Oneida makes music that’s at once confusing, frustrating, and eerily beautiful. The band formed in Williamsburg in 1997—at the beginning of the neighborhood’s indie-rock ascendance–and has remained a standard-bearer ever since, with a relentless sound that mixes elements of heavy metal, krautrock, and pop with lots of repetition and ambient experimentation. In 2008, Oneida released Preteen Weaponry, a full-length with only three long songs. That album was the first entry in an ongoing triptych titled Thank Your Parents, and Jagjaguwar just released the second installment of the series—a heady triple LP called Rated O. In advance of the group's show on Sunday, July 12, at The Echo, Decider spoke to founding member Fat Bobby about Thank Your Parents, day jobs, and the death of the album.
Decider: Oneida is still in the process of releasing three thematically linked albums. What started this long-term undertaking?
Fat Bobby: We started work on what was going to be Thank Your Parents back in 2005, but then we went through a lot of tough shit, including losing our studio. It was really difficult, and we felt like we were kind of pushing this triple album. We pulled back and took a look at it—kind of hit the pause button—and realized there was some music we were thrilled about that wasn’t quite fitting into the definition or vision of what we were doing. So we selected a bunch of music, and that became [2006’s] Happy New Year. But we didn’t bail on the idea for Thank Your Parents, and the more we talked about it, the more we wanted to do it.
D: Is there an overarching theme to Thank Your Parents?
FB: Well, there’s a tension between organic, natural sounds and this kind of synthetic rigidity. And the themes of panic, fear, and anxiety that have always run through our music—the sort of manic uncertainty that your perceptions or sanity is an illusion.
D: Does repetition play a part here? Oneida’s music—and especially Preteen Weaponry and Rated O—makes extensive use of repetitive motifs.
FB: Definitely. Let’s say I were God looking at the whole of existence and the existence of life in the universe. My conception of time would be different from your conception. We humans move through it from left to right, from past to future, so it has this kind of linear flow, like a river.
D: “The River” is a song on Rated O.
FB: It’s an image I find really compelling and really troubling. If you’re in a river, you move from the source to wherever the hell a river goes. The Gulf of Mexico? Whereas if you put yourself in this God-like perspective, this universal perspective, you experience time as cycles. Think about the seasons, for example. It’s always spring, summer, fall, and then winter, but every cycle is a little bit different, and it has this sense of subtle change.
D: Oneida has recently been working with very long songs and collections of songs that don’t really resemble albums, like Preteen Weaponry and Rated O. Is Oneida moving away from traditional albums altogether?
FB: Not necessarily. There are people who will say, “Rated O is prog-rock—it’s like [Yes’ 1973 double album] Tales From Topographic Oceans.” I think that’s a lazy perspective. By removing the limitations of the album, you open a lot of possibilities, but I feel like creativity needs limits, needs to be forced by external realities to assume shapes that its creators wouldn’t necessarily want it to assume. You need the accident. I think our music is meaningful, but I also recognize the absurdity and egotism in that. We do the best we can do, but we always try to look at it from the outside once it’s done and say, “Wow, I think that has value.”
D: You’re talking about artistic value, but what about monetary value? Does the demise of the album speak to a larger problem of musicians being unable to make money off of their work?
FB: It’s really nice when we release an LP and a lot of people buy it. But everyone in Oneida has a day job, which provides us with paychecks and health insurance and all the other things you need to be stable in our society. So that frees us from worrying too much about how many people are buying our music. Of course it’s nice when people buy our records, and ideally we’d make hundreds of thousands of dollars off our music. But, at least for me, the demise of the recording industry harkens back to a time when artists either had a patron—like if you were a Renaissance painter—or were essentially working in advertising, which is to say, advertising God or the Catholic Church or the royal court. That was your day job, and you just did the best you fucking could.
To me, there’s something a little overly self-serving to hear the Don Henleys of the world bemoaning the death of album sales because it’s going to fuck up their lives. Now, it’s fair enough to bemoan something that’s going to fuck up your life, so I’m not judging him for bitching and moaning. But in terms of the big picture, it’s fine if no one can make a living from music in 15 years. It sucks for the people who’ve dedicated their lives to making a living at it, but who ever said that making something artistic was supposed to support you in life? I’m sorry. You’re supposed to learn how to fix a car or something.
Bonus: Check out this suitably wild video for "The Misfit," off of Happy New Year: