I can’t believe it. We are already on to our sixth interview. We have a bunch of great interviews in the works and have completed many interviews that you should check out if you haven’t already. For this edition we bring you Ig from the Chicago based band Oh My God. I first experienced OMG about 3 years ago when Look Alive opened up for them at the Uptown Bar in Minneapolis. I was hooked ever since that show, be warned that you might get hooked too. They really know how to rock the crap out of an audience.
FFTB: What are your influences (musical and/or non-musical)? How do you incorporate those influences into your playing?
[i]Billy O’Neill (singer) and I (organ player) have a wide range of influences. Like I always read about in so many of our favorite bands, the two principal collaborators (Billy & I) come from totally different musical backgrounds. I took classical piano lessons as a kid, got into punk and blues as a teenager and have absorbed it all into my own keyboard-playing style and songwriting. Billy got into Black Sabbath and then later Van Halen, REO Speedwagon…he’s always been more into the “arena rock,” though he has a love for Tracy Chapman, Ani DeFranco and other stuff I never really listened to. Take all that, rub it together and you get the friction and chemical reaction known as oh my god.
FFTB: You semi-recently made a huge adjustment musically with the addition of a guitar. What lead to that process and were adjustments needed to make room for existing instrumentation?
[i] We played a couple gigs with a NYC band on Southern Records called Darediablo. They had a guitarist named Jake who was a VERY unusual guitarist–an ex-bassist who plays with his fingers on a Gibson SG and just gets such a nasty, cool sound. We thought, “Wow, imagine the oh my god sound, with our burning-up organ sound, together with Jake’s downright meanness on guitar!” I emailed Jake and shared my fantasy, and he reciprocated interest. And thus the “Fools Want Noise” album was born, and one tour together. He’s a busy guy, though, and is now working full time during the day in NY in addition to playing music, so he didn’t really have time for more than just the one-off. We’ve had a couple other friends who are really good guitarists play for our tours since (Matt Lenny, who was in the van accident with us, and Anthony Gravino). I suspect we’ll take guitar on the next tour (the fall); Matt put guitar parts down on our latest recording (due out in the fall). It’s different having guitar (before we were bass, organ, drums and vocals), and I think gives us more dynamic and tonal possibilities. I’d grown weary of having to cover so much territory myself (maybe even kind of tired of the “all-organ” sound)…
FFTB: It seems that most everything OMG is structured on top of the a strong base of rocking keyboard parts, how is his related to your approach to writing music? Can you explain a bit about the songwriting process for OMG?
[i] Billy and I formed the band, and I play organ–and, at first, he wasn’t really playing much bass, just singing. So it’s really all we HAD on the Well album (which had almost no bass on it…just organ, piano, drums, vocals). Since then, at my urging, we’ve added more and more bass–a bit more on “The Action Album” and a whole lot on “Interrogations & Confessions” and “You’re Too Straight to Love Me.” “Fools Want Noise” had less as the guitar got introduced, and the forthcoming album has some, but not every song. Billy either has a complete vocal idea, or I have a complete musical idea, usually, and the other completes the song–with lots of edits and arguing along the way!
FFTB: As Chicagoans, you are musicians in a huge market with a music scene where notoriety is difficult to come by. How did you come to prominence in the Chicago market?
[i] In our early years (2000/2001), we played Chicago pretty often to get the word out and to improve ourselves by playing a lot. Since then, we’ve toured a lot but only played Chicago a couple times a year. It makes each show more of an “event,” and I think that works, for us and the people who anticipate the shows. We also pour all we can into each show, we really do…and Billy’s theatrics and unpredictability work in our favor–this ain’t your straight-ahead guitar-strumming or guitar-solo band.
FFTB: Is it better to be an expert at 1 instrument or good at many?
[i] Billy wishes he could spend the next two years just becoming a killer drummer; I would like to do the same on the bass (I already know everything I want to play, my fingers/hands just don’t know how to do it and are probably way too weak). He and I care much more about ideas and emotion and writing a great bridge section than we do about increasing instrumental skill. It’d be great to be better at playing instruments, but it’s not on the top of my list. My tools are fine to express the ideas I tend to have; that said, I’d like to find time to practice more acoustic piano and get my strength/dexterity up. Billy should practice his bass more, too. I think some people naturally are adept at many instruments, and that’s great for them. I suspect each musician will have a sense about what route to take in that regard by the time they’ve been playing for at least five or more years.
FFTB: When you practice, what do you work on?
[i] I occasionally get out the Czerny/Hannon books for piano; mostly, I don’t really “practice” any more, unless I have a blues gig and have to get those chops back. I generally am searching for new tones and drawbar settings on the organ (combined with tube distortion, reverb, vibrato, etc.) and trying to lose myself into an automatic sort of chord-finding mode, where I might mess around in flat keys I’m not comfortable in so that I don’t fall into the typical chord-progression traps and can come up with something unexpected/accidental. I think it’s good to try to write songs in keys you are NOT comfortable with…C-sharp on piano, F on guitar, or whatever the case may be.
FFTB: It is obvious that you don’t just play the chords but actually create unique parts that fill out the song and make it truly unique. How do you approach deciding your part for an arrangement?
[i] With a band as small as ours, my parts are generally fundamental. It’s in the recording studio, though (not during songwriting), when I tend to realize what’s missing. “This part could use a counter-melody,” or “We need to slap on a unique ending, not just end the song at the end of the double-chorus,” or “I think we need to layer some strings or synths or falsetto voices or something under the chorus this time around”…so we tend to add such things to the composition late in the game. Then, the trick is to figure out how to have enough hands and use them most efficiently to play the original parts and the overdubbed parts–without resorting to adding a member for a tour (not in our budget, and not enough room in the van!).
FFTB: Do you use lyrics to write music, or music with lyrics to follow?
[i] see #3 above. I think a lot of our strongest songs come from an a cappella vocal idea first, which is then surrounded by music. We often pledge to start writing more and more songs that way, but I seem to forever be coming up with instrumental music that we both like and start humming and shouting and singing over, too. The problem is that I often write the whole thing (verse, chorus, bridge…) and then we feel locked into that. We and everyone should be flexible to change an arrangement even when it seems to be complete.
FFTB: Any advice for young aspiring musicians and songwriters?
[i] Dive in all the way, spend hours and hours and hours and hours if this is what you love. Don’t expect to see any results as far as buzz about the band or turnouts at the door or stories in the paper or on blogs everywhere until you work really hard–not just weekends or one day a week. Be really good and work really hard–you need both. We have always worked hard and are still trying to find out how to be as good as we can be; generally speaking, we’re disappointed in at least some elements of our past recordings and tours and are always yearning to improve. We hold ourselves accountable, saying to ourselves, “If we were really THE SHIT, we’d be playing the arenas. We must need better songs and sound.” We don’t blame society or America or the music business (though those things do often SUCK!).