March 28, 2017

hemispheres

Dr. Dundiff’s apartment is sparse. It doesn’t strike me as an intentionally minimalistic approach to living, rather a reflection of passion imprinting itself onto a living space. If it doesn’t fit into his musical pursuits, it doesn’t belong. Framed copies of his previous vinyl releases are all that adorn the walls, a vaporizer sits in the corner heated and ready to use. An MPC 2000XL is situated just below his computer monitor on a desk that is backed against the lone (huge) window in the room. A few spent raw cones are strewn about in an ashtray and promotional posters for his album release show sit on the floor. Reruns of The Office play in the background as white noise, although I’d entertain an argument for Dwight Shrute’s musings subliminally adding de facto confidence to anyone in earshot.

The small talk between us is as brief as a hello and before the topic of weather comes up, we’re discussing indie labels, how Dilla built swing in his drums and putting each other onto music videos from indie artists we think are dope. The room grows dark. He’s a nerd for this shit. “My bad, I’ve sat working alone in the dark for hours before until I realize I should turn some lights on,” he says as the last flickers of sunshine dimly glow through the window.

We are waiting on Otis Junior to come through before starting the interview. He’s just getting off work from his job at a local car dealership, which is the frequent subject of jokes on his Facebook where he recounts his days spent hopping out of luxury vehicles only to have his old car’s fix engine light greet him at shift’s end. They’re classic examples of struggling artists whose art is anything but. Their 2016 debut release, From1Moment2Another, was finished within a month of the duo having met each other and picked up for release by Jakarta records; the lead single “The 1,” achieved buzz on France’s gatekeeper FM station, Radio Nova.

While new audiences are becoming familiar with their sound, I get the sense the two are still getting familiar with one another. Having two records under their belt in about a year’s time, you’d assume they were old friends. The reality is they met briefly at a R&B open mic a little over a year ago and the next day Dundiff returned to his apartment in L.A., while Otis remained in Louisville. So far the pair have created everything remotely. Dundiff has since returned to his hometown of Louisville.

Otis arrives, Dundiff sparks a cone and I watch them battle out matches of Tony Hawk while we chat about their newest release on Jakarta records, Hemispheres. —Allen Poe


How did you guys meet?


Dr. Dundiff: I initially saw Otis performing on another rapper’s showcase and I remembered him from that night on, I just didn’t get around to saying hey at that time. A few weeks later I was hosting a R&B show, this was right before I left to go to Cali. Otis was there, he was the only one I didn’t have to DJ his set because he played his own keys. But we met that night and I immediately started sending him beats. How crazy would it be if I didn’t DJ that open mic that night, or we wouldn’t have met for some reason?

Otis Junior: Yeah, the timing of it though, like, if it had have been something else, I mean people say, “well you would’ve met another time,” but honestly things could’ve been completely different. But yeah, everything has happened really organically, how it’s all come together.


How is it making albums across the country and not seeing each other during that process?


Otis Junior: It was weird because we had made an album before we ever really even kicked it.

Dr. Dundiff: Yeah and even when I came back we were hopping right into learning the material with a band to get ready for shows and festivals.


I listened to the album twice today front to back and it’s difficult for me to discern what was sampled and was live instrumentation.


Dr. Dundiff: That’s what I was going for, really. When I was living in L.A. I had friends who would give me access to their instruments, so about 60% of the album is me playing instruments live, tracking them into the MPC, playing with pitches and layers and producing the album that way, the other 40% is from samples. That was on my mind a lot as I made the beats because I wanted it to sound good live for our band.


I get this feeling listening to Hemispheres that you start out kind of anxious about feeling you need to be in two places at once, or like maybe feeling inadequate or annoyed even with relationships, but by the end I get this sense that you’d learned to cope better with situations. Was that something you intentionally worked into the album with how you arranged your songs, or wrote the songs?


Otis Junior: I don’t know, I really think that lyrically I naturally write things in bulk, I just write about the things I need to hear, or just a general human experience thing. I feel like last year was a crazy year, I definitely am an anxious person to be honest, and last year was the height of that for many different reasons. I think writing Hemispheres was just the general trajectory of things in my life. I think I’m still on that path now. But I feel like balance is really important.

Dr. Dundiff: Yeah, I really think the first five songs are personal and in a space where there are issues that need to be worked out and the last five give this sense that things are starting to become upbeat again.

Otis Junior: That’s interesting because Hemispheres was the perfect album for me to be writing lyrically, based on where I was at that time. For sure I was right in the middle of a phase, I was very much looking directly behind me and ahead of me at the same time, reflecting and looking forward.


Well even the song with Jim James, you guys are talking about how in the middle you don’t feel the storm. I think that speaks to balance.


Dr. Dundiff: Fun fact. He wrote Jim James’ part for that song.

Otis Junior: [Laughing] Yeah and I didn’t expect him to sing it the way he did, at all! But it turned out great.


Another song that I think really pulls out that idea of coming together from two different places is “3 Winds.”


Otis Junior: Seasons really affect, well I don’t know. I guess I’m really big on symbols and “3 Winds” is basically about how the end of last winter, the spring and the summer had been really crazy and I wasn’t really sure how the summer was going to play out.

Dr. Dundiff: I think this song is a changing point. Like seasons are changing and new things are always possibly right around the corner.


So do you see Hemispheres as a concept album then?


Dr. Dundiff: We had the general idea of opposites in mind from the beginning. I think all the songs generally sum up the idea that everything can be opposite in a way. Here maybe sadness and happiness.

Otis Junior: I think there is definitely a central theme, which is that everything has a full range within itself.

Dr. Dundiff: It’s funny how much we were on the same page. The title of every song on Hemispheres came from the title I gave the beats.

Otis Junior: Yeah I began writing every song by playing off the name of the beats. For example “3 Winds,” you just mentioned, reminded me of the seasons in Kentucky and how they are usually defined but last year the seasons weren’t as defined and I played off that uncertainty.


I like the cover of Hemispheres a lot, it definitely plays off of seasons as well. Did you all have to search a lot to find one patch of ground with a little snow still lingering around?


Dr. Dundiff: We did that photo-shoot in summer.

Otis Junior: We bought fake snow but we had to lay still on the ground for that shoot and mosquitos ate us alive. I can’t think of a situation where I would ever have that many mosquito bites ever again in my life. You could feel them crawling. We had, for real, hundreds of bites. I was itching for weeks.


There wasn’t much of a gap in between releases of the debut EP and Hemispheres.


Dr. Dundiff: Jakarta told us they wanted a follow up pretty quickly because “The 1” had caught on so well, having been picked up by Nova Radio. So we were working on Hemisphere, soon after. From1Moment2Another, came out in April [2016] and by September we had turned in another finished album.

Otis Junior: It’s wild to think how it’s been a while ago now since we turned that record in and it’s just now coming out.


How did it feel to hold a vinyl copy of your project in your hands for the first time?


Otis Junior: It’s all been surreal. Honestly everything has been surreal and coming together very slowly. I feel like from an outside perspective, you would think there would be more instant feelings and revelations. I remember the day that we found out we got signed to Jakarta Records. Dundiff texted me at six in the morning. I woke up, read it, and went back to sleep.

Dr. Dundiff: I KNOW! I was like, “I don’t even think Otis knows what’s going on!”

Otis Junior: I don’t know. I feel in spite of everything that’s happening, everything is very normal still.