Interview: Odonis Odonis

Odonis OdonisOdonis Odonis are our iron-hot lead into a next wave of led lined, tough as nails live acts from the Great White North, but this Toronto-trio are more than just industrial noise. Their latest album, Hard Boiled Soft Boiled has a prophetic title, alluding to two vinyl inspired halves of respective had garage punk and soft dream rock.

The followup to the band's thumb upped debut Hollandaze, this album was recorded over three weeks in Vancouver with Colin Stewart - producer for Black Mountain and Pretty Girls Make Graves - and featured among its 12 tracks are a series of guest performances, notably from New Pornographers' Kathryn Calder and Kurt Dahle. For these reasons and more, the hype around Hard Boiled Soft Boiled is anything but hushed.

The record itself is out this week on guitarist and vocalist Dean Tzenos' DIY label Buzz records, and he's taken just a bit of time to talk to Drunken Werewolf's Graham Ashton about this exciting new album and the thriving scene surrounding it, both now and during its conception.

How was your set at this year’s SXSW?

We had a bunch this year, it was cool to play another Psych Fest show and it's been awesome being a part of the Panache family. We had a good time overall. 

Do you feel the performance helped drum up hype for the album, even though it’s a larger festival?

It felt like we were shouting into a hurricane, every year that festival gets bloated beyond belief. Since we got back it's been nothing but good things though, so who's to say. We were fortunate enough to be on some really good bills that made all the difference. I think the key to SXSW is to embrace the madness and leave expectation at the door. This time we went down as a crew with the label in mind and I think it was a huge benefit to everything we are doing. 

What were some of the differences you noted, good or bad, from the last time you played at SXSW?

When we went a couple years ago, we were the newbies and humbled by the scale of the festival. This time we had so many friends in Austin, it was a party. Regardless of the shows, it's a great place to meet everyone you've been wit working from around the globe and just have fun.

Now that we have some perspective, it really made it easier to focus on what we wanted to accomplish in Austin. If there’s a contact you’ve been trying to meet, chances are they’ll be here. That being said, I really feel like SXSW has officially jumped the shark. We've been lucky to play a number of festivals the past couple years that weren't even half the size and they felt as, if not more, productive. SXSW feels like it's become more of a corporate cash grab than a music-centric festival and some bands might find better ways of spending their money. 

Odonis Odonis and bands like METZ, Soupcans and others are often summed up as part of the DIY scene of Toronto. Would you describe the music coming out of the city as part of a specific genre movement, or do you feel like more of a collective of likeminded acts?

There is a general influence of similar noise rock bands that have fuelled the sound, but everyone has always been doing their own thing. Thanks to bands like Metz the word has spread around the world, but it's been in Toronto the whole time and is finally now getting the attention it deserves. It's just the tip of Iceberg of what’s to come and everyone in the music scene in Toronto is excited to make things happen outside Canada. 

What kind of things influence musicians such as you and your fellow Torontonians to not only write the kind of music you do, but also to record and play it live in such a homemade, raw fashion?

We get compared to Seattle scene a lot and it's kind of true. Most of us just grew up on grunge and the DIY mentally that came with it. I think it also comes as a backlash to what Canada has been exporting musically for the last ten years. All this safe twee pop music that gets funded by the government as 'Canada's sound' pisses most of us off and it's not reflective of what’s actually going on the ground floor. These bands you mention along with a slew of others are the ground floor and we are finally getting a voice. We like doing things our own way and it feels like there's going to be a changing-of-the-guard, so to speak. Next wave.

In regards to the great mix of sounds on Hard Boiled Soft Boiled, what are some of the older tracks on the album, which ones were written more recently, and is it possible for a listener to distinguish these time differences just by listening?

The only song that is newer is "New Obsession” and everything else is almost 4-5 years old. I don't think anyone knows or would notice because I really tried to keep the sound of the record cohesive sonically. 

Was there a different approach to vocals from a production standpoint? It feels very nicely integrated and distorted into the music as opposed to just sitting on top of it.

I've always been into the vocals playing more of an equal role within our music. Some people only want to hear vocals and I can understand that from a pure pop perspective, but the influences for this record are all over the map. I was listening to a lot of industrial when I was working on this and the formula for the bulk of that material is to distort and bury the shit of it. I was trying to find a happy medium between the two worlds. A Lo-Fi / Hi-Fi record.

