Interview w/ P. Michael of ONO
Words on the composition and inspirations informing ONO’s 5th studio album Spooks.
TSM: In a recent interview done after ONO’s performance for WHPK’s Pure Hype you were listing various inspirations for the album Spooks. I remember you mentioned Samuel Delany. What specifically do you find engaging about Samuel Delany’s writing and how was it used in Spooks?
P. Michael: I read Dhalgren in the ’80s and I think that it had such an impact on me that it has always had some sort of subconscious influence on what I do. The novel throws out all the rules of linear writing and did exactly what it wanted to do to tell a story, much like ONO does. Spooks has so much overlay of ideas, sort of classical Greek in style, the use of a harmonica all over, Billy the KID entrance into a god forsaken environment, the spooks art work – it’s all there.
TSM: ONO, especially in Spooks, feels a lot like story telling in musical form. How does ONO make this bridge between the formal elements of the music and the story told by its lyrics?
P. Michael: All ONO shows have a defined premise – that is Something Leads to Something (i.e. Avarice leads to Imperialism). ONO is a lyric focused band, meaning you must be able to hear the words clearly. The sounds we make emphasize the lyrics and bring forth a response or feeling from the listeners. There are pop/hip-hop samples running throughout our show for dramatic relief/release, to provide some happiness, or to allow us to set up for the next number and sometimes the samples are part of the story.
TSM: I have heard you say that you focus more on counterpoint than chord progression. Could you talk more about your conceptions of counter point? What are the “rules” or themes of counterpoint that Spooks makes use of? What have you learned during all these years with ONO about how to improvise counterpoint? What is difference between consonance and dissonance is?
P. Michael: Spooks was recorded with a 10-piece band all in the room at the same time. The night before the recording I wrote out instructions to keep the recording orderly. I divided the band in half and programmed two different drum samplers one for each band to follow. The bands were given headphones and each band hearing differing patterns with a different start and stop time they could only play when the pattern was playing. They were playing the same song or variations of it lead by Travis and myself who could hear what both bands were playing. They were playing in counterpoint of each other. This was the basically the first time I have deliberately used counterpoint with ONO, but ONO does make use of an overlay of sounds on a regular basis…ONO plays in multiple keys at the same time, which is our relationship with consonance and dissonance. Travis sings in the key of sort of D or C… all of Dawei’s guitars are in exotic tunings that sort of match the voice but not really. Rebecca’s keyboard playing is pretty standard and constantly searching to keep things normal but of course the rest of the band don’t make it easy for her… she might play in C but then we might start in C but move to B-flat or E-flat which brings about consonance and dissonance …soothing, can sound like it is in both a major and minor key at the same time. There are multiple samplers and 2 to 3 drum machines going on plus real drums as well.
Artwork by ONO’s travis