In one of the strangest and most exciting encounters I’ve ever had in this virtual world of 0’s and 1’s, I had the honor to ask my favorite musician of all-time few questions that led me deep into weird alleyways of his neural structure. I came to realize that it’s not just Ott’s music that’s out of this world, but if there’s a clinical alien-check test, he’ll probably nail it. Let’s get right into it:
- Legend has it that you were born a baby and you worked your way into being an adult from there. How was Ott the Kid? And how did he fall into the music pit?
I was a pretty standard kid, as I remember. I grew up in a large village/small town in the south of England during the 1970s, and I spent most of my time digging in the dirt, riding my bike and hanging out with a gang of friends. At that age i wanted to be a movie stuntman but I had a propensity for falling off things, breaking bones and burning myself, and I was terrified of heights, so that wasn’t ever going to happen.
I always loved music and I was exposed to some pretty psychedelic stuff at a very early age, thanks to my mum’s eclectic and adventurous record collection. By the time I was eight I was pretty well acquainted with Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd, Wendy Carlos, Jean Michele Jarre, and the whole slew of ‘Moog’ records that were very popular in the early ‘70s.
I can remember ‘Popcorn’ being a huge hit and my mum buying the album by ‘Hot Butter’ on which it appeared. She would buy anything with the word ‘Moog’ on the cover so I’d spend my Saturday mornings immersed in records called ‘Elektrik Cokernut’ and ‘Electronic Hair’.
On the back cover of all of these early synthesiser records there was always a photo of the modular Moog synth they were made with and as a child I used to sit and gaze at these scary but fascinating machines in total awe, hoping one day I would get to see one in the flesh.
Every Thursday night on BBC1 there used to be a TV programme called ‘Top Of The Pops’ which ran down the pop charts and played selections from the Top 40. I used to sit and watch bands like The Sweet, Slade, Wizzard, and Roxy Music, cavorting around in their glittery clothes and platform boots, and even at the age of eight I could tell that being a pop-star was probably the best job in the entire world and that it would be foolish to aspire to anything less.
Around my tenth birthday I heard a record called ‘Mr Blue Sky’ by ELO and I can remember very clearly how time stood still for five minutes and 19 seconds. That was the moment that I decided that the only job better than ‘pop-star’ was ‘record producer’ and my mind became very firmly made up.
As a teenager in the ‘80s I would tell careers teachers that I was going to be a record producer and they would roll their eyes and write ‘idiot – chicken factory’ on their piece of paper. Foolishly I accepted their lack of ambition as my own and from 1984 until 1990 I did a series of dead-end jobs which corroded my soul.
Then, one day at a party, I accidentally took some LSD and the whole deception was revealed to me. Within a very short time I had quit my last dead-end job, bullshitted my way into a job at a recording studio in north London and never looked back.
- From Blumenkraft, passing through Skylon and Mir, up till your latest Fairchildren, you managed to keep a signature Ott tone throughout them all, yet the music composition and flow evolved and pushed our limits as listeners. How did your creative process evolve from one album to the other? What lessons did you take from one record to the next.
Skylon was a difficult record to make because i wasn’t sure what was expected of me. The way in which Blumenkraft was received took me by surprise because the critical reception it got was almost universally positive, but it took 20 years to make and I had done it in secret.
By the time I released Blumenkraft, I’d already done ‘Hallucinogen In Dub’ and that was very well received too, so I was mindful not to fuck it all up by making the ‘wrong’ third record.
Being a bit inexperienced I became rather too concerned with trying to work out what other people wanted next and as a consequence Skylon took a long time to write. It didn’t really affect the content of the music because what is going to come out, will come out, regardless of how you try to shape it, but it did cause me to make some bizarre decisions.
By about 2007 Simon Holtom from Twisted was starting to hassle me for a follow up to ‘Hallucinogen In Dub’ and ‘Blumenkraft’ and in an attempt to make me get on with it and finish the record he showed up at my house one day and demanded to hear what i had done. I played him nearly everything and he was very enthusiastic, but said we needed one more track because we didn’t have quite enough for an album.
I said I did have one more song, but it probably wasn’t suitable as it was a love song and a bit too sweet and fluffy for Twisted. After much persuasion I gave in and played it to him. That song was ‘The Queen Of All Everything’.
By the time ‘Mir’ came about I was feeling a lot more confident and I had worked out that the only person in the world I had to please was myself, and after that everything got a lot easier.
I don’t consciously try to keep a signature ‘Ott tone’, in fact I’m constantly looking for ways to not sound like myself, but I suppose it is inevitable that there will always be a common thread running through my releases because I have patterns and preferences and it’s all made on the same wonky old equipment.
- You are a Planet Earth marketing representative for an advanced alien civilization and you want to sell them ‘earth’ as a touristic destination. What would you include in your sales kit? Some albums, movies, pistachios, postcards, etc..
[su_quote]Earth – It’s Almost Paradise![/su_quote]
With it’s unrivalled natural beauty, exquisite flora and fauna, and stunning variations in climate, Earth is the holiday destination which has it all!
On Earth, delicious fruit literally grows on trees, pristine waves crash onto sumptuous beaches and colossal forests generate pure oxygen for all to breathe.
Countless species of animal share Earth’s bounteous resources and the variety of those species has to be experienced to be believed!
Birds of every vibrant colour sing and talk, insects, mammals and reptiles share habitats in synergetic harmony, and the oceans teem with life in every conceivable form!
For the family holiday which has it all, it has to be Earth every time!
Disclaimer: Earth Tours Ltd takes no responsibility for any death or injury caused by contact with humans, their disastrous pollution or ruinous wars. Actual ‘sumptuousness’ of beaches and ‘pristineness’ of waves my be adversely affected by vast islands of plastic garbage, chemical spills and sewage outflows, and diversity of species my be seriously compromised by the erosion of habitat by deforestation, intensive farming, profligate use of hydrocarbons, fracking and thermonuclear detonations. Donald Trump unfortunately still alive at the time of going to press.
- How did the cat species brainwash you into adopting one of their own and how would you describe your relationship with your master cat?
I read a theory that a parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis, which is spread by cats and their faeces, can cause brain-change in humans which compels them to prioritise the well-being of cats. I’d love to write more but i have to finish filleting this £800 piece of sushi-grade bluefin tuna I bought Ted for his mid-morning snack.
- Your music is too peaceful, let’s explore your dark side. What pisses you off the most about the current behavior of the collective human species?
Oh fuck, how long have you got?
Greed, selfishness, lack of compassion, the drive to go to war because your imaginary friend told you your pointless bullshit ideology is the divine truth, disposable plastic plates and forks, deforestation for corporate profit, people sitting on billions while others scavenge on garbage tips to stay alive, colour-prejudice, patriarchal hegemony, caste discrimination, religious extremism, imperialism in all of its forms, oppressive regimes, Donald fucking Trump, police brutality, the arms industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the food industry and the way it treats conscious, sentient creatures as raw material in its soulless death factories for naked profit.
That kind of thing.
- The vocal samples you use in your music are a bit.. eccentric, spiritual and fun. How [thefuck] do you get your hands [and brains] on such wizardry?
I find sounds which stir my soul and bend them to my will with an array of amazing technology. The beauty of digital manipulation is that you can make any sound fit, musically and sonically, with any other, and so the only criteria for choosing a sound is that it emits some kind of magic. The internet and the global library of sound which exists upon it is SO vast that, with the right tools, an inexhaustible supply of wondrous material is only a few mouse-clicks away.
- There’s a myth going around the interwebz that you have a mobile workstation that you take to secluded forest spots where you do some voodoo and write music? How true is that? Any other weird ticks you have that we should know about?
It’s an old highway maintenance van that my wife and I bought and converted into a camper. It spent it’s professional life crawling along motorways while a worker leaned out of the side door, dropping orange cones to divert traffic around roadworks. We bought it, lined it in wood, carpet and leopardskin-print fur and fitted a bed, a stereo and kitchen.
