I’ve said this before, but features like this remind how much I love having a platform to share exceptional new releases. My running “listened” list for 2019 has surpassed 500 albums and includes a myriad of bands that haven’t or don’t receive the attention they deserve. After one playthrough of Upsilamba, I knew Omahara were one of the bands from this list that I needed to recommend as fervently as possible to fans of experimental music. What better way to do that than with a full album premiere and interview with the band?
Before we get there, allow me to editorialize a bit. Upsilamba is a three-part suite of dark, atmospheric drone that dips into the realms of noise, jazz, post-rock, and cabaret (yes, you read that right. More on that later). You’ll . encounter everything from monolithic walls of guitar feedback to elongated whirs and skittering bursts from a clarinet. Front to back, Omahara create an engulfing mood that feels like an avant-garde stage performance transformed into an album format.
On top of at all are vocals that pull from the esoteric world of spoken word and its offshoots. Parallels include Scott Walker and Attila Csihar‘s performances on White 1 & 2 from Sunn O))). The vocals are used sparingly yet effectively, and they add a unique element that elevates the impact of the album as a whole. On every level, Omahara continuously introduce new ideas that stretch the boundaries of their sound, which itself is already on the fringes of the genres the band pull from.
Along with the premiere, I had the opportunity to connect with Spencer Reid (drums, vocals, other) about Omahara’s “reconstruction” of themselves on Upsilamba and how the band approaches their creative process.
Will you please elaborate on the meaning behind your band and album names? They’re both unique and interesting.
The bands name can be attributed to our bass player. I don’t think it has a specific reference its more a word which encapsulates the essence of Omahara. The band is a vast expanse of sounds and personalities, forever expanding and contracting without a specific direction as the creative process is not lineal. The latest album title is a slightly different matter, in the past the albums have been self titled, due to the less structured and more improvised approach, less thought really and more feeling. Upsilamba is conceptual in its nature and has a definite aim to evoke a desired outcome within the performance. The title has been taken from a Nabokov novel, ‘Invitation to a beheading’. Its a word created by Nabokov to convey a feeling, however the reading of the feeling conveyed is ambiguous, and left to personal interpretation. I think loosely it is the notion of ascension, or maybe that is our interpretation and relates to our desired outcome with the album, being to evoke a sense of ascension through a shedding of the self in the ritualised cabaret performance.
You described the process of creating Upsilamba as a “reconstruction” of the band’s sound. What was the impetus for that choice? What have been the biggest challenges and rewards of taking this approach?
I think it’s a reconstruction of ourselves as individuals rather than a conscious decision as a collective that drives each movement and dynamic of change. It wasn’t a decision to try something different as we have never really identified with a specific stereotype. Members step in and step out, musicians come and go for brief moments. Its a case of somebody questioning a personal perspective either socially, politically perhaps spiritually, mostly its a combination of all three, and then they tend to take on the role of creative director and lead the project. This continuous self reflection and openness to stimuli for perpetual growth is exciting, the only challenge is to make manifest the intention.
I’ve personally never seen a band described as both “ambient drone” and “dark cabaret.” What interests you and the band about cabaret, and how does it inform your songwriting?
Perhaps we should see ourselves as a band who heavily references ambient drone or dark cabaret, I am not sure we are either, as a band who is seriously exploring those genres would be doing it over time, I imagine within the context of a few albums. As for cabaret, I see the art form as a vehicle for the concept we are aiming to deliver in our live performance. The live set is an extended version of the album with tracks being slightly altered and extra pieces included. I guess we have attempted to ritualise cabaret in the sense of an ‘intention to evoke’ type of ritual, for our own purpose. Cabaret has as part of its core elements the costume, performance narrative and presentation of a stage character, we found ritual to be very similar in some aspects, so found it perfect for the presentation of our music. I think it was more the idea of looking at what something can become outside of what its actually been cultivated to be and the measures undertaken to achieve that outcome. This led to both cabaret and ritual’s aspects of performance influencing the writing.
I’m writing this from New Hampshire in the U.S., which is about as far away from your home of Hobart, Tasmania as you can get. What is the local music scene like, both in terms of a creative environment and for live performances?
Hobart is a small town of around 250,00, it does have a very vibrant music scene, however can be quite clicky at times and unfortunately Hobartians are a little lack lustre when it comes to venturing out. Having said that, it does punch above it’s weight as far as creativity goes and is definitely a fertile island for developing ideas and artistic connectivity amongst peers. There are a limited number of public venues though, so it limits the number of shows a band would play, especially to limited audiences. Leaving the island to play gigs and remain in touch with a broader audience and the national music scene is important. Its about fusing the local, national and global I guess.
While experimental music isn’t exactly mainstream, platforms like Bandcamp have made exploring niche genres easier than ever. What’s your view of experimental music in 2019, both as a creator and a listener?
As a listener and a creator I think experimental music is exciting and very healthy at present, It seems socially aware and engaged, I don’t think there is much value in it being to caught up in aesthetic or consumed by creative bias towards approach, engaging challenging art has always been a reaction to whats happening in our broader community.
Upsilamba is available Oct. 1 via Art As Catharsis.