hey let's put middle eastern stuff on". But I think fans, I think that people that listen to the records probably think I said that. It's understandable but…(Al) had seen us play with Neurosis at the Great American Music Hall. He had seen me play drums but after we really hung out it was weird how much we already had shared interests in eastern thought and exact crossovers of record collections… A lot of it was kind of fate… A little bit of luck but fate…

Al: Yeah, providence…

Your music has a lot of influences and sounds not always associated with American rock music.

Al: That's good…(laughter)

Do you think it's important for bands to explore music that's maybe out of their comfort zone?

Al: I wouldn't say that. I think hearing as much music as possible before you even decide to play music… I think it's important to do it from a blank template, you know…

In a more general sense, is there any music you've been enjoying recently and how does it affect the music you play?

Al: Let's see, we've just been listening to a lot of dub and some mid-70s vocal trios… And, I don't know, it keeps the day going…

Do you listen to music whenever you can?

Al: A lot, yeah, but more so in-between writing phases. When it gets really going with the Om albums, for me, I tend to want it silent as much as possible for any ideas that may come up.. .When we turned in a record to Drag City this time, record splurge, got a whole bunch of stuff to listen to but it'll go back to quiet… We're really happy with the label too, it's a great match up…

Om have a unique sound. Southern Lord (Om's old label) seemed to have a lot of bands that started one way and progressed out of any doom or metal brackets. Earth, in particular don't seem to fit the bracket of drone that was given to them in the beginning. Om seemed to have expanded in a similar kind of way. When I tell people who haven't heard you that you're sometimes described as 'doom-metal' then they hear eastern drones…

Al: I think it's pathetic . I don't even think its metal. There's definitely some metal albums that are timeless but there's a tonne that are shit… Who knows? Who cares really? The writers seem to have to care because it's something for them to turn in…

We're at the Brudenell Social Club tonight but are there any other venues you've enjoyed playing when you've been in the UK?

Al: The place that we played in Sleep in May that was a good venue, I think it was at the University. That was a fun show.

Emil: That one, the CoCo with Sunn0))), that was probably one of the funest, that was crazy, amazing. Pretty much anything that involves ATP is always the best shows…

Al: Supersonic (festival), we played at Birmingham once, that was really cool. Last night (in Birmingham) was amazing… I don't remember the club…

While you've been on tour have there been any good support acts?

Al: Ore, yesterday. It's a duo based in Birmingham. It's just two guys, tuba players, it was really unique, very cool.

Mick Flowers supporting tonight, he's someone who's taken in similar eastern influences to yourselves. I know his old band, the Vibracathedral Orchestra really liked Sun City Girls and American bands that were taking on those influences.

Al: That bent towards the eastern scales… Do you think that's musical or do you think it's more related to all the artists in their journey in life? AC/DC's only so interesting for five minutes… At which point, you either quit playing music or you have to learn more…

On the new album, did you play most of the instruments yourselves or did you get other musicians involved?

Al: A cellist, a violin player. Of course, Kate in 'Addis'. A tabla player in 'Haqq al-yaqin', the last song on the album…

Emil: Pretty much all the non-rock instruments, we got friends or friends of friends to play and then we just played all the main, obvious (instruments). We shared piano, wrote stuff on guitar… Generally, we can play everything that we need to but certain things need to be professionally rendered…

Do you bring any of those people on tour with you?

Al: When we can afford it, we have had musicians from the recordings in the live shows. Of course, it's mostly the US west coast. But ideally, that would be fantastic… The songs that we bring live, we've worked on ways to bring their essence as much as possible as a trio…

Next, Emil told us a little about the producer for Advaitic Songs…

Emil: It's this guy Jay Pellicci… Mostly, I know him because he's a really good drummer and he played in some old bands that either I would play with or were friends (with)… He's mostly known for recording Deerhoof in San Francisco… God, if you listen to those records, I just put on one the other day and I guess I hadn't heard some of their newer stuff and, Jesus, the recording quality is just a whole other world… And Jay, he's some sort of weird mix of the spiritual and technical…

Al: We worked well together, good vibes…

Emil: He deserves a lot more credit… He's just amazing…

Are there any plans for the future? How often between albums do you start thinking about the next one?

Al: Oh, we're already talking about song ideas… That's always going… Talking about the 2013 (touring) schedule, working on that right now…

Can't wait, cheers guys!

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