Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Interview with Jamie O’Keefe of DISCONNECTED GENIUS by Dave Wolff

Interview with Jamie O’Keefe of DISCONNECTED GENIUS

Disconnected Genius channels feeling into their style of alternative rock, with melancholic piano and what you term "a unique building intensity". Was this the idea when the band started, or did it emerge from the band members working together?
I think it's kind of like Rock's equivalent to what they call the Drop in EDM. It feels kind of natural to want to explode into infinity at the end of a song, but it's all about using your intuition to recognize if that's actually what the song needs. Primarily it's not about getting your rocks off arbitrarily, but sometimes, seems like most of the time it just pans out that way. It's basically a happy accident.

How is the band’s name meant to reflect their collective view toward writing and composing?
To me, Disconnected Genius means without ego. You have to lose your ego, become disconnected, in order to access the realms of genius. It should feel like it's not actually you and you're overcome with a great feeling of luck or providence. Disconnected Genius also means that often times the most valuable things in life are considered trash by ignorant people, very much in the light in which The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde portrays this concept.

How closely does the term “disconnected genius” reflect Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince?
To me, Disconnected Genius is the concept of The Happy Prince. We find in history that often the greatest people face the most horrific persecution. There is a line in Arkane Bliss which goes "It's funny how we demonize saviours the most... punish the wise!" So saying Disconnected Genius is comparable to saying Hidden Treasure, like how the Happy Prince selflessly gave away all his jewels in order to help the people in need in his city. And yet the Town Councillor's looked down their noses at him and said he was "little better than a beggar". But when God asked his Angels to bring him the two most valuable things in the city, we see that it is the Happy Prince's heart and the swallow which are of the most value. This is why Jesus said that "It's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter heaven". Often times the most valuable things are discarded as trash by people without intuitive perception. This is why I always say "It's like the emperor's new clothes in reverse".

How much does Disconnected Genius’ approach to alternative rock differ from the alternative rock of the 1990s and 2000s? How much effort is the band putting into developing their sound?
I think it all comes down to how you approach the guitar as an instrument, because it's basically the genesis for all our songs. A guitar is kind of a vortex into a sacred land where you can bring back songs if you're lucky. I think it's like the sword in the stone. If you are pure of heart you can pull out the sword, same as you can bring back songs into existence in this plane of life. I'd say this is the same approach the alternative rock bands from the 90's and 2000's had and probably why it was branded alternative. The alternative thought is that the sanctity of the music itself is more important than the hollow rewards of worldly riches and glory that fame can provide. I like to say that you don't do A to get B... you do A. The purity is of the utmost importance and it's something that is often lacking in popular music because as soon as the industry gets a hold of you it's about sales and catching trends which destroys the spirit. So there's not actually much effort that is put into developing the sound, because it comes naturally like a gift from God. Effort and discipline are put into maintaining purity so that the proverbial garden may bring forth healing fruits.

Is it easier to compose your songs with three members in the band? Do the other members of Disconnected Genius have songwriting experience from working in other bands?
The composition of songs is no different, it's not a collaborative affair. The recording process is a lot different, and due to the skill level of Yuri & Dan we were able to record Nirvikalpa Meow in a way that you probably would only be seen done on Jazz records these days. They are both very accomplished musicians and have been in successful bands in the past but I prefer writing alone. It's a really personal thing, solitude takes up large part of my life.

Is music the most important thing to you, as opposed to mainstream popularity? Especially considering how temporary and fleeting mainstream popularity usually is?
Music is the most important thing in terms of what you can leave behind. There are more important things in life, but for things available to the human sense organs it's pretty much at the top of the list in my view. We are living in a time when a lot of people are more interested in fame and followers or what they think they can get out of music, rather than being compelled to make music itself. Fame and beauty will decay, but great music will not.

Some artists have staying power while others are part of a trend that dissolves after a few years. To you does this prove the need to write songs that are personally meaningful and reflect the time they were written in, instead of doing it for money and only for money?
I think that no matter what you do, a lot of people still won't like what you're doing, so you may as well do what you truly believe in because you can't please everyone anyway, even if you try! So, it's a no-brainer. That's not to say that will guarantee that you won't be a part of a fifteen minute industry trend though. It will, however, guarantee artistic peace of mind, in knowing that you did what you felt was right, regardless of the outcome. Like I said, you don't do A to get B, you do A. Effectively it is maintaining a desireless frame of mind.

