(UPDATE 1/18/18: Of Ennui has unfortunately had to cancel their set at Friday’s show due to a health issue within the band. OCML sincerely wishes them all the best as we move forward with Hawk Auburn, The Slashes & a TBD replacement.)
To build up hype for this Friday’s no-cover showcase at Chula Vista’s Manhattan Bar (courtesy of our sister company, the San Diego Music League), we’ve talked to a couple of the bands on the bill. Following yesterday’s conversation with The Slashes, we chatted with Chula Vista’s own Of Ennui. Lead vocalist/guitarist Brian Strauss gives fascinating takes on his hometown’s unique place in the SD music world, how each member adds to the band’s dynamically heavy sound, and the artistic joys of writing lyrics from a character’s point of view.
This interview was edited down slightly for clarity. No major points or context were changed.
How do you like to describe Of Ennui’s overall sound/themes/ideas for the uninitiated?
Strauss: Of Ennui is dynamic, ethereal music. We play some really heavy music, but it’s punctuated by bursts of really beautiful playing as well as cathartic, melancholic lyricism. We bounce between some really sternum-crushing doom & long dream-like musical tangents.
That dynamic comes through strongly in one of your newest songs, “Doom in Bloom,” really piling on the crescendos & general intensity as it moves along. Can you talk about how that track came together?
Strauss: That track was the last song written before Angus [Garcia] joined us on bass. At that point, our songs were initiated by a guitar riff from Christian [Cate] or myself. In this case, I started the song, and Christian compensated for the lack of bass by playing primarily low tone guitar parts. Christian has an amazing ability to compliment whatever melodies I come up with, and I think our musical chemistry largely stems from the intensity of our friendship over the last 13 years. When you add a musical prodigy like [drummer] Indigo [Machado] to the mix, it takes the song to another level. Angus joined shortly after, and his bass parts proved a monumental force behind the power our songs wield.
I wrote the lyrics as a direct response to [Jack] Kerouac’s claim that he would die an old man with a book shelf filled with works all bearing his name. And I suppose it grapples with the mortality he must have faced coming to terms with the fact that that dream would not come to fruition, and I applied those sentiments to a fictional character.
When you’re writing from the perspective of other people, real or fictional, what would you say you get out of that creatively?
Strauss: I think it’s more challenging, which is where most of the creative satisfaction is derived from. If I just write about my own life, well that’s not very interesting, is it? Anyone can write about their own life, but it takes imagination to write about concepts that don’t directly apply to you. You have to sort of graft these sentiments that you might feel in real-life situations & apply them to how you imagine these fictional scenarios would go. It’s less about the characters & more about the sentiment behind them.
And it’s really silly when you realize how often people will automatically assume you’re writing about yourself when they hear your songs. Take for instance the assumption that because I’m a man, all my songs are written in the character of a man, but really who’s to say my songs aren’t based in a woman’s perspective? Or from a different socio-economic perspective? Sexuality? Race? All of these things are traits we make assumptions of based on how we perceive an author, which is fair to a degree, but it’s also really limiting to the audience and the writer. And that’s how you end up with some dullard collection of songs that are all bland hetero-normative “love” songs pretending to be depressed.
The show you’re playing is in Chula Vista. As a band from that area, what can you speak to about its music scene?
Strauss: Chula Vista is an intense city. There’s a vibrant DIY scene & even more prevalent is the trans-border community. It’s amazing to see it flowering the way it is, and how interconnected all of those individuals have become. We’re going to be at the Manhattan on Friday, which is a little dive bar not too far from where most of us in the band grew up. As a kid I always used to make the walk to Broadway & G to the thrift store across the street, so it’s funny to me that we’re older and still doing so much of the same.
I think the big thing lacking in Chula Vista right now is a stable set of venues. Most shows in Chula Vista are house shows, which is great for the all-ages scene, but it also means there’s a big bridge to cross between all-ages & 21+ scenes because it’s all so geographically compartmentalized. In that way Chula Vista is a bit cut off from the rest of the music community, but damn near everyone in it fights tooth & nail to be heard, to be seen, and to be able to build opportunities if we aren’t finding them from traditional outlets. There’s just a crazy amount of diversity, and I think people are really starting to see Chula Vista as a place that’s fostering all these bored suburban kids who grow up to start these fantastic projects.
Following that show, what do we have to look forward to from Of Ennui in 2018?
Strauss: February will see the release of our second EP, Tone Poems, a sprawling collage of sounds that represents everything we’ve done in the last year. New merch, new music videos, and as always, a ton of live shows. We haven’t done a music video since before Indigo & Angus joined, so that will be especially exciting to premiere. I always tell my bandmates that I want us to be one of the hardest working bands in town, so you can expect us to stay true to that.
For more on Of Ennui, check out their Bandcamp, like them on Facebook & follow them on Instagram!