While John Lee Hooker purrs and growls from a set of speakers, a bottle of small batch twelve-year-old C.C. decants on the desk beside ornate glass tumblers. Vladimir Nabokov and Judith Butler are names inscribed down the spines of books spread-eagle on a desk, illuminated by a single chalk-red light hanging from the ceiling.
With me are Eric Davindra and Asa Holloh of Ooluu, vocalist and guitarist/bassist respectively. By the time we get around to business, we’re already several fingers of whisky in, and the conversation is fast and fluid.
Apt613: When we last spoke, Ooluu was a very different band. How have things changed since the departure of Zack Thi [former guitarist]?
Davindra: Well, I guess the change was preceded by us beginning to write Ophus. Asa and I would bring a bottle of brandy to the studio, and jammed a lot of stuff, but one day this riff just came out — the bass riff for “Victor” — and we went from there.
As we kept jamming, something just clicked, and we came into a new sound — slower, and sludgier. At the time, we had just lost our drummer, but we had enough material to do a show, so we got a gig at Ritual, here in Ottawa, opening for Chrysalide. Our music and the album was just in its larval stage then; Zack was still with us at that point, so some of the first few songs we initially wrote had two guitars, but it soon became apparent Wychdoktor and Asa and I just had a lot in common in terms of musical taste, and where we wanted to see things with the band go.
Apt613: So, the three of you decide that you’re going to continue, even with the departure of your drummer and guitarist?
Davindra: Yeah, we decided we’d just continue as a three piece band. Asa took over most of the guitar duties, and switches between bass and guitar as needed. The change in the lineup forced us to be a lot more flexible — Wychdoktor did a lot of spitballing in terms of coming up with and programming drums, and plays guitar if Asa is on bass.
As far as the music goes, we came from a metal background, but with this album, we didn’t want the album to sound like our EP. That said, we didn’t want to depart from our rock and electronic influences entirely, either. I think we wanted to move towards more of an older industrial sound, given how metal-influenced we felt the Mannequin EP was. Quite simply though, Ophus is the album we all wanted to make. We agreed the three of us were going to write and record this album, and we delivered on that.
. . . I’m a little drunk, sorry — I don’t know if that answers your question.
Apt613: No, that’s great.
[The suggestion of psilocybin is briefly thrown around before jointly being quashed as a poor idea.]
Apt613: You’ve talked a bit about how you came from the older material into the new sound, and the change in the band; were there changes in the songwriting process for Ophus?
Davindra: Well, Asa and I moved in together; that was very different from the Mannequin EP writing process, because now we can jam whenever we want — so I guess the process became even more collaborative. It generally started with a drumbeat from Wychdoktor, or a guitar or bass riff from Asa — though, incidentally, Asa did come up with the initial drums for “Polyvalence”.
I think it’s safe to say we took a more rhythmic approach to writing a lot of the songs. For me, coming up with cadences was really important in this album — chopping up the vocals, and making it aggressive, and making it feel fast, even when the tempo is slow — making it heavy.
Apt613: How would you describe Ophus to someone who’s not familiar with the band? What’s it about?
Davindra: I wrote this album for myself, as did the other guys in the band. It’s a form of meditation, or a tribal mantra, and when I say tribal, not just in the sense of the sound, but also in that it’s a spiritual and shamanic experience for us to lead people into the album, both in Ophus and playing shows live. Coming into it, the music is really heavy, but it has a meaning that’s deeper than the music itself. The songs stand on their own, but it’s a story and a concept that works together as a whole, so the sequence of the songs is really critical.
[The tumblers are freshly lined with whisky.]
I think the best writing comes from experience, and we all drew on our individual experiences to make this album. Ophus is a declaration of power, but it’s also understanding your weakness, and growing to fulfill your true potential. Ultimately though, existence is cyclical; Ophus is a character rising to power, and falling, before its rise to power again. The concept changes and develops in specific ways throughout the songs on the album; putting it together, we talked a lot about how each song fit into the concept, and how the emotional progression occurs throughout the album from song to song.
Listen to the first release, “Porcelain”, below:
Apt613: We’ve talked about broader aspects of the album and the band; let’s look at some specifics. What kind of rituals did you have while writing and recording?
Davindra: Well, at the beginning of each of our sessions, we’d light three candles on a glass tray — I didn’t feel it represented the three of us necessarily, but the act definitely symbolized the entrance into the album and the emotional state that comes with it. Asa did a lot of research for the album, particularly in gnostic religions and shamanic cultures, but ancient prophets and religions in general. In the album, there are lots of allusions to Satan, and serpents, and other strange things that inspired and shaped the concept of the album. I think Ooluu has become our personal religion, so lighting those candles was definitely a ritual we practised.
Apt613: Is ritualism a big part of the band — of Ophus?
Davindra: Absolutely. Asa and Wychdoktor are my brothers, you know, so if you think back to pre-civilization, men would hang out and make music — it’s a very primal thing we do. Going into the studio allows us to just switch into a mode of being that lets us express our deepest feelings. This album is about life — about the bad and good, the rise and fall — so no matter the mindset we had when writing, we would always take it from a place that fed into the concept.
Apt613: Any other rituals?
Davindra: Well . . . we’d get really baked. [Laughs.] You don’t have to put that if you don’t want.
Apt613: You maybe . . . ‘explored altered states’?
Davindra: [Laughs.] Yeah, that sounds good — we ‘explored altered states’.
Apt613: How does that idea of altered states figure into the album, and the sound of the instruments and the vocals?
Davindra: So many shamanic cultures base their rituals around percussion — a steady, hypnotic beat that entrances people. A lot of our songs have that vibe, and you can definitely get lost in the songs. I think music can produce a form of altered consciousness, even without taking or doing anything. The steady beat in our music is there so you can lose yourself in what you’re listening to; it’s kind of sonic hypnotism.
Apt613: Now that it’s complete, where do you see Ophus taking you next?
Davindra: That’s what we’re concentrating on right now. While we were writing the album, and recording it, we really had to live in the concept, and it was just something we needed to get out. When Mannequin came out, we shed this millstone that had been around our necks for a long time. It was a part of our lives that crystallized into art, and we gave it to people, saying, “This is a mirror.” I think you have to live in a concept full-time when you’re writing it, and right now, finally, over two years after starting it, we can now concentrate on what makes it fun to be a band.
Apt613: What should people expect after Ophus? Shows? New material?
Davindra: Yeah, and I’m not sure; I like this blues stuff. [Nods towards the speakers.] We’ve been thinking about doing a music video, though that’s admittedly in its early stages. It involves some people we collaborated with on a short film, but that’s all I’m going to say at this point. We’re getting our merch and our shows together, and beginning to become a fully fledged entity in the music scene.
Apt613: So the next thing for the Ophus cycle is . . . enactment?
Davindra: It is, and you know what, it’s just getting started. So it’s hard to think too far into the future, precisely because it is just getting started. When Mannequin was made, all the songs were written relatively quickly, and we played a ton of shows — that was really fulfilling. I feel like we need to go out and play this album enough to achieve that same sense of fulfillment.
Performing Ophus live is what’s important now, and we plan to do just that.
i — Scaphism
ii — Manichaeus
iii — Viscera
iv — Calenture
v — Porcelain
vi — Gnosis
vii — Polyvalence
viii — Victor
ix — Man