Otienos Q&A

a1847456985_10One otherwise very uneventful day a friend asked me to listen to some music, and I said: ‘Okay’. I would soon learn that what I was about to listen to was Otienos. I immediately felt drawn to the diverse soundscapes and the feeling of the music – frailty battling strength. It didn’t take long before the mini-album ‘Waterskin’ became a permanent playlist on my bike ride to work every morning.

The pleasure of knowning about this great music soon grew into a nagging need for me to know more about the mysterious Otienos, so I began an investigation. I found nothing. Not so much as a past show, an interview, not even a picture – just nothing. I left it alone for a month or so, and then it started nagging me again. So I tried yet again, and this investigation ended up exactly like my first. Now, it became almost like an obsession for me, and I must admit, the obsession wasn’t about the music anymore. Now it was just my extensive curiosity and the need for some kind of clue about this band that was my main motivation. I tried one more time, as they say third time’s the charm, and when I this time send an email via bandcamp, I finally got through.

After a couple of weeks without a reply a guy called Ryan wrote me back. He seemed surprised that I was so eager to know about the band. Plus, how did I even know about it? After a few mails back and forth I had learned that Otienos wasn’t a band, it was just Ryan, and he was a working man in his 20’s making music as a hobby. And even though he hasn’t put any effort into branding Otienos before, he agreed to do a Q&A. And so – I introduce you to the results of my long investigation. Enjoy.

1) As you know I was very surprised to find out that Otienos was a one-man thing. Can you tell me how Otienos came to happen?

During college I reached a point where I felt I had enough decent material to make a pop record. It wasn’t necessarily the plan to make a tidy six-song record (I got rid of several others that didn’t make the cut), but that’s where it ended up going; I got encouragement from friends to create a final product that others could listen to, and eventually I had something that I thought was finished. I would’ve like to form a band, but I moved to a different city three or four times over the course of the two years I spent recording, so it was a solo project out of necessity.

2) You have told me that you don’t do shows because it is just you (and you think that it would be boring). Besides that, it’s pretty much impossible to find any interviews, pictures etc. documenting that Otienos actually exists. One could argue that you are NOT making music to get famous or rich or something like that. What does it give you to make music?

I think your question speaks to how normal and expected it is to make music as a capitalist. From my observations, most people who make music and are passionate about it probably would like to be able to make a living off of it and/or get to a point where their music reaches a wide audience. I’m no different, but to accomplish that requires a lot of marketing. I think I would have a hard time marketing myself aggressively without feeling like the fun has been sucked out of the process of writing and recording music. Doing something as minor as creating a Facebook page for Otienos and writing a post encouraging people to come to a show would give me some anxiety. I’m happier without the burden of trying to convince people to care about music I create. But I also know that – even if what I’m creating is quality – its quality alone won’t do much for a musical career without marketing, and so I think it’s important to be at peace with being an artist as a hobby. If people stumble across what I’m doing and enjoy it, that is rewarding. So was the process of making it in the first place.

3) Otienos’s sound is pretty complex for just one man to handle it all. Can you tell me a bit about how you create and record the songs?

It takes a certain personality to pull off pop songs using the one-person-with-one-instrument model. I didn’t think I could pull that off, so I wanted to use more instrumentation to experiment with the songs and their structure. That also sounded more fun. Like a lot of other recording musicians would say, modern music recording technology provides for nearly limitless options on a manageable budget, regardless of how many people are involved in a project. I used a four track Tascam Portastudio that my Mom bought in the early 90s to record each track of a song to tape, transferred each to computer for editing, and synced them. It’s a manageable process when you own a computer and know your material well.

4) ‘Waterskin’ is the most recent album Otienos has made. Personally, I like it because it contains a wide range of different moods, sounds and expressions, and yet still manages to be cohesive. What was the overall idea of this album’s output?

I’m glad you find it cohesive, because it was written and recorded over a fairly long period of time. But I’d like to think I recorded it in a way that created continuity across tracks. For each instrument on the record, I tried to record all tracks during one session. Most, if not all, of the drums, bass, and piano were recorded in single sessions with virtually no change in recording method for each song. Like I said, there are limitless options for what you could do with each track of each song, so I find it more manageable to work this way.

I also had a fairly strong idea of what aesthetic I wanted most of the tracks to have: low and heavy bass drum, round bass guitar, fluttery and spastic tack piano, staying away from guitar leads, prominent colder reverb on the vocals, and melodious vocals. I definitely wanted it to be 3-4 minute pop songs.

5) I once included ‘Tie is Untied (Like A Scream)’ in a mixtape on Lappland, and I compared Otienos to Animal Collective due to the rapid keys and the vocal arrangements. Would you be happy with that comparison, or would you disagree? In other words, where do you find your musical inspiration?  

Yes, Animal Collective has put out a lot of really good records in the last decade, and they’ve influenced me (and many others). I think the vocals in particular on this track are a poppier version of what Animal Collective does on some of their songs, in terms of the effects on it and using fairly traditional moving harmonies. While they’re great at doing standard moving harmonies (lots of their songs), they also do something unique where they essentially have two distinct vocal melodies that move in and out of each other; neither voice is secondary, and the sum is greater than its parts. The chorus of their song “Taste” is a good example, or even “Winters Love”. I was trying to do something similar on “Tie is Untied”; I hope it doesn’t fall into rip-off territory, but if that ruins it for some listeners, that’s alright. I’ve been turned off by many songs where I think to myself, “This is a worse version of {insert artist’s name}.” As far as the instrumentation and arrangement goes, I was inspired by Leon Russell’s piano in “Da Doo Ron Ron”.

Those are two very specific examples of another musician’s performance directly leading me to try a similar approach. More generally, when I’m inspired by another musician, it can be anything ranging from a single moment of sound to the more characteristic sound or ambiance another artist achieved over the course of a career.

6) Does Otienos have any plans to release something new in the near future?

It’s a goal in the back of my head to finish a collection of songs every couple years. I hope I can finish something in 2014.

7) Now that it seems like Denmark is a fan of Otienos, would you ever consider going abroad and perform – even though it is still just you?

Yes, if the economics and the demand for it were there, that sounds like a lot of fun.

8) The floor is yours – what would you like to say to the People of The Cold North?

Not much else to say, but I appreciate you taking an interest in my music and inquiring to learn more about it. Feel free to get back in touch any time!



God lørdag! /Kim

One thought on “Otienos Q&A

  1. christineP

    Wow! I can’t believe it’s just Ryan. Great job!!
    I really like Tie is Untied being an Animal Collective fan. I’ll definitely try to get a listen of Waterskin in its entirety.
    Well, I was just wondering why his choss Otienos as his artist name.


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