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On the Road: the Crazewire
interview with Brian Felix, the OM Trio
The OM Trio is playing
Knitting Factory in New York City this Friday,
April 11th, for an all ages show. Photo by
Writer's Note: This
interview was conducted before SXSW, but due to my
inherent laziness when transcribing stories, it
wasnít published before the festival. I planned on
including the interview with a show review from
the bandís showcase at the Jambase stage at SXSW,
which took place on Saturday of the music
festival, but by that point, crazewire writer Chad
Beck had his ďdick kicked inĒ by three days of
music from about 1,000 bands and consumption of at
least 666 beers, which is chronicled in stellar
had the OM Trioís new record,
GlobalPositioningRecord for a few weeks, but
honestly, Iíve been enjoying it way too much to
sit down and write a review. Itís a phenomenal
achievement for three guys from Jersey, who
self-produced the album, and have managed to take
jazz to a place itís never been before, heavy
metal, while adding some drum and bass and
electronica aspects that truly make it a unique
and pleasant listening experience.
talked to keyboardist Brian Felix, he had just
returned from band-van shopping with the other
guys in the band; Pete Novembre, the rhythmic
bassist who holds down the bottom end very aptly,
and Ilya Stemkosky, who with his powerful presence
in the live setting, assumes the role of the
groupís rock-star, but is really just a playful
little kid in a manís body.
This is the
second band-van, the first having been driven into
the ground after two national tours, plus
countless journeys up and down the West Coast.
The boys settled on Ford 350 Econoline,
the transportation of choice of many a band, and
Brian was excited about the prospects of getting
back on the road and also of OM Trioís recently
released, GlobalPositioningRecord (GPR)
Is there a theme to GPR?
approached it as an album, as making a record, not
a live album. We wanted to make a studio record,
which means that we decided to put shorter tunes
on it. The longest tune on the record is six
minutes long. On our live album we have a
19-minute song and 15 minute song back to back.
Itís very long stuff. We reeled it in. Iím not
saying that there isnít much improvising on it,
but itís a lot more composed and a lot more
controlled. And we wanted to do that. We wanted to
make a studio album. Weíre at the point now, where
weíve done a double live album. People have a good
idea of what we can do live. So we wanted to
create something, take these pieces that weíve
been playing live and make solid arrangements out
of them. And I think it came out good. The idea of
the production, of bringing different percussion
sounds, different keyboard textures and also a lot
of heavy grooves and stuff that captures the
diversity of what we do as well, but just tight,
shorter tunes. The album itself is 52 minutes
long. Itís really tight, really compact, but we
think itís definitely action packed. Itís full of
all types of grooves, heavy metal grooves and funk
grooves and reggae grooves and just all kinds of
The title, global
positioning record is a play on the global
positioning system. This album can help you find
your way, or this album is going to position us on
a global level. Itís really just a play on words.
Did you guys self-produce GPR?
You rented out the studio,
the whole deal, and no outside production?
Yeah. We rented it ourselves and hired a
company to print them for us.
awesome. No outside production, just the three of
Yeah, the three of us and an
Is there someone in the band
who knows how to use Pro Tools, or is the album
pretty much a live thing anyway?
was an engineer there, but we actually recorded it
analog, onto 2-inch tape, so there was no Pro
Tools involved. But none of us are sound
engineers, we playÖ
So yeah, we had this guy, an engineer
named Jeff Burg. He did a great job. To answer
your question about whether itís live or not, we
laid down the basic tracks live and then did a
bunch of overdubbing whether it would be a second
keyboard part or a shaker or a triangle. Thereís a
bunch of percussion overdubs to fatten up the
grooves, and itís definitely by far, the biggest
production piece weíve ever done.
Yeah, the basic bed
tracks have a live feel, but then on top of that
we did some other stuff, some other textures.
Nice, and you are going for pure heavy
metal / jazz-fusion?
pretty much it
Nice Ė this aspect of
your sound, heavy metal, does it represent the
group as a whole or is there a certain member that
wants to rock out the most?
of us. (laughter) We all grew up in New Jersey,
listening to heavy metal. Thereís no reason to try
and fight it when itís part of your blood. What
happened was that when we were in college and a
little bit after college we were into playing jazz
and we still are, but there is no way that the
Jersey Metalhead is ever going away and weíve been
engaging that side of us, live.
laughter on both ends that continued throughout
the next set of questions)
Bon Jovi? Is there some Bon Jovi in your
Have you ever
covered Bon Jovi?
Weíve done You Give Love a Bad
That is outstanding.
Well, like I said, when you are born in
Jersey, and when those songs are in your blood,
you never know when Living on a Prayer or Wanted,
Dead or Alive are going to come out.
Are you guys looking to get a record
deal at SXSW?
No, if a great record
company approached us, I think that weíd be open
to it, but I didnít even think of trying to get a
record deal at SXSW until you just mentioned it.