It has a large solar panel on the roof and is wired to harvest sunlight, which I can use to run my laptop and speakers in attractive locations as I see fit. Most of Fairchildren was written in it.
We’ve driven it to France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Slovenia, and Hungary, as well as to a few English festivals and beaches. His name is Ivor.
- You crowdfunded the production of Fairchildren, then launched it from your iPhone while road-tripping somewhere in France. In between, you were camping at your studio under your synths until you got the work done. As a fan, there’s no better reward than seeing your favorite artist work so hard to give perfect your quality time with music. Any cheesy thoughts you have on the subject matter?
It was a labour of love and I’m extremely proud of every second of it. I gave it my all, did some of my best work ever and wouldn’t have done any of it any differently.
Launching it from my phone from the back of our van on a French motorway was the icing on the cake, even if it did piss off the Kickstarter backers who got their download codes two days later.
2016 is a great time to be an independent musician. The internet came along and slaughtered the malevolent, festering dinosaur that was the old, coke-snorting corporate music business, leaving us free to create and distribute our art without having to negotiate a raft of bloated, soulless douchebag middle-men along the way.
[I don’t include Twisted in that, in case you’re wondering.]
- Can you walk us a bit through your creative process? How do you conceptualize a song? Do you start with a bassline and build it upwards and see what you got? Or do you design its concept and write the tunes and work around that? Or do you just poop gold?
No, I poop foul-smelling nitrogenous waste, with bits of sweetcorn in, like everyone else.
I’ll generally start with an angle, a sample or a chord sequence or a synth part which suggests a novel direction, and then I’ll loop around that and build up some layers. Usually drums next, then a bass line, then some percussion, etc.
Once I think I have enough layers to form something more substantial, I’ll start arranging it linearly, sketching it out in rough until I have an overall shape. The goal is to form some kind of musical narrative, a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. It needs to have some kind of dramatic arc and I can’t move on until it does.
Then I’ll go into detail and embellish each section with little decorative shapes and movements which draw the listener through the song and smooth the transitions from section to section.
Once that is done I will switch into mix-mode and work on the layers of sound until they work cohesively as a whole. Once I can play through the whole thing from start to end, without wanting to change even the slightest detail, it’s finished and I give it a name.
I’d liken it to building a watch out of components, filing out cogs and tensioning springs until it all ticks away as one smooth machine.
- Gargoyles: Was that project really just a kitchen session with Simon Posford? How come you don’t invite Simon to dine in your kitchen more often?
Gargoyles was the name we chose for two songs we worked on together a long time ago, but it was never a serious project.
Simon and I lived quite close to each other during the early 2000s, and occasionally we’d hang out. He would come to my house or I’d go to his and sometimes, instead of watching a movie or playing Playstation that night, we’d piss about with some synths or an effects unit.
In the case of ‘Spacebaby’, it started with a recording of [Interchill label boss] Andrew Ross Collins’ baby son Alexander babbling into a microphone through loads of whacky effects. We put some headphones on him and patched a microphone through some Eventide gadget and let him loose and Simon recorded the result. Then i took it away and built the song around it. Michele Adamson came round to my house and did some vocals, Simon played bass and some synths and I mixed it.
‘Evil Do’ers’ was something that Simon and I did round my house over a couple of evenings. I got some drums going, he played some bass, I played some melodica and keys, we both added some spooky noises, and then we mixed it live on my mixer.
We tried to collaborate on another track a while later but it didn’t work. I think we just irritated each other because we’re both used to being the one sitting at the computer deciding how it’s all going to be. We live four hours apart now and hardly ever see each other, except at festivals and gigs where we’re both playing. It’s always nice to see him.
We may do it again sometime but to be honest we’re both pretty busy with what we’re doing already and I’m pretty fond of working alone so I don’t see it happening any time soon.
- You sampled Alan Watts’ Art of Meditation lecture on ‘One Day I Wish I Have This Kind of Time’. How spiritual are you really? And is meditation part of your daily diet?
