Good art tends to confront bullshit. A blanket statement, sure. But is there anything better in art than when the sensorial bliss also assuages the ever present drag of the bullshit? When a lackadaisically chipper tune can put a bop in our hop while also pointing a finger at some looming affront to our autonomy. Timeless melody a chenille throw around the chilly collarbones of ‘adulting’. Well, Oddnesse, comprised of singer/songwriter Rebeca Arango, producer, drummer, and keyboardist Grey Goon, and guitarist Casey Feldmen, have tapped into this magic on their new EP ‘Overindulgence’.
“Good, smart, spiritual people aren’t supposed to watch television even in LA. Whatever. The Sopranos is awesome.” says Arango.
Wrestling with things we’re supposed to like and supposed to accomplish is a dominant premise of the aptly titled EP. On the final track “This American Lie”, the tragic element of the rather buoyant tune is not the mourning of one significant event but more the hollow feeling one gets when they listen to Stevie Nicks describe losing ten years of her life to the autopilot like coma of narcotization. The magic? This devastating realization is delivered lightly, with the same feather in the fall feeling of softer Cranberries.
“And all you want is another dumb, easy feeling. Remember not the words we lost in spiritual healing. Monopolized, automatized, lobotomized, I’m lost in my American Lie.”
As a graduate of the Clive Davis Institute of Recording, it is no surprise the production on this EP sneaks by you in the way a great actor makes you forget they are acting. ‘Overindulgence’ is great example of what can be done through the format of the EP. There is as much joy hearing these songs sparkle as there is hearing them settle.
We caught up with Rebeca Arango of Oddnesse to take a closer look at some of the pervading themes and influences of this stunning EP…
There has been an exodus of New Yorkers to LA in the last ten years. Albeit you are from New Jersey, there was a time when someone from Jersey would undoubtedly head to New York City to pursue this line of work… what do you think changed this and what brought you to the west coast?
People are always flowing from top tier cities to the next lowest-tier cities as rents boil over. The exodus is natural. For a hot minute, LA offered cheaper rents and a nicer, softer lifestyle. Now the Yale grads are coming to pay $1600 a month to live in a studio apartment with bed bugs in Echo Park because Echo Park is the hippest neighborhood in the US according to Forbes. I think post-Covid 19 we will see a trend of re-ruralization – also a response to climate change. Can urban rents really keep going up like they have been, when cities are completely put out of commission by pandemic? Plus as it stands cities are in fact, less efficient and worse for the environment than if we lived in rural villages.
Do you think your new proximity to the entertainment industry permeates the themes of the songs on your EP Overindulgence? Is an example of this seen in the song “Hannah Montana”?
Maybe, but I’ve always loved television. Good smart spiritual people aren’t supposed to watch television even in LA. Whatever. The Sopranos is awesome. I didn’t actually watch Hannah Montana though, my era was Lizzie McGuire. Still, I love Miley the most.
How did attending the Clive Davis Institute of Recording shape you as a songwriter?
I had a lot of great professors there. I think it shaped me most as a producer and arranger. I took programming with Bob Power who mixed D’Angelo records, production with Nick Sansano who worked with Sonic Youth and Le Tigre. It was a really beautiful time in my life to be more focused on music than anything else. A monumental privilege.
Lyrically, Overindulgence provides context clues, poignant visual scapes and snippets of weighty moments… all of which captivate but leave enough mystery to allow the listener their own experience. So what comes first, the lyrics or the music?
Thank you! Often it’s the music. Some bits, like the chorus of All American Lie, come out fully-fledged all at once: chords, lyrics, and melody popping into your mind simultaneously – that is like the songwriter jackpot. It’s normal to have to carve away at it thought. In fact at first, while I had all the other lyrics, the hook, “I’m lost in my all American lie” was initially something else – something nowhere near as memorable (I forget). That came later while listening back over the demo we made in the studio at home.
There is a theme of longing for independence in these songs with the title “Doing My Thing” and ines like… “he wants a goodnight text, I’d rather roll another J” from “Lover’s Calling”. Does this speak to the all-encompassing nature of being in a band and how it affects the relationships in your life? If so, any advice for those musicians out there trying to do both?
Yes. It’s a longing for autonomy, freedom, and harmony…aliveness. If you’re a person who feels you need a lot of space and time alone to devote to your pursuits, that is a legitimate calling and need to claim. You do need someone who gets that. Olivia Harrison is quoted as reflecting on George: “Musicians need time alone to hear the music in their heads,” I think a lot of us, like George, are reclusive in some way. It’s worked for me to be with another artist who also gets into those periods of singular pursuit. A helpful game for cohabitation is “pretend we’re home alone for x hours.” No chit chat allowed.
The production on Overindulgence feels as though you are just with the songs themselves devoid of any nosy chaperones. What was the recording process like with your bandmates?
I love that! Get those nosy chaperones outta here! We’re very chill. We recorded these at Myster Studios across from Hollywood High which has been my bandmate Grey Goon’s main studio for years. Someone gets a little something going and then we all build on it. We like loops, so while we use acoustic sounds and analog synths there is an electronic music sensibility.
The art for the last track on the EP, “All American Lie” does a great job of alluding to the nature of the song while still feeling abstract and artistic. How do the visual aspects of Oddnesse and artwork for the songs come about?
In this case, I had the photo before the song was even written. I did one big photoshoot with Daniel N. Johnson and he brought in the artist Ethan Lipsitz, who put together the shapes and strings. That one photo in black and white just ended up clicking. “All American Lie” was in fact, a relatively late addition to the EP.
There is a tragic element to the song “All American Lie”. Nothing singular or even tangible but more a life blasphemed by the banal. Do you think Americans fall into this trap more than other countries? If so, why do you reckon that is and how do you fight it?
Yes, wise observation. Chasing career success or a paycheck for survival can be an autopilot-like coma too. It goes for any kind of wage laborer, as pointed out in Nickel and Dimed, “What you don’t necessarily realize when you start selling your time by the hour is that what you’re selling is your life.” We all make deals on our life in capitalism and some deals, depending on privilege and policy, are better than others.
The trap is easier to fall into in America because in Europe and Canada, for example, the state safety net means workers have more choice and bargaining power. The better your safety net (which can also be privilege) the better your bargaining power, and the better lifestyle you can ask for in exchange for selling yourself. In America, one reason we settle for bad deals is being hopped up on self-help that brainwashes us to be productive and compete in the capitalist market.
I’m still trying to figure out how to fight it myself, and I already had a pretty unconventional way of making an income. I increasingly think a lot of my friends who keep their cost of living low have it right. I’ve been in the trap of thinking that it would be more stressful not to have my bigger paycheck, but when you truly get that your free time is the most valuable thing as an artist you don’t need much else. I wanted to travel and eat out, probably not because it made me happy but because I thought it was who I needed to be accepted or “successful.” Common mistake! Equally sneaky is the illusion that if you work hard in a job now, you’ll find a way to become more valuable, transcend capitalism and achieve autonomy. It’s certainly possible, but not guaranteed.
Overindulgence is a great example of an EP. What is your favorite example of the format from an artist you love?
My college roommate Caitlin Pasko (a wonderful artist) had Fleet Foxes’ Sun Giant EP on vinyl. It got a lot of play in our apartment and to this day it is my favorite morning music that I listen to year after year.
If you happened to be quarantined with this artist, what would you ask them in the long hours of isolation-induced boredom?
Do you want to play banana grams? I think Robin Pecknold would play with me. And then maybe he’d tell me about his “Crack Up” and what it’s been like to be him.
CONNECT WITH ODDNESSE
photos / Daniel N Johnson
story / Chris Hess