July 5, 2012

Interview: Onuinu

If the Mayans have it pegged, this summer might be our last opportunity in America to dance and be merry while it's hot out. Let's hope to God not, because among other things we won't get to see the promising career of Onuinu blossom. The electronic project of Portland, OR producer Dorian Duvall, Oniunu records what Duvall calls "disco-hop," a funked-out blend of gauzy electronics, funky basslines and infectious guitar impossible not to vibe to. Recently, a Portland magazine described his sound as "a slow cruise through a brightly colored Blade Runner-style landscape intercut with spaces of pastoral beauty,” and listening to his recent single "Happy Home," you can see why such a luxurious description was needed.

Onuinu has certainly had a busy summer. He finished the recording of his debut album Mirror Gazer (out 9/11 on Bladen County Records) with percussionist Jeremy Sherrer (of Dandy Warhols fame, among other bands) and recently completed a tour out with fellow Portland quirks YACHT. (the project includes a live band which includes Duvall on guitar, keyboard, and vox, Arian Jalali on keyboard and guitar, and sometimes Sherrer on drums) They are now currently on a summer tour opening for San Francisco electronic act Tycho and Dorian was nice enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to sit down with me and answer a few questions about his process, the recording of his new album, and the acccuracy of Portlandia.

When did Onuinu start as a project?
It started in the summer of 2010, I put out a split cassette tape on a Portland local label called Apes Tapes. I needed to come up with a new moniker and while sitting with with a friend one hot summer day the name was conceived.

What sort of cultural items (musicians/art/books/films/etc) influenced your early music?
When I was young I was really into whatever was on MTV or what my friends were into, then at about 8th grade I started to branch out and discover new music. I was like most kids, I liked Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, The Beatles, etc… It wasn't until I moved away from home and to Portland, OR, I was exposed to a lot music, at first it was more indie based stuff and then I went through a long phase of listening to Progressive rock. Films and literature have never really been a direct inspiration for me to make music, the occassional documentary or autobiography will inspire me.

Onuinu has a very distinct melodic sensibility to it. Jakub from ISO50, describing one of your tracks "Happy Home", referred to your sound as ”upbeat Black Moth Super Rainbow backing Toro Y Moi for an encore at a outdoor roller disco, everyone is dancing.” How would you personally describe your sound and do you consider it as being part of any specific genre?
I pull inspiration from so many kinds of music, sometimes I don't initially mean to blend genres, it's just kind of a result of what I was listening to at the point in time I was making a particular track. It's hard to put yourself in a category, that's why I created the whole "Disco-Hop" thing, I didn't want to immediately be tagged under something I didn't consider my music to be. At the end of the day it's not something I'm hung up on, I just want people to enjoy the music, they can call it whatever they like.

The tracks we've heard from Mirror Gazer so far seem very thoughtfully layered and utilize a lot of different pop production elements. What is your production process like? How do you build a song?
It can go several different ways, sometimes I find a sample and chop it up, pitch it down, filter it, and sometimes I make a beat and add synth over it, I sample myself a lot. I usually make the beat first and then figure out vocal melodies, I rarely compose the opposite way.

On that note, we should point out that you have an upcoming album, Mirror Gazer, coming out in August, which you produced alongside fellow Portland musician/producer Jeremy Sherrer. Tell us about the recording of this album.
The recording process was unlike anything I was use to. I was so accustomed to recording with my 4-track in my room that going into a real studio was kind of stressful at first. I was going to record the record at home, but after listening to a few demos I knew I wanted to take the record to another place. I was introduced to Jeremy through a friend and we went into the studio and laid down the tracks in a day and then did overdubs, vocals, and post-production over the next few months. We recorded the album on a 16-track 2" tape machine and did editing on a DAW. It was fun, I was able to utilize a lot of tools I didn't have before, and it really made a big difference on the record.

On the topic of scenes, as a musician out of the Portland area in 2012, I just gotta ask, what’s your stance on the whole Portlandia meme? Do you think their satire has your city pegged or do you see Portland’s art and music scene as something different?
It's definitely a very supportive and forgiving music scene, if you really want to build your chops, Portland is the place to do it in my opinion. People aren't very harsh and competitive, at times I think it can develop a threshold for innovation, but it can also give you a sense of comfort to express yourself in whatever way you'd like. Although, I haven't really spent a lot of time in other places to really have a true comparison, there are times when I get frustrated with the scene, but for the most part it's pretty cool, I wish we had a dope Rap and Hip-Hop scene, maybe I'm not looking hard enough though.

What art are you currently into (bands/books/films/etc)?
I've pretty much been on the road for over a month, so I just listen to music in the car, I'm not a Nazi about who plays what in the Van, so I listen to a lot of my friends music. That consist mostly of industrial, Goth, post-punk, and 90's jams. I myself prefer Hip-Hop currently, I've been into the LA rap scene, Dom Kennedy, Kendrick Lamar, Odd Future, I dig on east coast stuff too, I'm really into the production. I still come back to old favorites though, a close friend recently recommended a progressive German synth record by SFF, it's pretty amazing.

Onuinu recently went out on tour supporting quirky Portland synth-pop band YACHT and are currently embarking on a summer tour with San Francisco ambient electronic musician Tycho. How are the shows going and did you initially find it hard to translate what you do to a live setting?
The tours are really fun and tiring, I've never been on tour before, so to go on a national tour for your first couple tours is a big step. translating the music to a live setting isn't too hard, I was so used to playing solo for so long that it took me a minute to get use to playing with other people. It's been kind of tough having to change band members for these first two tours, I would have liked things to be more consistent, but its worked out, the band will be back together at the end of the tour, I'm stoked about that.

Who do you currently have/want to start beef with?
Wampire, Breakfast Mountain, Jeffery Jerusalem, Mattress, Foreign Orange, KTranza and The Crow, they all really annoy me, they steal all my musical ideas and never give me credit.

What are Onuinu’s goal(s) for 2012?
To release the record, tour, work on new material, get a car, and find a cool girl.

Any final shout-outs?
Shout out to all the Portland and Cleveland homies, Wassup!

Mirror Gazer is out 9/11 on Bladen County Records.

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