I’ve been trying to swear myself off of sports analogies when gushing about my favorite bands, but with Brooklyn’s Oneida it’s hard not to compare them to a franchise player. In this case the franchise is Jajaguwar Records, who have nurtured and supported their top prospect for more than 10 years now, never stepping in the way of progress, no matter the results. Always rising to the occasion, though perennial outcasts of indie rock, they’ve released a dizzying discography of challenging records at a consistent clip, each one more bizarre and bewildering than the last.
Perpetually hard to pin down, Oneida have never met a genre they didn’t want to pummel and contort to their liking. There’s the organ-driven obtuse garage rock of Enemy Hogs, the kraut-on-steroids monolith of Each One Teach One, roughshod proto-metal in Come On Everybody Let’s Rock, softer labyrinthine melodies on The Wedding, even a dance track or two on the rhythmic shifting of Happy New Year. Still each of those albums are littered with a confident, experimental quality that’s unmistakably Oneida.
It can be said that Oneida have never reached the post-season, or better yet, a creative level where they can be as epic as they wanna be. That is about to change when the band finally starts revealing the pieces to their long-fabled Thank Your Parents project, a triptych of records beginning with what the band calls the project’s introduction, Pre-Teen Weaponry. The three tracks that compose Pre-Teen Weaponry, almost all instrumental, begin with the patented Oneida hypno-build before leading up to a skittered finish of chopped beats and phased psychedelia—a truly enlightening trip for just an introduction. With a wider perspective though, and considering part two will be the triple-record Rated O (to be released in January), it’s easy to see that the album is the initial launch of a wild ride through the cosmos.
I recently caught up with drummer Kid Millions to try and clear the smoke that has surrounded the Thank Your Parents ambitions for years.
I recently read in an interview that you feel Oneida has “never been cool.” Do you care to elaborate on that? I know myself and a few of my friends have regarded the band to be one of the more experimental and exciting bands of the past decade.
Kid Millions: I guess it’s a perception that I have, living in New York, that there’s a certain media conciousness. It’s really peripheral, where I have a sense of what bands or what artists are cool by certain standards of the cool-bearing people. I would say we’re not part of the Sonic Youth crew, but I don’t say that disparagingly. I have the utmost respect for them and the music they support, but we’ve never hooked up with that and Pitchfork has never really loved us. When Brooklyn was more of a place where people interested in music were looking at and focusing on, we really weren’t receiving that focus. And I don’t care. At that time it was kind of annoying, but I don’t want to presume that we are worthy of that focus or above any of these other bands. I think it’s more satisfying that we’re still doing. We still think what we’re doing is satisfying creatively, so in some regard we’re getting the last laugh I suppose.
In the same interview you say that you guys are pretty difficult to love, which I completely understand. The music is a hard thing to penetrate sometimes. Do you ever find yourself intentionally making that so, intentionally making your music impenetrable? For instance the 20-minute track, “Sheets of Easter” from Each One Teach One, is quite challenging unless you?re used to that sort of thing.
KM: When we first wrote “Sheets of Easter” we used to start sets with that, and decided to start Each One Teach One with it. There’s definitely a perverse side to it, a confrontational side. I wouldn’t say we’re trying to alienate anybody, but back then we were trying to shock people. Now we’re not trying to choose sides nor have the right people like what we do, or make people work hard. At this point it’s just like, this is what we do. There’s no pretense; it’s just a matter of these are our songs and we are going to play them as intensely as we can.
How did the shows for The Wedding go over? Did they live up to your expectations?
KM: Yes, they exceeded them I think. It really came together. It was really gratifying, creatively and musically. In terms of the comraderie and working together we really pulled it off.
Is that something you would do again for those who didn’t get to see it?
KM: We would, but I remember at a certain point in the process saying “Fuck this, I don’t want to be doing this. I don’t want to be revisiting songs.” But once we got over the hump and we started to play them and practice them, at that point I decided to let the show happen. It was a beautiful show visually. There was this amazing light show, and it was just beautiful.
I really want to dig deep into Thank Your Parents. You abandoned it at one point, and ended up with Happy New Year as a result. What made you want to tackle this triptych again? Has it always been a goal of the band?
KM: Well, it changed a lot. When we were doing the triple-album the first time, the approach wasn’t right. We were trying to do a triple-album in the same time it took to do a single and it didn’t work. Everything kind of fell apart and we were still able to redirect our energy and put out Happy New Year. We just stopped working on it; we didn’t really abandon it. Our ambition has always been to release this triple-album and now we’re just approaching it from different perspective. We’re chipping away at it in a more focused manner. Thank Your Parents isn’t that triple-album; it’s a project that encompasses the next three releases. Pre-Teen Weaponry is the first part of that project.
Pre-Teen Weaponry, coming next month, has been described as the introduction to Thank Your Parents. Do you have any reservations about releasing an album that’s just an introduction, then making fans wait months before what comes after the introduction?
KM: That’s interesting. I’ve never thought of it that way. Well, it’s supposed to stand alone. It’s supposed to stand alone for sure. That’s a good question.
If you had your choice would you put them all out as one project?
KM: No, but maybe someone could enjoy it like that someday. I think we’re releasing it this way because the project, Thank Your Parents, is like our Moby Dick. It has to contain the entirety of what we do. I don’t know. I don’t feel compromised by releasing it the way we are choosing to release it.
So then Rated O is the next in the trilogy, and that in itself is a triple-LP? Can you describe what we’ll hear on those three records? Is there an arc to Thank Your Parents?
KM: No. There’s no narrative to it at all. Rated O is what it says: it’s just Oneida; this is Oneida. It’s Oneida, but it’s another step. We had a good time exploring and crafting songs on our other albums. This project we didn’t limit ourselves to that. We tried to be a little less controlled, so there’s lots of choices that we made that were really open-ended. It’s going to have a lot of different stuff.
And the final LP, is that going to be a grand finale or a more ambient outro?
KM: We don’t know. I think it’s supposed to be... honestly we don’t know. I could say something, but it wouldn’t be accurate. I mean, what we do is collaborative and we all have our own ideas about it. I have my own thoughts, but we’ll have to see. We don’t have any songs yet and we don’t even have that mapped out.
Lastly, as a parent you have to love all your children equally, but do you have any album you are fonder of from the discography?
KM: No, not really. Right now I’m psyched about the new one. I’m really psyched that it came out the way that it did. I have different perspectives about each record, though. Like when someone asks which one sounds like the show and they’re psyched for something heavy I usually go for Each One Teach One.
Yeah, I guess that’s fair. I mean, I was pretty surprised how well your second album Enemy Hogs has held up over the years. I wasn’t sure if that was your favorite because it was the first definitive statement by the band?
KM: Sometimes I think that we’ll never make a better one. I’ll listen back to it and think that it was a pretty rad record. It was when we were crazy and we didn’t know what we were doing, but it came out great anyway. We did it all ourselves and there were a lot of hilarious moments and choices we made. So, in a way, yeah, that’s the best because we always say that we’ll never do anything better than that.