Odonis Odonis’ Dean Tzenos talks to Louder Than War’s Lisa Sookraj about the band’s live sound, their unique brand of electronic / industrial rock and the label system – past and present. The band also have a three date UK which starts on 25th May in Brighton – full details at the foot of this page.
Louder Than War: The two halves of the album, the hard and the soft, value the quality of tapes and vinyl. I’m wondering if you have any specific memories of experiencing music via these mediums that informed your decision to structure the release this way?
Dean Tzenos: Originally it was fragmented. I wanted it to feel like you picked up some weird mixtape. But when people heard it, they said it felt too jarring. So I played with the order and as soon as I pulled the two sides apart, it made sense, they already had a story to them, and I found ways to bridge it. I love that part. I do editing for film and stuff, but with music it’s kind of the cherry on top. Being able to piece things together and see the flow.
Another important component for you seems to be the videos and visuals used in your live shows. You already have a number of videos for this album – can you talk about what this other dimension added to the music means to you?
Ever since I’ve been writing music, people have always said, “your music is very visual”. I went to school for visual arts and I’ve made most of my money from that. So for me, not that I want to say the music is secondary, cuz it’s not, but I use the visual influence to influence the music.
What would you say are your favourite songs on this release to play live?
Actually we were dreading playing this stuff because the album was so old when it came out. But we figured out how to make it fun, retooled it. We made it a little more post-punky live. We stripped a few things away. My personal favourites are what we’ve done with “Breathing Hard”- it’s very fun to play. And “Office Sluts” is the other one. That’s my favourite on the release I think.
How do you describe the experience of your live show?
We spent a lot of time engineering our sound. A lot of bands will use anybody’s amp, which is cool, but we are so anal, it’s so specific. We are taking all our stuff to Europe. Our live sound is no accident, it’s dialed in. We can play a DIY venue and it sounds even better plugged into a loud system.
What is the UK tour schedule like?
Three dates. Brighton, Manchester and London. May 25-27th.
Being a musician isn’t easy. Especially considering the fact that it took more time than expected for this record to come out, how do you keep yourself motivated?
It’s such a weird thing, to try to think of it logically. It’s almost like punishing yourself. I could live a lot more comfortably financially, but I’ve always chosen and have been driven to music. I sometimes still feel like my parents don’t get it.
I know other writers, musicians or artists I’ve known feel that. But the fulfillment of creating something that you’re proud of it and people digging it doesn’t compare to anything else.
Yeah. And you can’t put that on paper. Some people find the fulfillment in like, “I bought a house or TV” to show your status or success. But for me, I don’t want to wait til I’m retired to experience my life.
I think Odonis Odonis stands apart from some of the other heavy music that is emerging from the Toronto scene right now. I really like Trust too, and similarly, I see you as having made a type of electronic / industrial music that’s both new, and cool beyond the goth scene and embraced by or expanding into the indie scene. Can you tell us a bit about your thoughts on how you’ve managed to bring this new light to somewhat industrial music? Do you see it that way?
I kind of see that happening yeah, but I don’t know if people would say we are the cause of it.
I read that apparently this drive towards industrial is a thing right now. Though personally, your music was one of the only things I’d heard that touched on it. Its success maybe hinges a bit on the fact it’s fused with elements of shoegaze and post punk.
Yeah it’s not straight industrial music. I grew up on all those different genres. But when I made this record, it was not cool at the time. And I don’t know how big it is now. Toronto is just a small pocket. When we go outside it, we still catch people off guard all the time. People get the reference points, like Skinny Puppy or Jesus and Mary Chain, and they don’t expect to hear those influences. When I was working on the record five years ago I was thinking, not that it would come back, but that I wanted to fulfill my own need to hear it again and that someone else would probably want to too. And the goth movement in the 80s was huge.
Newer goth music can be disappointing. It seems far-removed from the source, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it often has been.
In Chicago we played a goth convention and we were like what I felt was the ‘real’ stuff. I followed it up to a certain point and then it reverted into 80s music, and then kinda kept getting diluted. It’s strange as when you grew up with a certain genre and see it progress, it’s like Green Day punk vs. Sex Pistols punk. A lot of the goth music progressed into a watered down version. Even NIN, as much as that would have been watered down in the 90s, went way farther than that since then. So it’s not the same. I was just referencing the part of it I enjoyed.
Are there other like-minded bands trying to create something similar that embrace a merger of new wave and industrial?
HSY are awesome. We put that out on Buzz as well. They’ve managed to fuse some of the same elements, but are doing it in their own way. They’re like sludgier and dirtier than our sound.
