Friday, March 26, 2010

Shauna Barbosa & Omen

Here's the second Omen interview I promised. He said his interview with SB was by far his best one so far. Seems she has that affect on people; good great writers usually do.  Check out the interview below:

"Here we are at Sway again. The air is thick in this Manhattan Spring Street lounge, concentrated – the musician, Omen, with mic in hand standing on top of a burgundy couch. I feel everyone around me, in front of him. Maybe it’s the wine.
Now there are words. His confidence bleeds through the speakers, coming down the walls, blending in with the couch. He’s performing songs from Delayed, his mixtape sampler. I’m hearing the audience sing the chorus to a mid-tempo track, “Beyond.” This is the prelude to his forthcoming mixtape, Afraid of Heights. My mouth is open and I cannot believe Omen is up there as if he’s done this hundreds of times. He hasn’t – the Hyde Park, Chicago-bred lyricist isn’t new to expressing himself through words and music, but is fairly new to New York, fairly new to headlining a show.
He’s inspired by everything around him. He’s quiet and calm and aware of his talent, aware of his worth. He’s controlled – if something does not represent who he wants to be as person, he will not do it. During our talk, he assures me several times in several areas that he is “Great.” I ask if he’s sure. He says “Very.” We laugh and we talk about giving people music that awakens more than one of five vital senses.
And it was not the wine. I opened my small black Moleskin planner to find the notes I wrote while Omen was performing:
He has so much confidence. He really owns this stage right now. Okay, this couch. This couch is his.

His story, your story.
I think when you first start out as an artist you’re just trying to be like the people you like. I like Nas and Common a lot, that’s all I listened to. I liked Canibus too – early. All my stuff would sound like them; you couldn’t really tell where I was from. People would always say I sound like Common – I’m like, “No I don’t!” I guess I did.
Early on you’re just writing to write. My music is authentic; I’m talking from my perspective. A Chicago perspective, even though in Chicago I’m kind of an outsider. Now that I am becoming an artist, I talk about my experiences and I talk about other people’s experiences. Or at least the way it looks through my eyes. I write it where it’s specific enough where you get that this is my experience, but not so specific where you can’t relate to it. There has to be a balance. I’m similar to some artists in the fact that I’m an observer so that makes me kind of a storyteller. I produce and play the piano and Fender Rhodes. I started playing at fourteen but I stopped when I went to college. I want to start taking lessons again just to get that discipline back. I use to play like two hours every day. If I can get that discipline, I’ll be back to being Great. (laughs)

