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The OM Trio is playing Knitting Factory in New York City this Friday, April 11th, for an all ages show. Photo by Forrest Reda.

On the Road: the Crazewire interview with Brian Felix, the OM Trio

by forrest reda
Editor, West Coast

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 form, here.

Iíve 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.

When I 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?

We 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 different stuff.

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?

YesÖ

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.

Thatís awesome. No outside production, just the three of you?

Yeah, the three of us and an engineer.

Is there someone in the band who knows how to use Pro Tools, or is the album pretty much a live thing anyway?

There 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

InstrumentsÖ

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.

Cool

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?

Yeah, thatís 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?

Itís all 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.

(Much laughter on both ends that continued throughout the next set of questions)

What about Bon Jovi? Is there some Bon Jovi in your blood?

Yes.

Have you ever covered Bon Jovi?

Yes.

What song?

Weíve done You Give Love a Bad Name.

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. (laughter)

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, weíre independent.

The OM Trio has managed to sustain itself touring on the West Coast.

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 hard-core.

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?

I donít really know him well enough (to qualify him as an older brother) but weíve had some great conversations. (laughing)

What 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.

The Jazz ClubÖ

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.

So 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 music.

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. (laughing)

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.

Speaking of Novembre, have you guys ever covered November Rain?

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)

(laughing) thatís a good idea.

Well, when you guys do that, hopefully Iíll be in the audience.

(still laughing)

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?

No, 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?

A tour manager, someone to help us with the odds and ends, the business and everything.

Making sure the bass guitar is in the van?

Ha, ha, ha (laughing)

How did that happen?

Well, 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.

So everything 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 piano bench.Ē

How does GlobalPositioningRecord differ from your earlier albums?

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.

The trigger effect, as he says.

Yeah, the 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

I really 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 show.

Related Links
OM Trio web-site

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