Published Nov 08, 2011Following the dissolution of Ten Kens, that Toronto, ON band's guitarist, Dean Tzenos, wasted no time adopting the moniker Odonis Odonis to release a seven-inch and a split album with Lotus Plaza earlier this summer. He appears intent on beating the '90s revival to the pass. Like fellow Torontonians Metz, Hollandaze offers a surprisingly eclectic set of tunes heavily indebted to noise-addled grunge precursors Big Black, Jesus Lizard and Tad. What could have come across as pure mimicry, and would have probably still done well given our collective thirst for rehashing the past, is more homage, the musical blender yielding some impressive results. Tzenos wraps songs like "Blood Feast" and the title track in shoegaze and surf-rock swirls that suck you into his vortex of noise. Hollandaze is being released by a trio of independent Toronto labels, each releasing the album on a different format before Tzenos unleashes Soft Boiled Hard Boiled, yet another full-length, next spring on England's Fat Cat Records. This kind of music tends to illicit strong opinions, both good and bad. Whichever side you fall on, we're going to be hearing a lot from Odonis Odonis in 2012.
How did Odonis Odonis come about?
Dean Tzenos: It's a passion project. I lost my job in computer animation; I literally could not get a job for a year. I thought, "Fuck, I'm gonna spend this year writing music," and that's all I did. For a year straight, I just recorded music. I have tons of music at home and this is just two of the albums I got done. Everyone I talk to says that if you want to be a songwriter you've got to write three songs a day. So I'm gonna do it. And it's fun. Not everything's good, but you've got way more options to pick from.
Was this before Ten Kens split or after?
It was after. Ten Kens are still around. I was in a weird headspace. Things were going well for the band, but my mental state about the music industry ― I was just really naïve about what the music industry was. I have a good grasp on it now, but that's just where I was. I had high hopes as to what it is, but the reality is way harder. It's gruelling and really unforgiving and you're not making a ton of money. You have to be having the best time of your life and I just wasn't, so it didn't seem worthwhile. But I can't stop making music. I might as well put it out.
Were the tracks on Hollandaze from a specific period of that year?
Yeah. The album that's coming out next year, I did first. Some of the demos overlap, but it just ended up that Hollandaze is coming out first. It's more demo-y; it's raw. I wanted to keep it like that. Once you send demos around people say, "I like the way it sounds."
What we hear on Hollandaze are the original demos you made?
I contemplated [re-recording it], but people I showed it to really liked the lo-fi sound. I've seen other projects where they have the lo-fi record and they go into the studio and sometimes it works and sometimes you just lose something. I thought I was going to lose more than I was going to gain. I know some people think it's a cop-out, like there are no real songs underneath, but I don't agree. I wanted it to sound like that; it was a purposeful decision.
There's a pretty loud '80s noise rock vibe to the album. Is that what you grew up on?
That's definitely what I was going for. I grew up on that stuff because my sisters were older than me. I was still just a bit too young, but I still heard all that music and was totally into it. Now seems like the perfect time to explore that and there's so much room stylistically to do that. Also, I wanted to do a balls-out album that was really loud.
What I like about it is that no single song sounds like a straight rip-off of another band, everything's one big amalgamation.
Yeah, I really didn't want to do that. There are so many bands that are nostalgic, but it's like, "Here's Joy Division" and then they do a whole album that sounds like that. I wanted to dump everything in and whatever comes out comes out. Just put it all in a blender. There are so many good things that came out in the '80s that were all over the map; it wasn't just one style. I wanted to show that and I wanted to keep it fresh. The '80s always gets summed up into one genre. A lot of people that were doing the '80s revival just picked super-synth-y pop stuff.
There's also a definite surf-rock vibe that you acknowledged with that surf-rock mix you made for the Fat Cat podcast.
My dad was really into surf-rock music, so when I first grabbed the guitar, that's what he was showing me how to play. I didn't think it was that cool when I was a kid, but you can't really help what seeps into you when you're a kid. I always really loved that guitar sound; I kind of play it up.
How did the podcasts come about?
They asked me to do it. The idea was to [recreate] a bunch of old mixtapes from my sisters. They asked if I had any of them, but I had actually lost them. I did a big mash-up of a bunch of the stuff I had heard.
