Face the Musician: Oneida and Rated O
On July 6, Dusted published a review of the Brooklyn band Oneida’s new triple-album Rated O, which came out the following day on the band’s own label, Brah Records. Trusted staff writer Bill Meyer penned the review after more than a month with the record. Before we shipped the words off to the presses, we sent the critique, along with a number of questions, via e-mail to Oneida drummer Kid Millions. We wanted to give Kid a chance to respond to our criticisms in the hopes a dialogue would enrich everyone’s experience with the album and give Dusted readers a chance to approach the industry-standard record review from the artist in question’s perspective. It’s the first installment in a new series dreamed up by long-time Dusted writer and editor Ben Tausig that we call Face the Musician.
Dusted: Bill writes that Oneida’s songs often grow on him. Does this also happen to you as a musician? Are there songs that you don’t quite "get" until you’ve played them a bunch?
Kid Millions: To be fair to Bill, he doesn’t say that our songs often grow on him…he says that Preteen grew on him. At least he’s listening to it a few times. This happens to me a lot. I’ve stopped getting rid of records for that reason – and that’s the insanity of holding onto stuff. Consciousness is fluid and that’s hard for people to deal with. Bands change, your body changes, emotions change…
Dusted: Much of your work sounds big and bulky, even bottom-heavy. But like any good "motorik" work, it’s also sleekly arranged and very textural. In what ways, if at all, do you think about the play between brutality and subtlety?
Kid Millions: The damage inflicted on a person by brutality can be very subtle. It’s a nice dichotomy to consider…I do think there’s some subtle shifts in emotion you can evoke with brutal music or changes or loudness. I guess it’s how you define "brutal" and what the context is…
I’m not sure I agree with you though in terms of "much of your work" – but I hear you and understand where that impression would come from. Rated O is pretty ruthless…and it’s probably exhausting. But yes to answer your question – we do think about that interplay all the time – it’s not a very unique thought about minimalism. Oneida is very much about minimalism and the so-called over-tones or meta-experiences that accompany a brutal performance.
Dusted: As a follow-up, it strikes me that passages like the second half of "10:30 at the Oasis" or any part of "Brownout in Lagos" owe a debt to, or at least share affinities with, some of techno or synthpunk’s less forgiving moments. Do you think about artists like Jeff Mills or Throbbing Gristle as influences? How do you think Oneida as a project is different from, or similar to, producers who make tracks for club audiences?
Kid Millions: I’ve never heard Jeff Mills – but he looks intriguing. Throbbing Gristle has always been a personal influence for me – and not even the music. There was this book I picked up in Vermont in 1994 called Industrial Culture that was put out by RE:Search. TG was all over it. I’d never heard anything so aggressively conceptual and it informed a lot of my choices as a song writer for a while. Reading about TG is more exciting to me than the music has been so far – though I am impressed by it. I went to see them at the [Brooklyn’s] Masonic Temple the other month and had them sign the test pressing of Rated O. They didn’t know what it was. They were just signing shit. Honestly – their show did nothing for me. But it’s all personal taste isn’t it? I mean if something speaks to you and touches you then that’s all you’ve got. I know a lot people loved the performance and it was very meaningful to them.
Oneida is a creative project – otherwise known as a band. We are dedicated to making music, improvising and surviving creatively within this culture. We record and perform and present this stuff publicly. It’s there for you if you want it and if you don’t want to enter into the O, then we never missed you. We are different and the same as a producer for clubs. The best of them are trying to communicate something transcendent. Getting people together and making them dance? That’s a truly honorable vocation and I have nothing but respect and admiration for it. Clearly this isn’t quite what Oneida does…but we do aspire to create something that speaks to ourselves first and foremost and hopefully touches other people and brings them together positively.
I think people who have personal experiences with us as a band and as people feel like we’re also about sustaining and supporting a community of creative people…that’s our hope at least.
Dusted: Do you mind being called "prog"? If you identify with that label, are you making progress?
Kid Millions: Yes I mind, and no, I don’t mind – I’m not a big fan of prog – but some people seem to lump us in with it. We are not tremendous technicians on our instruments…we don’t incorporate classical or composed music…so…I mean that’s how I see prog. Whatevs. Oneida has been called anything and everything under the sun. Seriously…after 12 years we’ve heard it all.
