It’s often easy to find a band or artist whose work takes a while to click with you; one where after repeated listens new things begin to appear and you find yourself appreciating things you hadn’t previously taken note of. A slow burner, if you like.
Omni don’t have time for that.
From the moment any given song by the Atlanta trio begins, everything is laid out for you. This is a band that know where their strengths lie, and they’d like you to be able to find them with a sense of urgency. Over the course of three albums in the last three years, this sense of immediacy has shown no signs of dwindling – especially when considering each album only clocks in at around half an hour in length. Songs instantly burst into life rather than needing to find space to grow, jumping from one frenetic guitar line to another at a staggering pace. If you’re of an inclination to gravitate towards intricate, jerky post-punk, it won’t take you long to fall for Omni.
While choosing to adopt a minimalist live setup, comprising of vocalist/bassist Philip Frobos, guitarist Frankie Broyles and touring drummer Chris Yonker, the band manage to get the absolute most out of this sound. Even on record, Frobos and Broyles add little more in the way of additional touches (new album ‘Networker’ sparingly adds piano and the odd second guitar), but the strength of the ideas and songcraft that goes into their work goes to show that it doesn’t have to be full of bells and whistles to remain compelling at all times. Plus, the fact that there’s less going on in terms of instrumentation only goes to further emphasise how jaw-droppingly tight Omni are in a live setting – go and see them for yourself and you’ll understand.
Wax sat down and grilled the band on everything from recording down at their remote cabin, why they adore playing in the UK so much, and being endlessly compared to post-punk heroes of the past.
Congratulations on releasing ‘Networker’ – it’s been a while since you put out your last record, how are you feeling about the reception it has had so far?
Frankie Broyles: It’s been really great, I didn’t completely know what to expect. There were songs on the record where I thought “this might be weird, I don’t know if people are going to like this”, but playing these songs live has been a lot of fun and they’ve had a great reception.
This marks your first release on Sub Pop as well – what has it been like working alongside such a prestigious record label?
Philip Frobos: It’s been wonderful working with them, there’s a lot of great people working there who have been very accommodating and supportive, but I think like any big next step in life, the demystification of it all is that we’re still working just as hard and doing what we do, just with more support now.
From what I understand, you’ve still been allowed to continue with self-recording and sticking to old methods. Would you say that the label has been accepting of the fact that you have your own way of doing things and want to carry that forward?
F: They let us do pretty much what we wanted, there were no stipulations or anything on how we should record.
P: I think they were already fans of the band too. Maybe it would have been different if it was our first record, I think they probably would have had some more suggestions to make, but I think they were trying not to mess with the method too much.
Would you say it was tough moving away from Trouble in Mind Records? You gave them a lot of praise for how they gave you a platform and helped raise your profile for the first two albums.
F: It was definitely tough. They’re an amazing label and they worked so hard for us.
F: We still stay at their house every time we’re in Chicago.
Chris Yonker: Plus, we get to hang out with their cute dog, Banjo, listen to records, eat a lot of breakfast…
It seems like you’ve dialled up on a lot of different influences on the new record and have expanded on the sound by incorporating more instrumentation – how did you find the process of making a more fleshed out record by comparison to ‘Deluxe’ and ‘Multi-task’ which are quite minimalistic?
F: After writing the first two records I think we just needed to make something that sounded different, especially to us. Those two records were also written really close together so they have a lot in common, but we’re always listening to all kinds of different things and wanting to showcase other influences. It happened quite naturally, really – a case of saying “we like this idea, let’s try and do that”.
F: On the first two records I would never bend any strings, but now I’ve started adding in these classic rock bends which was something I actually started doing in the shows as a joke – but then I started to like it.
P: You actually had to get your other guitar re-fretted because you were doing so many bends, right?
F: Yeah, it’s pretty worn out.
You’ve spoken about recording all of the albums in your own cabin; what is it that makes that place so special to you and more preferable than recording in a larger studio?
F: I guess we were running into a lot of issues recording in town with regards to everyone’s schedules. We needed to work out when we were able to record with Nathaniel [Higgins, producer of all three Omni albums to date], and when we would all be free too, so I then came up with the idea to go out to this cabin in South Georgia. It’s in the middle of nowhere where there’s nothing else to do but record, so we would set aside three days at a time for each session we did down there. It eliminated any other stresses and distractions so we could just play all night long.
What sort of things were playing on your mind when writing the lyrics for this record? It seems as though there are some more unifying themes within them than previously.
P: I think on the first record I was having fun and going all over the place. On the second one I was trying to create this mood but it wasn’t as well-articulated as I wanted it to be. Even though I completely stand by everything that was done there, I wasn’t sure it came across well. With this one, I really wanted to strengthen that and have more of a theme. We talked about the songs a lot more, and it’s mainly a lot more of a commentary on our own lives at this moment in time.
Does the way you write feel quite personal to you or do you try to detach yourself from that?
