INTERVIEW: Omnibox

By Marcus Pan

Chain Border

Debuting with Alpha(1), Omnibox's first release is being heralded by some as the type of music that is expected of many bands after years of maturing together. But Omnibox jump the gun, putting out a CD that brings with it a sound that is musically powerful and which can easily be mistaken as a senior release from an already established electro outfit.

Nonetheless, Omnibox was not without their upheavals. With wide ranging line-up changes since the Alpha release tracks were put down, it's going to be interesting to see what Omnibox will come up with next now that they've got what could almost be said is a new team although founding member Brandon Jerwa continues on. So through the help of managing agent Jessica Blackshear of Synthetic Field Technologies, I thought I'd ask them a bit about that and other things.

1. Omnibox had a hit with the Here Comes the Rain Again Eurythmics cover. This was nearly a half decade ago - why so long between then and your debut Alpha release?

Brandon: Money, mostly. When Rain hit, it was a big shock to us. We suddenly had fans writing from all over the world, but we were still playing bars for $50. The album was not something we could feasibly do at that point. Then when we finally started work on Alpha it took over a year to finish for various reasons, most of them again financial. ADSR does not pay for albums to be made. They press your finished product. Alpha came out of our pocket…and in fact, the new album is coming out of pocket, too, but the band is making more money now, so we'll see.

2. Omnibox has undergone a number of line up changes, most recently the parting of ways with Mike Lewis, who co-founded the band, and the termination of Necee Traillour and replacement with Aaron Hatfield (Exsilium). Also the split of Michael King and replacement with percussive team Fritter (Noxious Emotion(2)) and Matt Sharifi (former drummer of SMP(3)). Obviously the sound of upcoming releases will be drastically different. Is Brandon finding it at all difficult to continue as Omnibox being the remaining member of the original manifestation?

Brandon: From my standpoint, the changes have only made us stronger. That's not to say that those people who aren't with us didn't make contributions, but in the end we've come back better than ever after every change. I think it also proved to us that having to make tough decisions wouldn't kill us as a band.

Fritter, Matt and Pamela are the best things that have ever happened to me. Finally, I have bandmates who understand what it's like to be in a working band, and they are willing to make the commitments and sacrifices that come along with that.

Matt and Fritter have really grown into their roles in the band. Pamela's still a little out to sea, I think, being so new and having to learn the old songs while helping conceive the new. She and I have a good dynamic when it comes to writing, and I think that will show on the new album.

Pamela: Anchors aweigh..

3. How has the new line-up shown their differences in your post-Alpha work?

Brandon: Only now, as we begin work on the new album, are Fritter and Matt beginning to cast their influence on the overall sound. Matt is doing some pre-production and programming on a couple of songs and Fritter is working with Tom Shear, our producer, in the mixing stage of things. Pamela and I are writing together now and that's working out. Having her in the band means that she'll be singing some of the new songs as well; I've wanted female vocals since the very early days of the band, so this is all in line with "the plan."

Live, however, is a different story. The addition of two drummers has changed us from an "electronic band" to a "live electronic band." I would say, with all humility, that we really, truly do play live as well as any other band I've seen in our genre, and better than most.

4. I know you've been working on new material and an upcoming future release. What can you tell us about that?

Brandon: We are currently two songs into the recording and Tom has already turned in a mix for one of them. I said in another interview recently that I think this may be our "Depeche Mode album," in that the songs have a broader appeal without compromising our original intent. It just feels like Black Celebration or Music for the Masses to me. I think that the focus will be on the song writing a lot more as well.

Due to the label situation and our own desire to be truly happy with the finished product, I will note that this album may not see the light of day for a year or more. It's worth the wait to us, really. As long as it takes is as long as it takes.

5. How did Omnibox meet up with ADSR Musicwerks and eventually come to choose that Seattle label to release the debut album, Alpha?

Pamela: It's all Fritter's fault.

Fritter: It was all my fault.

Brandon: We met Fritter at one of our very first shows. In fact, she was one of the two people there! She put us in touch with Mike Wimer. We had been signed to an upstart label in Seattle when we went to record some songs at Wimer's house several months later, but by the end of the day I think the decision had been made by both parties that we should move to ADSR. This would have been, what? 1998?

6. Like a lot of other bands, Omnibox will be moving to a new label with their next release. Is there any reason in particular for this?

Fritter: Lack of distribution, lack of advertising, lack of communication, etc. I think especially the lack of distribution is a factor; if you have a CD that never leaves the area you're in, how are you supposed to get any new listeners? There are problems with ADSR, like any small label, but they're not problems we're willing to deal with any longer.

Brandon: Plain and simple, we are not happy with the job that ADSR has done promoting our album. They have simply not held up their end of the deal in terms of getting our album out to people. They have also set up a situation in which most of the large live shows for our genre that come to Seattle are booked through them. We have asked repeatedly to be added to the "rotation," but have not played an ADSR-booked live show in Seattle since September of 2000.

