Old Man River New Album & Tour Interview
It has been a long eight years since Ohad Rein, aka Old Man River released his last studio album ‘Trust’, a disc which Triple J span on high rotation. There was a b-sides compilation six years ago but ILOVEYOUSORRYPLEASEFORGIVEMETHANKYOU, to be released on June 15th, is the first one in that time in which Ohad sat down intentionally to sift through a vast collection of songs he’d written to create a new recording, one that he could tour behind. It’s an eclectic batch of tunes composed in different cities with different projects in mind for the songs at the time of writing. “The album is like a patchwork blanket,” Ohad told me. “If you were to analyse it, there are about three or four different eras.” They emerged out of writing and recording sessions in New York, Tel Aviv, and Sydney with various other musicians and it was all finally pieced together in Byron Bay, where Rein has his own mixing and production facilities.
Ahead of album launch shows in Mullumbimby, Melbourne and Sydney, Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips caught up with Ohad on the phone for a chat about the new album.
Ohad, it’s great to have you back with a new album but I guess the question most people will ask is where have you been?
Good question. I’ve been trying to put the pieces together and figure it out. Long story short, I think Trust my second album came out about 8 years ago. My oldest daughter Lela is going to turn 9 in about two months. When I look at her, I think … uh that’s what happened! So I have been working on projects and having a family, which changed a lot of my priorities. Also during those years we relocated twice, moving between countries. We had a go at living in Israel for a few years to be close to my wife’s family. That’s a whole other box full of stories. Then we decide to come back to Australia, left the city and decided to come up here to Byron and that’s another story.
Were you writing songs all that time?
I was writing. I wasn’t sure where they would end up. A lot of the songs that ended up on this album … when I started them, they were intended for other projects. That’s why the album sounds so varied … it’s very hard to pin-point a genre. One track is disco pop and the next a reggae track. In that time, creatively it really helped me to not define what it is that I am doing. As soon as I made it, I knew it was going to be a different project altogether that would allow me this freedom which allowed me to express in ways I hadn’t seen.
Would you say that there is an underlying theme connecting the songs?
Well at the end of the day it is my voice. I’m singing on all of these tracks and I think what really glued it together was the production and the mixing … which I ended up doing .. which was like this acquired skill that came about purely out of necessity. Normally I would have got someone else to do it but I was like, ok times have changed. When I was working on the second album, following a very successful first album, it was with a major label and we’d send a track out to LA to get mixed by these top mixers for a few grand but that’s not possible anymore. I just had his urge to get things finished and to get it done I had to teach myself how to do it. I think that is part of why it took a while as well, I had to learn how to do it.
Do you have a dedicated studio space at home in Mullumbimby?
I do. I have a beautiful little home studio and it’s amazing. It’s amazing that you can cut albums in a little room. So most of the production and mixing was done here and there are many beautiful studios around here that you can get out to if you need the bigger things like drums or you need a proper microphone, things like that.
Did you have a hell of a lot of songs to choose from?
Oh yeah, so many. The album is like a patchwork blanket. If you were to analyse it there are about three or four different eras. They are connected to different places. For example there are the New York sessions. These are songs I wrote in that city with a bunch of fellow producers and songwriters. We had a beautiful connection and in a few days we ended up writing about 20 amazing songs. There are also songs from my time in Israel and the cooperation I had there with some producers, then there’s the reggae project. We’d go under a different name to Old Man River and we were using these amazing reggae musicians and playing with the idea of what John Lennon would have done if he was jamming with Bob Marley. So yeah, there were all these different things.
With such an eclectic bunch of songs, was the sequence in which they appeared on the album important to you?
It’s funny I guess people these days don’t really listen to albums anymore unless you’re one of those unfortunate people who still has a CD player in their car. But yeah a sequence is important because it tells a story. When you decide on the sequence, it is probably the final decision you make for the album and it is a matter of sitting back and feeling it. The album starts with a song called Urban Daydream and I always knew this one would be the opener for the album. Then it immediately jumps to a different era with a song called Downtown, which is a happy disco anthem and then into a ballad … It jumps around and it’s kind of like putting your Spotify on shuffle. That’s how I like listening to music. I know it is probably wiser to make an album in a really cohesive way and all the songs sound the same and people get it but unfortunately or fortunately if you are one of those people who likes to get constantly stimulated and surprised, this album is an eclectic box of different delights. You don’t know what you are going to get. That’s what I like when listening to music, I like to be stimulated.
The track Downtown … is that from the New York sessions? I really like the groove of it.
