Since coming to prominence with his 2011 breakthrough, Replica, ambient sound-scaper Oneohtrix Point Never's Daniel Lopatin has been incredibly prolific, recording split LPs with both Rene Hell and Tim Hecker, as well as a score for Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring. Now, he's returned with R Plus Seven, a record touted as being "as close as Lopatin has ever gotten to anything resembling traditional song structure."
While it's not exactly a return to the throwback processed pop of his collaboration with Joel Ford, R Plus Seven finds Lopatin experimenting with melody and song structure in a way that he never has as Oneohtrix Point Never. The result is his most kinetic album to date, one where satisfying melodic loops rub shoulders with dense walls of ambient noise. Below, Lopatin explains how R Plus Seven fits into his discography and his ongoing attempt to force truth out of conflict and find meaning in the psychedelia of the everyday.
Your press release notes that R Plus Seven is the closest you've come to traditional song structure, and the arpeggiations that begin halfway through "Boring Angel" indicate that early on. Is the first minute-and-a-half of drone meant to be a red herring?
No, it's not really a red herring. There are different modes in which I wanted sound and music to exist on the record, and I deliberately wanted to hear them rubbing up against each other in ways that I found interesting. That just felt like what had to happen there.
This is definitely your most dynamic album, in that it's marked by sudden interruptions like those in "Boring Angel," "Chrome Country" and in "Zebra," which is very Reichian. What moved you to explore louder, less ambient territory?
If I can interrupt an idea about music that would be thought of as pacifying, then I can start dealing with those cliches in interesting ways. I think what I try to do all the time is instead of just doing a genre exercise of one sort or the other, I try to see what happens, what kind of uncomfortable tensions arise, when you refuse to allow things to be culturally what they are. I like music that is able to self-reflect in that way, as if it's sentient and it can change its mind or be in a conversation with itself about what it wants to be or where it's expected to go. I find that kind of thing interesting. For me, it's just personally a more truthful account of the way that I experience music myself, as a person who loves music and hears a lot of it. It's never really a stable situation. So when I set out to create music, I characterize that instability in a way that feels truthful to me.
On that note, you've mentioned that "music is a way of dealing with reality," which I think is interesting and two-pronged: there's an element of escapism, which is generally associated with pop music, and an element of realism, of trying to reflect the discordance, chaos, and challenging nature of existence, which is generally associated with more experimental music. With which would you say Oneohtrix Point Never engages or aligns more? Or does it straddle both worlds equally?
If you allow those things to exist together without preferentially treating one or the other, there are ways, I think, or at least ways I try to explore, of letting forces like that exist in a conversation with each other. Sometimes that means not meddling too much with things that I'm trying, or intuitively composing and going for something that clearly needs to play a manipulative role. It's all kind of games for me, mind games I play when I sit down to work or write or allow things to be generated. It's really just about accepting whatever kind of lurid moment I'm in, and if I create some highly intoxicating melody that for whatever reason functions a certain way emotionally and is emotionally manipulative, [I want to] put a frame around it instead of just making a piece of music to hook people. It's more about trying to understand what's happening. I try to make an armature that can kind of support it.
Would you agree this is your most pop-centric album?
Yeah. I think in a lot of ways, it is. A lot of the time, these compositions started with me sitting down at a keyboard with an organ or piano sound, and just working from the hip, intuitively trying to write music. But that's deceptive. The way that I structured the record, I think it reveals different things about its structure depending on how much you really want to interface with it. I really wanted that aspect, where it could function in a harmless way, but then there was this kind of antagonistic undercurrent to it where at any moment, if you zoom in a little bit, there are things there that are meant to kind of disturb you.
Replica was composed of TV commercial samples — is there a similar theme or motif to R Plus Seven?
No. With that, I amassed an index of edits from these commercials that I liked, and sort of arranged them in a musical way, but they still contained a roadmap for how I could work with them melodically and then I would affix chords or melodies around those things. It kind of generated itself, in a way. I curated the experience, but it was a very different process. Here, [on R Plus 7], I was just starting from music and trying to distort it in some way and attach these appendages that are non-musical in nature. It was kind of an inverted process in some ways. That said, there were some instances of stuff I would do that was purely generative, procedural things where I wasn't invested in the musical idea; I was just stockpiling stuff. It often got shaved down to a single sound or a single word you might hear.
There's something more expansive about this record than Replica. Are you curious about branching out more into pop structures, the way you did with Channel Pressure?
Not really. I don't necessarily think that I'm that good at it, to be honest. There's a certain craft to that that at times I can tap into effectively, but in general, it doesn't seem to feel like something that I'd be into. At the end of the day, you're kind of saying, "I want to share this with the world because I think I'm doing something worthwhile," and I think that as I proceed through different experiments and am trying to make worthwhile work, my expectations for myself increase and my sensitivity to my own shortcomings increases. If I know I can't deliver on promises to the outside world, I at least have to deliver on promises I make to myself. This record that I made and the work that I've been doing, on my own, as my primary thing, feels like the closest I can translate my thought to expression. There's more noise in the signal when I work in any other fields that I can't control. Often it yields subpar work.
Do you consider what your future projects might sound like ahead of time, or do you just wait for a whim to take you?
A whim, really. Even with something like Returnal, I think maybe my frustration with it is that I did things [that sound] like Returnal better on other days, other points earlier in my process. There's stuff on Rifts that hits the same. There was redundancy on [Returnal]. It was an iteration of things I was already doing at the time and seems kind of smashed together. Replica is clarity, there's purpose to it. It felt good, like "That's how I should work." Then there was a fairly long meandering break of different things and trying stuff and just having fun with music and relaxing, seeing when I would have urgency again, and feel not relaxed. That's when I work on OPN stuff the best. It took time to get there, but I had urgency again. I wouldn't say I move from one [album] to another trying to create purposeful breaks. I'm more scared of redundancy than [consciously] creating purposely stylistic breaks.
Does working with peers like Rene Hell or Tim Hecker affect the way you make music?
I'm pretty mimetic in nature, and I try to absorb things and I try to understand. I put myself in situations that feel alien in some ways, to try to feel what it's like. It's a first-person account of another way of creating stuff. It's really exciting.
You once said in an interview that "I feel like society is unintentionally psychedelic all the time." What did you mean by that?
I have an extremely difficult time not just being in a state of pure amazement in most scenarios. I don't find things outside of my own rituals and rhythms to be tedious; I'm constantly shocked by how strange everything is. A lot of that is very simple, in a way, but I have an endless wellspring of considerations of human rhythm and how strange things are and how ideas and personalities rub up against each other. I'm constantly puzzled by these things. What I try to do with music is characterize that. I'm not trying to say anything specific, but I'm trying to create a labyrinth of ideas that feels truthful to the way I see the world. I try to do that with music.