In dividing up the album into its two LP inspired halves, was there a recurring playing style, theme or instrumental approach that defines one half of the tracks from the other?

The way I work is by writing, writing, writing. Most bands approach records with 10-12 songs and that’s what makes it to the record. I felt that was being too precious and can often lead to bad songs making the cut. I wrote a song a day for a least a year and just cherry picked the songs I liked. There are two distinct sides of the band and I thought it would be bold and exciting to embrace both at the same time. Most bands are happy to make a single sound, but I get bored way to fast, I want to be challenged and I never want to get pigeonholed. The bands I respect are usually ones that let you know within the first couple records to not expect anything. 

Out of the two musical approaches; the thrashy industrial sound and the more dreamy surf-gaze stuff, which are you now find more familiar to you after the album’s recording?

As the live band progresses, it's been easier for us to fall into the trashier side of things especially in a live setting. It's been a fun process to figure out how to be both types of bands live. It's easy on a recording, but it's trickier to switch gears live. 

With the two sides being at separate ends of chilled out and hellishly manic, would you rather the album be listened to as a whole, or do you think it’s more about listening to the right side to suit your current mood?

The idea for the record has always been to cater to the listener’s mood. I like a lot of hard bands but I also love to chill out and I rarely hear a band do both. I had vinyl and tapes in mind throughout the whole process. The record is really meant to be experienced on these formats. 

Which tracks on the album did you feel demonstrate the most experimental sides of your songwriting thus far?

I would have to say the whole 'soft boiled' side of the record. They kind of sit outside of our comfort zone and that’s what I enjoy about them. That’s what I consider experimental for us. Its way easier for a band like us to be weird than to try and to make soft, melodic tunes; especially when people have already come to know the band as harder act. 

What was the video making process for “Order in the Court” like? How involved where you guys in the conception and production?

Nothing really. One of my close and amazingly talented friends just said, "hey I have a video idea for this song can I do it". About six month later, I saw it and it blew my mind. He's one of the most talented people I know and I'm glad people are taking notice. His paintings are incredible… nobody even knows what this guy is capable of and this is the first video he’s ever made.

Do you have anything planned for release for Record Store day 2014?

I believe we are playing a record store day thing in Atlanta...I'll have to keep you posted on that.

Can take us briefly to how you got involved with Buzz Records, and where the label is now?

The Buzz garage was an awesome “venue” in Toronto that really helped pull the local scene together. I met garage co-founders, Jude (HSY) and Denholm (Odonis Odonis bass player) there and it was everything I wanted from a DIY space. Eventually, the garage was shut down and the label part died and we were sad to see it all go. At that point, my biz partner, Ian Chai, and me decided to step in and revive the label. We took all the money and contacts that we had and invested into this thing and haven't looked back. In less then a year, we've done way more than I ever could have imagined and it's still DIY. We've been busting our balls and working to make something on our own terms. I couldn't be happier.

Being someone who just found out their favourite alternative venue is due to close, what do you feel is the best way for me and other music fans to help support our favourite venues and the people who run them?

Unfortunately all the coolest spots in Toronto get shut down, but sometimes they aren't meant to last; which makes them that much more important. You need to support these DIY promoters and venues when they do crop up because this is usually a hot bed for emerging talent and to experience something real and raw. 

How long has it been since your last UK tour, and what do you remember most from the last time you were here?

It's been about 2 years and we are really looking forward to coming back. I remember quite a lot actually, haha. Brighton was a lot of fun for Great Escape and it really is a beautiful city. I remember my guitar exploded at our London show and I literally had to hold the neck of my guitar as I was playing... have no idea if anyone even noticed. I have a soft spot for Manchester and all the great music that has come out of there. I can't describe how great it was to play Manchester and have a s great turnout – it meant a lot.

What, if anything, have been the biggest changes to the way you play live that we can expect to see in May?

We constantly upgrade our gear and we will be bringing our rig this time so we can really deliver the full scope of our sound. If you’re into nerding-out over gear, then come to the show; we try to bring something different than your typical rock band setup. It's our own thing and our own live visuals and our own sound. If want something different then meat and potatoes, come check us out.  

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