Thanks man. You can really imagine someone walking along the street, grooving along the city streets. That song was actually written while I was living in Tel Aviv. It’s a collaboration with Ori, a local producer there. It is pretty amazing what he has done from the original demo. Downtown is a bluesy song and I wrote it in two seconds as a parody of all the those old blues singers sitting on the deck singing ‘goin’ downtown baby’, jamming it on one chord. When I recorded the demo back in Sydney it had a very dirty bluesy Led Zeppelin feel to it. When I played it to Ori, at the time he was really excited about that Arcade Fire album Reflector. It’s less my cup of tea to be honest but then we just tried it and it worked. It became this infectious disco pop thing that we created.
I love the funny little piano intro to Til We Become One. Where did that come from?
That’s Cameron Bruce, who plays piano with a lot of amazing artists and is an amazing artist himself. He was in the studio putting down piano for a few tracks for the album and that’s just something he came up with. I don’t think that he thought it would end up on the album. It was like a few seconds of boredom before the song starts.
There’s a lot happening sonically in this album, perhaps more than any of your other releases. How will the songs transfer to the stage?
It’s a good question and this happens to me with every album I make. I am really focussed on the music side of things, a bit more of a Sgt Pepper kind of approach. When The Beatles locked into Sgt Pepper, they stopped touring at that stage. It kind of gave me this liberty to do whatever with this album. When I make an album I have that approach, just full imagination, the sky is the limit, and then when I am done it’s like, oh shit I have to play this album live. It happened last time where I had Indian instruments on the album and all of a sudden it’s hard to find Indian musicians in Australia. Some people listen to an album and then expect exactly the same sound live when they go to the show. Some people get disappointed if they don’t get that sound. To be really honest I have never liked going to see live shows. I am a sound snob. I really like good sound. In a live show it is not really about the sound, you’re never going to get a perfect sound when you go to a live show. You’re always best hearing an album in the comfort of your home and listen to stuff which was produced in pristine studios. What you do get at a live show is that immediate transmission that is happening right now in the present. If you can deliver that as an artist and the punter can receive it, you know that you are getting a special experience … something that is never going to be repeated. It’s kinda like going to a Grateful Dead show because they never played the same show twice. When I play live, the intention is to stay very true to the moment and that’s why I always make sure I have amazing musicians with me that can hold whatever comes up. There’s a lot of jamming and improvisation and they are going to sound different to the album. We don’t really even have to rehearse because I trust where they are going to take it.
Tell me about the main tools that you use. What about your guitar? Have you had it a while?
I used to be a lot more sentimental towards gear but now I am not really. However, there is one guitar that has survived the whole journey and I have had it since I was about thirteen. It’s a simple nylon string guitar and I have abused it so many times. It has travelled with me everywhere. It went through India and when I got back it was sounding like a sitar, it started buzzing … I think because I dropped it a few times. That added a lot of charm to it. Yeah, I guess I do enjoy picking up that guitar and knowing that it is the same guitar that my fingers were attempting to play Stairway to Heaven on it when I was learning guitar at thirteen. There is something nice about the history and how it sings. I’m just comfortable with it. But generally with gear… I actually like playing with new things. If you throw some instrument at me that I don’t even know, I’ll jam and play with it. I find that it is a great tool for creativity because you don’t know it, you are expanding beyond your comfort zone and interesting stuff comes out.
Having been 8 years between albums, has this reinvigorated to to make more?
Who knows. I don’t want to sound dramatic but I have been telling people, this could be the last tour of Old Man River. I don’t know. It is equivalent to the saying … this could be your last day but then you wake up the next morning. It’s always the last day until you wake up the next morning. So yes it is the last tour, the last album until there will be another one. I definitely have the intention that it shouldn’t take as long next time. I believe that the tools I have acquired on the way of being able to create albums myself, record and mix myself, that will help the intention. I am also helping a lot of other artists, producing and mixing for their stuff. It would be great to release more stuff faster. We are on this planet for such a short while and what stays after you go?. Nothing is eternal. You think that Van Gogh’s paintings are going to last forever … no! In a thousand years, two thousand years, 20 thousand years who is going to remember him? Everything is relative but I guess compared to our lifetime of 90, 100 years or less, art can stay a bit longer. It is like plastic. So while I am healthy, have a voice and can play, well yeah … as much as possible.
You are playing a launch show at Melbourne’s newest club, The Fyrefly? What have you heard about it?
It sounds really exciting. It’s had different incarnations that space. They have invested in good sound and expanded the stage and made the whole thing have a really good vibe and people who have already played there are really raving about it so I think it’s going to be a perfect space for my launch.
ILOVEYOUSORRYPLEASEFORGIVEMETHANKYOU is out June 15
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