It may be a bit too early in the year to be claiming favorites, but The Omega Experiment‘s debut album has been captivating me for the past month since I first received the promo from frontman and multi-instrumentalist Dan Wieten. The Omega Experiment combines a progressive and forward thinking attitude with huge choruses and vocal harmonies to tell a deep and meaningful concept surrounding the story of Dan’s life.
Without receiving any label help, the duo (which also features keyboardist Ryan Aldridge) pushed forward to release their debut effort independently. At the time of this posting, The Omega Experiment is currently the #1 top selling album on Bandcamp for Valentine’s Day! Impressive! I recently spoke with Dan about their debut album and to get a look into the concept and the band’s creation.
For those who are not familiar, introduce yourself!
Hello! I’m Dan and I sing, play guitar, bass, and do all the production and drum programming for The Omega Experiment.
Let’s cut right into the meat and potatoes; The Omega Experiment is boasted as an autobiographical concept album. Could you tell us the story and how each track fits?
It loosely chronicles my life from birth to the death of my active addiction, and the start of my recovery. ‘Gift‘ starts it off, which is about being given the gift of music, talent, and life in general…and the confusion that comes with it. I had a lot of attention given to me when I was young because of my gift, which led me to think I was somehow special. When life didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, I didn’t understand why, or how to deal with it. But the elation that came from music lit me up. That theme permeates throughout the album. ‘Stimulus‘ is roughly the teenage years, when you start to develop a semblance of your ideals and begin forming opinions and tastes. Everything felt new during that period. I had a tendency to overreact to everything, and when I heard music I loved, or played it for that matter… it was almost like an addiction.
‘Motion‘ is about going through the motions of life, dealing with that 2:30 feeling… sort of like emotional limbo, like the transition into adulthood… waiting patiently to get that driver’s license, the diploma… etc. ‘Tranquility‘ is merely a bridge between ‘Motion‘ and ‘Furor‘, which is vast in it’s emotional complexity. It highlights the craziness I felt when I first fell in love, when my parents divorced, when I entered the work field, when I started drinking and doing drugs… sort of aimless with what I wanted to do with my life. Everything builds and builds until the end explosion, which is supposed to signify a purge of all the craziness I felt…the absolute height of my addiction. That blends into ‘Bliss’ which is another sort of bridge, but a little deeper with it’s message, which you can hear in the voice samples I chose.
Next is ‘Karma,‘ which gets into feeling the effects of all the shitty things I did in my addiction to stay high. That stuff doesn’t go away. You reap what you sew; I truly believe that. ‘Terminus‘ is about death; mourning the death of my mother, but also the death of my addiction. When you are in as deep as I was, your drug becomes your girlfriend/boyfriend, your parent, your God. You can’t just stop it without dealing with the loss. It seems trivial, but I promise you…it isn’t. I can remember being about a month clean, doing the dishes and bawling my eyes out for what I though was no reason, but I was mourning the loss of the only thing I knew. Finally, ‘Paramount‘ is what it is for a specific reason. It signifies a new beginning, a new lease on life. Think of it as the end credits.
Uneven Structure’s Igor Omodei contributed some wonderful cover art to TOE. What is it depicting, exactly?
Well, originally we wanted a spacey, airy type vibe to represent the content. We had a few different artists try things that we actually paid for. It all looked great, but just didn’t feel right. I didn’t get a reaction from any of it. I was really fascinated with Uneven Structure’s concept and art, and how simple yet effective it was. I asked Igor if he could do it, and he obliged. It really helped that he enjoys the music, and really absorbed the content. He chose warmer colors to get to the emotional core of it all, and he grasped that a lot of it went back to my mother…which is a great observation. Hence, the warmer colors.
In your documentary-style video, you mentioned that you were initially uncomfortable with singing, and yet I find that your voice is the best part of the record. What gives?
I dunno, I’ve always been really hard on myself. It’s both a blessing and a curse. It helps me achieve great results, but I’m never really happy with anything. There is always room for improvement. I never thought of myself as a singer. I could always sing in key, and do backing vocals. It’s just something I never pursued due to a lack of confidence. I felt a bit trapped in this box of “the shredder”. That’s all I was ever known as in my hometown. With this album, we sought out different singers in the beginning…not really sure which way to go with it. Eventually I ordered an SM7B and just started tracking ideas with it. I built confidence as I practiced, and started taking it seriously. This was all in the winter of 2010 when I started tracking my own vocals. Beforehand, I had a bunch of takes that Victor, Jeremy, and Bob laid down. I kept quite a bit of it…but from that point on I developed enough confidence to finish it myself.