P: A little bit of both. Sometimes, it’s more directly personal and other times it’s more character-based, if you will. For example, with the new song ‘Underage’, I’d recently read Lolita and had also heard a bunch of stories about big relationship age gaps and I thought that sounded like an interesting and dark song narrative to try and write about. Then there’s things like ‘Sincerely Yours’ which is more of a commentary on my own domestic life.
It’s quite interesting to see how many articles are quick to draw comparisons to classic post-punk acts like Television, Devo and Wire – do these comparisons feel like a compliment because that’s what you’re aiming for or does it feel like you’re being restricted?
F: It’s a weird thing. It’s definitely nice for someone to say and it’s cool because it can get people to listen to your music but I wouldn’t say it’s exactly accurate.
P: (laughs) I think if I was working in the record store and someone said “here’s a band that sounds like Television or Wire”, I’d probably listen to it and think “fuck this”.
P: For the optimistic music fan it’s just like Frank said, it helps the listener grab something they might like, but for the cynical music fan it might not be so good for us.
C: If it’s quite hard to describe the way something sounds, people will throw out something in the same realm which might help someone find it if they like that type of music, but there are some bands where it happens every time.
Sometimes you get a weird comparison where you’ll ask “really, do we sound like that?”, but the real question is “do you like that band?”, and if they answer yes I suppose that becomes a compliment.
Were there any particular influences on the new record or were there any particular sounds that you thought you’d like to try and emulate?
F: There were things we were listening to a lot of whilst recording such as Steely Dan and The Stranglers. With the way we record we’re always trying to meet this deadline so once you get there, all of the overdubs had to be recorded so I spent three days just recording everything I could. I think we just wanted to push ourselves with the songwriting and to make sure it was different so a lot of the things we were listening to at the time blended into it, as it always does.
Further on from that, do you feel like a part of a scene with this new wave of bands that have been given the ‘post-punk’ label or do you prefer to try and distance yourself and focus solely on what you’re creating?
P: I’d say we have little to no interaction with any scene – not because we dislike it.
F: It just doesn’t really happen that way.
C: We do play with a lot of post-punk bands who definitely are post-punk bands, but we do get to open with a lot of random bands who are far from that. I don’t think we’ve ever been necessarily aiming for post-punk, it’s just one of the closer musical realms that people might listen to.
P: There’s a lot of bands that definitely do not sound like post-punk that are getting called post-punk right now.
C: With genres becoming more and more irrelevant because of how much access people have to so much music, there’s so many new, unnamed genres now it’s beginning to get too murky to name things.
P: It’s just like anything with all genres; there are bands that are within it that you like and there are bands within it that you don’t like.
F: It’s just putting a bunch of names together and putting them in a box.
C: I think the most important thing is trying to find what makes your music identifiable as you and having a sound that is unique in some sort of way, then figuring out how to expand on that without making something that doesn’t feel like you’ve forced yourself to make it.
Let’s talk about your home of Atlanta, Georgia – a city and state with a rich musical history – what was it like coming together from different bands in the area and how do people receive what you’re currently doing back home?
F: I think we still see ourselves as part of it, even if the scene has been constantly changing whilst we’ve been a band.
C: I think all three of us have had different experiences with the music scene in Atlanta, even just in the way we each individually interact with it. In general, Atlanta has an interesting and diverse music scene, there’s a lot of cool and inspiring stuff going on. There’s a band called Material Girls that are really cool.
F: We played with this band, Kibi James, around a month ago – I thought they were really good.
C: Yukons are pretty cool too.
You’ve said in the past how you’ve got a great relationship with UK audiences and how you sometimes prefer touring over here – what makes here and Europe so special to you?
C: People still love guitar music over here, you know?
P: I think there’s a wider average range of people seeking and enjoying current music here, there’s often underage kids at the shows and then you get older people at the shows too plus everything in the middle. Where we’re from, a lot of people kind of decided they’d age themselves out of music at one point, so it’s cool that your culture is so engaged in it.
F: We very rarely play all ages shows in the US, it’s something we’re trying to do more of but everybody just wants to make money off the bar.
C: It’s one of those things, most music venues in the States are also bars and can’t let underage kids in. There are exceptions to this but a lot of the places that are all ages are DIY venues and don’t have such strong relationships with booking agents. The agents prefer to go with the safer and more predictable route of booking at a venue bar.
You’ve all known each other quite a long time at this point, did you always think you’d work well together having known each other from previous bands?
C: [Frank and Philip] have known each other longer. We’d known of each other for a long time and would always acknowledge each other, but we didn’t really know each other until Philip and I accidentally spent a long weekend on the beach together. His family have a time-share in the same place as my ex-girlfriend and we ended up hanging out on the beach for a little while.
P: My girlfriend at the time said to me “isn’t that guy from Atlanta?”
F: But yeah, it just kind of happened by chance because [Philip and I] were roommates and the bands we were in were just coming to an end, so we just started working on songs together casually at the house. It’s changed a lot since then though, or at least the music has changed.
Omni’s third album, ‘Networker’, is out now via Sub Pop.
Words: Reuben Cross Photography: Aidan Stojsavljevic