What are your views of bands who have cult followings instead of mainstream recognition? Granted there are bandwagon jumpers everywhere, but for the most part do you think cult followings understand artists more personally? Is quality preferable to quantity?
Well yeah I think there's merit in cult followings in the sense that it's probably more genuine. They don't just like you purely because you're the cool popular thing. If you love a band your opinion shouldn't be swayed on the basis of their popularity or lack thereof. Maybe some people are chasing fame itself, which is sort of like trying to get the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, which isn't a genuine love because fame comes and goes. It's a strange thing and hard to judge people's intentions but it's all noise really, you've got to let the music speak for itself and consider yourself nothing. I do think cult followings understand their artists more personally for sure, it's a genuine thing. Like if you have a child, you love that child, you don't wait for him to be successful before you bestow your love. At the same time, if it wasn't for fame a lot of people never would have heard about you. The people that then do hear about you and start getting into your music, could be considered bandwagon jumpers, but I'm sure a lot of them are genuine lovers of the music but that's the grey area. All you can do is do your best and hope that whatever you're doing resonates with as many people as possible in a beneficial way.

Is it better to work for fame than have it handed to you as many pop artists seem to these days? To gain a reputation by writing quality music than have a publicity team tell the masses to listen to you?
I'm more interested in creating something that is meaningful. The mind is never satisfied, always with desires, many aspire for fame, thinking that it will be the final panacea. If you have been given the gift of music it's your duty to not sacrifice it and to touch as many people's lives as possible, whilst not requiring anything of anybody. I think fame is largely inconsequential and even more so when it's disingenuously drummed up by publicists; that will always be of an ephemeral nature, it's like a human body without a spine.

Does the dynamic of the band’s music show in their conceptual album from 2016? How long did you and the other members take to prepare the material before you began recording?
This ethic was the basis for the concept album, “Dogs Chasing Fairy Tales”. It was an attempt at showing people the journey one can take from nihilism to enlightenment. We prepared for the album for a long time, maybe a year, but actually a week before we were to record it the band broke up, so I ended up having to play all the instruments on that record.

Why did the band part company so shortly before “Dogs Chasing Fairy Tales” was to be recorded? How did you have to go about recording each track on the album?
It came down to a problem with the drummer not wanting to work hard enough to learn the songs properly. I think the modus operandi was just to record a guide track, then layer everything in.

Who mixed and mastered “Dogs Chasing Fairy Tales” after it was recorded? Did you work with him on the new full length after the job he did on your debut?
Recording and mix engineer was Adam Rhodes at Sing Sing Studios. It was mastered by Steve Smart at Studios 301. We had the same mix engineer for Nirvikalpa Meow, but it was mastered by Ross Cockle this time. I'm recording a new album at the moment and have changed recording and mix engineers this time.

Do your lyrics and the album’s concept fit the music written for it? Explain how the storyline was conceived and developed.
I tried to make sure that the order of the songs fit the narrative of a journey from nihilism to enlightenment. You may notice that the first song “Young & Dumb” has a pretty constant theme of "fuck you, fuck everything" whilst the last song “The Picture I Can't Paint” is all about "I love you" which symbolizes the journey of turning hate into love so to speak. It is intended to be didactic and although people are always going to take music however they are going to take it, it is there for people with ears to hear.

Previews from “Dogs Chasing Fairy Tales” and your second full length “Nirvikalpa Meow” are available for download on your official site. Does previewing your albums attract new listeners and undermine internet piracy?
DCFT & NM are also available on all streaming services like Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music etc along with Youtube, it's just how music discovery takes place nowadays. There is no way around it, and there's no reason to cut off your nose to spite your face. It does attract new listeners, which is great, but streaming pretty much is legal piracy. Millennials have only really known music as being a free commodity, only super fans will pay for your music these days. It's nice to make a living out of music but being a musician is pretty much the opposite of being a businessman, you definitely aren't sitting down thinking to yourself, "How can I make the most money I can?" Because of the profoundly deep spiritual manner in which you have been affected by music, you know potentially the effect you can have on people with your music, and that's the real currency worth dealing in.

More bands and labels take steps to protect their interests. To an extent it works since it’s easier for listeners to go directly to a band’s Youtube or Bandcamp than to scour the net for pirated music. Fans on Youtube are often forced to remove their videos unless they clarify there is no monetary gain for themselves. Is this the approach Disconnected Genius is taking?
I think the industry has just caught up with technology to an extent so it's harder for piracy to flourish. Funnily enough, the progenitor for Disconnected Genius was a band called Piracy, where we actively encouraged people to pirate our music back when that was a novelty. So Disconnected Genius doesn't exactly come from business minded stock, but things have changed a bit because it's not like recording studios are free.