I do meditate quite a lot, but not in a ‘sitting cross-legged, going Omm’ kind-of way. I do it staring out of the window or sitting in the bath or walking my dogs.
I think we’re all spiritual in our own way, in that we all ponder our inner landscapes and wonder at the marvellous inscrutability of it all. I don’t go in for eastern philosophy in any way, and I have no use for religion or gods. I like Alan Watts for his humour, optimism, kindness and the mellifluous tone of his voice.
- Your music is of introspective psychedelic value. With such a controversial topic resurfacing to the public today, how would you explain a proper psychedelic experience for someone who’s never really been into that realm before.
I think everyone has been ‘into that realm’ at some point. Just being born and growing up is a profoundly psychedelic experience. Eating food, hearing music, seeing good art or a beautiful sunset, having sex or a fantastic massage, falling in love, being blown away at a concert or travelling to a strange and foreign land are all totally psychedelic in their own way, and just as profoundly affecting as any chemical compound.
That’s not to say experiences with psychoactive compounds don’t carry their own considerable developmental weight. I regard my life as having several distinct stages: ‘before LSD/after LSD’ and ‘before MDMA/after MDMA’ but they are not the entirety of the psychedelic experience by any means.
I wouldn’t attempt to describe these experiences verbally because I think talking about psychedelics is like dancing about architecture. I know what I saw and I know what I felt and even if I had the words to describe it you’d never believe me. If you’ve done it you don’t need it describing to you and if you haven’t the description will mean nothing to you anyway.
Acid stories are just stupid and boring to anyone who wasn’t there with you.
- If you fell into a time machine and went back to the 1800s with all the knowledge you have today. What music would Ott & The All-Seeing I play then?
I don’t know about the 1800s but occasionally I fantasise about travelling back to 1978 with my laptop and music software and beating Gary Numan to it.
When I heard ‘Are Friends Electric?’ for the first time I cried and I was only ten years old. It was a moment I’ll never forget. I was too young to understand the depth and philosophy of the punk movement, but the sound of that Minimoog melody went straight to my core. I had heard a huge amount of electronic music by then but most of it was either a bit dry and academic, like Wendy Carlos, or childish and whimsical like Perrey and Kingsley.
The way people like Numan evolved synth-pop out of punk was a very beautiful thing, and I’ll always be grateful that I got to be a teenager at a time when The Human League, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell and OMD owned the top 40 with their fizzy monosynths and their drum machines.
I was fourteen when New Order released ‘Blue Monday’ and I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard it. I hate to sound like your granddad but fucking hell, that was a moment. It is impossible to describe the feeling of hearing something so massive and so ground-breaking for the first time. It must’ve been how my mum felt hearing Elvis Presley or The Beatles in her youth.
A few years later i got to live through the rave revolution too – I was 22 in 1990 and all of a sudden, instead of drinking beer and fighting in pub car parks, we were spending our weekends driving round dark country lanes, looking out the car windows and trying to work out where the lasers and the doof were coming from, and then dancing in fields all night with a thousand other people to futuristic alien acid house, off our heads on pink pills and blotters, hugging strangers and sticking our fingers up at the police.
I was born almost at the start of the history of modern electronic music – ‘Switched On Bach’ was released the year I was born – and I’m fortunate to have been present for every major innovation. The invention of the synthesiser, the invention of midi, the invention of sampling, plugin effects, virtual instruments, digital audio, Melodyne, Ableton Live, the rebirth of analogue modular systems, the list goes on.
Not only do I get to participate, I get paid for it and i get five emails a day telling me that somewhere I’ve enriched somebody’s life with what I do. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming it all.
And then I remember that I could just be dreaming that I’m pinching myself and it’s all a dream within a dream.
And then come the blinding flashes of light and the screaming voices, and later I wake up in my room, tied to a chair, covered in blood and vomit while a translucent entity probes my orifices with its tentacles.
But that’s the same for everyone, I suppose.
More about Ott:
His website: www.ottsonic.com
His bandcamp: https://ottsonic.bandcamp.com/