Why did you decide to release Hollandaze on three separate Toronto labels?
I had never seen anyone do that. I found in Toronto a few years ago, when I was in Ten Kens, that all the different bands were really far apart. I think there's a real need for community. There's so much good music and that felt like a way that I could bring together a few communities under one album and get people behind it and do my part to get Toronto a bit more on the map. Even going down to the States and seeing all this other stuff, Toronto's got a killer scene and it's underappreciated. And because each label focuses on different things ― Pleasance is purely a vinyl label, Daps is pretty focused on CDs and Buzz has their whole tapes series ― it totally makes sense. I get to put it out all the formats on three different labels. It's a further reach.
You've put out a seven-inch, a twelve-inch split with Lotus Plaza and a full-length this year, and you've got another full-length coming out in the spring.
Yeah [laughs]. People digest music pretty quickly, so I don't see why not. When I was growing up, a Nine Inch Nails record would come out and you'd be waiting six years. It's not like that anymore; people don't seem to care after six months. I'd rather just keep on it; I have the material and I'm into being one of those bands.
You made all this music on your own. How did you transition into a live show?
It was super-tough; it was ass-backwards. Every other project that you're in you're playing songs and then once you're done the songs you're ready to play live.
Did you play everything on these records?
For these first two records, yeah. I kind of did them collaboratively, but not as a band; I'd get specific people to come in. But it wasn't a band, per se. It took over a year to get the band together because I had to get the right people. The drummer, Jarod [Gibson], he moved here from NYC. He was in a band called Print, working on an electronic kit at the time and I was specifically looking for an electronic drummer. How many electronic drummers do you know that want to play really heavy music? He's worked on his kit for literally a year; it sounds awesome. I found Denholm [Whale] in March. As soon as he got on board, between March and April, we were ready to play live. But we had to interpret each track, like, "how are we going to play these samples?" It was really a pain in the ass.
Are there a lot of samples in the music?
Tons, especially the album that's coming out in the spring. I'm not really sure how I'm going to pull off some of those songs. Hollandaze is a little easier.
It sounds really live; I can't really hear the samples. What were you sampling?
The drums and the stuff that might sound like a synth. I made them; they're not from other people's stuff. I made weird noises and sampled that. I'm always worried about the copyright stuff.
How did Fat Cat get involved?
When I finished the album I recorded in the studio [Soft Boiled, Hard Boiled], I sent that to them right away cause I already had a connection to them. They said they wanted to put it out and to hold on to the record. I was like, "alright, let's do it." They're a good label and we already had a good working relationship. It made sense to run with it, but I wanted to cut Canada out and make sure I did it my way here. I did want to put out the album by myself, but it's really hard to break other territories. They have a foothold internationally and they're an independent label.
So they're putting out Hollandaze internationally?
Yes and the one that's coming out in the spring, Soft Boiled, Hard Boiled. We'll see how the final order turns out, but it's two EPs. One side is a little bit poppier, more synth-y, and the other one is harder, more industrial and louder.
You said that there's a poppy side and a hard side. Is that hard side sort of in line with Hollandaze?
It's a bit more in line. Hollandaze was supposed to be a little more immediate and fun. The other album is more serious overall; it's got more depth to it. I wanted to take advantage of the studio, so there's lots of layering and stuff. Whoever wants to listen to it over and over again will keep finding weird sounds they've never heard before.
So you recorded Soft Boiled, Hard Boiled at the Hive in Vancouver with Colin Stewart?
Yeah, I knew Colin and I wanted to do that record with him. It was a treat to myself. There was no label involved, there was nothing going on. I saved up money to do it. I'd been planning it for a couple of years. It's kind of getting old for me, because it's been sitting around for a while.
When did you record it?
In 2009. By the time it comes out it will be a four-year-old record.
Was that the dedicated year of writing?
Yeah, 2008 to 2009. I'm still constantly writing. I have skeletons for a few other albums on my computer and now that I have a band we're writing with each other. We'll see how things roll out. But I'm making a really conscious effort to make all the albums sound really different from each other. (Daps)