No, we are independent right
now, and I think that there are a lot of
advantages to being independent. Thereís also,
obviously, advantages to being signed to a label,
itís just that you need the right deal. Itís got
to be worth your while to do it; otherwise I think
that in this day and age that itís worth it to
keep doing it yourselves. There are a lot of
advantages to doing it yourself.
Especially with the type of music that
you play, because itís all about being grass roots
and developing your own fan base by touring.
Definitely, and someday if a powerful
label comes to us and says that they want to put a
lot of resources behind our stuff weíd probably be
like, ďyeah,Ē but until that day comes weíre fine,
The OM Trio has
managed to sustain itself touring on the West
Yeah, we did that until we went
national last April.
Iíve read where
bands say that the East is the goldmine, itís
where you have to tour because there are so many
markets out there, but you guys were able to
actually foster yourselves on the West Coast.
Yeah, well the West Coast is harder
for simple reasons of geography. There is just a
lot of space between the major cities and there is
just less cities. I mean itís really simple why
itís difficult but there are a lot of really good
places to play out West. We did California and
Oregon and then we did Arizona and then we sort of
like developed Arizona and then we went to
Colorado and then we did that loop which involves
Missoula, Montana and we did that for almost a
year, I think. And then we did two national tours
and now weíre on our third. The East is definitely
more practical to tour on for sure, and I think
that at some point Iím going to look back and say,
ďWow, itís amazing that those first couple years,
doing all that driving on the West Coast, that we
were able to pull it together,Ē but we did, and we
developed followings in towns that are really
Who has been the craziest
band, offstage, for you guys to tour with?
I donít know if I can answer that
oneÖ.(laughing) but I will say that weíve opened
for some great bands. A lot of bands are very fun
offstage too. This last tour we did some shows
with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and that was a
blast. We havenít opened for the new Robert
Walterís 20th Congress; we opened for the old one.
We have opened more for them probably than anyone
else and we got along with them great. Itís fun
when you do a run of shows with a band because you
really get to know the guys and we all hung out a
couple nights in a row and it was a lot of fun.
I met him outside before a show in
Santa Monica once, and he was very nice. He seems
like a cool guy.
Yeah, heís a good
guy. The first time I met him, when we opened a
show for them at Temple Bar, we ended up staying
at the Temple Bar until 3:30 in the morning until
they made us get our stuff out of there. We were
just talking about all this stuff; keyboards and
funk and piano and Herbie Hancock, it was fun.
Is he like an older brother to you,
showing you the ropes of the road?
donít really know him well enough (to qualify him
as an older brother) but weíve had some great
guitaristís would you invite on stage?
(Without any hesitation) Eddie Van
Halen, Vito Bratta from White Lion. (laughs) Also,
Jason Conception from Santa Cruz Hemp All Stars
and Netwerk Electric, he played on the album and
played with us recently. Heís a great guitarist
from up here.
Howís the family up
there? Do you hang out with the other artists
around the Bay Area?
Weíre not really
here that much, and weíre not from here
originally. Since we moved here, we havenít been
here that much. Our family up here revolves around
the Boom Boom Room, which is where we kind of
caught on in San Francisco. We did a bunch of
shows there, then sold it out, then did two nights
and sold that out and then we outgrew it, but that
is like our home venue. But I donít really feel
like I know the musicians around here that well
because weíre away so much but when Iím at home
Iím basically just chilliní out or catching up
with friends but not really going out too much to
see music. Iíve always listened to music at home,
but I do go out to Yoshiís.
Yeah, and the guys and girl from
Jambase are all up here, so we see them quite a
bit at Yoshiís and stuff like that. So our family
is the Boom Boom Room people and the Jambase
people and everyone kind of knows each other so
itís fun. Itís good to be around here, but Iím not
around that much and I donít feel too much of a
connection with the musicians because I donít
really know them that well, and plus, whenever Iím
home, they are usually on the road.
events like High Sierra must be really nice, when
you can hang out with the whole family.
Last year was our first year there and
it was just fantastic. Itís an excellent
opportunity for everybody I think because the
people that go to High Sierra are just there to
see music. They are hungry for new stuff, and
thatís the best audience to play for. Youíre
playing for 10,000 people who are into the music.
When you are in bars every night, you get a lot of
great crowds, but other times if itís your first
time through town, you get a mixed crowd and it
takes a few trips to get a crowd thatís totally
into the music. At High Sierra, people are ready
for this stuff. And than thereís the fact that
there is all these musicians running around and
last year we had an opportunity to play with Kai
Eckhardt from Garage Mahal who is just a legendary
bass player that used to play with John McLaughlin
and stuff. High Sierra is great because it allows
us the chance to meet all of these musicians, and
play with them; itís just a good chance to bond
with all of these bands. Plus, the chance to play
for all of the appreciative fans (makes High
Sierra so great).