Do you have praises or qualms with modern rock on the whole?
I don’t like being referenced as a rock band in a way. A lot of the rock bands I grew up liking it started to feel like a relic. That’s why I feel people have moved away from it and gotten into electronic music. It was hard to revive the genre, even when it’s done well, because it’s kind of an old genre now. This goes back to that other question – where I’ve heard industrial more these days is in hip hop. The new Kanye West is him rapping over industrial pretty raw. MIA sampled Suicide. They’ve taken those elements and made it new and as a genre keep trying to move forward. With rock music, no one has found a way to properly revive it. I think the last time was like The Strokes. And now with younger kids relating to grunge and us and a bunch of bands coming out of Toronto; Metz, Greys, HSY, I feel it could be like a turning of the guard.
You’ve done a fair amount of touring so I imagine you’ve made connections with other scenes elsewhere. Is there anywhere in the world you could see yourself relocating to one day?
I think the reason I got so excited about the Toronto scene was after we had done a lot of touring and been a lot of places, we realized we really did have something going on here. I’m not saying other places don’t have a cool scene, but I feel we are on par, people just don’t know about it. Toronto is just starting to catch a break. Before it was Montreal. But as far as other cities go, it’s almost always in places of poverty, like Baltimore, or Detroit, where the artists actually have something to say and the music is cathartic. I thought New York would have the best scene, but it didn’t feel as cohesive as Toronto’s. That scene that everyone is idolising there seems to be from the late 70s to early 80s, then it had that renaissance in the early 2000s.
Why is it important for you to be involved with running a label like Buzz?
I never had any desire to run a label at all. Ian, my label partner, and I had gone through the system on different fronts. When it became time to find a home for the Better EP, it was the perfect time and I decided to self release and revive the Buzz brand. We weren’t thinking overly serious. Because that worked so well, we thought let’s try it with a couple of our friend’s bands and that worked even better. So it just snowballed. It’s been under a year, a lot of releases, we’re getting all the right press, like Pitchfork and Stereogum in the US. We’re representing Toronto – that’s what’s important to me now.
You’ve had your struggles as a musician, but while it isn’t easy, it hasn’t been entirely uphill either.
A lot of bands think getting signed is this magic ticket. And maybe it was, I experienced the label system and it was completely different even 5-6 yrs ago. It can’t survive the same way though. Because of the knowledge we’ve gained, we’re at an advantage because a lot of the old label types that have been around from the 80s or 90s are still stuck to a system that doesn’t work. We aren’t following any of those rules, we’re following what’s happening now.
In the DIY model, bands have more control over what they release versus standards they don’t agree with, which was common in the past.
Yeah, I can’t even imagine that, and it’s still happening. We believe in what we’re doing and the talent of our friends. Since money has dwindled, labels are less willing to take any sort of risk so there’s a lot of safe music and safe music is boring. From a corporate view, they’re gonna tighten belts and then there’s no room for innovation. That’s crossed over to all the arts. But when you’re coming at it from our angle, there’s nothing to lose, so why not experiment and try things.
Hard Boiled, Soft Boiled is getting really positive reviews. What are your plans this year for the band?
We’re touring til the beginning of July. A ton of songs are just in the queue that we haven’t gotten done yet and I want to start recording in July. We have some shows in August and are probably gonna tour again in the fall. Then we’re hoping to release this new record next year sometime.
If Odonis Odonis could choose anything it wanted to eat for its last meal, what would it choose?
Eggs Benedict. With tater tots (A tater tot is, apparently, a side dish made from deep-fried, grated potatoes – Wikipedia accessing ed).
If you could open for any band, dead or alive, who would it be?
It has to almost be a certain era of a band you know what I mean? Now I’d love to open for Swans. I like their stuff even better now than in the 80s. They’ve found something new, developed even more and didn’t stop growing as a band. I’m a huge Ministry fan too, so if I could play with like mid-late 80s Ministry. I don’t know about now. He’s kinda become like a biker dude. He was a crazy, wild man – a real rock star.
Tour dates including three in the UK from the 25th May
- May 22 Liege, BEL, MAD Cafe
- May 23 Nantes, FRA, Stereolux
- May 25 Brighton, UK, The Hope
- May 26 Manchester, UK, Soup Kitchen
- May 27 London, UK, Birthdays
- May 31 Haarlem, HOL, Patronaat
All words by Lisa Sookraj – check out Lisa’s Louder Than War author’s archive here.