There is a fine line when it comes to internet downloading and streaming; it’s good for bands who are too cutting edge to be signed to a major label since they can make a name for themselves on their own terms. But they have to consider copyright laws so no one gains from their work. Does Disconnected Genius have security in that regard?
The monopoly the major labels once had has been largely destroyed by the new era; the internet turned out to be Pandora's box in that respect. I suppose they've still got mass advertising and connections up their sleeve, but in terms of being the gateway into the public domain, those days are over. Disconnected Genius is partnered with various performing rights organizations, tracking companies etc. ISRC codes make songs highly trackable so it's pretty watertight in that respect. Plus it's amazing how distributors can locate any fraudulent uploads which haven't already been whitelisted.

What companies are the band working with? Are they doing a good job helping you protect your material?
The companies are for tracking airplay and royalty collection, but it's kind of a by-product that your material is protected by having such a secure net at your disposal. The infrastructure available to artists around the world is astonishingly impressive and you just figure it out as you go as to who you should be affiliated with.

How long was Piracy active before Disconnected Genius was formed? Is any material from that band still available?
Piracy began circa 2004, eight years before Disconnected Genius formed. There used to be a lot of Piracy material available, but people were "doing their research" adding 2 + 2 and getting 5, kind of thing, so it was all taken down to avoid confusing people. There is however a hell of a lot of material in the vault for a Disconnected Genius box set one day.

Which of Piracy’s material would you consider releasing in a box set? Is this something being planned at present?
Lots of Piracy's material would be relevant to Disconnected Genius fans who want to hear the original demos of songs and what some Disconnected Genius songs evolved from. There's nothing planned at the present time, but I'm always thinking twenty steps ahead too, so yeah one day something of that nature will be released but I wouldn't expect it anytime soon.

Was a concept and storyline devised for “Nirvikalpa Meow”? If so, how thoroughly did you work on it?
Not as such, but it is intended as an epitaph to my cat Meow who passed away. The word “samadhi” basically means enlightenment, and there are different types of samadhi. Savikalpa Samadhi is someone who has reached a position of enlightenment but can be disturbed and brought down from their exalted position. Nirvikalpa Samadhi is someone who has reached a position of enlightenment but cannot be brought down, free forever so to speak. And so Nirvikalpa Meow is just my way of saying I have the highest love for her, forever. The final song touches on Meow a lot; one line in particular is: "She runs to me, my empyrean, and in her eyes, Nirvikalpa is seen".

Describe the songs that were recorded for “Nirvikalpa Meow” and how they enhance this loose concept you referred to.
Nirvikalpa Meow is not a concept album in the way in which “Dogs Chasing Fairy Tales” is. It's just the best songs available at that time to create something beautiful. There is no over-arching narrative throughout. It's a very eclectic album. There are punk inspired songs like About Nothing, Quietly Into The Night & Just Stay Don't Go, mixed with straight up rock songs (Vertruvian Men, One Fine Day, It's A Curse I'm A Saint). Some songs are almost heading in a folk rock direction (Arkane Bliss, The Little Don, We're All Watching Everything) and also the only piano based song on the record, The Diamonds In The Poor, which is not the kind of song you'd usually hear on a rock record.

Tell the readers about the new full length album you are working on. Will it be different musically, lyrically and conceptually from the last two Disconnected Genius albums?
It will be different in the sense that we are going for a heavier sound, not metal territory or anything but definitely we want to get out of third gear and really test the limits of rock. But that being said it will still be similar in terms of catchy melodies, lyrics with hidden meanings to help people along in life, so you know, the same but different.

Is the next album most likely going to be released independently this year? Will you eventually seek indie labels to distribute your work on larger scales?
Disconnected Genius is already signed to White Rabbit Records. I'd consider offers from major labels but they'd have to make a ridiculously good offer for us to consider changing. Dropping full albums on people these days is a bit much for people to swallow. Songs will be released to radio towards the end of the year but our new album won't be released in full until sometime next year.

Are you hoping to redefine your genre and music in general with this new full length? Is this what you most want Disconnected Genius to be remembered for?
In a way, yes, I just want to go for broke and leave nothing left on the table, hopefully we will find ourselves in under-discovered sonic waters. Every time you're recording a new album you're thinking "This is it man" because that's the wave you're surfing at that particular time. Hopefully it will be something worth remembering.

-Dave Wolff

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