Even in small rooms
like the Alterknit Lounge at the Knitting Factory,
it really must be great to see 16-year-old kids
vibing to your music. To know that even in L.A.,
there are still kids that appreciate quality
I love those kids! They are
great fans. There was one point in the show where
we were playing really quiet, and nobody was
talking, it was dead silent Ė except for one
person in the back of the room that was talking.
And I remember, one of those kids turned around
and told the person to be quiet. (laughing)
I was a little bit angry that there was
talking too. Thatís one of my pet peeves, people
talking at shows.
Yeah, as a
performer, you canít let that kind of thing get to
you. When you are playing quiet and someone is
talking, you kind of have to plow through that
because people have the right to do what they want
to do. But if I was out in the audience, I would
be quiet. But that was great, because not only
were these 16 year old kids totally focuses on us,
but they were so focused that this person was
being rude and they told him to be quiet.
It was also great when Ilya
was banging on (Pete) Novembreís bass guitar with
his drumstick, and someone yelled ďThatís what I
call drum and bass!Ē ya
That was a
great line. That was classic.
Novembre, have you guys ever covered November
Good question, (laughing) we
havenít, but I definitely wouldnít put it past us.
With the piano on that, it would be
cool. You could even call it Novembre Rain
(laughing) thatís a good
Well, when you guys do that,
hopefully Iíll be in the audience.
What is your
goal for 2003
2003 I know is going to
be a year of a lot of touring, which is good.
Weíre really just continuing to establish our fan
base. Our goal as a touring band is to get to the
point where we are playing really good rooms, and
able to perform in an environment where we can
control all the factors so we can just play music
to an attentive audience. Weíre going around,
building our fan base, and so, our goalÖ.If I said
our goal by the end of 2003 was to be playing the
Oakland Coliseum, youíd laugh at me, because itís
ridiculous. The goal is to be playing venues like
The Great American Music Hall, the Belly Up in San
Diego, places like that. Just great music rooms
where we can really put on a show. We like to be
in an environment where we can focus on playing
and there are not too much extraneous concerns
that are taking away from (playing).
Like driving so much?
driving is fine. Thatís part of the whole thing,
right now there are just three of us on the road
and were about to get a fourth who will help out
with the driving.
Will that be another
member or a tour manager?
manager, someone to help us with the odds and
ends, the business and everything.
Making sure the bass guitar is in the
Ha, ha, ha (laughing)
How did that happen?
we pack the van like a big Tetris puzzle, the
pieces only fit where they fit, but there are
certain things that can kind of fit in a few
different places and there is not a set place for
them, and his bass is one of them. We had played a
show at a radio station, where we were playing
live, and we had to pack up our stuff immediately
afterward because there was another band playing a
post radio show. We were kind of rushing and
really donít know what happened, but it was dark
and we left town.
We got to Hilton Head, South
Carolina, which was where we were opening for the
Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and we were unloading the
van and Pete said, ďI donít have my bass,Ē and he
started freaking out. Pete is the most mellow guy,
and he does not freak out, ever, but he lost his
bass, so I got on the phone immediately and was
relaxed and called Jakeís Roadhouse in Atlanta,
and they had the bass and I told them to hold onto
it, and we were lucky because we had to go back
through Atlanta to play at HarvestFest, so we just
swung back and picked it up. There were only three
gigs in the meantime, and we just organized
borrowing basses for him.
worked out fine.
Yeah, itís just part
of being on the road. You are out there and there
distractions, itís late at night, you never know
whatís going on, and then you are in the middle of
Iowa and youíre like, ďI left my piano bench in
Missoula.Ē Itís like, ďOK, I need to get a new
GlobalPositioningRecord differ from your earlier
Over the past couple years,
weíve been getting more into electronica and drum
and bass, and this record defiantly reflects that.
Thereís some heavy electronica laden pieces, and
just they way Iím playing, and the way Ilya is
putting the cymbals on his drum.
trigger effect, as he says.
trigger effect, exactly
Does it say on
the record, no triggers were used in the
production of this record?
Yes, as a
matter of fact it does.
Whatís the best
thing about being on the road
think that being on the road allows your music to
develop. The only way for things to develop the
way they should is to be out there, playing every
night. Your chops are up; youíre not worried about
technicalities because you are always warmed up.
When we are on the road, we are like a machine, in
terms of being able to play. And then once youíre
not worried about that, youíre free to be
creative, and really do some experimenting and
push forward. I donít know what weíre going to
sound like two weeks from now, which is exciting.
Weíre not a band that goes out and plays a set
every night. Even if we wrote out a set-list
beforehand for the show, and we played that
set-list, I donít know what it would sound like.
Itís different all the time. My goal is to keep
evolving, and to develop a following while we do
that. Weíve already got a pretty strong following
of people that are in it with us, and want to go
there. They are prepared for anything, to go on
some type of journey with us each night.
I highly recommend both picking up GlobalPositioningRecord
and seeing the OM Trio as soon as possible.
Theyíll be at the Knitting Factory in New York
City this Friday, April 11th, for an all ages
į į į
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