Omhouse: The WL Interview

Purveyors of: Spectral, intricate art rock
File Next to: Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, Fresh Snow, Built to Spill
Playing: WL 18 Night 3, Sunday, February 18 @ The Garrison. Get tickets here!

Birthed from a broken van and a three-day solitary trip from Texas to Toronto, the initially solo project from Doldrums drummer Steven Foster, has blossomed into a stunning, unique band in its own right. The band, now featuring Evan Cartwright, Sam Gleason and Ben Harney, just released their new album, Eye to Eye on January 26th following their 2014 EP, Mooneye. Wavelength’s Kristian Johnson caught up with Steven in advance of their Wavelength show (and album release date) to talk about their new album and plans for the future.

So, Steven, just to start things off, you have your new album coming out this Friday. Can you tell me about it? 
Yes! We’re putting out our album Eye to Eye on Friday and I’m very excited! It’s been a lot of work in the past few weeks getting things together last minute, so Friday will be a thrill and a relief. The music has been done for awhile now, but I had been touring so much as a sideman there was no time to release it. I’ve taken some time off of touring to focus on Omhouse and this is the beginning of that.
That’s for sure. You’ve worked on quite a few projects. Do you think you’ve brought anything from your other work into this Omhouse renewal?
Definitely. Playing with Doldrums got me into electronic music and there was a time when Airick [Woodhead], Kyle [Jukka now in She-Devils], and I would sit in an airport gate or in a tour van and we’d all be in Logic 9 working on sample-based music. I learned so much from both of them that way, and the Mooneye EP was pretty much all made on the road in a laptop. Playing with Moon King got me into the trance-like state that a Krautrock groove can get you into. That and the parallel 4ths and 5ths style of harmonies Daniel [Woodhead] and Maddy [Wilde] would sing stuck with me a lot, and I think some of it comes through on the first self-titled EP Omhouse. Playing with Jaron Freeman-Fox brought me to a lot of folk festivals around the world, including in China, Australia and recently Tuva, Russia. Those influences are showing up in subtle ways in the next bunch of songs after this album. Also playing with many bands as a sideman has helped me figure out what my goals are with Omhouse and what I want our career to ideally look like.
What does that vision for Omhouse look like?
I want to build an audience that expects to be surprised by what we do. I want to have a reputation as a band that never does the same show twice, where there’s always something new happening, whether that means differences in personnel, arrangements, even genre to some extent. Based on what I’ve written for the next album so far, it’s going to be a bit out of left field for those who get into Eye to Eye. I’ve also learned that small-to-medium-sized festivals are my favourite gigs to play with Omhouse, especially independently organized ones in smaller communities. I want to be in a place where we can play festivals like that regularly and build our tours around them.

Also, I really want Omhouse to be a band that can be a creative outlet for everyone who plays in it. In the past, it’s been a bit of a dictatorship, with me doing a lot of the arranging in advance, but I play with such amazing musicians in this band that I’m learning to leave as much space as possible when bringing in a song. That way we end up with less static arrangements where everyone is playing based on their own logic and feeling. We’ve started arranging like that recently and I think it will make for really exciting growth as we play this album and write and record the next.

That sounds a bit like Radiohead or the Foo Fighters approach to albums. Are there any groups that sort of inspired you to move that way? Or was it just something that felt right?
I can’t stand the Foo Fighters to be honest, but Radiohead is definitely a band that I look up to in the way that they had the guts to surprise their audience. I’m a huge Joni Mitchell fan and she was someone who changed vibes often. Certain albums of hers get overlooked, like For the Roses, when she got all chamber music-y and added woodwinds and wrote through-composed piano songs that were so much less poppy than her previous records. And this was shortly after her career blew up, so there was definitely a lot of pressure for her to stay the course. Stylistically, she did that so many times. Just got weirder and weirder and farther out there with each album and then in the ’80s made these kind of new wave pop-rock albums with a hard edge to them you couldn’t ever pin her down as a “folk singer.” Some of those experimental and boundary-pushing albums can be the best.

Not the coolest example in the least bit, but Bush tried that on their third album. They went all electronica and rock. The fans hated it at the time but it’s aged fairly well. You mentioned that playing these small-to-mid-sized festivals are your favorites, which ones coming up are you the most excited for? (Not including Wavelength, of course!)
All our upcoming gigs are club gigs right now. We’re still in the midst of booking our summer when most of these festivals will be.
Ahhh, anything in Hamilton coming up?
Not as of now, but we’ll be doing some Ontario dates in the spring and I’m sure Hamilton will end up being on the circuit!
Now, can I shoot a shallow quick question at you to wrap things up?
Go for it. 

Alright, what’s your number one guilty pleasure band/musician?
Hmm, I don’t really believe in guilt when it comes to listening to music… So I’m gonna turn it around and say that I can’t STAND R.E.M. and sometimes I feel guilty about it.

— interview by Kristian Johnson