New Zealand-born electronic artist OPIUO—a.k.a. Oscar Davey-Wraight—has spent the past year on a whirlwind of successful shows, long plane journeys, and media interviews but he doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. He took some time out of a busy schedule to share some insight into his life of tight deadlines, odd track names, and orchestras.
Hi Oscar! I hear you just hopped off a flight?
Yeah, so I was travelling for about 25 hours, a bit longer. I flew from Orlando and LA, stayed there for 12-hours, then flew to Auckland on a 12-hour flight, stayed there for a few hours, then flew to Brisbane and drove two hours. Yeah, [it’s been a] long day.
You’re a trooper!
I have to stay up because if I go to sleep, [I’ll end up with really bad jetlag] when I get home, so it’s good to do things.
How has the tour been going so far?
[The highlight was] an amazing festival called Hulaween in Florida, which was awesome. I was on one of the smaller stages which maybe sit four or five thousand, and my manager reckons fifteen thousand people showed up. There were too many people; the people at the back couldn’t really hear. Next time we’ll go bigger.
Sounds like an amazing result. Would you say that’s been your favourite performance so far?
On that leg? Yeah, I mean, there are a bunch of smaller cities which I had a lot of fun in—one of them was in Madison, Wisconsin. I might have played there before, years ago, but not for a while as my own show, so it was super surprising and awesome to play in places like that. There was a really cool crowd… but yeah, my highlight would definitely be playing Hulaween thing because it was really crazy, colourful, and nuts.
Any festival where you get that many people come to watch you must have a pretty insane vibe.
Your latest record has sparked the hashtag #elechestral. What inspired you to merge these two genres?
I’ve always loved the orchestral world. It’s so powerful, and when I got given the closing slot at Red Rocks… [it’s] such an iconic place, I just wanted to do something that I’d never done, but also that I’d never really heard done in that way. I just took on the challenge. I kind of like to do those things to myself, leave it until a month out and think to myself, ‘How can I make this crazy?’ and turn it into a nice challenge for myself. It worked! We were still working on it two days before the show, just with our fingers crossed. It was one of those ones that had to work out, it just couldn’t not because of how many crazy things were going on. I think orchestral music belongs with electronic music as well because they’re both so powerful in completely different ways. I’ve seen a lot of people in the last year or two across really different worlds merging different parts of it together and I hope it keeps going, because I think it’s one of the coolest things ever.
It sounds like you’re a fan of a tight deadline.
Yeah (laughs). Not really, but it helps sometimes.
Do you feel like you work better under pressure?
Yeah. In some ways I do, yeah. I think I can work for a long time on something, but I won’t [properly] finish it until I have to, ever.
You’re on the same level as university students everywhere. Can you describe what it’s been like working with a full orchestra to create these latest tracks?
I actually worked with one person, mostly, to create it—Tom Hagerman from Colorado. I had a bunch of ideas together, I talked to him and we worked out how we were going to try and do it. I spent a month putting the music together and pulling out what I thought needed to be pulled out, and then when we started working on it together, we just figured out what instruments we’d want, and he started going off what I’d already started composing. He just kept expanding more and more off my sort of vibe and direction, to the point where he would just send me ideas. Some were a yes, some were a no, some were incredible. It was a really cool collaboration in that way. Once I had that trust in him, he just felt like he could go and be a little experimental, and then he put the orchestra together. We didn’t actually work with the actual orchestra until the day, and we only had one rehearsal.
They had a tight deadline too then!
Yeah, they say that’s how they do it. They get the music and they look over it for a couple of days maybe, and then they have a rehearsal just in case they have any questions. They’re incredible musician machines. They’ve trained their whole life to do that and they do it so well. I’ve got a show in Melbourne on Monday and we have one rehearsal for that tomorrow.
Yeah, I hear Melbourne is the only Australian city that will get to experience the live orchestra on this tour.
That’s right. It’s literally three months of work for one show, and I can’t even imagine trying to do more than one anywhere near each other. Yet (laughs). I feel like it would be the end of me. One day I’ll have to do more of it, but I don’t even know how will yet.
We’ll just have to wait until you can work it out then!