Dusted: For Bill, "what-the-fuckness" is a "key Oneida quality." Is there a sense within the band of wanting to throw curveballs?
Kid Millions: Oneida refuses to put a lid on what we are. That’s death. So if Bill sees it as "what-the-fuckness" then that’s what he sees it as. A pitcher who doesn’t throw curve balls is never going to leave the minor leagues.
I don’t want to dismiss this question out of hand – but it’s kind of my impulse! People have asked us a lot about this…we’ve started a lot of albums with jams that might not seem too welcoming, so people wonder what we think about the audience, if we’re contrarians, if we are trying to just fuck with people…the so called "what-the-fuckness" – a shorthand way of saying, "I don’t understand why this choice was made." Fair enough…I think most of the time peoples’ impressions are probably close enough to a small part of our impetus and our choices. They’re gonna miss the mark: on one hand we are a buncha dudes in a virtual clubhouse cracking jokes; on the other hand we’re all this other stuff. I think that’s the point of Rated O…it’s supposed to contain Oneida – which is an impossible ambition. But it’s fun, too.
Dusted: Along the same lines, where does a consideration of your audience fit into your songwriting? (Bill talks about offering "rewards.") Do you think more about how songs will work in the studio, or live? Would you ever release a song that you liked but that you thought a lot of listeners wouldn’t?
Kid Millions: Sometimes it’s interesting to consider the concept of the "listener." The audience is at once inside and outside the O. Oneida has been a band for 12 years and we are dedicated to this craft of creating music and performance on our own terms and in our own context. This is everything for us. Say a listener – and I would include myself in this relative to bands I love – is someone who by definition has a casual relationship to what we do – say in the best possible situation. This is someone who sits down and listens to what we do or comes to a show. Even in this rarefied world of say indie-rock or whatever – this person is a minority. At the same time – they are fleeting. They do not live or die by whether or not we record another song or play another note. For us, it is something more vital – so we gotta attend to that. It is one of our priorities in life – plain and simple. That’s the reality of Oneida for us.
Oneida will release anything that we do that succeeds for us. The definition of that success is open.
The world of the studio and world of live performance are really different. Sometimes we get down to business to attempt to bring something that we created into the studio to a live performance – and there’s a bit of translation that goes into that. It goes the same way in reverse. We write a lot of our songs by improvising…then there comes a point where we think we gotta put them onto tape…there’s another translation that goes into that. Every translation sheds a burr of meaning.
I understand what Bill means when he says "rewards" or when he talks about “The Human Factor” not being a rewarding listen. I think he missed the mark on that song – we all feel like it’s one of the many triumphs of the album – but you know – I don’t expect everyone to have the same experience with Rated O that Oneida had…
Bill’s review is more engaged than some of the ones I’ve read and I’m thankful that he thought about the album, thought about the O, and spent some time on the piece.
Dusted: Would that be "indulgence"? Or is indulgence something else?
Kid Millions: I’m going to respectfully side-step this question. Here’s what I think about "indulgence" – or being self-indulgent. We just released a triple album. If what you take away from the record is that "Oneida is self-indulgent" or we are indulging something that does not adhere to your own personal expectations for a piece of recorded music, then alright. That’s cool. I have no problem with that. I’m not gonna delineate your listening experience or your experience with Oneida. Oneida is the O is Oneida. It is very meaningful to a small handful of people – and meaningless to most of the world.
Dusted: There are several moments on Rated O that make fleeting but distinct reference to bygone musical moments, including spacy synthesizer twinkles a la Newcleus and huge, overdriven guitar riffs a la, say, Funkadelic. To my ears, there’s a kind of 1983 mishmash subtheme at work throughout the three records. Am I hearing things? My parents were very important to me around that time.
Kid Millions: You are hearing things! Which is totally awesome and I’m psyched about it. Funkadelic is the most underrated band of the rock era. Newcleus is another thing - an amazing achievement. We were just trying to be the O with this one…we have written songs in the past where we were like, "Oh let’s try to sound like The Seeds…" We didn’t do that here. But that doesn’t mean you’re wrong.
By Ben Tausig