Pamela: I have yet to hear anything positive about ADSR.

7. Has there been a decision as to what label will release your next album?

Fritter: Releasing it on our own may be a decision we have to make. It would be easier than shopping it, since most labels in the U.S. aren't signing, nor do they have the money to do so.

8. What are the chances of getting you to tell us gamer fans a bit more about your Outer Heaven(4) instrumental that's scheduled to appear in a future video game soundtrack? Can you tell us what kind of game maybe - action, strategy, RPG? Or maybe what company is releasing the game?

Brandon: www.bikinibabes.com has the whole story. Buy that game!

9. Why are Aaron Hatfield and Mike Lewis no longer with Omnibox?

Brandon: Well, Aaron was having a really difficult time balancing his "real life" and his "band life," for a variety of reasons. With that stress also came poor health, and although we were sad to see him go I can't say we were terribly surprised, either. We are still close with Aaron and he is working on the album with us, completing the songs that he had co-written. He's a good guy and we miss him, but that's the way it goes.

As for Mike...well, it's hard to have to make decisions sometimes. You reach a point, I think, when you are better served by minding your business than you are minding your associations. If that sounds cold, I don't mean it to be; we had simply reached that point with Mike. For various reasons, it was no longer a good business decision to have him in the band. That made all of us terribly sad and I still care for him a great deal. You can't share a musical relationship with someone for 6 years and not have a good strong connection. We wish him well and I hope we see him soon.

I recently learned that the two of them have formed a band called Alliance Betrayed, which should be interesting, especially since we're going to have a show together in a month or two! I'm curious to see how that collaboration will affect the dynamic between Aaron and I as we finish our work together on the album. They'll definitely make good music though, I'm sure.

10. So tell us…what exactly did you three do to the unfortunate Camlyn Hotel that was bad enough you felt inclined to thank the clean up crew in the jacket of Alpha?

Fritter: I don't know, but I'm pretty sure I'm glad I wasn't there.

Brandon: There are actually six culprits in this situation. It was in December of 2000 and we were opening for VNV Nation in Seattle. Michael King, Necee Traillour, our photographer Mikhail, our manager Jessica, myself and an unnamed female tagalong were all staying in a room at Seattle's Camlyn Hotel after the show.

There was quite a bit of drinking after the show, and we had to drop Necee off at the hotel while the rest of us went out for breakfast. Necee had already been sick at the club and by the time we reached the hotel she could barely stand. I offered to escort her to the room, but forgot which room we were in. For some reason, I decided to follow Necee's lead. Soon we were trying our key in a door that was not ours and an older woman screamed at us from inside the room to "go away." Within seconds, security came up to investigate, just in time to see Necee throw up all over the hallway. They were nice enough to help us find our room.

While I cannot disclose the rest of the events that went on in that room later, let's just say the cleaning crew, security team, Hazmat crew and the National Guard all earned gold stars that night. It's so hard to get blood out of a carpet, you know?

Pamela: Ew.

11. Some samples of the well-known movie Matrix was used on Alpha's final, Perfect (Digital DNA), track. Knowing how this movie has become prevalent to the cyberpunk/electro scene, was there any trepidation in using samples from a movie that could very well turn out to be one of the most sampled of all time? Any fears of being called cliché for such a move?

Fritter: I wasn't in on this one, but I don't think the sample used was a particularly cliched one. It fit well in the context of the song, as did the sample in the middle of the song from Pitch Black. I think Evil Dead has been sampled way more than the Matrix ever will.

12. The Internet and entities such as MP3.com and Riffage.com have seemed to be a boon for independent and near-independent artists today. The promotions available with the Web are amazing. Do you take advantage of this or do you still tend to enjoy paper-based or more conventional forms of promotion?

Fritter: I think when the next CD comes out we'll promote the living shit out of it and I think the best way to do that is to actually play shows. There are a great many magazines that we could get ad copy in, but that is usually so expensive for even a quarter page ad. Playing out is really the best way and it's a lot more fun.

Pamela: Advertising and word of mouth will only get a group so far. I think playing live more will allow Omnibox to reach a broader audience. It's also more cost effective in the long run.

13. What's your favorite mode of having fans get in touch with you?

Brandon: On my lawn, naked and screaming. On the other hand, they can go through www.omniboxnet.com, our website. That works too.

Fritter: E-mail or face-to-face. It's a lot easier to communicate in person, because I work largely in sarcasm, which NEVER translates well over the web.

Pamela: E-mail. Although, a little one on one never hurts. However, I am not too fond of people, in general, so I think E-mail is safer for all involved. That way, folks can't see me snarling and/or gesturing obscenely on the receiving end.

(1) Alpha was reviewed in Legends #118.
(2) Noxious Emotion were interviewed in Legends #89.
(3) SMP were interviewed in Legends #104.
(4) Outer Heaven appears on Alpha - albeit not instrumental there.

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