On writing with no clothes on.
Lately I’ve been more personal – which used to be hard for me because I’m a really private person. When you’re writing it, you kind of trick yourself into thinking no one’s going to hear it – or if they do, you already wrote it so it’s too late. I’m growing to a point where I can give details about successes or past relationships. I write about my life. I still do storytelling, but it’s much more myself in the music now. Even in the actual production of the music, I still sample sometimes but I’m gearing much more towards original production. I want to express who I am. It’s possible to do that through a sample, but when you’re actually playing something it’s completely you. The emotion of the music, the changes, the tempo, all of that is reflective of who you are in that moment you’re creating it. It’s a much more bare-naked expression of who you are. I want to be as naked as possible. I want people to see who I am. If you can really be who you are at your core – you’re going to stand out. Everyone is different at his or her core. It’s scary to be that way because you have no kind of barrier. If you’re fronting and people don’t like you, you can always say, “Well I was frontin’ anyway.” If you’re really being you and people don’t like you, it’s like, “They really don’t like me.” That’s kind of hard to swallow but I think at the end of the day people will respect that more. I know they say lyricists don’t sell, but if you look at Lauryn Hill or Andre 3000, these are huge artists who wrote from their core, from an honest place it felt like. A lot of music today, you hear it and it’s hot, but that kind of music, you feel it. That’s what I want to do as an artist.
It is said quite often you do not look how you sound on records.
I’m not that expressive as a person. But if you give me some time to write what I think and write how I feel than it’s easier. I’ve had time to really think about it. When it’s impromptu you can say something but it may not really represent how you really feel. You may wish you said something else. When I have time to write something it’s a lot easier. It’s different when you’re in room or the studio and it’s just you and the music and you don’t feel any kind of inhibitions, you feel connected, so you express how you feel. Performing is a little different, it’s almost like acting. You don’t feel that emotion anymore, and you have to act like you do. It’s a little different than the actual creation. I see “Delayed” as inspiring. My grandmother said it’s depressing and not to play it for anybody. I don’t feel that way right now, so you’re not going to get that out of me in person. You’ll just get how I’m feeling right now, which is usually calm. But if we get into a debate about something you may see me become passionate, get a little louder – you may see things that you see in my music.
“You write profoundly.”
I played “Delayed” in the car for my grandmother, she liked it. But she said it was too heavy, she said “You write profoundly” – she always says I’m profound, that’s her word – “but this is so heavy, you’ve got to think about the times peoples are living in right now, I don’t know if this is something they want to hear.” That’s an honest opinion, whether I agree with it or not. I see it as inspiring, something people can relate to. It was reflective of how I was feeling at the moment. There’s some hope in “Delayed.” I sent her the video for “Terminal”: “That one is alright. ‘Beyond’ has that beat I like. ‘Terminal’ doesn’t have any kind of melody in it. How are you making music if your equipment is here?” I said, “My laptop, I have a couple things.” “That’s probably why it sounds that way.” Ha. She’s very blunt and honest. I respect that. I would rather someone tell me that than “Oh it’s hot,” and not really mean it.
On Beyond, you talk about flying away. Where are you flying from, where are you flying to?
I would go somewhere where you can be free. I know that’s a cliché, but I don’t feel like we’re free. It’s a choice you make yourself. It’s very hard to live your life completely free of making decisions based on other people’s opinions. When you’re born, you’re taught fear, taught what to do and what not to do, a lot of things that stay with you throughout life that can cripple you a little bit. It’s accepted because that’s the way it is, but what if we can live in a world where that didn’t exist? When I wrote that song I was working at a college, filing medical records in alphabetical order, it was insane. I thought Why am I here? I’m in a place working with people who are satisfied with that. 35, 40 years old and they’re cool with it. I have talent, I’m good. I know I’m good, I’m meant for more than this. I’m better than this. Not better than them, but better than the job. I don’t know if anyone ever reaches a point where they have everything they want, completely. But you just want the positives to outweigh the negatives. Flying from sadness to happiness, from bondage to freedom – even if it’s self-bondage.
What do you know about self-bondage?
I know it exists. My dad was a singer on Motown, but he got snaked by his label, so he never reached the heights he should have reached. My step-dad is a pianist, guitarist, vocalist, bassist, crazy musician – and he took the corporate route. It starts out, I’m going to just work here and still do my music. Then you get a promotion, then another promotion – now you’re making money – and all of a sudden you have a wife and kids, then all of it stops and you forget what you were even going after. He’s still doing his thing, but it’s Delayed. My mom wanted to sing, but she wasn’t really pushed. Because of that they remind me all the time, “You don’t have any responsibilities, go after what you want.” I’m grateful to have that push behind me. I saw what happened to them, not to say their lives are bad, but they want more, and hopefully I can be the one to give it to them.
I’m very particular about what I let influence me, I make an effort to read a lot of positive things, whether it’s a quote or a self-help book. That helps me to stay positive. I’ll be listening to my music and I think it’s great. But I’m in the same situation I was a year before when I didn’t have this music. You start getting into that doubt mode, like Is it worth it? What am I doing? Sometimes you feel like you’re running a race and you can’t see the finish line. Am I going to make it? Does it even exist? Is this in the cards for me? I thought I should have been successful a long time ago. That Delay starts to bother you.
Sometimes you will not get it. If you haven’t felt it.
I sent a song I did called “Outta Space” to a friend of mine whose opinion I really trust. He said it was alright and that he didn’t like it. There’s a verse in there about a past relationship. He broke up with his girl and like two days later he was like, “I love this song.” A lot of times it’s where the person is in their life when they hear it, you don’t even have anything to do with it. If you love it – that’s what matters. Others may or may not. But you make the best music you feel and the right people will find it. Even the people who don’t like it may end up liking it later.
On living in a generation of branding and selling.
Some people may see it, as there’s so much competition, and so much to filter out. But I’m big on belief. I’m big on you creating your own destiny, having faith, thoughts having power, all that type of universe stuff. I don’t care if there are a million people – if I do my job and create from a pure place, then once it’s created I really really believe that this music has its place and it’s going to get to its place. I don’t see a problem with everybody trying to be expressive. The people who are good are going to stand out. I don’t feel threatened by it. Even the way I create music is different from when I started. When I started all I wanted – and I still do – was to have a Hip Hop classic, and be mentioned in the Top 5; that’s like the rapper’s dream. The more I started doing music I started to want a little more. I don’t want to follow the same path as the people I looked up to. I want to create my own path – I’m doing the music a disservice by following someone else’s path.


Faith is knowing. If someone asks what color is the sky, you don’t believe it’s blue, you know it’s blue. Real faith is when no one can tell you otherwise. It’s perseverance. Knowing something is going to happen regardless. You continually tell yourself it’s going to work; it’s going to happen, until you get to that point of knowing. Whatever you expect you get. I really believe that.
Is being a musician it?
I think writing is really what I’m supposed to do. For so long I resisted that. When I was young I wrote comic books in my notebook for myself. I really wanted to be the person who came up with the concept for video games, just the idea for it not the graphics. In high school and college I started resisting writing because I was forced to write about things I didn’t want to write about. I don’t relate to Shakespeare or Charles Dickens, yeah they’re great but they’re not speaking from my perspective. Now I have to decode all these books and go on SparkNotes. I would love to write a sitcom. I think I’m hilarious, though some people may disagree.
Afraid of Heights, the mixtape.
I want the mixtape to be cohesive. At some point I lost the fact that that was what I was going after, which is why the mixtape is taking so long. I want it to be more than a mixtape; I want it to be a project. I want listeners to say, “That’s better than a mixtape.” I want it to be layered, where you go back and hear different things. You may go back six months later with a different interpretation of a song. I want to make songs that people can live with.
Owning what you create.
What I create is free. Not monetarily. It’s not about rules, it’s not about a traditional way of doing things – and it’s skillful. I really pay attention to the Greats as far as rhyme structure, rhyme scheme, breath control and intonation. There’s a lot to rap that is studied that people really don’t see. If it’s not completely my experience, it’s genuine. People always say I’m different in person. But I’m not – music is just a different way of showing who I am.

Interview by Shauna Barbosa"

Props to Lets Just Eat Cheese

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