That’s right (laughs). I’m coming to Brisbane for my full live solo show as well, which is another thing in itself.
Where do you draw inspiration from when you’re creating new music?
Generally, it’s kind of anywhere. At the moment I’ve just come off a tour; the next moment I get some time to be in the studio, it will probably be drawn from the crowd I was playing to and the places I was going on that leg. Other times when I haven’t been on the road a lot, I normally get it from people I meet, or just some random songs I hear. I normally get inspired by music when I’m not on the road. It can be anything – a hip-hop track, a singer-songwriter… I normally go in with a bit of an idea of what I want to do, and thankfully over time I’ve learned how to make the sound I want, but it really varies a lot.
Your musical style is pretty unique; have you been influenced by any other artists in particular?
Every day, for sure, but sometimes I don’t know who they are. I just hear the music and it influences me in some way. I think, back in the day, people like Beasty Boys and the New Zealand band Supergroove… and [artists from the] early days of electronic music when I didn’t even know I wanted to make music. That was hugely influential because that’s the time you get the most influence, I think—when you’re not really paying attention, and you’re just getting a vibe. If you listen too hard, you can miss the real essence of it.
Very true. I was listening to some of the tracks on your last solo EP earlier and the titles caught my attention—things like Dalmatians, Boogie Latch and Ginger Lizard. How do you go about naming a song with no words?
For me, it’s about how the song feels. The meaning of the title doesn’t actually mean anything—it’s more about the sound of the word. With Ginger Lizard, I kind of imagined a cool little lizard thing to match its rolling vibe, with cool little horns. Dalmatians… they’re a really cool, cruisy dog. I like them, and it kind of fit the song. Fizzle Tickler is the name of another one of my songs, and the song is kind of fizzly in its manner. There’s no real reasoning. It’s just the words that pop into my head (laughs).
Fizzle Tickler… if that was a person, I would love to meet them.
Exactly! (laughs) It’s almost encouraging you to listen to the song, because you’re like, “What is that?” I think music should be interesting and make you want to dive in deeper, you know?
You’ve done a fair few remixes of other artists’ tracks on your Soundcloud. Can you describe the process you go through when creating a remix?
Yeah! Usually if I get the chance to pick [which song from a release to remix], I pick one I like less for the essence of trying to make it better than what it was. When a song is incredible, it’s so hard to improve it because it’s already phenomenal. Other times you get sent a song [which has been] chosen for you, so I normally grab one or two elements and try to build an entire vibe around [small pieces] of the original. Then I flesh it out with more of my stuff. I like remixes where you have an essence of the song that was there but you also have this entirely new thing, instead of [creating something which] sounds like the same song, but with a new drumbeat. I really like a remix to be a rework of the entire energy of it and everything, but [still] recognisable as the same song.
You’ve been in the game for a while now, what would you say to young aspiring artists in the electronic genre who are wanting to stand out?
It’s one of the hardest things to do, but I think believing in yourself and doing your thing… no matter what happens in your career and future, you’ve got something that’s yours. It seems to me the thing that makes people stand out for the longest period of time, or at least last, is when you’re you. There’s a lot of fads that come and go, and people jump onto those really quickly, but you don’t want to be attached to those, I think. Being relevant is one thing, but also being individual is highly important, and it’s a difficult thing to have confidence in that when you’re starting out, but you know when something feels right. You know when you’ve written something and there’s something awesome about it. You might still be too terrified to play it for anyone, but there’s something about it that you love, and normally you’re right, and that’s the reason you’re doing it.
For those who haven’t seen you perform before, what can fans expect from your live show?
An extreme, excitable, wild dance party of epic proportions. I have a lot of fun things to do and create sound with on stage, especially the solo set I’ve been touring most of this year and some of last year. I’ve just been working on it to the point where I can control the lighting and sometimes you have lasers and things like that all triggered by different methods, [like] keyboards or drum machines. I can create songs on the spot and it’s really making the show different in its own way. Sometimes songs are born like that as well. It’s been fun to expand into this producer’s world and when I’m on the road I can really let loose with that.
Catch OPIUO around the country this November and December, including a performance at Jungle Love Festival.