I mean, we are pretty much influenced by everything we hear in some way, right? There are so many. Dev and Queensryche are huge, as well as Dream Theater, Frost*, Rush, Styx, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Trance/Techno, John Williams, Fear Factory, Dillinger Escape Plan, REO, Faith No More, Steve Vai. Sometimes the strangest things would pop up during writing/recording. For a certain piano feel, it might be Billy Joel. You just never know what will come up to attain the results you’re looking for.
You do a great job at matching the mood of the music to the lyrics and subject matter. With that in mind, how does songwriting start for you?
It usually starts with a chorus. For some reason, choruses always come to me before anything. I had the chorus for ‘Karma‘ in my head since 1999! A lot of it also came out of the many jams Ryan and I had during the process. I had this concept laid out before the first note was written. I even had the song titles, so it made it a lot easier to envision the music… but we were still very liberal with the approach. Everything just sort of fell into place. I can’t describe it. It was like magic. Not that it was without hardship and frustration, believe me. But it was amazing how the light bulb would just go on and ideas would just flow. I wrote the song skeletons, programming the drums and laying down guitars and bass. Then Ryan would come over and we would write the keys and samples together. The vocals came later, after all the music was pretty much written. It was a lengthy, intense process.
TOE sounds amazing for something produced in a home studio. From what I’ve heard, you managed to get this pristine sound on some fairly cheap equipment. What was your recording set-up on the record?
Ahh man. It started out VERY cheap. You have to remember, I spent every cent I had on booze and drugs up until I got clean. I had an ancient E Machines with a 40gb HD and like 256mb of ram that I had since 2002. Mind you, we started writing in Winter 2009. I had to bounce A LOT. Luckily when I went back to school, I didn’t spend all my grant money on books so I got a big enough return to buy a new computer, which I had built. I used the same crappy M-Audio Delta 1010 soundcard I had on the E Machines for the whole record. Everything was ran through a Mackie VLZ mixer from the 90s. I never could afford real studio monitors, so I had to use my best judgment between my KLH stereo speakers from ABC Warehouse, which I ran through a Sony receiver, my shitty car stereo speakers, and a pair of AKG headphones. No joke. It was not easy. I think it came out great for what I had, but I listen now and hear a lot of things I would change. I think that goes for any producer/engineer though.
Since TOE isn’t a total one man show, let’s talk about you bandmates. How did you and Ryan meet? How much input did he have in the writing process?
I’ve known Ryan since he was 4. He is my cousin by marriage, and is also my best friend. We’ve been through everything together, including addiction. I had this concept laying around and we were both newly clean, struggling to find a purpose in our new lives. It just made sense. As I said before, he wrote the keys and samples with me. He came with a few solid ideas himself, like the beginning of ‘Paramount.’ I took his piano melody and wrote a riff around it, and combined it with that chorus I already had. He is every bit as important to The Omega Experiment as I am. There is just something that happens when we get together and jam. The end of Stimulus drags out for a few minutes with just keys and an ambient guitar solo. That whole bit was improvised. So yeah, he is crucial to the vibe.
You’ve also got a live lineup assembled, correct?
Not really at the moment. We had a setback last December when our drummer moved out of state, so right now the focus is just on getting this album out.
You’ve played some shows opening for the likes of Devin Townsend and Periphery. Do you have any other live shows on the horizon? Possible touring plans in 2012?
We want to do this. We want to tour, the whole works. As of now there are no shows on the horizon, but I would love to be able to get a stable live lineup situated and be touring before the end of 2012.
Speaking of your live lineup, do you have any plans on incorporating them or other members for future material and turn TOE into a more band effort?
Nah. For now it works best as Ryan and I, but who knows what the future could bring. I am open to anything as long as it suits us.
What do you do with your time when you aren’t writing concept albums and dicking around on Facebook and The Chive? What is your day job?
Haha! I do love me some Chive and Facebook. I swear I would never laugh if it wasn’t for the internet. Right now Ryan and I are both in school, and we both work there as work studies. I teach on Bandhappy on the side, and also have a cover band that plays about twice a month.
So you’re available for vocal lessons on Bandhappy. Sell yourself to everyone! What can people expect from a voice lesson with you?
Well, I teach vocals, but I also teach guitar and production. That is so funny to me. My whole life I was always known as just a guitarist, and now it’s like role reversal. As far as a lesson with me? Depends on the level you’re at! I teach warmups, breathing exercises, scales, some basic theory for communication, tone, pitch, vibrato, good eating/drinking/life habits that are conducive to good singing and a healthy voice. I’m pretty flexible. I have experience with anything from pop/classic rock to death metal. Hit me up!
That’s all I have for you, Dan! Anything else you’d like to say?
Buy our album! Support independent musicians. We are in an interesting time as far as the music business is concerned. It’s easier than ever to make an album now, regardless of quality; but it’s also easier than ever to download everything free. I’m not gonna pretend I’m not guilty of this, but if you CARE about the artist… PLEASE buy their music.