Interview with Roger O’Donnell

I became aware of Roger O’Donnell musical presence in 1992, when I received an album by a band he was playing in at the time as an 18th birthday present. The album was Wish and the band was The Cure. Disintegration soon became my favourite album by the band, the first one where Roger was officially declared a member. As I continued growing, so did my musical horizons and I eventually drifted from my teenage influences towards more varied soundscapes. It was only recently that I realised Roger O’Donnell was now following his own path and creating his own music, free from any constraint. It turns out he has been quietly busy and I wanted to find out more about his now new career.

Cat On The Wall: You manage a Canadian band, Machetes, you work with Erin Lang on your own music and your best friend Ian Wright designed your album cover. It sounds like many prolific artists surround you – how does this transcribe into the soundscapes you are creating?

Roger O’Donnell: They all live in quite separate boxes actually although the Machetes project is beginning to take over my life! They represent and are an inspiration to me and a reminder of where I came from, I am very passionate about this band. I have been working with Erin for so long now she is a part of me and my music. Ian is my oldest and closest friend, we have been striving for the same goals artistically for years now….

COTW: How did you discover Erin Lang?

RO’D: I met her at a concert in Toronto and we immediately became very close and the working relationship blossomed like a flower. She didn’t tell me she could sing at first as she was still developing her style, she has come a long way since then and I am very proud to have been a small part of what she is doing today.

COTW: How did you become involved with Machetes?

RO’D: I was dragged screaming and kicking to their second show ever in Toronto and although it was pretty rough I felt something was there. They looked amazing so I was intrigued. Haha! The second time I saw them I could actually hear them and they blew me away. Their level of musicianship was amazing and I started chatting to them and giving them advice, more actually telling them what not to do. The third time I saw them they had a bunch of new songs which were incredible. So they looked great, they could play and they wrote good songs. At this stage I decided to help them get to stage where they could find management and then it struck me maybe I should do it. I was really interested in the idea of an artist managing an artist, a new perspective…

COTW: You have been a professional musician forever and know the music business inside out. What advice have you given Machetes?

RO’D: Yes, actually it’s forever and a day to be precise hahaha…. Machetes are party to the inner depths of my knowledge, things that I don’t even remember!

COTW: Legend has it you were born next to your parent’s piano. Just how many pianos/keyboards/synths have you got? Do you work with all of them or only specific ones for stage and some for studio recordings?

RO’D: True I was born next to the piano that I learnt to play on. Well I have a lot, a lot of vintage synthesizers and modules all stuff I have collected over the years. I probably have, you know what: I don’t think I have ever counted them, maybe I should! At the moment I rarely work with anything else but my Moog Voyagers in the studio and on stage. I have just started work on a piano and cello project so I am playing my Steinway more and more.

COTW: How do you start composing? Do you sit at your piano/keyboard/synth and work the melody or is it an exchange of ideas between you and Erin that takes place first?

RO’D: Erin and I work quite separately and it depends on whose project it is as to how it works out. When I am working on an Erin song she presents me with pretty much a fully arranged song with vocals and guitar then I orchestrate it adding everything else to it… On my songs, they always start on the Voyager and I start with a simple loop and build it up from there. I usually give the whole thing to Erin finished, often with lyrics and she makes the vocal melody work with the song.

COTW: Tell us about your tracks: what are the stories behind them? Have you been influenced by any musician/band in particular or is the music drawn solely from your experience as a live and session musician/band member?

RO’D: I have been a musician for a long time as you reminded me earlier, haha. I have a lot of influences and experiences. Every time I start to play it’s a total synthesis of everything I have ever heard or played. There are three musicians that have influenced me more than anyone else, Herbie Hancock, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix

COTW: Why sign to a major record label? Why not setting up your own label and releasing your music yourself?

RO’D: I have my own label which releases some very nice music, it’s called 99 Times out of 10 Records. I decided to sign to a label when I released my own record because I wanted to work with other people with other ideas and the label I am signed to, Great Society, is an amazing group of very talented people. Financially I would probably be better off on my own but I really enjoy the exchange of ideas which you cant have sitting at home on your own

COTW: You sound happier being free (i.e. working on your own music). Do you wish you’d done it earlier or did the opportunity actually come at the right time for you?

RO’D: Yes, it came all at the right time for me, everything always seems to come at the right time. Meeting Erin, leaving the day job and now meeting Machetes. I have been very lucky like that

COTW: Is there any artist you would like to work with?

RO’D: I would love to work with Billy Corgan but then he knows that… I dream of playing with Herbie Hancock but I think if it ever happened I would just break down and cry!

COTW: What are your projects for the near future?

RO’D: Like I said earlier I am consumed by Machetes right now, almost literally! We have a small UK tour booked and some studio time and a lot of drinking and partying and talking like pirates! Hahaha!

COTW: Thank you for your time and hopefully catch you on the road soon!

Visit Roger’s official website!

You can catch Erin Lang live at the The Luminaire with Marissa Nadler this Weds 6th May. Check out her website for more information:

Visit the Machetes myspace page!

Interview by CB Lux


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