ONO, Spooks 1: P. Michael

To prepare for Spooks, I thought it was necessary to work directly with ONO to begin working with this extended and deep record. The album is unlike any ONO album to date, insofar as it captures more funky and soulful “traditional” sounds, while also effectively conveying the theatrical (in a good way) energy of the ensemble’s live performances. Given the depth of the performances, and the sheer number of parts written for the album, it is a testament to ONO’s vision and production approaches that the album emerges both clear and powerful, impossible to derail. Of course, there is always a twist back, and the lyrical arrangements will challenge the listener as much as the noise this time around. Swirling together, Spooks is quite a formidable listen, so an interview with the group will hopefully provide helpful background and insight into the project.

There is also an excellent interview at Impose pertaining to Spooks.

I also previously interviewed ONO for Decoder for their first tour. This time around, the interviews were conducted via email. The first series of this interview features P.Michael.

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NZ:To some extent, it seems like Spooks is two separate albums, moving from wide-open experimental to heavy, soulful, slightly more conventional sounds. Were these sides planned as different sets of material, or as one grand double album?

PMichael: Ah very perceptive of you…you picked up on that right away on the differing styles going on.
We used two different recording studio sessions and slightly differing line up of players, the Bim/ OBNOX Sessions were done at electrical audio in August 2014 and Minbal in December 2014 …

The BIM sessions were the last ONO sessions using more conventional instrumentation forgoing the heavy electronics the Minbal sessions would usher in? The Bim sessions came about by the meeting with you NICK [for Decoder interview] before we went on tour in June and the idea of a collaboration with OBNOX. Material was written and played on the tour with the intent of recording later. Both sessions were always intended to be one album …we had not thought about a double LP yet. The recording incorporated many pieces that worked well together and Moniker thought all the pieces should be unedited and released as is. …

Backtracking a bit

The original title of SPOOKS was “The Nigger Queen “.

Band members had asked whether Digesis was going to be the last ONO studio record, as that is what it felt like to some, the high point, what could possibly follow it….

To that I replied that no the band was originally put together to perform the epic Poem by travis entitled the Nigger Queen.

It can’t be over till will finish and release the Nigger Queen

The Nigger Queen poetry was never and remains uncompleted, but there were sounds for it way back then. I started toying with the old sounds and bringing them up to date .Meanwhile travis had come up with suite of pieces called “garage “ a lot of very political words and samples, which I then fleshed out with my idea of garage sort of bluesy and beat heavy.. This would be the ONO concept of garage rock, which is of course is absurd since the pieces sound nothing like garage rock, but many of the pieces on Spooks derive from those pieces.

So on the more experimental Minbal sessions what you are hearing is a 10 piece band divided in half separated by baffles and rooms all playing live. Each of the 5 players in the divided band had on a set of headphones and were given a specific beat to listen to and react to. One band played the basic track as they remember doing it live with the regular beat. The other 5 players were given a counterpoint beat and would react to it by playing either what they knew or a variation on the original theme. So then add travis and myself, who could hear both bands in our head phones. I am playing 3 synthesizers and running a sampler and 2 different drum machines I am playing off both bands and being the bridge between the 2 sounds, as is travis.
The choir (Hillal, Shannon, travis and myself) were added after all sounds were done. The choir voiced the alternate lyrics included in the libretto the “Spooks suite “. on the mix what you are hearing is cooper switching back and forth between the 2 bands playing the original and a variation on the pieces. Add to this coopers own playing as he does on all our albums whatever he feels is needed, synth here or guitar there ….

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NZ: You have been playing these songs live for some time, and the album features many of your regular contributors. Did you set out to produce a more “live” sound on this album?

PMichael: The tracking for all of our albums are done live in the studio with all playing at the same time just like an old style band. It is all homogenized and processed by cooper , if it sounds live it’s his illusion .

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NZ: What is the balance between original 1980s and current/recently-written material on Spooks?

PMichael: Fatima Police is one of the 1st thing ONO wrote in 1980 and Nigger Queen 1980 as well are the only old material on the LP …PUNKS is from the Diegesis sessions and was remixed.

There were 2 tracks not used on this one KISS ME LIONEL is from 1983 and COON which is recent ….remain in the vault

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NZ: What are the main tools of your live show? What do you use to make “conventional” and “abstract” noises? How do you design your set-up to work with a large live ensemble?

PMichael: I do the arrangements for ONO and pick the instruments I want used that is my background arranging sounds. some players contribute their own unique approach. More abstract instruments can range from a thumb pianos. Harmonica and the new amplified instruments I am making now for the band they are like sound sculptures I used to make and play with the original band back in the 80s

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Spooks (2xLP) is due out this week on Moniker Records.