Interview with Al Cisneros from Om Keith Boyd 8.20.9
Eds. note: We're working on a review of the mysterious, engrossing, simple, majestic, transfiguring new Om album God is Good, so check back for that soon. Om plays the Casbah 9.26.9, we'll be there.
1. Having just listened to the new album (another WONDERFUL release!!), it seems as though there are a few new textures/instruments seeping into the mix. What has been behind the choice to add different sonic voices and what led to using these specific elements?
Its always what the song calls for, we didn't say ahead of time "Let's try adding something else" meaning, what was rendered is what our vision/conception of the songs required - what was necessary to bring that about in an exteriorized form - the recorded song. I hear melodies that answer other melodies, the interplay of the basslines with vocal placement to beats/percussion - and here it is not different with the augmentations. When we "heard" certain parts in the early writing, we weren't certain what instrument(s) would best bring that to be, but as the songs evolved it became clear.
2. The underlying mythos and thematic narrative behind Om always seems to veer towards Middle Eastern mysticism and spirituality. There have been Sufi poetry references and Old Testament style prophecy. I find these aspects of your music to be deeply and wonderfully captivating but I was wondering if you might give readers an understanding of where this interest comes from and how it drives your music and vision.
The verses and themes are personal prayers in a salute to the reality, or God, the light, or what you term It, That, Him or Her as.
3. Is there anything you might be able to share in regards to the departure of drummer Chris Hakius? The two of you played together for many years in different groups so I would imagine that integrating a new drummer must have presented certain challenges. What do you feel new drummer Emil Amos has brought to the band?
He quit in the middle of a tour and is now retired from playing. When he quit he mentioned his heart was no longer in it, I had felt that for some time and that is where it was challenging. In a five-piece band if one member is not putting their heart fully in it can be difficult, but in a two-piece it's very challenging. So the challenge is in the past.
Emil has brought life and energy into the band, his playing style's fluidity and lyricism really permits the premise of a two-piece band to manifest - which has always been to have a dialogue between the instruments. As songwriters we really have actual collaboration, where the energy of ideas bounces off one another and ends in a higher piece of music than we could have arrived at individually. We both share the same sonic image, and are inspired to play for similar reasons. I feel what we've done on "God is Good" is thus far the most accurate in meeting up to and even surpassing the initial premise/vision.
Further - I don't want to be in Sleep for the rest of my life. For me, that band and the mindset that went into it all expired in 1997. I don't understand why people who see no guitar player on stage assert that it is going to take them into that. OM doesn't sing about dragons, wizards, and pot caravans and there is not one guitar solo. I feel we are finally playing music that is present and relevant NOW - to our hearts in our life in our experience.
4. What is your song writing process? Do you usually start with lyrics or music?
It always begins with hearing it within. Then its externalized by humming it or tapping it out, then the instruments come in to play. If I don't hear a part that sticks to me, I can't expect the audience to care either.
To your second question - I've had songs begin with either, whichever is the initial primary element, it always energizes the process so successive themes, riffs, beats, lyrics and melodies start to appear and fall into place.
5. I’m a huge fan of the work you did with Current 93 on the “Black Ships…” cycle of releases. How did that collaboration come about? What do you enjoy about collaborating with other artists and will there be more projects where Om works with others?
David is a big fan of our work, and has become a good friend. He suggested a split release, and thematically speaking, a cohesion in both bands is there on the 10'. We are planning some splits with a couple bands, which will be in 2010. Already have some material prepared.
6. Although a two-instrument (3 including vocals) band is not unprecedented, it is fairly rare. In what ways is this relatively small sonic palette confining or freeing? Can you envision making other instruments a permanent part of Om?
Its by far more freeing than confining. We know what we want to do and are able to do it. I think a lot of bands are always searching, then give up after trying this and that with nominal results. To the latter, I'd have to say we have to see what the songs tell us when we get there!
Thank you so much for your time and for your music. I’ve been a fan of your output since the Asbestosdeath days and loved Sleep as well. I think that Om is one of the most singular, spiritual and engrossing bands in modern times and have enjoyed everything you’ve put out. I’d also like to say how powerful and cathartic I find your live shows!
Check out the pics from Casbah show on our front page